Two days ago our church membership voted to install our first board of elders in who knows how long. (I’m told that 200+ year-old Middletown Church had elder governance once upon a time, but it has not in recent history.) Establishing leadership from a plurality of elders has been one of my ministry goals since arriving here in August 2009, and as I’ve shared with some over the last 3 years about the process, I continue to receive questions on the nuts and bolts. The reality is not all that sophisticated, honestly.
I wish I had a carefully formulated strategy behind our transition, but I do not. The most important ingredient in this process is a church community already determined to do what the Bible says to do, and this spirit of submission to the Scriptures was not something I gave them, but something they had already developed before I came, something trained in them by the Spirit through the three evangelical pastors before me. I simply capitalized on it. But given the ingredient of a biblically receptive congregation, here are the steps that I took, emphasizing up front that the key pastoral ingredient is patience:
1. I began by teaching the existing leadership team (in our case, the board of deacons and deaconesses) about biblical governance. I suggested books to read (see resource list below), passed around copies of articles and essays, emailed them links to peruse, showed them in the Scriptures the basis for plurality of elders in leadership, and just talked through it with them, answering a bunch of questions and concerns.
2. When the deacons were adequately informed and prepared for the next step, I preached through the issues in our worship service, in a series I called “Church Matters.” In one particular sermon I explained the need for plurality of elders. I continued seeding more awareness of the need in subsequent sermons and talks a bit here and a bit there.
3. A month in advance of our annual meeting last year (2011), I explained that I was going to propose adding to our bylaws the establishment of an elder board. I handed out position papers that I wrote on both elder leadership and the role of women in leadership (explaining why we would continue to have women deacons but would not have women elders).
4. I answered a lot of questions in that pre-meeting time in private meetings with church members.
5. Annual meeting arrived. Members voted unanimously to adopt elder leadership.
6. From fall 2011 to fall 2012, we took nominations for elders from the congregation based on the biblical qualifications required. I interviewed and assessed all candidates.
7. 6 weeks ago I presented the stable of elder candidates for our first elder board. I asked if anyone had an issue — of personal conflict or knowledge of a defaming sin — with any of the men to let me know in advance of meeting. (Nobody did.)
8. Two days ago at our 2012 annual meeting the membership voted unanimously to approve the stable of candidates as presented.
Voila, we have plurality of elders as leadership now. The whole process took 2 years — 1 year to prep the existing leaders and then the congregation and get the bylaws changed, and 1 year to receive nominations and assess candidates.
God has been really good to us.
Your mileage in the process may vary, of course, but this is a rough outline of how it was handled at Middletown.
Resources we found helpful:
- Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons by Thabiti Anyabwile
- A Book on Church Leadership You’ll Actually Read by Mark Driscoll
- Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch
- a bunch of 9 Marks stuff, including the book The Deliberate Church by Mark Dever and this journal article “Moving from a Deacon-Led to an Elder-Led Church” by Phil Newtown