Shaking Up or Speeding Up?: Why Your Church Should Develop an Intentional Plan to Effectively Assimilate
A healthy body of elders is essential for a church to be healthy. Healthy leadership remains one of the most critical needs for the church in America. Fractures in relationships among leaders prove to be one of the most frequent causes of church dysfunction and decline. The two greatest challenges pastors face are “internal church problems or conflicts and poor relationships with their leadership board.” (citation: Poirier, Alfred. The Peace Making Pastor: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Church Conflict. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006, p. 10) Assimilating new elders to your church’s body of elders can be one of the greatest celebrations for your church, but it can also be one of the most risky changes. What if the new elders don't really get what it means to be a shepherd-leader in the church? How can we know if they are really able to make the time commitment required to pick up their shepherding staff and join in the sheep-intensive work of shepherding?
After several unsuccessful attempts to identify additional elders during the first seven years in the life of Crosspoint Church in Clemson, SC, by God’s grace, we have been able to identify and assimilate three additional elders twice over the past two years. While long, steady discipleship and careful assessment are behind the identification of each elder candidate, we have found that having an intentional plan to assimilate new elders has been invaluable to the unity and strength of our elder body and the continued health of the church.
Intentional Plan for Assimilating New Elders
Much has been written on identifying elders, but in researching how churches are assimilating qualified elder candidates into service as elders, I was surprised to find that most Baptist churches operating with a plurality of elders had little to no intentional plan.
Our calling in discipleship is to multiply more leaders to start new churches all over the world. Elders are men of godly character, good repute, faithful at home, and have the ability to teach. Elders are "bought in" to the vision and mission of the church. But elders without formal theological training often will not have a strong background on the theological basis for polity or may not be able to thoroughly articulate biblical vision for the calling of the elder. Once our men were assessed and affirmed as qualified elder candidates, they needed an intentional pathway for assimilation into effective leadership as elders.
Understanding how and why our church operates the way it does gives our elders a great advantage toward serving together in unity. More than a basic understanding that Crosspoint Church is congregationally-ruled and elder-led, our elders need to be able to place this Scripturally, understand this in perspective of historical context, and help bring clarity to church members with questions. More than knowing that we practice church discipline, elders must be convinced biblically and practically of the importance of regenerate church membership, the proper administration of the ordinances, and how the church covenant is an essential mark of the Baptist Church. And most importantly, elders need to recognize that the calling is not one for prestige or as consultants, but that they are signing up to be leaders in the difficult and messy work of disciple-making, serving, hospitality, oversight, and teaching.
Intensive Training for Assimilating New Elders
Before our qualified elder candidates come before the congregation for their final appointment as elders, our final step of assessment and preparation is a six-session intensive course on Pastoral Leadership. The goal of this course is to put the “why" behind the “what" of the calling of an elder and to bring into explicit clarity the biblical calling and responsibilities of an elder. Some objectives of our course include: biblically defending Baptist ecclesiology, gaining a biblical-theological understanding of the nature of elder leadership, and evaluating the key elements of the work of elders.
In addition to the cohort-style class meetings and outside of class reading and writing, our pastoral leadership class fosters continued self-examination and assessment in view of the Scriptural qualifications through a mentoring component and journaling exercises.
The intensive course has been a fruitful final step in our assessment process as our existing elders interact with the elder candidates in a very focused manner around Scripture, theology, and practical shepherding. It provides further intentional conversations whereby we can be reflective learners together and students of Scripture in an intentional manner. The course allows us to see the capacity these candidates have for additional reading, writing, and time management as they integrate additional meetings into their current ministry and professional and family lives. Each session concludes by connecting the biblical and theological concepts to how and why we do what we do at Crosspoint. It is intensely practical, ranging from our practice and position on the Lord’s Supper to processes in church discipline to financial planning.
This course has been a huge benefit to the unity of our elders. After each cohort completed the course and was appointed by the congregation as elders, the elders were able to continue onward with no disruption. The new elders were able to quickly catch up to speed on the specific matters at hand. Sure there was a learning curve, but it was far less than it would otherwise have been had they not participated in the pastoral leadership course.
Because our elders are striving together in unity, a wonderful ripple effect permeates the entire congregation. A unified and aligned body of elders cultivates trust and unity among the whole congregation. This is the type of church that is primed to give itself to the Great Commission.
What is your church’s plan to effectively assimilate new elder candidates?
What tools or resources have most helped your new elders in preparation for their calling?