How New Elders Earn Authority
When new elders are installed in a church, everyone becomes extra watchful. It’s sort of like seeing your kid’s first trip on a bicycle without training wheels. It’s a big change, and there might be a couple of spills. But you anticipate the good things to come.
New elders ought to meet the biblical qualifications set out in 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, and 1 Peter 5. Elders must come into the role with a track record of faithfulness where those biblical qualities have been on display. If they didn’t have these qualifications, then there wouldn’t have been grounds to recognize and install them in the first place. Plus, once an elder is installed, he possess a formal authority to teach, lead, and oversee the flock.
But how does a new elder earn that informal authority or trust that is crucial to leading a congregation? Other pastors can help new elders to grow in their publicly recognized leadership in a number of ways. Below I’ve listed five.
IN THE PULPIT
The most important way for a new elder to gain authority in a church is through teaching. Since the qualification to teach is the primary thing that distinguishes the overseer from an exemplary Christian man (1 Tim 3:2), teaching needs to be the primary place where a new elder accrues authority.
Churches can give a new elder opportunities to teach in settings such as Bible studies, small groups, Sunday School classes, or even the pulpit. This public teaching and preaching may only be occasional, but it must be frequent enough so that the congregation can feed on the Word of God at the hands of this particular shepherd.
No one expects the new elder to teach or preach as well as the senior pastor. But if the new elder is “apt to teach,” he’ll be able to offer Scriptural truth for hungry sheep. Some new elder sermons might need some polish. Other might surprise the church with how well they can speak. But ultimately, as a new elder feeds the sheep, they will continually entrust themselves to that new elder.
AT THE MIC
If you’re looking for a more frequent opportunity to help a new elder earn authority, have them lead the public liturgy or order of service on Sunday morning. However your church does things, if the new elder is opening with the call to worship, leading people in public prayer, and reading Scripture, he will slowly gain authority as people benefit from his public leadership. People will trust the new elder when they hear him pray on behalf of the church. They’ll appreciate his wisdom and devotional intelligence. Frequent service leading helps new elders to gain authority.
SIDE BY SIDE
Serving alongside the other pastors and elders can be another way new elders earn authority. For example, when your church celebrates the Lord’s Supper, perhaps you can have a new elder up front, standing beside the other pastors and elders. Let him lead in prayer as part of the Supper. This applies to baptisms, as well.
Another idea would be to let them lead members’ meetings or various Q&A sessions. These provide opportunities to show how a new elder contributes to the overall leadership of the board.
IN THE INTERVIEW
It isn’t only in public that a new elder earns authority, but also in the regular work of less visible pastoral care. This work involves the different tasks of counseling, discipling, and mentoring. It also includes the more specific pastoral task of conducting membership interviews. A new elder exercises his responsibility to guard the integrity of the church (Acts 20:28) by interviewing potential members. When a member has been interviewed by a new elder, he or she is seeing the man’s shepherding care in action.
AT THE MEETING
A new elder needs to earn authority in the congregation. But he also needs to earn authority among the other elders and staff. That can happen as the new elder is given opportunity to lead in various aspects of elders’ meetings. This may be through leading a discussion or simply leading in prayer. It could even mean chairing a part or all of the meeting. Being able to lead among other strong leaders is a rapid way to earn authority among your pastoral peers.
From the pulpit to the boardroom, pastors can help new elders grow in their publicly recognized leadership in a number of ways—and the more they’re exposed, the more the church will trust them.