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Your Church May Have a Board, But Does It Have True Elders?

*Editor’s Note: I (Daniel McCoy) recently got to talk to Jared Johnson, director of operations for E2 (“Effective Elders”) about what it means to have a healthy team of elders. Gary Johnson and Jared will be facilitating two Effective Elders workshops at the 2019 Gathering.

Let’s start with a hypothetical. Let’s say a church has good preaching, a solid band, good small groups program. But no elders. Without elders, what do you lose?

You lose a group of men who are given the responsibility and carry out the responsibility of being aware of the spiritual health, the spiritual temperature of the congregation. What you lose is a group of spiritually healthy “dads” looking out for the good of the congregation. So Sunday morning can continue well and small groups can continue in a helpful way. But just like a family without a dad who cares about the condition of the family, stuff can go sideways real quick. There needs to be a plurality of committed and spiritually mature leaders who can face the facts and ask how the church is doing. If the church isn’t growing, for example, or if there aren’t regular baptisms, elders who have their finger on the spiritual pulse can confront the facts and prayerfully move forward.

You mentioned a plurality. Why is it important to have more than just one main leader in the church?

Because of Romans 7. It’s where Paul says, “The good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want” (Romans 7:19). We all have our individual dysfunctions, and it’s so important to be able to keep each other accountable. So having the plurality—not just one leader who is in charge—helps keep the church in check.

How did E2 originate?

E2 (“Effective Elders”) started as a Holy Spirit-prompted conversation in Austria in June of 2008 between Gary Johnson, David Roadcup, and Jim Estep. The three co-founders came back to the States and wrote a book about eldership and thought that might be the end of it. But people kept asking about elder training, and the Holy Spirit kept prompting. So here we are over 10 years later with multiple books in print and numerous elder teams we’ve coached.

What’s an example of how E2 was able to help develop effective elders in a church?

E2 recently worked with a large church which had a leadership structure which was highly influenced by the structure of the US government. So lots of nominating for different things, lots of voting on things. They even nominated and voted on a President and Vice President of the congregation. But if we’re a movement based on the New Testament, then why are we basing our structure off of the government?

There was some resistance to E2’s recommendations. (For example, during the transition, one guy stood in front of the church with a t-shirt that said “Vote No” as people walked past.) But the church chose to transition their bylaws and leadership structure into one mirroring the New Testament. E2 was able to coach them into a biblical way of doing eldership.

Could you give us a summary of the major passages on eldership which E2 frames its thinking and strategies around?

Sure. So, obviously the “Shepherd Letters.” For example, Paul gives a thorough treatment of the qualities of an elder in 1 Timothy 3 and he does the same in Titus 1. As for the primary tasks of elders, we look a lot to Acts—Acts 6, Acts 15, and Acts 20—as well as 1 Peter 5.

From those passages, what are the primary tasks of an elder?

In Acts 6, the spiritual leaders of the Jerusalem Church (the apostles) articulate that they are going to devote themselves to prayer and seeing that the Word is taught. So there you’ve got prayer and preaching. In Acts 15, they establish church policy. And in Acts 20, when Paul says farewell to the Ephesian elders, he tells them to watch over the flock, for there would be wolves to come. So the primary tasks of an elder involve prayer, preaching, policy, and protection.

Ultimately, eldership comes down to 1 Corinthians 11:1: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” Being a Christlike example is strongly reflected in the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 (especially Paul’s recurring use of “blameless,” “above reproach,” etc.). Ultimately, can someone in the church pull a new Christian aside, point at any or all of the elders and say, “Do what he’s [they’re] doing”?

If the church isn’t growing, for example, or if there aren’t regular baptisms, elders who have their finger on the spiritual pulse can confront the facts and prayerfully move forward.

What kinds of resources does E2 offer to help take a team of elders to the next level?

We have 3 main tracks of resources: printed resources (we now have 8 books), video teaching (we have almost 11 hours of video teaching, with each individual video patterned off the length of TED talks), and direct elder coaching. We also publish a blog which provides free new content regularly. The plan is also to produce a podcast soon.

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