Last fall a group of men began training to be elders at our congregation. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod an elder or deacon is a person who is in a position of lay-service concerned with the temporal and administrative affairs of the congregation. In many churches, elders or deacons are also charged with oversight of the pastor. The elders do not replace the ministry of a pastor. They are another connecting point to the ministry of the congregation. At St. Paul Lutheran Church, the elders will be promoting and safe-guarding the spiritual life and well-being of the entire congregation. Ephesians 4:12-16 states that we are “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…”
To help foster a healthy relationship between the elders and myself, we started reading the book Pastors and Elders: Caring for the Church and One Another. The relationship between leaders in the congregation is an important factor in the well-being of the church. This book provided us with strategies to work effectively as a team for the sake of the Lord and His Church.
When the elders and I started meeting in the fall, we had two pages of tasks that the elders could undertake. Throughout the fall and winter we began to understand that if we kept our task list so expansive we would end up being paralyzed with inaction because we would not even know where to start. We concluded that at St. Paul, the elders will have two goals.
First, these men will provide spiritual care and counsel to the staff of the congregation. It is wonderful to have a group of wise men in the congregation that I regularly meet with to discuss the future of this congregation. I appreciate that these leaders lift my family up in prayer. I trust that the support they will provide to me will help ensure that the focus of our ministry will keep in mind the whole counsel of God.
Secondly, our elders will focus on helping connect the people of this congregation to Jesus and to one another by forming cluster groups. These clusters will include 20-25 families. These small networks within the church family will be formed by the elders to provide spiritual care and support. The goal is for the elders to connect quarterly with the people in their networks and to schedule an annual social event. Through the connections that are made in these small networks, we hope that spiritual needs will be spotted sooner and we can become more responsive to the needs of people in the congregation. This spring and summer people in the congregation should start to notice the attempts of the elders to form their clusters.
The number of men that have become elders at St. Paul is not as numerous as it should be to fulfill the charge of duties set before them. I would like more men in this congregation to consider serving as an elder. If you are interested in becoming an elder or to be mentored into this role, please talk to me. The elders and I are starting our work and hope that through mentoring in our congregation leaders will rise up for this group.
The Scriptural basis for who I am seeking to be elders includes “obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7), “tried, tested and proven Christians” (1 Timothy 3:8-13), “good examples” (1 Peter 5:2-4), and “fruitful in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5-8 ). So this means that this kind of person will be one who recognizes himself as a redeemed child of God, a true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, regular in attendance at worship, involved in Bible study, cares about people, emotionally balanced, can approach people positively, often in prayer, a personal life and language that is above reproach, teachable, and willing to grow.
For further understanding of that it means to be an elder, the LCMS website answers the question “What is the role of an elder in a congregation?” Answer: Strictly speaking, the word “elder” in the Bible (Acts 14:23; 1 Tim. 5:17-19, Titus 1:5-9 and 1 Peter 5:1-4) refers to those who hold the pastoral office. What we commonly call “elders” today are laymen appointed to serve the congregation in its temporal affairs and to assist the pastor in administrative tasks. An example of this is found in Acts 6:1-6:
In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.
Later such men came to be known as the ‘deacons’ (meaning ‘servants’). As you can see, Scripture does not define the exact role of such deacons, only their qualifications (1 Timothy 3:8-13). Scripture gives them no special spiritual responsibilities in the congregation beyond those given to every Christian. While the office of pastor is divinely instituted and indispensable for the Church, the deacon is an optional office based on Apostolic and church custom.