How to Deal with Elder Brothers in the Church
There are pastors who would love to have a prodigal friendly church. They long to have a church where the fallen and the broken are welcome and loved. They personally have a heart of grace towards those who have fallen into sin. Unfortunately, churches always have elder brothers. Inherent to church will be those who reject the prodigals who return. Much of their rejection is a jealousy that exists within them because they are not living in the joy of their own salvation. What can a pastor do to deal with elder brothers? Let’s look at the example of the father to find our answer.
- Do not seek their permission to welcome prodigals home. A pastor should never consult his members before deciding whether or not to accept and restore fallen Christians. It should be his automatic response to do so. When pastors put their fingers in the air to feel how the wind is blowing among their members, they will soon discover that their members are controlling them rather than grace controlling them. Do what the father did and celebrate without permission.
- Enlist the spiritual servants to help you. Most pastors know who these people are. Some of them are silent in the church, but they have a spirit of grace and mercy about them. Just as the father enlisted the help of his servants, whose names we do not know, we should enlist people within the church who want to serve and help in restoring the one who has fallen.
- Create an environment of celebration. There should be more rejoicing in the church when a sinner has returned than at any other time. If heaven rejoices and celebrates then so should the church. Whenever someone returns make it a time of great celebration and joy. Let the elder brothers look on from the outside.
- Don’t be afraid to confront the elder brother. The father did not hesitate to go to his oldest son and confront him as to his rejection of his brother. Pastors often are more willing to confront the blatant sinner than they are the prideful one. Elder brothers split churches far more than those who have fallen into moral sins. Gently, but firmly confront them when needed.
- Remind them of their own standing. Sometimes they have forgotten just how wonderful it has been for them. They have forgotten their position in Christ. They have forgotten all the blessings they have received which are as much by God’s grace and mercy as that one who is a returning prodigal. All good which comes to us is by the grace of God. Sometimes they just need to be reminded.
- Remind them that this is the right thing to do. Just as the father said it was meat that they received back the prodigal with rejoicing, we should remind our people that it is the right thing to do to restore the fallen. Don’t wait to remind them until after prodigals have returned. Remind them beforehand, so that they are prepared when it happens.
- Do not allow them to confront the prodigals directly. Be an intercessor for the prodigals. The father did not send the younger son to make things right with his older brother. He acted as the intercessor between the two. Much conflict could be avoided if pastors played the role of peacemaker. Protect the prodigals from the elder brothers lest they be discouraged and fall away again.
- Do not choose between the two. A pastor should never allow himself to be in a position of choosing between a prodigal and an elder brother. If placed in that position he should not be forced into making a choice. By accepting the prodigal you are not rejecting the elder brother. However, in rejecting the prodigal, the elder brother may forfeit his right to his own standing. That is his choice not yours. If that is the choice he makes, do not show him favoritism over that one who has fallen. Do not allow tithe dollars to affect your decision-making either.
Churches should be prodigal friendly, and will be if pastors understand the importance of dealing with the inevitable elder brothers. The question is not whether you have elder brothers in your church. The question is what are you going to do with those older brothers when they rear their disgruntled heads. Decide in advance that you are going to have a prodigal friendly church and not be dissuaded by the elder brothers.
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