Toxic Behaviors to Avoid as an Elder

Josh Buice

The work of a pastor is difficult. Time is often consumed with prayer, the study of the Word, and serving people. It’s a demanding calling, but joyful at the same time. Charles Spurgeon once stated the following:

[A pastor’s] work, when earnestly undertaken, lays us open to attacks in the direction of depression. Who can bear the weight of souls without sometimes sinking to the dust? Passionate longings after men’s conversion, if not fully satisfied (and when are they?), consume the soul with anxiety and disappointment. To see the hopeful turn aside, the godly grow cold, professors abusing their privileges, and sinners waxing more bold in sin – are not these sights enough to crush us to the earth?

For that reason, leadership was designed to be shared rather than a single man’s responsibility. Since leadership is shared in the life of a church (1 Pet. 5:1-3; 1 Tim. 5:17; Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:1-2; 20:17), it’s essential to work and strive for unity among the leaders. If the leadership is divided, the church will experience problems along the way.  Paul once charged the elders at Ephesus by stating the following:

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them (Acts 20:28–30).

Not only does division increase the already demanding pressures of serving as a pastor, but sinful behavior in general can make the job of a pastor burdensome. If you serve as an elder, you should avoid these toxic and dangerous behaviors.

Internal Politics

When working with a team of elders in the life of a church, there will be times when specific families meet with one elder rather than another for counsel, problems, or even friendship. The trap of internal politics grips the hearts of certain elders at times who believe they have to build a group of friends around them in the life of the church in order to protect them and to increase their weight, influence, and power within the church. When this happens, it’s a sure sign to a toxic atmosphere in the life of the church. Often the heart of such an elder is filled with pride, jealousy, and the fear of man—all of which are sinful traps to avoid.

Mishandling of Money

According to 1 Timothy 3:3, the elder is not to be “a lover of money.” It’s not money itself that’s evil, but it’s the love of money that serves as the root of all evil (1 Tim. 6:10). If a pastor to struggles with money and how to use it properly, it can cause him great problems in ministry. When it comes to how a pastor uses money within the life of the church, it would be unwise to have a pastor designated to handle cash within the church’s life. That work would be best given over to the deacons. This provides for greater accountability in the area of finances. More than one elder has fallen through the temptation to misuse and steal the money that ultimately belongs to the Lord.

Furthermore, when pastors abuse the church’s money it should be a red flag. If you find that you are struggling with the responsibility of meeting your budget or charging money to your church’s credit card, it would be wise to ask for help in this area rather than bringing shame to your testimony within the local church.

Loose Tongue and Gossip

One of the greatest sinful traps for the Christian is centered on the tongue. The Psalmist warns that when “you [have] given your mouth free reign…your tongue frames deceit” (Ps. 51:19). James actually calls the tongue a “world of unrighteousness” that’s full of “deadly poison” (James 3:5-12). The LORD hates a lying tongue (Prov. 6:17). As we turn to Paul’s words to Timothy, we find these words regarding a the qualifications of a pastor. He states, “Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2).

One of the fastest ways to divide a group of elders and a church is for a pastor to be guilty of spreading gossip and to possess a loose tongue. In short, people must be able to trust their elders and a man with a loose tongue who finds pleasure in gossip or receiving a constant stream of gossip is not a dignified leader. Such a man has misused the office of an elder and can’t possibly be trusted with such leadership.

Flirtatious Personality

One of the most misunderstood passages in regard to the qualifications of a pastor is found in 1 Timothy 3:2 where Paul states that an elder must be “the husband of one wife.” In the Greek text, it literally reads “one woman man.” The elder must be fully committed to one woman (even if he isn’t yet married, he should be committed to his future wife). The elder who has a flirtatious personality with women will open the door for a moral failure.

This past summer, we have witnessed numerous moral failures of well known preachers of the gospel. Men who were seasoned in the faith and entrusted with successful ministries fell into sexual immorality and were suddenly gone. The once public voice and passionate leader was suddenly removed from his ministry post due to sexual sin. This is a tragedy and every time it happens, it’s not just the preacher and the ministry he leads that is affected. The entire family of the preacher, the local churches involved, and many others well beyond through the reach of the man’s ministry will be impacted too. If you notice an elder who is flirtatious in his behavior with other women through social media, in personal conversations, and through ministry connections—you should perhaps consider sharing your concerns with him in order to spare him from falling into the common trap of sexual sin.

Misuse of Time

Every one of us has the same amount of time each day in which we will use to maximize ministry opportunities (elder or not). When it comes to time, we should be good stewards of our time—redeeming it for God’s glory (Eph. 5:16). Ultimately, the elders who are paid are freed from secular employment in order to maximize their time for discipleship and missions. When an elder is lazy and wastes time, this is a pattern that is unacceptable to the Lord. Furthermore, the elder is accountable to the entire church who pays his salary. The elder who is deceitful with how he manages his time will find that he’s likely deceitful in other areas as well.

In conclusion, we must remember that elders are men too and it’s essential to remember that they’re not supermen. The elder is to serve for God’s glory in the work of gospel ministry. Elders are bondservants of Christ and ultimately accountable to our Lord. If you or another elder that you serve with falls into toxic behavior patterns that could potentially harm him, his family, and the church he serves (along with the other elders he serves alongside)—pray for him and consider talking with him out of love for his soul before he falls into traps that will disqualify him from the office of pastor. Mark Dever writes:

An elder is simply a man of exemplary, Christlike character who is able to lead God’s people by teaching them God’s Word in a way that profits them spiritually. [1]

  1. Mark Dever, “Looking for a Few Good Men,” taken from The Deliberate Church, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2005), 140.
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Author Toxic Behaviors to Avoid as an Elder

Josh Buice

Pastor Pray's Mill Baptist Church

Josh Buice is the founder and president of G3 Ministries and serves as the pastor of Pray's Mill Baptist Church on the westside of Atlanta. He is married to Kari and they have four children, Karis, John Mark, Kalli, and Judson. Additionally, he serves as Assistant Professor of Preaching at Grace Bible Theological Seminary. He enjoys theology, preaching, church history, and has a firm commitment to the local church. He also enjoys many sports and the outdoors, including long distance running and high country hunting. He has been writing on Delivered by Grace since he was in seminary and it has expanded with a large readership through the years.