Focus the Task

Click here to read a conversation introducing this section
Tim: Ok, since our last discussion we have put a team together and the church is behind this effort, though somewhat tentatively. But, we have some great guys on board. Well … there is one fellow that I really want to be part of this, but he is wary. He doesn’t want any part of it, but couldn’t really explain why.

Paul: Let me ask you, is he a good friend of the pastor that just left?

Tim: Yes, how did you guess?

Paul: Well it’s not uncommon for people to feel that moving toward BE may be a criticism of past leadership.

Tim: I got that impression but wasn’t sure how to respond to him.

Paul: It may be helpful for you to explain to him that you agree that the Lord used the pastor greatly in bringing blessing to the church and that he did a great job of shepherding the church. However, stress that your concern is not to focus on the past, but move ahead in obedience to the Word of God in looking to the future. This is not an indictment on the man. Rather, it an effort to pursue eldership as a positive move toward a more biblical pattern of church leadership.

Tim: That’s a great way to put it. I’ll call the fellow right away!

Paul: That’s great to make every effort to bring him on board. If he is not swayed, don’t let the one with hesitations hinder the enthusiasm of the others who want to move ahead. Use your prayerful judgment as a team to determine how best to bring him fully on board.

Tim: What’s next, then?

Paul: It would be easy to jump right out and make an announcement to the congregation. But, it may be better for the team to sort through a few things. Without a good plan, the potential for messing up is great. We would encourage the transition team to study the subject of BE together, work on a plan to involve the congregation and develop a position statement on leadership that you can recommend to the church.

Tim: As usual, I’m all ears on learning how to do this.



Initial Team Tasks

Establishing guidelines

Now that the transition team has been empowered by the church, the time has come to determine what the team will actually do. First, you will need to setup “guidelines for operation.” Any time a group of intelligent, godly people work together as a team, there needs to be accepted parameters for working together. We recommend developing these as a group and putting them into writing. It is surprising how the memories of what people agree to alter with time, even among conscientious people. Here are some things to consider:

  • Select a coordinator (team leader or facilitator are other terms you could use), someone who is good at planning, keeping discussions moving, holding team members accountable for accomplishing tasks, etc. This may involve more than one leader, but in that case, you should define who will lead and when.
  • Devise a schedule of meetings – how frequently, how long, etc.
  • Determine expectations for each meeting and each transition team member (attendance, reading notes from the meetings, etc).
  • Agree to a decision-making process:

We recommend a “consensus approach.” Roberts Rules of Order or voting on every detail can be overkill, so keep it simple. The wise leader will sense the movement of the different discussions and discern a sense of the team’s thinking. This will lead to creating proposals with general agreement. This method of leading in decision making is illustrated in James’ insightful assessment in Acts 15 of the Gentile issue—there was a consensus agreement among the others.

For most decisions a show of hands may be sufficient. We recommend going with the majority on most issues (which prevents a minority from hindering the forward progress).

The leader should be on the lookout to sense when serious resistance to a proposal exists and guide the discussion to find resolution. Care must be taken to insure strong feelings are not disregarded.

From the outset each member should ultimately agree to support the thinking of the majority.

See our “Decision Making” resources for helpful insights.

These are just suggestions. You will need to determine and agree to your own guidelines. Once these are agreed upon, they should be written down and endorsed by every team member.

Prayer

Changing the church governing structure is a monumental task, and spiritual unity among the transition team members is absolutely essential. Therefore, we recommend establishing a regular time of prayer at each of your team meetings.

Reading

Each member of the team should absorb the “Readiness Reading” resources.

  • The main biblical texts: Acts 14:23, 20:17-38, 1 Peter 5:1-4, 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9
  • Leading With Love,” by Alexander Strauch, an essential read on the importance of love in providing leadership in the church.
  • Agape Leadership,” the biography of Robert C. Chapman, an example of loving leadership from the 18th century. Chapman provides an excellent model for the kind of leadership that God can use to influence people—leadership that is characterized by love.

Determining Objectives

Now we want to consider what the team will actually do. Before anything else, the team should polish the provisional purpose statement so that each member fully embraces it.

Next, determine the specific objectives of the transition process. These might include the following:

  • Develop a written proposal for a BE structure and function for the church.
  • Develop a comprehensive plan for guiding the congregation through the investigation, understanding and embracing of BE.
  • Oversee the evaluation and installation of the interim elder council.
  • Work out a rough timetable for when things will happen.

By this time the gifted administrators and leaders on the team should be taking more of an active role in leading the transition team.

Develop a “Consensus” Understanding of BE

There is not only one correct way of approaching consensus, every team will be unique. So, take the following and adapt it to your situation. If you have some additional ideas on doing this, please forward them to our BE resource team, so we can add your wisdom to ours (click here)

  • The team needs to work toward a shared agreement on the essential principles of biblical elders. The idea is to get on the same page, so to speak.
  • Encourage open, thoughtful and respectful discussion, as this will uncover new insights, areas of concern, misunderstandings and questions that need to be addressed. Amazingly, two people can read or listen to the same thing, and even use the same wording, yet come away with different meanings. Each team member should be alert for subtle areas of perspective differences, not just adherence to the same words and sentences. We can’t emphasize this enough. We know of situations where people came to full agreement on written statements, but tension existed because the different parties understood the same words and sentences differently. The goal is not to agree to the same wording, but to come to the same understanding.

“… make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose” (Phil. 2:2 NASB).

What should be discussed?

The subject of biblical eldership is a large subject, so it is best to break it down into topical areas. Here are some things to consider:

  • Function: The broad scriptural functions of elders and how that would look in a job description.
  • Structure: Biblical structure of government, that is, the lines of authority and responsibilities.
  • Qualifications: The scriptural qualifications for elders (working out the interpretative/applicative issues of “husband of one wife,” “having children under control,” “having children who believe,” “apt to teach,” etc.).
  • Decisions: The decision-making processes relative to elders, deacons and the congregation.
  • Congregational Response: Biblical perspective on the congregation’s response to the elders.
  • Constitution: Changes required within the church’s legal documents in order to accommodate BE.
  • Identifying Elders: The process for identifying/selecting elders.
  • Sustainability: Term limits/rotations, preventing burnout, elder sabbaticals, new elders, continuing elder-education, disqualifications, etc. (NOTE: This will be dealt with in more detail in the final step on “Plan For Sustainability”).

Other issues

(For a worksheet that can help you work through your “consensus” understanding of BE, click here.)

Admittedly this is a lot of information to think through and will require a considerable amount of work. But the effort will give the best opportunity to bring the team to one mind. It is important to ensure that you are basing your conclusions on scripture.

To help you work through each of the above, see the extensive list of issues compiled by one church that transitioned to BE, Patterson Park Church in Beavercreek, Ohio (click here).

Formulate a Written BE Proposal Statement

When a consensus has been reached on the general principles of BE, make things concrete by producing a written statement that will function initially as a working document. This will need to be polished first by the transition team as it is being hammered out, and then ultimately by the congregation in the next stage, as they all interact with the team’s proposal.

Again, there are many ways to approach this, but here are some ideas to stimulate your thinking:

  • An effective statement should summarize the agreed upon view of biblical eldership that the transition team is proposing to the congregation. It should solidify and clarify without being overly wordy. No one will read it if it is too long! Writing it down forces the team to carefully think through the main aspects of BE before the actual transition begins. The exercise might reveal that a consensus has not yet been reached.
  • It might seem easier to simply “borrow” another church’s statement. While it may be helpful to see how others have crafted theirs, you will benefit from wrestling with the statement for BE within your own church situation.
  • Assign a member of the team who is gifted at writing and thinking clearly to draft the document, and then have all the members interact with it. This may result in a few editions in order to get the wording right and agreed upon. As noted before, make sure the words reflect the genuine thinking and consensus of the whole group.

What Happens If The Team Disagrees?

  • First, some disagreement is inevitable. Where thinking people work together for a common goal, there will be divergent views and opinions—otherwise someone is not thinking! Prayer for unity, understanding and grace should bathe the whole process.
  • Make sure you keep to the agreed upon rules for decision-making.
  • Seek God’s grace and ask for the wisdom of Solomon.
  • For the final document, we recommend everyone set aside minority concerns for the sake of ratifying the final document.
  • If major disagreements occur, the timeline needs to slow down for prayer and a grace-filled time of seeking resolution. It may be that the move to BE needs to be delayed for a while. We know of one church that implemented BE after about 20 years of waiting on God’s timing in working with the whole congregation. His ways are not always the same as ours. So be patient and gracious. Transitioning with a divided transition team or divided congregation would be an invitation for disaster.
  • We recommend that the document be finalized and dated with the signatures of all the transition team members.

What’s Next?

The next step is to devise a plan for bringing the proposal to the congregation, teaching about BE and leading them to embrace the transition to BE. For that, continue to the next section, Engage The Church.