We are assuming at this point, that you are the pastor or a member of the current ruling board of the church and that you have the confidence of the rest of the staff and/or ruling board as you pursue the initial stages of this process. Keep in mind, the decision to form a transition team does not assume the foregone conclusion that a transition will take place. This step simply begins the process that will lead the whole church in investigating BE and hopefully implementing it. This should not be something that a few people impose on the whole.
You must recognize that transitioning your church to a biblical elder structure of government involves moving from a hierarchical (top down system with one leader at the helm), to a plurality of elders with equal authority. This is a monumental change. A transition team is needed to lead the way for the following reasons:
- A team approach to transition will model plurality, one of the central tenants of biblical teaching on church leadership.
- The transition team provides a proving ground for possible elders and leaders for the church in the new structure. In other words, it gives an opportunity for those men to demonstrate and develop the kind of qualities that will make for being a good elder.
- One person simply cannot do it all, nor is one person gifted to address all of the areas of the transition.
Changing any organization is a large task. In addition, there is no teaching in Scripture specifically addressing how to change from a pastor at the top model of leadership to a plurality of elders. Various biblical principles will apply as we approach the whole matter in a God-honoring, Scripture-informed, Spirit-led way. With that in mind, we will endeavor to utilize accepted and demonstrated principles for implementing organizational change. While we believe the church is a living organism of believers indwelt by the Holy Spirit, it is also an organization of people with concerns, fears, passions and various interpersonal relationships. Most people tend to resist change, at least change that they don’t understand. Failure to understand this resistance can result in poor communication, unnecessary frustration and counter-productive conflict—all of which could be avoided with sensitive understanding of the way people act and think in organizational relationships.
Many have studied and written on the subject of organizational change, and there are many insights into human behavior, which can help the church. Some may question whether it is appropriate to use principles from secular organizational experience. Our answer is that all truth is God’s truth. The Lord often uses “tools” from the secular world to accomplish his purposes. To cite one example, he uses the tools of the medical field, like x-rays, lab tests, diagnostic principles, and clinical studies, all to help doctors provide health care for us (including Christians). So in transitioning a church through a change of leadership structure, it makes sense to wisely use the tools of change management. These are simply a set of principles, which researchers have discovered to be useful in helping organizations change. As we go along, we will provide some of these in the form of advice, worksheets, etc.
Develop a Provisional Purpose Statement
Before inviting people to be part of the transition team, you need to first develop a provisional purpose statement. This should include the purpose of the team and the general role of the members of the team. It should include the idea of leading the whole church through a presentation, investigation, adoption and implementation of BE. When inviting potential team members, you need to avoid any premature implication that BE is a foregone conclusion for your church. You don’t want to alienate people from an honest investigation. The decision to actually implement BE can’t be made by one person or even a small group of people. To gain group buy-in means there needs to be a real decision process for the whole congregation to take part in. Click here for a worksheet to help you develop your purpose statement.
Invite Men to Join the Team?
When assembling the team, contact key leaders in the church and share with them your conviction about BE. If they are on board, great! However, if there are leaders who feel threatened by or uncertain of BE, you would be wise to slow down.
Some people may not want to take part in the team for good reasons (lack of time, pressing responsibilities, etc.) Others may want to join for wrong reasons (control issues, fear of being marginalized). You will need to address these situations with honest, mature, and godly consideration. We suggests first inviting leaders you know will be sympathetic to BE and then engage them in how best to address others who may or may not be suitable for the team.
The composition of the transition team is critical for the smooth transition of the church to BE. Here are some things to take into account when setting up the team.
- Pray about the first person/people to approach. This ensures that there will be more than just you (one person) building the rest of the team.
- Build the team slowly and deliberately. Don’t rush, because the selection of the transition team could very well be the most critical task in the entire process.
The kind of men to look for:
- You should include some from the pastoral staff (if any). Because one of the biblical perspectives on BE is the removal of a clergy/laity distinction, the transition team needs to include individuals who are not in fulltime pastoral ministry. This begins to move the church away from relying on the “professional” pastoral workers (i.e. clergy) and toward a more biblical functioning leadership, even at this early stage of transitioning to BE. We recommend that at least half of the team be non-pastoral staff people. (Note: this is a non-issue in smaller churches that do not have or are in-between having a professional pastor).
- Include key existing leaders and “influencers” in the church. If they are committed to the transition process, they will help influence the rest of the church body.
- Include some “process people,” ones who have the gift of administration (1 Cor 12:28), who can organize, think logically, guide a discussion/meeting, set goals, etc. Happy is the team who has at least one or two of these gifted men.
- How many? There is no ideal number, but all key people should be given the opportunity (subject to the following qualification).
- Focus on men recognized to be of “good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3). In other words, consider those who are held in good favor in the church, who show a genuine spiritual quality of life, and who exhibit good sense. This is obviously a judgment call.
- Think of men with a demonstrated commitment to the Word of God and to the church (its fellowship and doctrine in key areas).
- Avoid any man with glaring deficiencies in the elder qualifications as listed in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. Admittedly, this is also a judgment call, but including the “wrong” men could derail the whole process. A detailed study of qualifications of elders will be laid out later.
- Look for men with the time and desire to be a part of the transition team.
Use the “The Transition Team” worksheet (click here) to help you assess and select transition team members.
Caveat: The transition team should not be thought of, or referred to as, the future elders. To some degree they may function like elders in the interim, particularly if the church currently is without a pastor, but we recommend making a clear distinction. This will avoid the situation later where a man discovers after a full study of elder qualifications and functions that he is not qualified or not ready for the full responsibility of eldership, and then needs to take an embarrassing “step down.” Therefore we suggest you not to use terms like “transitional elders” for this team.
Roles of Men and Women
Now would be a good time to determine your church’s stand on the role of women and whether or not the transition team should include women. For more on this subject click here. In light of the biblical teaching that elders are to be men you need consider how the gender composition of the transition team relates to the task of leading the church to an all-male eldership. Keeping the goal in mind (plurality of male elders), we recommend that the transition team be composed of men.
Formal approval of the transition team
Once the transition team has been assembled, steps should be taken to formally empower the team for leading the church in transitioning to BE. To be sure you will need the ruling council’s endorsement, but hopefully that has implicitly happened already because of how you assembled the team.
Depending upon your church’s current leadership structure, you may or may not need congregational endorsement to commission the transition team. However, there is a saying in church leadership that people will vote either with their hands or vote with their feet. In other words, if they are not involved in the decision making process, they will “vote” by either staying or leaving. One way or another, people will decide for themselves. We recommend involving the congregation early in the process to gain their informed endorsement. Leading does not mean ruling from on high, but acting in such a way that people follow! Wise leaders involve those whom they lead.
Three Things To Do
- Conduct an initial informational meeting for the congregation.
We suggest someone from the current leadership structure, a person with good communication skills, present a brief outline on why BE is being considered. More in-depth teaching will be provided later.
Outline the purpose of the transition team, namely to lead the congregation in investigating BE, considering whether to adopt it and then, if so decided, to guide the implementation of BE.
Give copies of the “Biblical Eldership” booklet (47 pages) to all members of the congregation.
Make it very clear that a decision to implement BE has not been made. The current leadership is committed to pursuing BE, but embracing it is not a foregone conclusion. Change always goes smoother when the maximum number of the people are involved and have real input into the process.
- Obtain formal affirmation or endorsement.
The transition team needs to be authorized or empowered to begin the process.
Who gives this authorization? We recommend following the protocol for decision making currently in place for your church. This shows respect for the authority structure currently in place, and models godly character on the part of the transition team—one of submission to authority in the church.
- Put the affirmation in writing.
Clearly state the goals and the objectives of the team.
Define the tenure of the team, that is how long it will continue to function and when it will cease to exist. For example, when the church formally embraces BE with provisional elders in place (more on this later).
From this point forward, the transition team is now authorized to lead the church through the transition process.
The team now needs to focus its task. For this go to the next section, “Focus the Task”.