From Church Plant to Church
Sunday was a very special day for us in the history of our church. Perhaps the best way to describe Sunday was that it acted as a church graduation of sorts. Being a church plant, the question many people ask is when will Harvest go from a church plant to a church. I proposed that Sunday was that day because we officially became an autonomous church in every way with the installation of our local church elders. Yet again, God appoints and raises up elders in His local churches, and by His grace, I believe we have the men to serve in this role moving forward.
When I say elder, I know that’s a churchy word that some don’t understand, so let me break it down. God, in his word, has established a structure for leadership in his church. In fact, elder-led church government is the only pattern for church leadership given in the New Testament. Jesus is our chief shepherd, and he delegates leaders from among His local churches to care for the flock, and they’re called elders. This isn’t to be confused with the guys with the 10 speed bikes and helmets who knock on your door with the Mormon elder badge. We are talking about the Biblical picture for elders laid out in God’s word.
So why does this leadership structure matter? It matters first and foremost because it matters to God. This is His church that he purchased with His Son’s blood, and God is clear in His word that the Biblical norm for church leadership is a plurality of God-ordained elders. So in light of our weekend, I thought I could give you a recap of the 3 questions I asked and answered about elders to help you understand the process of elder selection and the role they’ll play in our church.
What are they? Biblically, we see as the apostolic era closed, the office of elder emerged as the highest level of local church leadership. So simply put, elders are members in the local church who aspire to the role of an undershepherd. Additionally, eldership is a team effort that requires a plurality of elders. Scripture uses 3 terms to describe the different functions of this one role. The first word is “overseer.” This word implies that elders ought to serve as managers of God’s church. That is, under God’s care, they ought to humbly and sacrificially labor to ensure the church is healthy and cared for in a manner that would match the picture of the church in God’s word. The second word is “pastor.” Elders are called to care, protect, encourage, and edify believers in the local church towards maturity in Christlikeness. We want men in this role who love the people and will lay down their life for the people. The third word used to describe elders is “elder.” The NT church writings and on focus on the idea that “elder” implies strong spiritual maturity. By the grace of God, our elders demonstrate these functions well. But it’s not just what they are but who they are that counts.
Who are they? Our elders are and ought to be men of highest character, humility, servanthood, and maturity. Between 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9, suffice it to say that there are 3 areas of focus when it comes to an elder’s character qualifications. The first area is, “Do they lead their household well?” The home is a proving ground for ministry. If you can’t shepherd your family well, you can’t shepherd God’s family. The second area is, “Do they live an exemplary life for others to follow?” Scripture uses the term “above reproach.” Our elders are and ought to be men who are free from any legitimate accusations of sin in their life. Finally, the third area is, “Do they study, teach, and defend the faith?” Elders ought to be men who have a passion for God’s word to be preached and taught unapologetically.
How will they serve? Elders will be primarily responsible for 3 key areas. First, doctrine is essential. All elders should be rooted in their care to feed and teach God’s people the whole counsel of God and to defend against all onslaughts of false teaching that arise. Second, elders are committed to the ministry of church discipline or, as I like to call it, church restoration. This is a very loving but difficult ministry of calling wayward sheep back to God’s word and way. Third, elders are committed to maintaining the direction of the church. At Harvest, we are committed unwaveringly to our mission of glorifying God by making disciples. The elders will be the anchors who labor to assure that all we do falls under the vision and values of our church: making disciples that worship walk and work for Christ.
With that said, what should this process say to you? First, it should say that Harvest is a safe church because we are committed to submitting the totality of our ministry to the word of God. Second, it should say that Harvest is a stable church that intends to be here for the long haul. With our local elders coming on board, we have the structure to fully engage on every local church level. Therefore, “obey your leaders and submit to them for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb 13:17).