Elders as Mentors

by Rick Lowry 

The elders at First Church in Burlington, KY are adding a new dimension to their leadership this year.  The responsibility of elders has always been shepherding the flock and making decisions about the overall direction of the church.  Now they also are seeing themselves as leadership mentors.
As a group, the elders read the book Designed to Lead by Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck.  Their discussion of that book led to a desire to invest more time in the church’s deacons/ministry leaders.
The overarching purpose, in their words, is “a template for linking eldership and discipleship.”  It’s a discipling opportunity for leaders of leaders.  It is their “leadership pipeline.”
The idea is that key spiritual leaders invest themselves in others who have the potential to become spiritual leaders in the future.  This is accomplished through mentoring/discipling relationships.  Regular meetings for formal discussions about spiritual growth and leadership are scheduled, plus whatever time is necessary to build personal relationships with those who are being discipled.
The process begins with prayer, asking God to show each elder one or more men he should invest in.  After a season of prayer, elders watch for men who are already within their sphere of influence that God might be leading them to disciple. 
Three simple questions aid in discerning spiritual potential in men who are to be discipled.  Are they:

  • Faithful?  Is this man fully engaged in the life and ministry of the church?  Has he shown himself to be faithful to Jesus and our body? 
  • Available?  Today’s high-capacity volunteer church leaders are always going to have full calendars.  The challenge is to convince them that they can give up something in order to make time for spiritual depth.
  • Teachable?  Are they willing to listen, learn and grow?

Relationships are built with activities like:

  • Telling our stories. 
  • Getting into each other’s homes.
  • Doing life together.  Find out the interests of the men being discipled and create times to do those activities with them.  Examples:  A common hobby like woodworking or visiting museums, tennis, fishing or other outdoor recreation, or maybe movies of common interest.
  • Eating meals together.
  • Building relationships by serving the congregation together.
  • The overarching principle: are we being appropriately transparent and becoming known by each other?

This is a marathon, not a sprint.  It can take two or three years to develop the kind of relationships that have rich meaning, and also that result in the ultimate goal: men who are ready to disciple others like they have been discipled.  Of course, not everyone who is mentored by an elder will become an elder.  But any church will benefit from additional qualified leaders in every ministry area of the church.
Every year most churches have a season when they elect or recognize elders for the coming year.  In many churches, the leaders ask who they should put on the ballot, and ask questions like, “How about Joe?  He’s a nice guy.”  Or “Don’s a good businessman, how about making him an elder?”  The First Church elders are hoping never again to have that type of conversation – because a fresh supply of future elders is always being discipled by the current elders.

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