Dale Newberry has witnessed every facet of change for Ten Mile Christian Church (formerly Cherry Lane Christian Church), seeing the congregation in Meridian, Idaho, grow from an attendance of 60 to 1,300 in his 28 years as a member. When Dale and his wife, Cherrie, moved to Meridian, he was a nominal Christian, but as he got more involved and his relationship with Christ flourished he began teaching adult Sunday school, took classes at Boise Bible College, and eventually became an elder. He has served in that role for the past 20 years, today as chairman. Dale is the principal owner of Micro 100 Tool Corporation in Meridian where he, Cherrie, their two adult children, and a granddaughter all reside.
What are the most important things an elder can offer to his church?
Of course he needs to be the role–model—stable, doctrinally sound, serving, teaching. We believe that every elder must be a teacher. And not just one-on-one, but in teaching roles, able to teach the Word. No one learns more than the teacher, because of the study he puts in for a particular class. Also, the people get to know the elders very well because of the interaction in the class. It’s been my experience that you have closer relationships with a broader range of people when you are a teacher. It’s there and in home groups where you build relationships quickly.
How would you describe the elders at your church?
We have a very diverse group of elders. We have business leaders, a college professor with a PhD, people with financial backgrounds, and one was the head of the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) for the western U.S. Our elders are very strong, and yet they’re still humble servants. I don’t think you’ll have a good eldership unless you have humble men who are leaders and servants and trust God in all areas of their lives.
Do you have a “shepherding program,” or is shepherding just a natural thing the elders do?
We have prayer need cards that people fill out in the services; then we distribute those and we call, personally, all the people with those needs. Anyone who fills out a card gets a call from staff or elders and also our pastoral care group.
How many cards do you receive in a given week?
We usually have 20 to 30 on Sunday and about another 10 in the midweek. We also make follow-up calls on members with needs discovered and communicated by others in our congregation.
How does an eldership operate as a board of directors while maintaining the role of shepherds?
We see it as a combination. The elders are like a board of directors but are much more involved with the people. We do not have hands-on management of the staff. The staff is independent in the running of the office and programs and things like that. The elders provide more of an oversight of policy.
Have you seen a conflict between the role of “director” and shepherd?
We have not. We just see it all as part of the total package. We do rely on our staff for the vision. They’re the ones who are knee-deep in the workings of management. They are highly reliable and we trust them and work closely with them.
Do any of your staff members serve as elders?
Many churches don’t believe that staff should be elders, but we do. Several of our staff members are elders, including the senior minister. If you ask who is most involved in the spiritual development of the body, you know it is the staff.
Are the staff elders full decision makers or are there times when they are asked to step aside?
The only time we have excluded them from a meeting is when we’re deciding the senior minister’s wages. We establish his wages, and then in the budget we establish a percentage increase for staff. Then the senior minister and his senior administrators determine salary increases. Other than that we do not exclude anybody from any decision making.
Have you grown the number of elders as the church has grown?
We’ve never had an overabundance of elders. We think it’s better to have fewer elders who are qualified than many elders less qualified.
How do you go about determining if someone is qualified to be an elder?
We’re looking at humility, we’re looking at Bible knowledge, we’re looking at people skills, good decision making, and compatibility with the existing eldership. We really believe that someone shouldn’t come in and upset the apple cart but should have a good relationship with the other elders. We also determine if a potential elder is a tither. What right do we have to exhort others to give if we are not generous givers ourselves? We look at the biblical qualifications in Timothy and Titus for eldership and apply those. We are very selective as we use these criteria to consider potential future elders.
What is the process to become an elder?
We put men we think are prospects in different roles so they can be proved out and see if they qualify over time. Usually, a man is already doing many things an elder would do before he has the position. Our elders select elders. We do not have a congregational vote, but when a man is selected, his name is submitted to the congregation for feedback. That way if there might be unknown questions of character they can be investigated before finalizing the appointment. When someone is observed that we think is qualified to be an elder, we go through a process of interviewing both him and his wife and asking very, very in-depth questions about their personal lives and their beliefs. We have watched them in teaching positions to see their ability to teach and interact with people. A prospective elder serves with the elders for a year, observing but not having a vote. He can express his opinion and observe the elders without being an official elder. That has proven to be a very reliable tool to help a person into the eldership. It also helps him decide if he really wants to be an elder.
Do you require sitting elders to “rotate off” every now and then?
We don’t rotate—we serve four-year terms, and all elders are reviewed every four years; [they] go through the review process just like a new elder would.
How does the ministry of prayer fit within the role of elders?
All of our elders meetings start with prayer time and sometimes we plan a special prayer time. We also have prayer warriors within the body and special requests are sent to them. We have prayer times with people we call, and one of the main focuses of our home groups is people sharing with each other in prayer. Scripture reading and prayer are innate parts of our corporate worship.
What do you like most about being an elder?
It allows me to serve, not in a position of honor, but as a servant. The best part of being an elder is the reward of helping others.
Brad Dupray is senior vice president, investor development, with Church Development Fund, Irvine, California.