In a previous post we discussed the “why” of making a transition to an elder-led model. In this post we’ll share some insights, as well as some principles and practices that are indespensable in how you are to make such a transition.
We have served in several churches over the last twelve years all of which were in a senior pastor led model. Several of these (read “not all) have been extremely healthy churches led by God-fearing men who loved Jesus and the church and were men who were unbelievably humble and competent. So I do not believe that leading the church to transition to elders is an absolutely necessity. Too many pastors categorize an elder-led model as a tier-1 issue and many times forfeit the unity of the church in favor of such a transition. Don’t do that. If you do, you’ll be guilty of doing something the Lord hates: sowing discord among the brothers (Proverbs 6:19b).
That being said, here are several principles and practices that need to be present as you seek to transition a church to an elder-led model:
- There must be a commitment to publicly and privately teach the Bible. The Bible is the tool that the Spirit of God uses to teach, reproof, correct and train (2 Tim 3:16-17). Therefore, your main “strategy” should be to open up God’s Word and show them what it says and allow the Spirit to do His work.
- Develop a comprehensive plan which communicates to the congregation the breadth and depth that such a transition requires, as well as your loving care and pastoral concern.
- There must be a commitment to communicate in multiple ways and in various ways, as no church is a homogenous church. There are probably several generations present in the church where you serve which plays into how you communicate, whether it’s through written form (notes, blog posts, e-mail, etc.) or in various capacities (open-forums, one-on-one or two or three gatherings, etc.); being a skilled communicator is indispensable in making a healthy, God-honoring transition.
- Realize that a spirit of unity and love are more important than a church government change (as right and good as that may be). When we work hard at unity we’re obeying God’s Word (John 17:21; Phil 2:2-5; Eph 4:3). In addition, a commitment to unity and love will help the leadership discern how fast or slow to make such a transition.
- You must attempt to win over your critics. Notice, I didn’t say, “win your critics.” As Jesus wasn’t able to win over everyone don’t think for one moment you’ll be able to. But you can seek to win over your critics by engaging with them and not avoiding them; by lovingly, tactfully and appropriately answering their questions; by being approachable and most importantly, by exuding an attitude of humility—no one likes an arrogant pastor.
In no way are my words comprehensive and exhaustive regarding all the details surrounding a possible transition to an elder-led model. My personal experience at Oak Park took almost two years. There was a lot of praying, discussing objections and insecurities, answering questions, clarifying and dispelling caricatures, and teaching and preaching various passages, all of which took place over those two years. The commitment to pastor the flock (Acts 20:28) and to do so humbly and lovingly translated into a 93.5% vote of affirmation to make the transition to an elder-led model. Not all churches have that type of story. God was and has been kind to our little gospel-outpost.
We’d love to hear any feedback from you. Thanks for reading!
By Chase Sears and Nate Millican