Thursday, September 04, 2008
A project that began with my doctoral work at Harding Graduate School in Memphis has come to a stopping point—at least for now. I began working on my dissertation in 1998as a program to develop elders in churches. This began at the Metro Church of Christ, in Gresham, Oregon with a friend who was an elder there (Doug Davis). Over the next 8 years 11 couples completed the ongoing training to develop skills to become effective shepherds in the church.
The terms that the Bible uses for elders are bishops (those who care for others) and pastors (those who shepherd the flock). In our churches the preacher is not the pastor. We have elders to pastor the church so that we may continue to focus on outreach and evangelism. This is a great blessing from God. However, many churches do not have ongoing development and training programs for elders and those seeking this ministry for the future. I have seen men and their wives go from baptism to this form of leadership in a few years. I have watched couples who felt they would never lead become powerful and well loved leaders. I have seen men repent of their immaturity and develop their faith and spirit to be what God has called them to be. Not only have our 20 years of ministry involved training people to lead, the last 5 years has been a time to work with other elders and ministers to re-write a technical dissertation into a readable book for trainings in churches.
This journey has taught me some things about elders, shepherding, and training. First, training and appointing elders/shepherds is an important part of new and growing churches. In Acts 13-14 the Apostle Paul and Barnabas journey through Asia starting new churches. The return to the churches and appoint elders who would have been Christians only 1-1 1/2 years. Many churches exist today without elders. This places tremendous responsibility on the preachers and pulls them to care for the member’s needs. While this is necessary for a church to be healthy, we need to keep our ministers focused on reaching unchurched people in the community and seeking and saving that which was lost.
Second, elders must manifest healthy families, good and loving relationships with their wives, and the moral qualities of empathy and compassion. In the past much of our training for leaders involved doctrines of the church and their role as academic teachers. However, the Apostle Paul placed tremendous emphasis on leaders having healthy marriages, being loving parents, and modeling empathy and compassion to others. These reflect the nature of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit and are major qualities of elders. If we wish to reach people who struggle with abuse, father wounds, addictions, low self-esteem, and other issues we must have elders who reflect compassion, love, and gentleness. In a world of violence, selfishness, and immaturity elders can guide people to being gentle like Jesus.
Finally, elders must be prepared to reach people who have and are rejecting Christianity. In North America and Europe people tend to see the church as irrelevant and hypocritical. Other countries have little to no understanding of Christianity. Elders and their wives have a great opportunity to witness Jesus by their family values and relationships with people. Jesus was a friend of sinners. Elders must model that lifestyle.
However, I just got a contract from a publisher to do 3 more by next May.
It never ends..........