Growing EldersFebruary 12, 2007
They teach, lead, protect, and love the church. No wonder elders are key people! Churches are healthy when elders fulfil their biblical function. And when eldership falters, churches wither.
Few today would argue against the strategic importance of elders. But many are asking the question: how do we raise such men up? To ask such a question does not deny that in the final analysis elders are called and equipped by God. Yet Scripture is also clear that human agents are involved in grooming and appointing men to this office.
So how do we raise up elders? What follows is certainly not a definitive answer to the question. What you will find is five preliminary suggestions. I’d be interested to know if you concur, and what you would add.
1. Pray to God. If God alone can ultimately provide the gifts and grace for this office, we must begin on our knees with persistant prayer. This sounds basic but it may be the missing element in many churches devoid of leaders. A searching question would be: how often does my current eldership, or church at large, pray for the ‘elders of the future’?
2. Ensure not only that basic discipleship is available in your church but that more advanced teaching is given. In my own fellowship, we recently began a new course (“The Greenhouse”) for which the specific aim is to develop leaders. Before this we had only the most basic discipleship course. Though this is important, it left a gap for Christians who already had a handle on the fundamentals. While future elders can never dispense with the ‘carnal elements’, they must also have thought through other material such as their views on biblical theology, ecclesiology, the doctrine of God, and various controversial topics (such as spiritual gifts today and women’s role in the church). In our own case, we intentionally invited people to the course with leadership potential. One advantage with this is that present leaders have the opportunity to evaluate these individuals close-up over a long period of team.
3. Be on the look out for prospective elders. It sounds obvious, but if we are not keeping our eyes open for those God might be raising up, we may miss them. I was impressed to read in Dever’s “Nine Marks” that at Capitol Hill Baptist a slot is given in every elders meeting to discuss potential elders. This also implies that the biblical qualifications for elders are well understood not only by individual elders, but agreed upon by the group.
4. Be prepared to train men on a one to one basis. Certainly in Scotland this is doesn’t commonly happen. While women apparently take to mentoring like ducks to water, men scarcely get their feet wet! But if Jesus close-proximity training of his disciples is exemplary, or Paul’s call to “follow his example” paradigmatic, this is a must. In my own experience, rubbing shoulders with godly, wise, biblically informed, and pastorally sensitive men, has shaped me more for pastoral ministry than even the best books I’ve read on the subject.
5. Grant prospective elders exposure to the wider church. This is particularly important in churches with larger attendance. In Charlotte Chapel (for instance) we have around 700 members, and over a 1000 attenders every Sunday. How will elders ever be recognised unless they have been strategically given opportunity to come to the attention of the congregation? It is a good thing to have such men lead in prayer, conduct the service, or even preach, so that the congregation might know them, judge their character, and of course, recognise their “aptness to teach.”
For a plethora of interesting papers on eldership, check out the latest Nine Marks newsletter, which is devoted to the subject.