Issue #2: How Our Church Transitioned From a Church Board to Elders
When I arrived at my church as the lead pastor, two families dominated the church board. There were three sets of husbands and wives, and two of the men were brothers (don’t rack your brain trying to figure that out).
I knew that one day we would have to transition to a biblically qualified elder team if the church was to be healthy and successful.
But this would take time. I don’t recommend you make this transition early or fast. But it can be done if you make this change with patience, wisdom, prayer, and a strategy.
Here is a step by step process to implement biblically qualified elders in your church.
- Identify potential candidates. You must find men who you believe are already qualified or have potential. You already know these men. They support you as pastor. They have spiritual mindsets. They love Bible study, serving, and talking with people. They’re godly in public and at home. They’re faithful to Sunday worship, and they have the ability to lead and teach others the Bible.
- Gather these men and cast vision. Once you have identified 2-4 men, meet with them to cast vision and pray. Share with them your desire to transition your church from a board (or whatever model you want to move away from) to an elder/deacon model because you’re convicted that this is not only the best move for the church but it’s biblical.
- Express the need to your current board for more spiritual leadership. Now that you have established a group of qualified men who believe in your vision, begin expressing a need to your church board for more spiritual leadership. For example, when I was at this step, I told my church board that our monthly board meetings were too “business” focused. We didn’t spend enough time in prayer, the word, and discussing the spiritual needs of our people. I gave them two options for change. 1) we could begin doing these things ourselves. 2) I could form a team, which I called our Shepherd’s Group, that would exclusively focus meeting such leadership/spiritual needs. Most likely, if your church leadership team is like mine was, they will realize that adding such responsibilities to an already long monthly meeting will only increase their time and effort. Consequently, they will choose option two. That’s exactly what my board did. Now I have permission to meet with my men for the exact purpose I desire, and there is no perceived “behind the scenes” scheming going on.
- Begin meeting with your men regularly for fellowship and discipleship. At this point you have the blessing of your leaders to meet with your spiritual leaders. Begin having regular meetings with them and teach them what the Bible says about elders, deacons and shepherding. Learn what it means to be an elder in the church. Take your time here. No need to rush.
- Teach on biblical elders and deacons from the pulpit. Once you have a firm foundation with your new team, plan a teaching series on elders and deacons for your whole church. You don’t have to state an agenda. Just teach what the Bible says about on this topic. People will quickly realize that their church doesn’t match Scripture’s leadership expectations. That’s a good thing and prepares them for change.
- Prepare your new team and current board for a transition.Having taught the whole congregation about biblical leadership, hold separate meetings to prepare your board and new team with the prospect of making a leadership transition. They should already be prepared since they listened to your Sunday morning teaching. Explain to them a detailed plan of execution and implementation. Make sure they see that their days of being leaders isn’t over. It’s just changing. This step must be particularly contextualized to your church. For me, it wasn’t just one meeting. It was years of replacing one leader at a time.
- Set forth these qualified men for a church vote. At my church, we had to vote new leaders in. It was not a unilateral decision made by me, the pastor. Whatever your church polity is, make sure you have your new leaders recognized as elders and shepherds in the church so the people know who is caring for their souls.
The steps above provide a general guideline for making such a big change. Practically speaking, as I already stated, this took me several years. I didn’t have elders and deacons until year 5. I didn’t happen over night. But once it did, it changed the church. We stopped wasting time on petty things and tradition and began focusing on mission and growing as a church and leadership team.
If you’re interested in further coaching and/or church consultations. Check out our pastoral resources at Knowing Jesus Ministries.