The lack of elder and deacon training is an extremely critical problem. We are not training the very men who lead and have oversight of local congregations. We erroneously believe that our serving elders and deacons understand spiritual oversight and care, but in fact our congregations are filled with elders and deacons who confess they are unprepared and untrained for their work. Even Bible schools and seminaries, for the most part, do not prepare men to provide spiritual care or leadership for a congregation.
This lack of training is not uncommon among organizations that operate in a familial manner. The April 25, 1983 issue of U.S. News & World Report contained an article entitled “The Silent Strength of Family Business.” The article reports on the amazing strength of America’s family-owned businesses, estimating that “nearly 50 percent of the nation’s gross national product” was produced by family-owned firms. After enumerating many positive aspects of the family-owned business, however, the article reported that its chief weakness is its failure to train the next generation of family leaders: “On the whole, only a third of family-owned companies survive into the second generation because founders often are too busy to plan ahead or because they confidence in their young.”
The local church is an extended family that does God’s business. Like many family-owned businesses, local churches fail to train the next generation of leaders. Church leaders are frequently too preoccupied with the work of the church or lack vision for training future leaders. They have seriously underestimated both the need and their responsibility. Like flowers in spring, leaders who are ready to bless the flock will not appear without planting or preparation.
It has been stated, “The key to reproducing leadership is to clearly plan for it.” “Church leaders need to produce leaders who will reproduce leaders as it is done in the family – through experience, instruction, and modeling” (Kenneth O. Gangle, Feeding and Leading, 1989).
Training men for future leadership and ministry should not be a novel concept to the Christian who is familiar with what the Bible teaches. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ spent a significant part of His public ministry preparing for the future. He patiently poured His life into
twelve men, training them to be the future leaders of the church. He was a master teacher and mentor. A.B. Bruce (1831-1899) writes in The Training of the Twelve:
“Follow Me,” said Jesus to the fishermen of Bethsaida, “And I will make you fishers of men.” These words…show that the great Founder of the faith desired not only to have disciples, but to have about Him men whom he might train to make disciples of others…Both from His words and from His actions we can see that He attached supreme importance to that part of His work which consisted in training the twelve. In the Intercessory prayer [John 17:6], e.g., He speaks of the training He had given these men as if it had been the principle part of his own earthly ministry. And such, in one sense, it really was. The careful, painstaking education of the disciples secured that the Teacher’s influence on the world should be permanent; that his kingdom should be founded on the rock of deep and indestructible convictions in the minds of the few, not on the shifting sands of superficial evanescent impressions on the minds of the many.”
Like his Lord, Paul was also a discipler of men. He had his Timothys, and he expected his Timothys to train others: “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). Paul expected that when Timothy departed from Ephesus, he would leave in place trained, faithful men who would continue the development of future teachers and leaders.
Elder training is essential to the church’s response to the great commission. Our Lord’s command to go, to teach, and to make disciples of all the nations – in other words, the discipleship process – cannot be sustained without elders.
The Term “Pastor Elder”
Throughout our study elders are referred to as “shepherd elders” or “pastor elders” to counter the considerable amount of unscriptural thinking about elders that exists today. When most Christians hear of church elders, they think of decision makers, or executives like in a business. They fail to understand the responsibility for these men to teach the Word and be involved in the lives of the flock they are to oversee. Elders who serve as a so-called “board of elders” are not true biblical elders.
The contemporary, church-board concept of eldership is irreconcilably at odds with the New Testament’s definition of eldership. According to the New Testament concept, elders lead the church, teach and preach the Word, protect the church from false teachers, exhort and admonish the saints in sound doctrine, visit the sick and pray, and judge doctrinal issues. To use biblical terminology elders shepherd, oversee, lead, and care for the local church. Therefore, to communicate accurately the New Testament concept of eldership, it is necessary to explain that the New Testament term elder means “pastor elder,” “shepherd elder,” or “pastor.” Notice these words are descriptions of the work these men are to do, not titles.
Since the New Testament so emphatically emphasizes the moral and spiritual qualifications of elders, we will underscore them throughout our study. Most elder leadership problems can be traced directly to the failure on the part of an elder or the body of elders to act according to a specific New Testament character qualification. As there is such a profound depth of wisdom contained in each Spirit-given qualification, elders need to be thoroughly familiar with each.
1 Tim. 3:2-7 - “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; 3 not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; 4 one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence 5 (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); 6 not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. 7 Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” (NKJV)
Titus 1:6-9 - “if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. 7 For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, 8 but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, 9 holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.” (NKJV)
1 Pet. 5:1-3 – “The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: 2 Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; 3 nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock;” (NKJV)
Notice: For the remainder of 2021 the Pekin Bulletin will present articles that reveal the congregation’s “Biblical Elder Training” being conducted to aid the congregation to appoint elders. The articles are adapted from numerous authors identified within, however God’s Holy Word is the primary source.
“How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them!” (Psa. 139:17/NKJV)