Common Dysfunctions of an Elder Group
Team leadership is biblical and it creates a space for God to work communally. But team leadership can also foster all kinds of dysfunctionality! Aubrey Malphurs, in his book, Leading Leaders, offers five ways in which church leadership teams slip into patterns that are not healthy for partnering with God’s desires for a congregation. 
Rubber Stamp. When elder groups become extremely passive and hands-off, then the ministry staff or an outspoken elder or other voice in the church becomes the de facto leader in the congregation.
Keepers of the Peace. Sometimes an elder group can work so hard to keep everyone happy—greasing the squeaky wheels—that the larger vision and life of the congregation becomes lost. Of course, the temptation is real to keep everyone on the bus, especially in declining congregations. However, placating vocal persons may well mean sacrificing mission. That’s not a good tradeoff!
Guardians of the Gate. Occasionally, a team of elders can begin to function as the counterbalance to innovations or new ideas that ministry staff keep trying to propose. This kind of behavior sometimes emerges if there have been trust issues in the past within the elder group or if a minister went rogue. The result is that elders become guardians of the past rather than leaders into God’s future.
Representative Democracy. If it works for American politics, then why not in congregations? Some elder groups begin to function like Congress. Elders come into the team representing some demographic within the congregation—the progressives, the retired traditionalists, the young families, the “old guard,” etc. Thus each elder’s task is to represent the viewpoints of their particular constituency. The deadly assumption here is that leading is about hearing everyone’s opinions. Knowing opinions is certainly useful, but some opinions are better than others—and God’s will can easily get lost in the mix.
Micromanagement. Sometimes elder groups micromanage the church’s life. Empowering church staff and other leaders within the congregation is easier said than done. Expectations are often delivered to the minister—but the necessary authority to actually accomplish the task is retained. The end result is long meetings, frustrated ministers, and the neglect of more pressing leadership issues (like prayer, mission, and pastoral care).
In each of these five dysfunctions, the great loss is the church’s mission in the world. The stakes are high in North America; the secular world increasingly holds sway. Most of our congregations have work to do and that work rests on the vitality and health of leader teams. Next month I will offer some constructive moves for elder groups to consider.
Blessings on your walk with the Lord!
 Aubrey Malphurs, Leading Leaders: Empowering Church Boards for Ministry Excellence (Baker Books, 2005), 62-65.