On the Redeemer Church, Colchester blog last week, Hugh Pearce shared a post summarising their journey from a pioneering couple alone in their living room to a fully-fledged church with four elders.
Many people have found it helpful and encouraging, so with Hugh’s permission, we are sharing it here to bring it to the attention of any whom it might help.
Pioneer Couple to Eldership Team – The Journey
I was recently chatting with someone I respect greatly and he asked if I had recorded our journey from church plant kick off as a ‘pioneering couple’ in our living room to establishing an eldership team…I hadn’t, so this is my ‘looking back’ at our journey.
In July 2015, having moved to Colchester to plant a church our family started to invite people to join us for midweek ‘Connect Nights’ as we called them then. It was me, my wife (who we were to find out was pregnant by then) and our two children (4 & 2). We knew that within a few months another couple from our sending church were coming to join us. Nothing else was certain. Just over three years later on the 31st March 2019 we commissioned four elders to serve what had become Redeemer Church Colchester.
THREE STARTING POINTS.
Three key convictions that were key to outworking this journey;
1. BE CONVINCED
I am convinced that getting an eldership in place was absolutely vital for the health and growth of our church. Paul writes to Titus and tells him to get elders in every church to ‘straighten things out’. I am convinced that churches need elders to ‘get straightened out’ and move forward healthily.
I am convinced churches should multiply (plant churches) and therefore we need more elders all the time – for here now, here as we grow and there (planting or strengthening other plants).
I am convinced church leadership should be a team of elders – therefore we needed more than just me!
2. BE DELIBERATE
I am convinced that we need to be deliberate in prioritising, developing and identifying elders for the reasons above – but in a church plant situation it is very easy to be overwhelmed with lots of day to day tasks and to think ‘what’s the need today, we will get to elders in time’.
3. BEGIN WITH WHAT YOU HAVE
I am convinced that you can disciple elder-like men as the qualifications for elders are Christ-like character. The worst that will happen is good discipleship and good men!
I’ll begin with simply outlining the key markers/steps along the way and then fill out what the journey was like – many of the steps we got to were ‘fruit’ of the culture of the journey.
July 2015 – December 2015 – Midweek gathering in homes
On Sundays we travelled 40min to a nearby church expressing something of what we wanted to become.
January 2016– April 2016 - Sunday & Midweek gatherings in homes
May 2016 onwards - Sunday gatherings in public venues, Midweek in homes
May 2017 – ‘Planning Team’ established (not publicly announced)
Jan 2018 – ‘Leadership Team’ established (publicly announced)
Jan 2019 – Eldership Proposal (publicly to the church)
March 2019 – Eldership Commissioned
If I was to summarise the process it would be;
Relationship – getting to know the person
Gathering for relationship
Releasing – giving opportunities to discover and use gifts
Recognising - getting a sense of the ‘grace’ on people
Recruiting - gathering men who I’d recognised ‘grace’ on for shepherding
Gathering for purpose
Raising – discipleship & training
Cycling through ‘Recognising, Recruiting and Raising’ - for us this was Planning Team —> Leadership Team —> Eldership
Some key considerations that emerge from unpacking the above summary. These are somewhat ‘summary points’ too and could be unpacked more comprehensively.
If the church is to be a ‘real family’ then this needs to be modelled by the ‘fathers’ in the house.
As the elder qualifications in the Bible are mostly about character you actually have to know each other beyond a meeting context to ‘get under the bonnet’.
Unless you are looking for yes men, there are going to be challenges and conflicts in the team – strong relationships mean these are fruitful not fatal!
Whilst not all having to be ‘best friends’, deep godly friendships are vital if we are to ‘guard each other’. Relationship means bringing challenge into each other’s lives can be done more effectively, precisely and winsomely. You have to know someone well to know how to do that!
As the ‘point leader’ or ‘team leader’ you have to set the culture and be open and vulnerable too. You must lead by example.
Being in each other’s homes is helpful, it immediately removes formality and gives you an insight into each other that you might otherwise miss.
You need to create contexts where gifts can emerge.
Drawing others into pastoral meet ups, preach planning, meeting leading, small group leading and sometimes letting them take the lead must be deliberate and purposeful.
The longer you wait to do this you more you perpetuate the ‘single pastor/man of God’ culture in your church which will forever undermine anyone else’s contribution or authority. Also, the longer you wait the higher the stakes – set the culture now! Obviously, this is not done recklessly and you guard the culture.
A lot of this can be done subtly and privately simply by inviting people to speak into areas of your life and church life/pastoral situations.
I love this part – seeing what God has put in people! Always be looking for it, just as a Father seeks to nurture the talents and abilities of their children we get to do the same in each other’s lives.
It is vital to be deliberate in inviting outside eyes and counsel from early days – prophets, apostolic leadership, fellow church leaders. This avoids you only recognising those in your ‘mould’ and helps avoid any sense of blindness!
Ask God for discernment, and – one of my favourite phrases – follow the fruit – where is this person being fruitful (even if they don’t see it!). How do others speak of them/commend them. What do they pray fervently about?
Whilst all the above is done informally (although some setting might be more ‘formal’ (e.g. planning team) there comes a time to explicitly ‘test’ the call, qualification and desire more deliberately and publicly.
This also allows the church to journey with you and is an opportunity to educate the church and get prayer!
Some people change significantly when given a ‘mantle’ or ‘role’ – this can be positively or negatively and you are then given the chance to work that through (it could be due to pain/previous experience/wrong timing/calling/insecurities).
This also helps bring the sobriety of eldership to the fore – being before the church, carrying responsibility, living with the ‘whole body’.
Deliberately ensure everyone is fully invested in this stage.
Whilst more ‘public’ it is healthy to set a culture of investigating and growth – take the church on the journey. Not everyone in this phase may be become elders, that is ok. If that is a problem for an individual it is likely revealing something that needed to be revealed!
The whole process is ‘raising’ but there comes a time, often alongside the ‘recruitment’ phase to deliberately train and focus on eldership qualifications and roles.
We met very regularly in this season – it was high commitment.
We worked through scriptures and books.
Alexander Strauch ‘Biblical Eldership’ / PJ Smyth ‘The World needs More Elders’.
I connected our emerging team to apostolic ministry and trusted friends
We prayed weekly together on Friday mornings (you catch much culture in praying together!).
Get the others raising others too!
We’ve learnt much and keep learning. These are very much ‘summary notes’ and may raise some questions that are not answered, but hopefully gives you an insight into our journey and maybe of some help in yours.