The church of God is here for the long term. Hopefully, the church will outlive the elders. Therefore, a steady income of new elders is needed over the years. The basic operating principle was taught by the apostle Paul:
The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (2 Timothy 2:2)
Existing elders must plan for identifying and equipping younger and newer men for this great ministry. They, in turn, will carry on the same process for identifying and equipping others to follow after them.
There is more to adding new elders than simply appointment and adding them to the elder team. For many men, the thought of being an elder can seem overwhelming, and they may feel inadequate or unprepared. Others are eager to step in the ranks of shepherding without really understanding the cost involved. Some need to be encouraged to consider it, others need simply to be guided.
We recommend that before a man is asked to consider being an elder that he takes part in a thorough study of the subject. This will accomplish two things:
- He will have a good understanding of what eldership entails and the sacrifice it will require.
- He will be stimulated with the noble task of shepherding God’s people.
This study or training can be done on a one-to-one basis or with a group of potential elders. The key is to invite qualified men who are willing or who may respond to gentle encouragement.
How can you determine whom to consider? First let’s look at identifying who might be potential elders.
Identifying Potential Elders
Pray the Lord would reveal to you those who already have a shepherd’s heart or a desire to shepherd people, or who may respond to the challenge to shepherding.
Look for evidence of the Spirit’s work in men’s life in relation to shepherding God’s people. Watch on Sunday mornings as people interact with others. Take note especially during small group and social times. Who is starting spiritual conversations, who is directing people’s thoughts to spiritual things, who is showing hospitality to others, who are the first ones to welcome visitors on Sunday mornings? Ask your wife and other spiritually minded individuals whom they observe shepherding others. Stimulate a potential individual by inviting him along on a hospital visitation or involve him in a discussion about a church-wide concern—then observe how he reacts.
The key is to look for men who:
- Desire the work of an elder or who have a spark that might be fanned into a stronger desire
“It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do” (1 Tim. 3:1).
- Have an aptitude for teaching the Word. When considering a man, does he teach in Sunday school, do you see him with bible open when talking with people, does he actively participate in small group studies, etc.? Does he have opportunities to teach at different venues in the church?
“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim 2:2 emphasis added).
“An overseer, then, must … be able to teach,” (1 Tim 3:2).
- Show concern for people’s spiritual lives. Watch how the man interacts with others and in small group studies. Does he really care for others? Do you get the sense that people are spiritually encouraged by him?
“Therefore, I exhort the elders among you … shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness.” (1 Peter 5:1-2)
- Live exemplary Christian lives – morally and doctrinally
“… in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified …” (Titus 2:7)
Extend an invitation to the men God brings to your mind to join you in a one-year study on biblical eldership. Stress that this is not an invitation to become an elder, nor is it a decision or commitment on their part to become an elder. Rather this will be an investigation into the subject of eldership, to expose them to the noble work of being an elder and help them understand what is involved.
Providing Content and Introspective Training
We recommend a study of Biblical Eldership, where the group of potential elders meets monthly for a year. The focus will be the biblical basis for, function of and the qualification for elders. This will involve both cognitive learning (the factual teaching of Scripture) as well as introspection (self-evaluation). For a detailed description of one excellent study of biblical eldership, click here. We recommend that one specific elder be assigned to facilitate this part of the training.
Elder training needs to involve practicums as well as general teaching. There is no better training than “on the job” training. Universities have long recognized the value of work-study programs where students intersperse academic study with practical hands-on experiences. The time invested in both of these for potential elders will pay off in the long run.
So potential elders need to develop experience in visiting the sick and encouraging the downtrodden. They need opportunities to be part of baptisms, funerals and marriage ceremonies. Environments must be provided for them to develop skills in small group leading and basic teaching skills. Medical student train for healing the body; how much more should potential elders train for caring for souls?
In addition, you will want to give each potential elder the opportunity for being mentored by an experienced individual. This will give them personalized attention and an opportunity to observe and learn from good examples, as well as gain valuable feedback and individualized instruction. They will meet on a regular basis to plan out the learning experiences as well as reflect together on those experiences.
Mentoring can be handled two different ways. First, each potential elder could be assigned an elder-mentor who will stay with him through all the areas of training. Or, second, the potential elder may have a different elder-mentor for each different area of training, utilizing the skills and giftedness of the respective elders. Finally, a mix of the two could work, where one elder oversees the potential elders’ training, with gifted elders helping out in appropriate areas.
Click here “Adding Elders Worksheet” for a chart that will help set up the practicums for potential elders.
Identifying New Elders
During or after the one year period of training (or longer), the Lord may begin to make clear who should be invited to be an elder and who should not be invited. Some may not be ready to make the sacrifice. Others may be seen to be unqualified. In fact, some may recognize in themselves they are not ready or not qualified. However, there will be some who are both willing and qualified.
We recommend the following plan:
- The existing elder team decide together whom they believe God raising up to be an elder.
- The ones who are deemed to be not suitable for being an elder should be informed and an explanation be given to them. This should be done by one or two elders speaking with a meek and gentle spirit to each. For some the timing may not be right, or further growth may be needed. If there is still a desire to be an elder, a plan of action should be devised to help each individual grow toward being an elder.
- Two elders meet with each “acceptable” candidate and his wife with the invitation to “stand” for formal consideration. Since the work of an elder is demanding and includes a sacrifice of time, the wife’s full support is essential. If there is hesitation, the concerns need to be addressed.
- Next, the list of candidates should be submitted to the congregation for their feedback. The elders should outline why they feel these particular men are qualified. The involvement of the congregation is not a vote, but simply a wise step to be ensure there is nothing being overlooked by the elders. You will be looking for positive affirmation for the candidates as well as any blatant deficiencies in their qualifications. A simple statement like the following will suffice: “We are considering _________ to be elder. We have met with them in a year-long study of the NT teaching on eldership. They have been mentored in various practical aspects of the work of an elder. From our estimation they are qualified and, with their wives’ support, desire this work. Your feedback is important to helping us identify God’s hand on these men. If anyone knows of any disqualifying issues in any of their lives, please talk with one of the elders before (date).”
- Set aside a time for prayer and fasting, as you seek God’s guidance (be sure to invite the congregation to join in the prayer and fasting). That is the apostolic model Paul and Barnabas left for us.
"When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed." (Acts 14:23)
"While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." (Acts 13:2)
- Barring any negative feedback, set a date for publicly appointing the new elder(s). We encourage you to consider the symbolic laying on of hands (1 Tim 5:22; 2 Tim 1:6).
How Frequently Should Elders Be Added?
There are two ways to consider this. First, is there a need for more elders? Second, are there men who are willing and qualified? One could argue there is always a need for new elders, because over time elders grow older, move away, burn out or die. Yet, it can be a mistake to appoint elders simply because there is a need—new elders must be qualified. We believe that it is God who raises up elders in his time, and existing elders need to be on the look out for whom the Lord does raise up.
To summarize, elders have a responsibility to train other men to be elders:
"The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." (2 Tim 2:2)
Elders have received the teaching of the apostle Paul about being an elder. Elders in turn need to entrust these same teachings about eldership to other men, who will become elders and then train others to be elders.