What Dr. Seuss Taught Me about Elders and Ministers

What Dr. Seuss Taught Me about Elders and Ministers

Sometimes elders and preachers are like the Dr. Seuss characters in the story of The Zax. [1] The North-Going Zax meets the South-Going Zax dead in one another’s tracks. Neither steps to the right or the left, so both stay unbudged in their tracks. They stay through the seasons and years, arms folded and facing one another. But the people around them do not stand still—they move on and build a highway over and around the Zax. I’ve had times when I felt this way in relationships in the church. There were arms folded, griping, yelling, complaining, fits thrown. And people besides me did stuff too.

What I want to suggest is that preachers (myself included!) and elders often act like the North- and South-Going Zax, Zaxes, or is it Zaxi? Can preachers and elders really get along? My purpose for writing is to ask, “Can preachers and elders work together in harmony?” and answer in the affirmative.

As indefensible as humble-bragging and self-aggrandizement are, I write with a certain joy and desire for others, whose joy in these relationships has eluded them, to experience the same kind of joy as I have in their lives as ministers and elders.

Church problems can be directly traced to elders and preachers acting like North-Going and South-Going Zax. Many preachers and elders aren’t willing—or aren’t functioning well enough—to trace church failure back to themselves. After all, pastors and preachers are usually the ones writing these articles, so who is going to implicate themselves in church dysfunction? Instead, preachers and elders often blame one another, the congregation, or circumstances. Forget all that. It’s not a blame game. Once we get out of the woods of blaming, shaming, unforgiveness, and general Zax-dom, then we’ll be amazed at the widening vistas in the meadow of harmony in leadership.

Recently I had my annual review from my elders while sitting around a fire and roasting bratwurst. (I know, first let’s talk about a job evaluation around a campfire eating brats, but I digress.) I shared with them that I rarely hang out with fellow preachers who complain about their elders. But the few times I do hear a rant about elders, I often say the following three things:

  1. Sorry you are going through that.

  2. Then I ask a Peter Block question: “How are you contributing to the problem about which you are now complaining?”

  3. It doesn’t have to be the way you are experiencing it. I am blessed to have four of the greatest elders I know who love and respect me, and we enjoy working together.

But it hasn’t always been this way.

I have lived through both shameful and inspiring times in churches where I’ve worked, including the current one! As conflicts arose in my life among many people in many places, I finally realized I was the common denominator in those conflicts. Hmmmm.

I love that old story about the lying grandpa.

Grandpa and his grandson were sitting on a bench watching the trains. A young man got off the train and asked what the town was like. Grandpa responded, “What’s the town like where you came from, young man?” The young man said people were a sorry excuse for humanity, always out for themselves, rude, greedy, and unhappy. Grandpa paused and said, “Well, I think you’ll have quite the same view of things here!” The man got back on the train and headed to the next town.

Another newcomer stopped and asked the grandpa what the town was like. Again, the old man asked what the newcomer’s former home was like. “I hated to leave. People were great. They never met a stranger. I loved it, but I lost my job and had to move on.” Grandpa didn’t skip a beat and said, “Well then! You’ll love it here, too!” The man picked up his suitcase and floated away with a spring in his step toward town.

After he’d left, the boy scrunched his brow and looked up at his grandpa. “Grandpa, you lied! You told those men opposite things about our town!” The boy’s grandpa chuckled and said, “No, I didn’t say anything about the people of our town. The first man didn’t enjoy life in his former town, so he won’t enjoy life here either. The second man enjoyed his former town, so he’ll love it here too.”

Some preachers and elders have never experienced a harmonious, peaceful, fruitful relationship with one another. They are like North-Going and South-Going Zax. No one budges. That’s a shame. Really, that’s shameful. Shame on us who lead churches when we can’t get along.

The good news is, it doesn’t have to be this way. I’m not saying we won’t experience conflicts or problems, but the way we respond to troublesome times can change. In my next post I’ll share some personal experiences of what it’s like for elders and preachers to live in harmony, as well as some suggestions for how to foster harmony on your leadership team.


[1] Dr. Seuss. “The Zax.” In The Sneetches and Other Stories. New York: Random House, 1961.

Header image: Krebs, Denise. Dr. Seuss Art. Taken December 20, 2011. Retrieved from flickr.com. Some rights reserved.

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