By Jim Estep
Most elders didn’t go to Bible college or seminary. I know of no degree in “eldering.” Congregations must provide for the education of elders. Scripture teaches that “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17, English Standard Version). The church is not an organization that “produces” elders. Instead, the church is an organism, a living body—the body of Christ—and elders are “grown” in the soil of church relationships. What kind of relationships can educate, prepare, and equip someone for service?
An elder needs more than head knowledge, but becoming an effective elder begins with studying together as an elder team. Studying this way unites the team to learn and process the same content, while forming and aligning their approach as elders. It is a means of orienting new elders to their role and task within the congregation. The e2 ministry exists to equip elders to lead. The Elder’s Toolbox, designed to help educate elders, contains all the equipment required to build up the elder team, including a 16-session curriculum that leads teams through e2’s books, videos, and digital materials. The toolbox provides reflective questions and practical assignments to aid in the application of the materials by elder teams. It is a comprehensive way of equipping, resourcing, and educating elder teams.
Crucial question: What is your elder team studying?
We all can readily identify a mentor—a parent, teacher, boss, professor, or superior—who has poured into us. Elder teams should have intentional mentoring relationships, especially with potential elders. In fact, intentional mentoring of potential future elders is a good first step in recruiting new leaders for the congregation. Mentoring involves life-on-life sharing at a very personal level. It is an intentional friendship involving a more mature and experienced believer pouring into the life of a potential leader on such matters as marriage, family, spiritual life, and faith. These sharing periods of devotion, prayer, fasting, confession, and counsel strengthen a mentoring relationship and help build the character of both the elder and the potential leader.
Crucial question: Who are you mentoring? Whose faith and life are you pouring into?
Elders must acquire skills and competencies to effectively serve in the church. The Bible shows that elders teach so as to promote and preserve sound doctrine, pray for the congregation, anoint the sick with oil, and perform a myriad of other tasks. Educating the elder team includes coaching. The coach knows the essential skills of the game and passes them along to the players—potential leaders and other individuals in the congregation—who follow his example and guidance. Coaching involves skill development—learning how to do something through demonstration and assessment, until the skill has been mastered. Ask potential elders and current elders to join a more experienced and skilled elder who can demonstrate what to do and how to do it. The best way to learn how to make a hospital call, for example, is to make the call. The person who is learning should go on a call with an experienced elder; after instruction and feedback, trial and (sometimes) error, the trainee eventually will become capable of making calls alone.
Crucial question: Who are you coaching and training to do the work of an elder?
Constructive feedback is anotheravenue of educating elders. Remember the marked-up research papers teachers would hand back to you in high school or college? The red markings provided not just a letter grade, but also instructive feedback. The teacher pointed out typos, as well as form and style errors, and they corrected content and faulty reasoning. In matters of faith and practice, doctrine and ministry, elders need to provide timely, constructive, and instructive feedback to potential leaders as well as to fellow elders to improve our service to the congregation. We should know our strengths and weaknesses; we can leverage the former and work on the latter.
Crucial question: Do elders at your church have opportunities to evaluate one another and raise critical questions?
Relationship is key to educating elders. A solid and effective church leadership culture relies on elders who study together, and mentor, coach, and provide feedback to one another. Elder teams that cultivate team competence will have a growing faith and ever-improving—and God-honoring—service.
Jim Estep serves as vice president of academics with Central Christian College of the Bible, Moberly, Missouri, and as resource director with e2: effective elders.