A Time for New Elders
Over the past fifty years, Westside has been blessed with an incredible group of shepherds (or elders) who have served the church with compassion, wisdom, and dedication. Shepherds of the church have a high calling from God to care for the flock, to teach and encourage, and to oversee the affairs of the church. Over the past few years, several of our elders have stepped down to serve in other roles. We are incredibly thankful for these men and everything they have done and continue to do for our church family.
Looking forward, we want to make sure we have enough men serving in this role to care for the flock God has given us. So after praying and contemplating what God is calling us to, we’ve decided to begin a process of calling new men to serve as elders at Westside.
Because the role of the shepherd is highly relational, we want our elders to be known, valued, and respected by the members of our church community. We believe that our entire church family plays an important part in discerning who God is calling to step into this role.
With that in mind, here is the process we will use to bring new elders on board:
- Between now and the end of February, we are in the prayer and conversation phase.
- Spend time praying for our church and for the men God will be calling to step into this role.
- Ask God to put the names of specific men on your heart that you believe to be equipped and qualified for the shepherding ministry.
- Reach out to that person to let them know you would be honored to have them serve Westside as an elder.
- If that individual is open to the idea, please pass their name along to one of our current elders (Ed Croxton, Ron Nickell, Terry Wood, or Rich Fabrie) or one of our ministers (Bryan Fojtasek, Merv Rash, or Adam England).
- After our leadership team has received a list of potential elders, we will move into the discernment phase.
- Our current elders and ministers will spend time with the potential new elders to get to know one another, go over the responsibilities of a shepherd, and prayerfully discern whether or not both sides think it would be a good fit.
- We expect this phrase to take a week or two so we can have enough time to pray and discern God’s will.
- After a time of prayer and thoughtful consideration, we will move to the affirmation phase.
- The current elders will present the names of men who have been nominated for the role of elder and who would accept the position if affirmed by the church.
- The church will be given two weeks to pray about the list of names and approach the current elders with any Scriptural concerns about the nominee(s).
- The church will then be asked to voice their opinion (support or do not support) on each potential elder.
What is an Elder and What do they Do?
The New Testament uses several words to refer to the same function: elder, overseer, and shepherd. Elders are respectable men who have demonstrated a devotion to Christ and who exemplify the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) in their lives.
The image of a shepherd caring for, defending, and nurturing his flock is one of the most helpful illustrations for what it means to be a shepherd of the church. Although elders are involved with the logistical and financial side of the church as necessary, the main emphasis in the Bible is on their role as teachers, encouragers, and pastors—which is actually just another word for shepherd!
What Does the Bible Say About Shepherds?
We recently explored this question in our “Herd Community” message series. In the Old Testament, God was the shepherd of Israel who cared for his flock (see Psalm 23 and Exodus 40:11). In the Gospels, Jesus called himself the “Good Shepherd” who was willing to lay down his life for his sheep (John 10). And at the end of Jesus’ life, Jesus instructed Peter to “feed his sheep” (John 21).
The movement from God as the Shepherd of his people to human beings as the shepherds of the church is continued in Acts and the letters of the New Testament. In Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5, both Paul and then Peter use the language of shepherding to refer to the work of church elders.
Although “elders” is probably the more common term in the church today, “shepherd” was the predominant image for this role in the Bible.
What Characteristics Should We Look for in Potential Elders?
When it comes to a job in the business world, not every person who is technically qualified for a position would be a good fit for the role. So it is with elders in the church. Because of that, we should consider both a person’s Scriptural qualifications and their potential for success in the shepherding ministry.
The first consideration is whether or not a person is Biblically qualified to serve as an elder. The Bible gives us two primary passages that deal with qualifications: 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9. Some of these qualifications have to do with a person’s biographical information (such as details about their marriage, their families, and how long they have been a believer), while others have to do with their character (gentle, patient, and self-controlled). Lastly, some refer to their practical skills of managing their households, since they will be called upon to manage the household of God.
As you consider potential elders for Westside, it’s important to compare that person’s life, history, and character to the image we see in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. No one will ever be a perfect match, but these are the guidelines God has given us as we discern who to call to serve in this role.
The second important consideration is whether or not this person would be successful in their shepherding ministry. This is a different question than “Are they technically qualified?” The ministry of a shepherd includes the following important functions:
- Guarding the flock from dangers (physical and spiritual) — Acts 20:28-30
- Watching over the flock as overseers — Acts 20:28-30, 1 Peter 5:2
- Feeding the flock through the teaching of the Word — John 21:15-17
- Equipping the flock for ministry — Ephesians 4:10-12
- Helping the church move towards unity and maturity — Ephesians 4:10-12
- Encouraging — Titus 1:9
- Correcting False Teaching — Titus 1:9
- Teaching the Truth— 1 Timothy 3:2
- Directing the affairs of the church — 1 Timothy 5:17
- Preaching — 1 Timothy 5:17
- Praying for the sick — James 5:13-14
- Serving the flock — 1 Peter 5:2
- Being an example to the flock — 1 Peter 5:3
It takes a person of tremendous character and devotion to Christ to be successful in this shepherding ministry. It’s important to note that it could be possible for someone to meet the qualifications from 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 but not have the pastoral heart or skills to do the ministry of a shepherd. In that case, it would be better to move on to other potential elders instead of calling someone who is unlikely to be effective in this important ministry.
Conclusion: Shepherds Follow the Good Shepherd
To put it simply, good shepherds in the church aim to be the same kind of shepherd that God was for Israel and that Jesus is for all of us. Shepherds understand their job is to be like Christ, and to follow His example. A good question to ask as you consider potential elders might be “Can I see Jesus shining through them?” If the answer is yes, there’s a good chance they will be an exemplary elder in the church. To get a good feel for the kind of shepherd God was for Israel, and his expectations for shepherds for the church, read Ezekiel 34.
We know this is a lot to take in. If you have questions about what elders are, the process we will use, or the qualifications that the Bible gives us, please contact one of our current elders or ministers. We’ll be happy to talk you through whatever questions you might have.
Some of this material was adapted from Lynn Anderson’s “Shepherding Now!” conference that he led in May, 2009 at Westside. We are thankful for Lynn’s practical insights, knowledge of God’s Word, and leadership in the area of shepherding.