In this series(intro, part 1, and part 2), my goal has been to discuss the nature and role of discipleship in the local church by writing on informal and formal discipleship. This post will discuss a formalized way to train elders because the church cannot solely depend on Bible colleges or seminaries to train future leaders. Jesus has instructed the church, via the disciples, to teach all that he has commanded and make disciples (Matt 28:20). This is the primary role of the church and cannot be relinquished to a parachurch ministry, as helpful as they may be.
Jesus has also promised to build His church, which I believe includes giving a variety of gifts to those in a local church so that they can reflect the body of Christ. For a local church to be healthy, it must flame the giftedness that is in certain men to lead and be elders.
At this point things get interesting because I believe seminary is important and I am certainly thankful for the time I spend learning in one. However, it is not realistic to expect every elder in your church to have seminary training.
This is where the local church can substitute this level of training in different ways. The first part of this training involves going into greater depth than in a general leadership-type course. You wouldn’t necessarily expect a person teaching first grade Sunday School to understand and argue against the New Perspective on Paul, but I think you would want your elders to have this level of knowledge in the area of justification. Similar, deacons would not be expected to clearly articulate detailed biblical and theological arguments like an elder who has been charged to shepherd the flock of God.
So one area that would be different in a program designed specifically for the development of elders would be biblical and theological depth. The goal is not simply understanding but the ability to defend and articulate all points of doctrine. I’m not saying that deacons or other leaders should not strive for this, just that is not necessarily a requirement.
With this, I believe a basic knowledge of Hebrew and Greek tools are valuable. I don’t think this would be a requirement for eldership, but if you offer training, this should be involved at the elder level. Even if it is only basic grammar and a good software program, it will greatly aid in interpretation and open up whole new world of commentaries that assume that knowledge.
Lastly, ordination that requires testing is extremely valuable. Churches have traditionally done this differently, but it is a great way to guard against ordaining someone who is unqualified or unprepared. Ordination should not be a simple licensing process. Churches would be wise to heed Paul’s words:
Do not be hasty inlaying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of other; keep yourself pure (1 Tim 5:22).
My personal ordination experience involved preaching before an elder so that they might affirm giftedness followed by three separate one hour sessions answering questions before the elders in three categories: Bible knowledge, systematic theology, and practical shepherding. I found this period of testing both challenging and encouraging.
Currently, I am developing a 2 year leadership program at our church with an optional 3rd year for those that aspire to eldership. This way there is a way to reach leaders at different levels in the church without sacrificing advanced training for potential elders. It should also be noted that simple completion of any program does not qualify anyone for eldership. Yet, some type of systematic program can be helpful to guide gifted men as they aspire for that office.