A deacon is a helper that does a lot of work for and in the church.
An elder is a leader of leaders who not only develops new (or non) believers into mature believers, but also leads other mature believers to train, develop, and lead other believers.
I believe that the best way for elders to do this is through intentional, naturally-occurring relationships, instead of a standardized system or program.
That may not seem like a statement that is shocking or revolutionary in any way, but for most of us, (especially if we grew up in traditional church) the acting out of this is a lot harder than the excepting of it as a new idea. In our noble goal to equip the church we can easily finding ourselves prioritizing filling the gaps in the volunteer roster over patiently helping people grow in Christ.
But in an effort to remain Biblical and intentional in all we do, we should look beyond efficiency for several reasons, including (but not limited to):
- The goal for developing leaders is for their spiritual growth and development – not simply filling a necessary role in the church. Our call as elders is to “equip the saints for the work of ministry,” it is not to fill up every space in the flowchart of church responsibility in order to see the church grow. (Eph. 4:12) This is hard because it means that from time to time there will be slots that go unfilled and things that are left undone. However, this distinction is vital to the health of each individual Christian in the church, and therefore to the health of the church as well.
- Relationships allow for deep, serious conversation rather than just a one-time request. Spiritual development and discipleship requires ongoing conversations involving studying the Scriptures, praying for one another, and seeking God’s Will on certain matters. This only occurs relationally and over time. Service in the church cannot be relegated to making a phone call or starting an awkward conversation with someone with the sole intent of persuading them to help in the nursery, etc. Again, while this seems like the easiest way to get someone involved or to keep the nursery staffed, it prioritizes the perceived needs of the church over those it is trying to minister to.
- Leadership development is an ongoing process rather than a one-time decision, and we need others to pray for us and hold us accountable in that process. We do not function best in isolation. In relationship, there is a continued conversation in regards to the transition into leadership and encouragement to do so. Outside of relationships, it is more than likely that we will seek to put people in leadership positions that become a hindrance to both the believer and the church. The first background check on someone volunteering in the church occurs through the person who knows them, loves them, and has seen their life over time. Tragically, churches are blind to the new believer whose walk with Christ doesn’t match the level of responsibility they’ve been given or asked for. This often hurts both the new believer and whatever area they took responsibility over.
Balancing the art of getting things done with meeting the needs of people is never an easy task. And it is something we struggle with at work, at home, and at church. While it is all-too natural for elders and pastors to jump into the “church growth” mentality and trust God to develop his people spiritually, it’s is completely unbiblical.
The Biblical mandate for elders and pastors is clear. In 1 Peter 5:2, we’re told to “shepherd the flock of God that is among us,” while in Matthew 16:18 it is Jesus who declares “I will build my church.”