Recently North Trident voted unanimously to move to become an elder-led congregation. The phrase “elder-led congregation” says several things.
First, that based on the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer every member, is equal and has a God-given right to have their voice heard and God-given responsibility to serve. Congregationalism shortens the distance between clergy and laity. Congregationalism does not want to diminish the specialness of the pastoral office. It just wants to add another office: member.
The second that it says it that the church is led by multiple elders who are mutually working together to shepherd the flock. I believe this move will position us for greater gospel effectiveness.
At the present, I am the sole Elder/Pastor. So, where do we go from here? At the outset I would like you to consider four things.
We must not be hasty.
Many church replants begin with a handful of people. We need to see ourselves for what we are—a group of missionaries working to reach our community. In some ways we lack stability, it will come in time, but it is not here yet. Our plan needs to be that we will install elders only after we coalesce into a more stable and established group. This may be hard to hear but trust me when I say it is wise to be self aware.
Patience is important, As God blesses us, most of the people we will initially reach will be unbelievers or believers who are coming back to the Lord after some time of wandering. Therefore, they will not initially meet the Biblical criteria to be an elder. We want to make sure that we install leaders who are committed to stay and serve. Elders who will not abruptly leave and disrupt the community of faith.
Additionally, hasty installation of elders will send the wrong message. It says, “we are stable, we have arrived, the mission has been accomplished.” We are not, we have not, it has not been. Harvest is the evidence of being established and it will be obvious when we are.
We must not drag our feet.
There is a lesson every pastor and committed church member has learned. The work flows to the most committed member until he or she is overwhelmed. Growth dictates advancement. While quickly installing elders could weaken missional momentum, on the other hand, failure to move forward at the right time in delegating the ministry to others could inhibit growth. When the Acts 6 moment arrives, we need to be ready to act.
Recognizing Likely Elders
The New Testament reveals that God intends for the local congregation to be led by elders. It is also clear that God requires those elders to exhibit maturity and Christian character. (I Timothy 3:1-8; Titus 1:5-9) As with deacons, an elder will look like an elder before they ever become and elder. When the church installs an elder, that installation is just the community of faith publicly acknowledging what already is.
Choosing the first elders
In Acts 14:23 we see Paul and Barnabas choosing elders. Paul writes to Titus and instructs him to select elders. In other words, an elder has walked with this person, knows this person, sees spiritual maturity and Biblical qualifications exemplified in this person so they bring that person before the members for affirmation. This is elder-led congregationalism. The initial installation process is the only time elders will be nominated by me personally. As the number of elders increases from one to more, this identifying of elders becomes a function of the elder assembly. Elders identify elders who become elders at the affirmation of the community of faith.