The mentoring of elders and other leaders in a local church can be a game-changer. One of the most common health issues I see when working with churches is a leadership team that functions more as a board of directors – overseeing the administrative needs of the flock – rather than elders guiding the flock to grow spiritually and engage their harvest field. This often produces a church that runs like a well-oiled machine but does not produce much spiritual fruit.
There are some pretty good elder training systems out there, but too many of them focus more on the practical and theological aspects than on the actual spiritual formation of those being trained. This is where a well-designed mentoring process can make a huge difference – both for the elders themselves and for the church at large.
It is not possible in a short article to delve deeply into this topic, but we can touch on some key points. For many years, the Praxis Center has helped Pastors focus on the following areas as they design their own unique mentoring plan:
1. Spiritual Vitality – Absolutely critical to the life and effectiveness of those who lead is their own relationship with God – and it is unfortunately often taken for granted. The mentoring pastor establishes time, one-on-one, with each elder to develop his or her personal spiritual disciplines (e.g., bible study, prayer, fasting, etc.). These spiritual habits deepen the elder’s walk with Christ, develop Christ-like character and lead to greater fruitfulness.
2. Relational Priority – Elders lead through relationships. Establishing, maintaining and restoring healthy relationships is essential to the advance of Jesus’ kingdom. Hospitality is a primary tool to reaching friends, neighbors and coworkers with the gospel. The reconciliation component is particularly important in today’s church as marital, family and congregational conflict are at an all-time high. The mentoring pastor can check in on the elders’ personal relationships and train them in applying the gospel’s power through biblical peacemaking.
3. Missional Fruitfulness – Elders lead the congregation into the harvest field by example. The mentoring pastor helps them grow in their personal awareness of their ministry context (community), in the best practices of witnessing, in serving and in sharing their testimony appropriately to their immediate audience. They can also be given opportunities to share their experiences with the rest of the congregation, encouraging others to follow their lead.
4. Skill Sets – Finally, elders will each have certain skill sets they will need for each of the above emphases (e.g., how to do inductive Bible study for their own spiritual vitality) and to carry out their ministry tasks. The mentoring pastor can help them develop these skills as part of their time together. Equipping the elders in this way also develops a stronger partnership with the pastor’s ministry as well.
The kind of investment this mentoring approach makes in both existing and up-and-coming elders is huge. And one can see how it will also transform the elder board’s ministry from one that is predominantly administrative to one that is truly ministry oriented, while also leading the congregation toward a greater ministry orientation as well. It often requires a paradigm shift, but when a church allows her pastor to make this kind of elder mentoring among his primary time and planning priorities, the results for the church’s ministry can be quite dramatic.
John Kimball is the lead pastor/planter of Palmwood Church just outside of Orlando, Florida. He is director of Church Development for his denomination, the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, and is a trainer and coach with the Praxis Center for Church Development. John also runs The Beaumeadow Group, a small business helping churches, non-profits and businesses with communication tools and strategies. John has been married to his bride, Kathryn, since 1989 and has three grown kids who all love and serve the Lord.