By David Roadcup
My 23 years of coaching and consulting with churches and their leaders has led me to conclude, As go the leaders, so goes the church. Leaders set the example, tone, faith, and practice for believers in the church they serve.
So we, as leaders, need to ask ourselves, What does our Father want from us, and how do we accomplish his ultimate task?
Using Scripture as our guideline, here is an overview of what the Lord wants from the primary leaders in his church.
1. A Healthy and Growing Spiritual Life
God wants all church leadership teams to serve from a healthy and growing spiritual life.
• Jesus calls all leaders and believers to die to themselves on a daily basis. In other words, we kill our will and invite the will of Jesus to direct and guide our lives (Luke 9:23, 24). This is the cornerstone to growing and maturing in our faith; it’s the essential element in personal, spiritual maturity. Church leaders who have no transforming experience—who do not die to themselves—are leading in the flesh rather than the Spirit.
• In dying to ourselves, we learn obedience to all of the Lord’s commands and expectations. We learn to obey in all things and every situation.
Obedience is Jesus’ love language! Jesus clearly indicated that obedience is the acid test of our love for him. Four times in John 14:15-24, Jesus told his disciples, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” He essentially said,“This is how I really know whether you love me: if you do what I ask you to do.”The Lord expects the leaders of his body to continually be growing in obedience. When we dedicate our lives to Jesus at baptism, we give up the right to say no to him in any way.
• The Lord calls all leaders to personal spiritual growth. (See Ephesians 4:11-16; Colossians 1:28, 29; Colossians 2:6, 7; Hebrews 5:11–6:1; 1 Peter 2:1-3.) Our growth comes as we weave spiritual disciplines into our daily schedules and routines. These disciplines include attention to the Word of God, prayer, meditation, fasting, journaling, service, generosity, solitude, and others. These ancient practices bring us into the presence of our Father, who then feeds and strengthens us as his children. They move us to new levels of spiritual awareness.
2. An Understanding of Their Scriptural Job Description
God wants elders and staff to know and understand their scriptural job descriptions. As overseers and leaders, elders are to carry out these functions:
• They provide general oversight for the health, care, and management of the church in all aspects of her ministry.
• They handle, along with staff, the major decision-making tasks of the congregation.
• They work together in harmony, unity, and love.
• They work with staff to develop the mission, vision, and values of the congregation. This includes teaching these important concepts to the congregation. While staff usually leads in the creation of these elements, elders should oversee and participate in their execution.
• They develop an effective plan for recruiting, training, and developing future leaders. This often neglected task is one of the most important elements in cultivating a good leadership team.
• They provide fiscal oversight.
And as shepherds, elders are to pastor the church in these ways:
• They are to be “heart-deep” in the life of their church. Each elder should be spiritually, emotionally, and mentally committed to the believers in their congregation.
• They oversee and encourage evangelism. (Is the church reaching unbelievers on a regular basis?)
• They manage the discipling and maturing of the believers committed to their care. They should have a plan in place for new believers as they step out from the baptistery. This plan should help connect them spiritually and emotionally to the church family. They should have a plan to foster personal and spiritual growth in believers. The congregation needs to be fed, nurtured, and stimulated to grow in their faith journey. The job description for the elders of Northwest Bible Church in Dallas, Texas, attests to this: “The purpose of our Council of Elders is not meetings but maturing. It is about knowing God and growing in Christlikeness which is the fruit of true spiritual community.”
• They make careful and discerning decisions. Shepherds should collect all of the critical information, immerse the issue in prayer, and then decide. Decision-making is one of the critical responsibilities of church leaders.
• They protect the doctrinal purity of the church body. False teaching abounds today. Protecting people from incorrect doctrine is one of the main roles of biblical elders.
• They pray for the sick and anoint them with oil.
• They oversee church discipline. Shepherds do this biblically, with great care and discernment, always with the goal of restoring the struggling brother or sister to Christ.
• They teach in multiple ways. If formal teaching is one of an elder’s gifts, then he should teach classes and at other opportunities. If teaching formally is not a gift, then the elder should teach by example, words, and influence.
• They give generously and model the giving of their finances as obedient stewards. Elders must be financially committed to the body of Christ. It is impossible to teach people to give if elders are not leading by example.
When God birthed the church, he had a structure and a plan for the church to effectively accomplish his intended outcomes. This plan included elders who would lead through prayer, obedience, wisdom, discernment, and love. He also gave a job description for them. Knowing what the Lord expects will help us to accomplish with excellence what he has requested.
David Roadcup is cofounder and outreach director for e2: effective elders. He also serves as professor of discipleship and global outreach representative with TCM International Institute. He is also on the board of directors of Christian Arabic Services.