This last year, my wife Leslie and I moved to Austin, Texas to plant an incarnat...
After our staff devotional on Tuesday, I polled the group about their favorite and least favorite Super Bowl commercials. The favorite was a mixed bag, but least favorite, overwhelmingly, was the infamous “Puppy Monkey Baby” commercial. It generated a nearly visceral reaction among the staff.
If you haven’t seen the 33 second spot you are more fortunate than most, but it features a dancing creature with the head of puppy, the torso of some long-armed monkey and yes, you guessed, it the legs of a baby. For just about half a minute, this chimera dances around convincing three twenty-something slackers to drink a new variety of Mountain Dew. Either from a primal fear or the puppy monkey baby’s rhythmic motions, they succumb. The soda’s tagline is, “Three Awesome Things Combined.”
For some reason, Mountain Dew thought this would be a good commercial. Maybe it is since opinionated people are blogging about it. But most folks I know find it horrifying.
The “Puppy Monkey Baby” made me not think about “doing the ‘Dew,’” but about how we tend to do elders. It used to be that Presbyterian elders had a simple job description. From the first Presbyterian General Assembly in 1788 until 1958 the role of elders was described in the Book of Order with a 26 scant words: “Ruling elders are properly the representatives of the people, chosen by them, for the purpose of exercising government and discipline in conjunction with pastors or ministers.”
For most of the last century, the role of elder has been expanded from its narrow focus (as shepherds of people alongside the pastor) to a combination of several ‘awesome’ roles.
Elders serve as committee chairs, board members, vision casters, budget-crafters, ministry coordinators, personnel experts, mission leaders, Sunday School teachers, coffee brewers, and sometimes, occasionally, spiritual leaders. Like the “Puppy Monkey Baby” more is not necessarily better. Not all of these roles quite go together. More importantly, this chimeric combination of a multiplicity of necessary church roles bears little resemblance to the Biblical and historical role of elders with the narrow focus upon being a servant leader for the people of God.
The upshot of the “Puppy Monkey Baby” elder model is that elders are called into a role that is too diverse and encompassing to allow them pay any attention to spiritual leadership and perhaps even their own walk with Jesus Christ. The spiritual leadership necessarily pivots back to the pastors alone, who cannot possibly provide any kind of discipleship and personal growth for even a small congregation let alone a large one. The membership devolves from disciples to consumers and the result is what one pastor calls “Congregations Gone Wild.” This is to say nothing of how the community around the congregation suffers when the people of God fail in the task of becoming salt and light.
There is a movement afoot to correct this century old ecclesial malpractice. It is called The Elder Leadership Institute.
We are asking questions like:
- What does it look to be a shepherd of people in the 21st century, post-Christian context?
- How do we equip elders to be spiritual leaders first?
- How do elders serve alongside pastors as part of a team?
- How do ruling elders truly become the leaders of a movement?
ELI would love to partner with your individual church, your MAG, or your Presbytery to equip your church leaders. Please contact us to discuss what that partnership might look like.
email Lisa Johnson – email@example.com
or call 1-800-667-7250 x401
Want to know more about ELI’s whole 18 month resource?
Jesus does not call us to be all things to all people. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, with unique gifts to serve the Kingdom. The Biblical and historic role of elders recognizes and is designed with that in mind. Let’s hope the “Puppy Monkey Baby” elder model goes the way of the Mountain Dew commercial and is quickly forgotten.
Assistant Director, ELI