The past two and half years have been an encrouaging experience for me as a pastor. This is true for several reasons, not least of which because of our church’s decision to transition to having elders.
The groundwork for this was previously laid down by preaching on texts that dealt with elders and deacons. Questions were being asked about why we don’t have elders, and they were answered with more expositional preaching and teaching from church history, especially the life of the Southern Baptist Convention of which we are a part (big thank is owed to 9 Marks for help here!). That led to some discussions over several months and eventually to a decisive vote to move to elders.
What was amazing about that vote is that the congregation was not presented with an exact plan of what an elder-led church would look like. Instead, they were given a big picture through the example of the local church and from that came to believe it was biblical to have elders (Acts 20, 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, 1 Peter 5, etc). They voted to be biblical and then was open to what would actually look like at our local church. Surely, a God-given spirit of humility and willigness to be stretched!
We spent the next year looking at other models of elder-led Baptist churches, reviewed the biblical texts, and began to formulate proposed changes to our church’s by-laws. Those changes were eventually approved by congregational vote and the training of two elder candidates began. (Thankfully, in God’s grace, he had sent two men who were qualified and called to serve as elders!)
In addition to preparing to install elders, we also reorganized our diaconal ministry. We sought to remold the position of deacon in light of the New Testament texts, reflecting their primary function of serving the congregation by meeting its practical needs, facilitating ministry and church unity (Acts 6). This has probably been the most difficult part of this transition – rewiring the thinking of the new deacon candidates to understand that we were not looking for people to serve in the same vein as the ‘old deacons.’
This past weekend, we had the last of a series elders training session. From here we will have a ministry examination, questioning the candidates on theology and practice. From there we will be presenting the candidates for a vote to the congregation and installing them in November. By the beginning of 2009 we will have fully transitioned to being an elder-led congregation, implementing the by-law changes voted on earlier in the year. It has been an amazing time getting to better know the two men who will serve as elders and seeing them grow in their ministries at the church.
The best part of this experience has been seeing the church grow. Not just numerically, but specifically grow in its understanding of the New Testament’s vision of the local church and grow in their willingness to follow the template God has given us in his Word. More than anything, the maturing of God’s people has been the most encouraging part of the last two years. I pray that under the leadership of our new elders, and the service of our new deacons, the people will be well-served and continue to mature in Christ.