The night I was elected elder in my church, I began serving. Within a week I was voting on decisions that I was totally unprepared to make. I was clueless about what elders did or how they did it, so I just watched some of the more experienced elders. For better or worse, I just did what they did and within a few months, I was catching on.
But what exactly, was I catching on to? Was I truly being a biblical elder or was I just doing what the elders have always done at my church?
It took me a few years to figure out that something was seriously wrong with this process. My church and Jesus as head of the church, deserved better than this on the job training of leaders. So a dozen years ago, the leadership of our church did three things that dramatically changed the way our leaders were trained and organized.
We changed our Church Constitution to allow newly elected elders and deacons three months of training and observation before they cast a vote. Newly elected elders are asked to begin attending elders meetings immediately after their appointment, to hear the debate and discussion. They’re also encouraged to join in the discussion, but without voting. These three months have proven invaluable in preparing these men to make more spiritually informed decisions. In the meantime, the retiring elders continue serving an extra three months, so we always have a full compliment of elders voting.
We began a two-month training program for all elders and deacons, to be completed prior to beginning their service. These sessions are led by an experienced former elder. For many years, we simply required all new elders to read and discuss a wonderful book by Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership. (our deacons used another book by Strauch, Biblical Deacons.) Those discussions generally required four two-hour meetings.In addition to these readings, new elders were briefed on the current issues being addressed by the elders. They were also instructed on some of the practical aspects of their work such as serving communion, praying for the sick and discipline and restoration of members.More recently, the former chairman of our elders, Jim De Vries has written an Elder Training Handbook. We’re using it this year for the first time, and we expect there to be some changes. However, if you email and request it, I’ll send you an electronic version of a draft copy, firstname.lastname@example.org.
A half dozen years ago, the elders examined every activity we elders were then doing, in the light of scripture. Individually, we were asked to put each activity we were presently doing, or ought to do, under one of three columns;
1. Those duties in the Bible that elders are required to do. 2. Those duties the elders are currently doing that we may not have to do personally, but should give oversight. 3. Those duties we’re currently performing, that elders really needn’t do at all.
That process led us to spending far more time in prayer (about an hour each meeting) and Bible study. We also discovered many things we were doing like serving communion to shut-ins, could be done by others, like retired elders or pastors. We left almost the entire budget process to the deacons, which cut down considerable time. Elders no longer chair every committee as they used to, and so on…
The point is, we began acting more like elders, than a church board of directors!
Today, the elders of our church with over 4,000 attending weekly, are able to have one evening meeting a month, devoted almost exclusively to praying in groups for the sick who come to the church to be prayed over. Many times this time of prayer goes on for two hours or more. Then we spend 45 minutes to an hour in Bible study on issues affecting our church, and more prayer after that. As a result, we’re making more prayerful, wise and biblical decisions.
We now have all the other elder business down to only one additional meeting per month. We’re accomplishing more and working less than ever before, making serving as an elder more attractive and less stressful to families.
Consider sending this blog to your Senior Pastor, or an elder or deacon in your church. The leaders of most churches usually perpetuate what they’ve seen others do. We did too – until we went back to the Bible. And it works!
How following Jesus works in real life.
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