An elder appreciates the opportunity to encourage other members to stay close to Christ.
After first hearing of Jesus as a child, Jim Plumlee was baptized as an adult. He now serves as chairman of the board of elders at Calvary, Dallas, Texas. He has learned many lessons. “The spiritual wisdom and strength that come from the Word and volunteering time and talent to God’s church is priceless,” Plumlee says.
Plumlee was born in Dallas but moved to Alabama when he was one year old. Then he moved to North Carolina. “Dad was in a retail tire business and traveled the East Coast,” he says. His grandmother lived with the family and helped care for Plumlee and his three siblings.
After the family had settled, World War II broke out. As a result, tires were rationed, and the family moved back to Dallas. Plumlee’s parents took jobs at North American Aviation and helped build the B17, B-25, and P-51 Mustang airplanes. Both worked ten-hour night shifts.
During that time, Plumlee’s grandmother helped care for the children. In addition to cooking and cleaning, she looked after their spiritual needs. On Sundays, “Grandmother had us children walk the 2.5 miles to a Methodist church,” Plumlee says. “There I was taught about Jesus. . . . . Sunday fried chicken dinners and fruit cobbler were a reward,” he says.
When Plumlee attended high school, he continued to look for ways to learn about Christ. He went to meetings run by an organization called Young Life and purchased his first King James Bible. At graduation, a neighbor gave him a small book of Proverbs. “These two books made a difference to me,” Plumlee says.
Then Plumlee went to Texas A&M University. He kept attending Young Life meetings and went to a Methodist church when he could get a ride into town. He listened to preachers on the radio and looked for ways to learn more about God and help others. “Texas A&M was an all-male military college back then, and as a senior I was appointed Assistant Corps Chaplain on Corps Staff,” he says.
Taking on new roles
Plumlee got married and went into the manufacturing industry after college and military service. He spent 32 years helping build a family company, serving as CEO the last nine years. The family sold the business in 1982, and he purchased a ranch near Athens, Texas. After some time and a move back to Dallas, Plumlee’s wife, Joyce, wanted to operate a bed and breakfast. The couple decided on a location in East Texas.
While Plumlee and his wife were overseeing their bed and breakfast, a friend invited them to attend Grace, Scroggins, Texas. The couple went and were happy with the experience. “It was awesome,” Plumlee says. They began attending as often as they could, and Plumlee got baptized there. “The congregation was kind and loving, and the pastor inspired me to a faith in God through Jesus so real, which had been absent in my life for so many years.”
After seven years in the business, the couple moved back to Dallas and transferred their membership to Calvary. They attended regularly and continued to grow in the Word. When the pastor encouraged Plumlee to consider leadership roles, he took on the duty of congregation secretary. He also began serving as an elder. For the past four years, he has been the chairman of the board of elders.
The elder program at the congregation is set up as three groups, designed to help care for the spiritual well–being of members. The first group consists of eight core elders who oversee administrative tasks and meet once every two months. Another group of eight duty elders rotate duties for worship services. Sixteen visiting elders, made up of the core elders and eight additional elders, visit members.
As an elder, Plumlee has become familiar with the system the congregation uses to identify members and record their attendance. During worship, attendees fill out a sheet in a book on the pews. They note the date, their family name, and visitor or membership status. “From these pages from each service, a spreadsheet format is used to enter the attendance information for that family as it accumulates each month,” Plumlee says.
The spreadsheet shows how many worship services were available during a month and the number of services each member family attended during that time. This information is compiled into a report every two months and is also listed as a running total for the calendar year. The ratio of the number of services attended compared to the number of services available is converted to a percentage for each family member. “This is an extremely valuable tool for our visiting elders,” Plumlee says. “They can see at a glance from their group of families who they need to contact either by phone, text, e–mail, or in person.”
Elders first undergo training from the pastor to gain insight and direction. They then reach out to members who rarely attend or don’t attend at all. They ask for the reason the family is not able to worship more consistently and then ask them to aim to attend more services. “The family needs to be in the shelter of God and within the arms of Jesus Christ,” Plumlee says. “All joy and peace come from it.”
Each elder oversees between 7 and 15 members, who are divided up by geographical location. If a family’s attendance level declines or drops to zero, the congregation takes notice. “This is one of our church’s concerns and has high priority,” Plumlee says. “Finding WELS Christians who are attending worship just a little bit or not at all has the attention of leaders because it generally is a soul, or family, who is hurting. And Christ and the Word is the answer.”
Helping others stay close to the Word has helped Plumlee place a priority on his own spiritual well-being. “By being more active in the needs of our church, the efforts become the nutrients of growth, spiritually and health wise,” he says. He views the journey of faith as one that needs a continual connection to the Word. “If you plan corn without water, good soil, and sun, it will stunt or die. Faith is like that.” God’s Word and the sacraments are the water they need, and attending church is where they can get “watered.”
During his time as an elder, Plumlee has also had the opportunity to see younger members take on new roles in the congregation. “It is a blessing to me that we are experiencing a younger generation of active worshipers,” he says. “I encourage young people to choose to volunteer time to benefit their church.” Even if a member is only able to help in a small way, that initial start is worth the effort.
Plumlee adds. “They can grow from that as time passes.”
Rachel Hartman is a member at Divine Savior, Doral, Florida.
This is the final article in a three-part series on welcoming straying members back to church.
There are approximately 155,000 WELS individuals who attend worship three or fewer times a year. Having a strong elder program in place can help a congregation as they encourage those who are not attending worship regularly. WELS Congregational Services has produced an online video elder training program as well as resources to help congregations track member attendance. Find the materials at welscongregationalservices.net.
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Author: Rachel Hartman
Volume 106, Number 8
Issue: August 2019
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