By God’s grace, in our church body we are seeing the beginnings of (we pray) a groundswell of men being raised up for the name and deeds of God. Aspiring to eldership in a church is not conceited, but noble. Our culture encourages men to aspire to countless worthless aims, so when a man births conviction to aspire to lead in the church, it’s a win. Toward that end, I want to answer a common question for these good men…
I aspire to eldership. What should I do now?
The Scriptures tell us what the qualifications are for an elder, so the following are meant to both emphasize often-overlooked aspects of those qualifications and supplement them with practical steps.
Screen yourself for vision alignment. As pastoral theologian Bob Thune has pointed out, men don’t aspire to eldership in general, but to eldership in a specific local church. That means embracing the vision and philosophy of ministry of the church is necessary. Make sure you have attended an ITTB class (or your church’s equivalent) and “screened yourself” for alignment to the vision, philosophy of ministry, and theological orientation of your church.
Wait? It takes time – years! – to have seen a man long enough to evaluate his eldership aptitude and for HIM to see the church long enough to evaluate alignment. There are exceptions, but if you haven’t been at your church for at least two years serving and plugged into a Community Group, wait.
Become a Jedi-Master at disagreeing agreeably. As a “plurality of parity”, elders are called upon to A) discuss things about which good men may disagree, and B) cheerfully support decisions the elder body voted for that they personally voted against. If a man cannot “disagree agreeably” (voicing an opinion in a humble, nonthreatening way that makes room for others to disagree as well as possessing an emotional maturity to support decisions he disagrees with at a secondary level), he should not be an elder.
Lead a Community Group. Elders are more identified than made. Wise churches are looking for men already doing the work of shepherding in the body. While leading a Community Group isn’t an absolute prerequisite to eldership, a Community Group is a little church and, therefore, the best training ground. A man with the skills necessary for eldership should be able to lead a Community Group to vibrancy.
‘Elder’ your family (if married). While marriage and family aren’t eldership qualifications (let’s not rule out JESUS or PAUL from eldership), the assumption of the Bible is that if a man can lead his family to health, he can lead a church to health. If he can’t lead his family to health, he probably can’t lead a church to health. You don’t have to have a perfect family (or we’d have no elders!), but work to make sure your marriage is rock solid, your children are loved and led by their Daddy, and your home is a place of joy and warmth, not tension and coldness.
Ditch unethical business practices. An elder must be “well thought of by outsiders”. If you are an aloof, prickly, or annoying neighbor, or if you are engaging in any unethical business practices (NOTE: just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s ethical), repent immediately – not so you can become an elder, but so that the name of Christ is not maligned on your account.
Deal with your pornography problem. I say this directly because around 70% of American men regularly use pornography. You cannot sin your way out of God’s love for you in Christ, but you can sin your way out of eldership. Get help with your pornography problem now.
Make sure you are a church member. It should go without saying that elders are model church members who can call others to “follow me as I follow Christ” in their commitment to Jesus’ bride, the church. Membership requirements at The Bridge include…
- Regular attendance at WG’s (it should be rare for an elder to miss WG’s)
- Part of a Community Group
- Committed financial giving to the church
- Serving on a ministry team
Grow as a people-person. By definition shepherds must be excellent with sheep. Some signs that you may need growth in this area are if you tend to rub people the wrong way, have had sideways interactions with people in the church body, or people just don’t seem to want to hang out with you. ACTION STEP: if there is any person or leader within the church body with whom you’ve gotten sideways, reconcile immediately. An elder has to have a relational clean slate upon installation.
Give generously. Not only because it’s part of glad obedience to Jesus, but because elders are part of the process to steward the resources of the church for God’s purposes, they must have a long history of stewarding their own resources for God’s purposes. Elimination of “bad debt” and at least a tithe of your combined household income given to the local church are good targets for an aspiring elder.
Grow in humble knowledge of the Word. Elders cannot be difficult, knowledge-puffs-up theologs. But neither can they be children in their knowledge of the Word. As men who must be “able to teach” and “guard sound doctrine”, elders need to know their way around their Bibles and the basic contours of theology. A good foundation-laying reading list…
- Basic Christian Beliefs (Wayne Grudem)
- Chosen by God (RC Sproul)
- 9 Marks of a Healthy Church (Mark Dever)
- Dug Down Deep (Joshua Harris)
- The Gospel (Ray Ortlund)
Eliminate obvious character defects. This is what it means to say an elder must be “above reproach”. It doesn’t mean he’s perfect or we’d have no elders. It means there’s not a glaring outward issue in a man’s life. Someone could not look at his life and credibly accuse him of being a drunkard, glutton, perverse in speech or TV shows he watches, etc.