The Role Of Elders

The longevity and vitality of our church depends on Spirit-gifted people actively developing the ministries of the church.

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Theologically, we believe that the ministry of our church is propelled forward by the gifts of the Holy Spirit in every believer who is part of our church (1 Cor. 12:7, 1 Pet. 4:10). If we are not seeing vital ministry developing in our church, there are three possible explanations for why this is the case:

  • We are not believers, and are therefore not spiritually gifted.
  • We are ignorant, not realizing that God has gifted us so we will do ministry.
  • We are apathetic or rebellious, intentionally failing to use God’s gifts in us for ministry.

Task #1 for the Elder Team: Gain Clarity And Come Into Confrontation With Whatever Is Defeating Spirit-Gifted Ministry In Our Body

Stark Realization: Our current leaders, programs, and paradigms might be holding us back.

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When we think about church-wide ministry, the leadership provided by the Elder Team can only do what Jesus did which is to define ministry as joining the Father in what he is already doing (John 5:19). The Elder Team, or the church as an institution, can not create ministry (the “church” should do this, the “church” should do that). We can fuel ministry through biblical teaching and prayer. And we can recognize where God is already working through a particular person and their ministry.

Task #2 for the Elder Team: Look For, Celebrate, And Resource What God Is Already Doing Through Spirit-Gifted Ministry In Our Body

Stark Realization: Elders can not create gifted ministry, but they can recognize and resource it.

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A key function of the Elder Team is to keep the church aligned with God and his Word. The Elder Team is in a unique position to make sure that the church stays focused. They can protect and resource leaders who are using their gifts to develop ministries, and replace leaders or kill programs that are no longer effective. The Elder Team can help our church get focused and stay focused on people doing ministry, particularly as it relates to the structure of the church as an institution.

Task #3 for the Elder Team: Focus, Decide, And Lead To Intentionally Develop A Biblical Rather Than Consumer Ethos In The Church

Stark Realization: Only trained and trusted leaders, who are currently in short supply, will be able to equip us to be the kind of church we want to become.

Levels of Church Leadership

Here’s my working understanding of the levels of leadership we need to consciously be aware of and developing in the life of the church.

Leaders: Anyone with a basic spiritual foundation and solid character can be a leader in the church. Leadership at its most basic level is taking initiative and following through for the development and success of ministry. This could be as part of a team working under the leadership of a deacon, or individually in the development of a personal ministry. Think of these as apprentices, assistants, deputies, interns, lieutenants, trainees. The bottom line is we are not aware of this as a level of leadership, and we do not intentionally develop people in this capacity. This handicaps our ability to develop people, test their character, and filter out ineffective leaders prior to putting them in positions of increasing responsibility.

In our church, this level of leadership is absolutely wide open. There is nearly unlimited freedom for an individual to develop a personal ministry (college, one-on-one discipleship, outreach, social justice, specialty class, teens, etc.). There are also significant opportunities for leaders to work as part of a team with a deacon who is already in place.

Deacons: There is a need for leaders who, having a proven track record as entry-level leaders working as part of a team, can serve as the point person for developing a specific ministry they are passionate about and effective in. Think of these as team leaders, managers, supervisors, program directors. To align with the Scriptures, I believe this is the function of the men and women we call deacons. The bottom line is that no one should serve as a deacon who has not first proven themselves as a leader who consistently takes the initiative and follows through as part of a team in the development of a ministry. Since we typically view this as the first level of leadership, we too often put people in this type of position who do not pan out due to lack of experience, poor character, or bad fit for the position.

In our church, this level of leadership is determined to be biblically qualified and then appointed by the Elder Team. It is still a very open opportunity, but we need to do more work on making sure future deacons have proven themselves as leaders first and we need to work harder at making sure our deacons are the right fit to effectively do their work.

Elders: If deacons are proven leaders who develop ministries with relative independence from and also accountability to elderselders are effective leaders who the church trusts to bring clarity, courage, decisiveness, and vision to their work. These leaders are responsible for seeing the body as a whole and keeping the mission in mind. They must have the clarity and courage to resource effective leaders and programs, remove ineffective leaders and programs, and essentially keep the activities of the church aligned with a unified spiritual vision of the church. The elders provide as a team what the larger group is not able to provide for itself: unified vision, decisive action, leading the group to clarify it’s identity and mission, etc. The bottom line is that too many men serve as pastors and elders in our churches who have never developed their own ministry or led a team in the development of a successful ministry as a deacon. One of the reasons that we flounder organizationally is that we do not reserve our highest leadership positions only to those who have already proven their character, spirituality, and effectiveness.

In our church, this level of leadership is determined to be biblically qualified and then appointed by the congregation as a whole. Our process for selection, training, and congregational affirmation of elders needs to be significantly revised in the coming years.

Let’s Remodel This House

Parish renewal is home remodeling. This place needs to change. But we live here.

It’s a serious negotiation between the comfort and reality of what is, and the necessity and possibility of what is to come.

God has given our church a timely kick in the pants: we must change, we have to change. There is no longer a question of whether this house needs to be remodeled. Apart from leadership or change, our church is not capable of sustaining itself in key institutional areas: facility, finances, volunteer leadership, or staff.

The trick of the thing is that the institutional aspects of church exist to resource and support the organic aspects of church. Much as it might seem the other way around at times, a family owns a home and pays all the bills for a structure that should serve that family. The home is for the family. The institutional church (facility, staff, Sunday service) is for the organic church (the body, the relational web of people). In a healthy situation, the organism fuels and shapes the institution. In our current situation, the lifespan of the institution is not stable because the organism is not healthy.

Our home remodeling project has two major phases.

The first phase is to keep the institution going, and it is only a temporary phase. It is a temporary phase, because if the organism becomes healthy it will be able to fuel and shape the institution on it’s own. It’s also temporary if the organism can not become healthy, because the institution will falter and die at whatever speed it does so. What is the lifespan of this temporary phase? As long as it takes for the organism to start crawling, walking, and then running. Once the organism is functioning, the institution doesn’t need temporary life support any more.

Translated into the language of home remodeling, the first phase is “life support” keeping the bills paid and maintaining the home “as is” buying the family inside time to figure out how to get on the right track.

Phase 1 Action Step: Tffani and I have made a public commitment to some very basic things. If many or most of us were willing to make these commitments, our church will have institutional “life support” long enough to start getting functioning as an organism. Tiffani and I have unilaterally (without the approval of anyone else) formed a Booster Club and asked anyone willing to publicly join us in our commitments to let us know. So far it is us plus ten other families. Here are the commitments we are making together:

  • We will actively pray for God’s hand in our lives and our church for his glory.
  • We will be at the Worship Gathering unless we are sick or out of town.
  • We will give a portion of our income to support the church’s work.
  • We will take part in service projects in the community.
  • We will make sacrifices to build this church as God guides us.

The second phase is to focus, shape, and resource the organism, and it is an ongoing activity that will never be over. Although we look like an established church institutionally speaking (we have a building, we have a pastor, we have a board?), we are a church plant organically speaking. If we can maintain institutional stability over the next 12-24 months, the hope is that we can get the organism planted and hopefully beyond moving toward or past the point where we are an established organism that is shaping and fueling the institution which in turn is providing resources and structure for the organism.

Translated into the language of home remodeling, the second phase is change and renewal. A family needs to figure out who they are, why they’re there, what they’re about and what they’re not about, how they will be their family and do what their family does. I think as a church this is primarily about what God says church is, what church is for, how healthy church functions. But once things start functioning in a good and healthy way, then the rooms of the house can be remodeled and the space can be used for the functioning of a family and the family will be able to in turn take care of the house. As a family figures out who they are and becomes healthier, they might decide to add on to the house, move to a more appropriate house, or move into someone else’s house.

Phase 2 Action Step: We will devote the Worship Gathering on Sundays in January and February to initiating a conversation in the body about what the Bible says about church, using Dennis McCallum’s Members of One Another: How to build a biblical ethos into your church as a handbook for us to think about and change our church culture. I have asked the Worship Team to take a break from providing music during these two months, since they are a big chunk of our church and we need everyone fully involved. We will do simple music and emphasize prayer, teaching, and conversation during January and February. These two months of focus are a unlilateral action (without the approval of anyone else) I have taken, but the process that will be taking place will involve whoever is actively engaged in the conversation. And we need to have the kind of conversations that are not opinion without commitment, but that are honest talk connected to real life action. We as a family are the only ones who can remodel our own house with God’s help.

Summary: If all else remains the same, we have 12-24 months of financial stability to maintain our facility and staff. If we can start making significant progress in becoming a healthy church, we will have more time than that to get on track and truly become a thriving growing church. My hope is that our home remodeling project will help us clarify who we are as a family, and put us eventually in a home that we shape and fuel so it can best support and resource us as God’s healthy thriving family.

Evangelical, Not Fundamentalist

I am an evangelical, not a fundamentalist.

THE BIBLE

Evangelicals believe the Bible is primarily about life-altering relationships with God through Jesus. Fundamentalists believe the Bible is primarily about truth and being right.

Evangelicals believe the Bible is divinely inspired, but human interpretation is subject to correction and revision. Fundamentalists believe that the Bible is without error, and that their interpretation which they consider the “plain” or “obvious” reading is also without error.

SCIENCE & OUR WORLD

Evangelicals believe Jesus is the King of creation: his reign has started and will ultimately prevail. Fundamentalists believe Satan is in control of the world.

Evangelicals believe God created all people in his image. Fundamentalists divide the world between the apostate and the faithful.

Evangelicals believe the Bible and mainstream science are largely compatible. Fundamentalists believe the Bible and mainstream science are at odds with each other.

SIN

Evangelicals believe sin affects God’s creation and everyone is a sinner. Fundamentalists stratify certain types of sin and sinners (alcoholic, divorced, gay, liberal people) as more offensive to God than others (angry, hateful, greedy, proud people).

POLITICS

Evangelicals believe in societal change through personal and community renewal. Fundamentalists believe in societal change through political clout.