How to Enact Elder Governance

by Jared Johnson

We received numerous requests for “next steps” following Pastor Hennig’s comments on shepherding two weeks ago.  We have helped numerous churches make the change from an “elected office” leadership paradigm to what we call “elder governance.”  You may also download this paper from our site explaining the foundations of elder governance further, all from the pages of Acts.  Both linked resources above are free. 

Here are the few steps we would suggest if your congregation wants to pursue elder governance. 

1. Acknowledge appropriate limits.  
Recognize that this process will require time.  Depending on your congregation’s leadership history, it could range from weeks to years.  Don’t get discouraged as you take one step at a time.  Your current elders, servants (i.e. “deacons”), etc., should continue filling their roles of servant-leadership.  Making a switch in the leadership paradigm of your church does not automatically require anyone be “fired!”
 
2. Ensure bylaw compliance and build agreement.
You may need to take some specific action(s) according to your current bylaws.  If they outright prevent the congregation from using an elder governance paradigm, you may even need to amend your bylaws – thus a possible years-long process.  Begin teaching and talking about this among the leadership and congregation to build buy-in.  But also be aware that, especially in congregations with a very long-time “democratic” paradigm, there are bound to be some individuals opposed, even stridently.  Walk with them, talk with them.
 
3. Identify and Recruit  
As your elders continue doing what they’re doing, identify those tasks that need to be delegated, then recruit capable volunteers to whom the elders will hand off the non-elder-governance tasks.  A very common example is the church’s budget.  Elders set the spiritual tone of the congregation; nowhere in Acts (nor the full NT) do we see elders managing the minutiae of a congregation’s assets.  If the elders are scrutinizing every line item from the checkbook at each meeting, recruit an office manager, accountant, etc., to help the church administer its budget.  This does not mean the elders have abdicated financial oversight.  It means they’re devoted, primarily, to spiritual matters.  They shouldn’t spend any time debating whether the $17.99 snow shovel was over-spending versus $13.99.  Prayer > payments.
 
Other arenas can be given to volunteers; budgeting simply seems to be the most frequent.  Other duties to delegate could be building use / rental inquiries, benevolence / food pantry (see Acts 6!), following-up with visitors, filling communion cups, etc.
 
Recruit capable volunteers for the tasks your elders are planning to give away.
 
4. Communication: Write & Teach.  
A written plan diminishes opportunity for complaints and fault-finding in the future.  Put everyone on a literal same page.  A step-by-step plan can be simple and direct, i.e.:

  1. By April 30, recruit:
    1. qualified volunteer to oversee budget.  
    2. an elder to meet with new Finance Servant monthly.
  2. By May 15, update bank with Finance Servant’s name:
    1. signature authorities 
    2. online login 
    3. debit/credit cards that need to be issued and/or shredded
  3. By May 15, inform Offering Counting/Deposit team of new role and person filling it.
  4. June 1 and ongoing: continue operations with new Finance Servant overseeing rather than elders.

Make time to teach about elder governance as well.  Create an information packet.  Hold Q&A sessions.  Engage the people, showing why this model better-follows the pattern established in Acts, rather than mimicking branches of government. 
 
5. Monitor boundaries.
As you create and enact your new governance paradigm in the congregation, opportunities will arise to default to old habits.  Resist them.  Lovingly remind all involved – an elder who falls back on an established pattern, a new volunteer who may think they’ve been given more leeway than intended – that there’s a new way of doing things.  Assume the best unless evidence shows otherwise!  It’s easy to assume we have the right motives; we should extend that grace to others who lead alongside us.
 
Monitor the change your congregation just made; go into it expecting that periodic recalibrations will be needed.
 
Above all: soak the whole endeavor in prayer.  

Elder governance can provide the structure that will unleash the people of a congregation to use their gifts for the glory of God, expanding His Kingdom.

Shepherds in Training

by David Hennig

In the fall of each year, the people of the church in which I was raised were asked to submit names of men to be considered to serve as elders and deacons.  Following a vetting process, candidates were put before the congregation for a vote.  I was in high school when my father’s name appeared on such a ballot and he was elected an elder.  My father was a mechanical engineer in a white-collar position for an aircraft engine manufacturer.  To the best of my knowledge he never received any training to serve as an elder, but he faithfully attended monthly board meetings.  It sounded to me like people elected to civil government – you vote people in and you hope they do a good job.  If not, you don’t re-elect them.  Over the years, I have been a part of other churches in which this form of polity was practiced.
 
Fast-forward to 2010 when I began a preaching ministry at a very small, struggling church.  There was a Steering Team in place and David Roadcup came alongside us to help.  He encouraged us to be patient in making the transition to becoming an elder-led church.  During this time I was taking seminary classes at Cincinnati Christian University and was introduced to the book “They Smell Like Sheep” by Dr. Lynn Anderson.  We used this book (and its sequel) to train our Steering Team to become elders.  We were captivated by this alternative name for elders that evoked a beautiful description of the work: SHEPHERD!  Paul used this term in his farewell to the elders of Ephesus in Acts 20:28, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.  Be shepherds of the church of God…”
 
In 2015, we dedicated four shepherds for our flock!  Because our church family was growing, we began to talk about the need to establish a leadership pipeline.  The men we approached about serving were hesitant because they didn’t really understand what elders were supposed to do.  So, we decided to implement an apprenticeship approach.  We recruited four men of humility and character to be our Shepherds-In-Training.  In addition to taking them through Lynn Anderson’s books, we met weekly to pray for the church together; we made shepherding calls and hospital visits together; we taught Bible classes and led Life Groups together; you get the idea!  And I almost forgot – we also did our administrative meetings together.  We demonstrated to our Shepherds-In-Training that being a shepherd is about far more than attending business meetings – the real work is “out there” with, and among, the sheep!  Shepherds smell like sheep because they are with the sheep!
 
We work with our Shepherds-In-Training for about a year.  During that time we have the chance to model to them the work, coach them in the work, and evaluate their aptitude for the work.  At the same time, they learn what shepherding the church family is all about and whether it is something that God is calling them to do.  At the end of the training period, we may extend the invitation for these men to come on board as shepherds, and each trainee has the ability to decline.  During the training period we do not announce the trainees to the church family so that no one feels pressured or is put in an awkward position if they later decline.
 
We have conducted three rounds of training so far and have nine solid shepherds serving on our team.  We currently have four Shepherds-In-Training in the pipeline who may be dedicated later this year.  This apprenticeship approach is bearing leadership fruit that is making our shepherding team strong.  
 
And just in case you hadn’t noticed:  this apprenticeship approach looks an awful lot like “discipleship!”

Agents of Joy

by Ken Idleman 

Hebrews 13:17 admonishes us as churchmen and churchwomen: “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account.  Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you” (emphasis added).  Church leadership should be a joy!  Christians can inspire joy in their congregational leaders and they, in turn, will eagerly follow such leaders.  I have heard it said that, “People won’t follow negative leadership anywhere.”  I take it that the converse is true that, “People will follow positive leadership anywhere.”

It was back in 1994 that I was personally impacted by a new book, Happiness Is A Choice, co-authored by Christian psychologists Frank Minirth and Paul Meier.  I think I had always believed the assertion implied in the book title, but I had never read anything in print that actually documented and developed the idea.  John Ortberg writes, “We will not understand God until we understand this about him: God is the happiest being in the universe.”

Joy is foundational to God’s character.  Joy is God’s eternal destiny of choice for each of us.  Jesus told his friends that his aim was that they should be filled with joy, but not just any kind of joy: “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11, emphasis added).  The problem with people, according to Jesus, is not that they are too happy, but that we are not happy enough, and that we are not happy as he would make us.

Lewis Smedes puts it this way: “To miss out on joy is to miss out on the reason for your existence.”  C.S. Lewis said, “Joy is the serious business of heaven.”  The apostle Paul wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Phil. 4:4).  The Bible puts joy in the non-optional category.  Joy is a command.  Joylessness is a sin, one that professed religious people are particularly prone to indulge in.  It is the sin most tolerated in the church.

Church leaders: we lead by example.  Let’s set this example well.

Pray with me… Father God, Your Word speaks of a ‘joy that is inspired by the Holy Spirit.’  We pray for that joy to show itself in our lives, in the moments when we are front and center and the moments when we are backstage, in our shining moments and in our unguarded moments.  We pray for this grace of joy… the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives that will attract others to the Lord of Joy, Jesus… in His name we pray, amen.

Want it My Way

by Dick Wamsley 

If you go into a Starbucks today and consider the milk options, number of shots, various syrups, and the choice of whip or no-whip, you have over 87,000 combinations, all customized to your own individual needs – or whims.  That feeds the consumer mentality: “I want it my way.”  We live in a consumer culture, which is a shift from a few decades back when we were a producer culture.  We are now buyers and hoarders and users.  That’s how our economy keeps growing.

Paul writes to his son-in-faith, Timothy, in 1 Timothy 6:6-8 (ESV), “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”  Paul advises Timothy that the greatest gains come through “godliness with contentment,” not through consuming.  That requires a daily renewal of commitment to your priorities as a Christian leader and making a conscious decision that the accumulation of things is not going to be the priority of your life.  

In his book The Good and Beautiful Life, James Bryan Smith reports that neurologists once scanned the brains of people of faith as they recalled and re-experienced the times they felt close to God, either in prayer, worship, or solitude.  Then they exposed the same people to stained glass, the smell of incense, icons, and other religious images that connected people to God.  The same specific area of the brain, called the “caudate nucleus,” lit up in all of these people when they felt connected to God.

The neurologists then tested another group, but this time exposed them to material possessions.  When they showed images of products that were tied to “cool” brands, the exact same area of the brain lit up.  The neuroscientists discovered that people who bought certain items experienced the same sensations as those who had deep religious experiences (The Good and Beautiful Life, pp. 163-164).  Maybe that’s why Paul says to be content with the simpler things.

Contentment is also preferred when you recognize the uncertainty of riches.  Later in 1 Timothy 6, Paul writes, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (verse 17). 

Riches are deceptive.  They portray themselves as bringing a sense of security, but they are in fact very unstable.  A recession, government intervention, an unpredictable stock market, lawsuits, health problems any of these can wipe out a lifetime of accumulated wealth in short order.  Even what we call “Social Security” isn’t.  As someone wrote, “Money will buy a bed but not sleep; books but not brains; food but not appetite; finery but not beauty; a house but not a home; medicine but not health; luxuries but not culture; amusements but not happiness; religion but not salvation – a passport to everywhere but heaven.”

It is imperative that leaders in the church guard themselves against the idol of consumerism.  I echo what Paul said to Timothy after he warned him of the love of money, “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things.  Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness” (1 Tim. 6:11). Those who do will be less likely to want “my way,” and more likely to desire God’s way.