Four Ways to Equip New Elders
Each year the NFL and NBA host rookie symposiums for newly drafted players. The leagues use the meetings to instruct young, rich, popular men about how to handle all the pressures that come with their newfound fame and fortune. The players receive practical advice about budgeting money, avoiding groupies, and guarding their wallets from new “friends” and potential gold-diggers. Because of the great wealth and responsibility these men have been given, they need training to help them flourish in their new role of athletic icon.
FOUR WAYS TO EQUIP NEW ELDERS
If professional athletes need to be trained to handle the pressures of their enviable yet fleeting position, how much more should the men who serve as elders in the church of the eternal King receive training to carry out their responsibilities. In what follows, I lay out some simple ideas for helping new elders get settled in and begin to serve in their new role as under-shepherd.
1. Get him a brother.
One of the best things you can do to serve a new elder is to set him up with another, more experienced elder to help him adjust to his new role. This relationship allows the new elder to freely process questions and receive practical feedback. There are plenty of things elders can talk about over lunch or coffee, but here are a few suggestions.
Talk about meetings. Each elder board has its own culture, and it may be good for the experienced elder to help the new elder process what’s happening in the meetings and understand any personal dynamics that may seem strange. If the new elder is overly talkative, the older elder might help him think about listening more. If he doesn’t talk enough, the experienced elder can reassure him of the freedom he has to speak up.
Talk about pressure. New elders will often feel pressures they never have before. They’ll feel a new kind of burden for the church. They may feel a sinful temptation to prove themselves among the other elders. They’ll surely feel the pressure that comes with our inadequacies as ministers of the gospel. Having another elder to process pressure with is a must.
Talk about time. New elders are normally men who have demanding jobs, flourishing families, discipleship relationships, and countless other things that call for their attention. Add to that the new responsibilities of elder meetings and memos and counseling sessions and teaching responsibilities, and all of a sudden he’s even more stacked up. Make sure one of the elders helps him process how to balance his schedule and discern what might need to be cut or rearranged.
Talk about family. Serving as an elder requires sacrifice from the man and also from his family. Make sure you help him think though how he should guard and lead his family under the new pressures he feels. He needs to think about how much of what he hears at the meetings he can share with his wife. He needs someone to make sure he remembers that his family is his first flock and that if he doesn’t care for them, he is not qualified to care for the church (1 Tim. 3:4-5).
Talk about holiness. Satan is never pleased when another servant of the Lord is raised up. New positions are often accompanied by a new flood of temptations. Make sure that the new elder, like the rest, is having honest, sin-defying conversations with the other elders. Remind each other that we must first be men who love Jesus and hate sin. Positions of eldership can come and go, but our devotion to Christ cannot. Help each other fight for holiness.
Talk about God’s grace. An incoming elder may be tempted to think that he needs to prove himself. Spend time with him to encourage him in the ministry that God is already doing in and through him. Help him to see how God is blessing his discipleship, evangelism, and teaching. Help him to recall how faithful God has been to him and to those around him. Encourage him to press into prayer and to actively fight for unity with others. Remind him that his ministry success is rooted in God’s abundant grace, not in his amazing abilities.
Talk with each other. Encourage the existing elders to spend time with the new elder. Take him out to eat or go fishing or play chess or whatever you want, but spend personal time with him. Share your testimonies with one another. Pray together. Encourage each other. Consider an elder retreat. Go into the woods. Kill something together. Eat it. A band of brothers who do battle together need to be brothers, and this doesn’t happen solely through meetings.
2. Get him some books.
One of the best gifts you can give a new elder is books. When he joins the team, greet him with some resources to help him grow as a minister of the gospel and as an elder in your church.
Give him “the stack.” I’d encourage each elder team to put together a reading list that can be given to each new elder when they come on board. Our church has a set of 8 books that each new elder is given, along with a monthly reading plan to use as a guide for meetings with a more experienced elder. There are many good resources out there, but a few of my most highly recommended are The Deliberate Church by Mark Dever and Paul Alexander, The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands by Paul Tripp, the 9Marks volumes on Church Membership and Church Discipline by Jonathan Leeman, and The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter.
Consider a policy manual. A booklet of important minutes, major decisions or trend-setting issues may help the new guy get up to speed on where your church’s elders have been in the past. I know when I read though my own church’s booklet that contained our old minutes I learned much about what happened before I got here and why we do what we do today.
3. Get him a budget.
I am aware that not every church can swing this. But if you are able to give non-staff elders a small stipend to use on discipleship meals, resources, conferences, and other ministry-related expenses, it can go a long way in communicating that you value them and their development as faithful ministers of the gospel.
4. Get him on a billboard.
It is important for the church to see their elders lead publically as much as possible. This builds familiarity, trust, and love for them. So, do what you can to get all your elders, including the new guys, to publicly lead and teach the congregation. Is there an opportunity for him to pray during the service? Can he lead the service? Can he teach a membership class? Can he present new members to the congregation? Would you consider having him preach a sermon in the main gathering or at another gathering? When can he share his testimony with the congregation? Ask the Lord to show you ways to get these new brothers before the church.
DON’T HOPE IN TRAINING SYSTEMS, BUT IN THE LORD
As you consider how to develop the new elders that Jesus has raised up in your church, continue to trust that God’s Spirit is working in the midst of the mess. Above all, focus your efforts on ensuring that the new elders continue to deepen their personal walk with Christ. In the end our hope is not in training systems but in the Lord, that he will use our feeble efforts to build his church for his glory.