There are many reasons church planters don’t developing elders as soon as they should. One of the biggest hindrances is the lack of a plan.
To develop a plan for developing elders, you need to begin with the end in mind. That is, you need to answer this question: What kind of men do I want as elders in this church?
To answer that question, you need to think about three things:
- Requirements from Scripture (For example, what do 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 say?)
- Requirements from your Denomination or Network (For example, what does it mean to be an elder in a Presbyterian, Baptist, or an Acts 29 church?)
- Requirements from your context and church (For example, what does it mean to be an elder at my church, at this time, this stage, this size, in this part of this specific city?)
Once you’ve answered those questions, you know what kind of man you want to serve as an elder in your church. Work backwards from there to create a plan that will you develop the right men into the leaders Jesus has called them to be.
If you can’t develop leaders, you shouldn’t plant a church.
Your plan will need to help these men understand the knowledge that’s vital, develop the skills necessary, and show forth the character required to serve as an elder in your specific church. Part of what that means is that some parts of your plans can come from other churches. Other parts need to be unique to you, your church, and your vision.
Put the time required into developing this plan. Don’t just photocopy another pastor’s plan. Think about the men needed to lead your specific church. Work from there to create a plan to develop those kinds of men.
Suggestions for Developing Your Plan
Once you know the kind of men you want to develop, start writing.
Make it clear to the participants where you are headed. Let them know the kind of men you want to lead the church. Tie your end goal to the Scriptures and to the vision of the church. Let each man know what kind of demands being an elder will place on their time. Let each man know the character required to serve as an elder. Let each man know (generally) the doctrine they will have to affirm as Biblical to serve as an elder your church. Let them know the time they will need to commit to the training.
Encourage each man “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” (Romans 12:3) That is, encourage the men to self-select out of the process if they don’t think they are ready or able to serve as an elder.
You will want to encourage a fair amount of self-study for three reasons:
- When the men run into a challenge in their ministry, you want them to be able to solve many of those problems without having to call you for the answer.
- If you don’t encourage self-study, you will wear yourself out during the teaching time and your training process will take too long.
- If they don’t have the time, character, or ability to do the study before they are elders, they won’t once they are serving as elders.
Where you can, use resources already available. For example, you don’t need to write your own book to teach your guys theology—there are plenty of good ones out there.
Let the self-study time be the primary means to impart knowledge. Focus your time together on application of that knowledge. You will want to observe how your potential elders work together and work individually through difficult ministry situations.
For example, I had my men read sections of Christian Beliefs, a basic doctrine book I worked on with my dad. When we were together, I asked them questions that encouraged them to apply what they read. In the past, I’ve used questions I wrote. I will now use questions that Scott Thomas wrote in Theological Clarity. (Again, why recreate what is already available?)
You can find the plan I use to develop elders here.
Once you have your plan in place, implement it. Start with your Sunday worship service. Preach about elders and deacons and talk about the gifts and callings God gives to each member of Christ’s Church. Get your members thinking about church leadership. Encourage the men in your church to consider the call to be an elder.
Then, start the training with the right men. Push them hard. Demand a lot from them. Set the bar high, but not so high that no one could ever clear it.
Once the training is complete, find a way to evaluate their skills, knowledge, and character (including their marriage), prior to their becoming elders. (You will also find this an opportunity to evaluate your ability to develop leaders.)
Through it all, trust Jesus. He is building his church. He is kind and generous to his church. He will give her the leaders she needs to advance the gospel throughout the world.