The elders of Redemption Gateway are seeking to add five men to the elder team and are asking for feedback and input related to the character of these men. As we seek to bring the congregation along in the process, we thought it could be helpful to answer some of the common questions that arise concerning elders.
1. What are elders supposed to do?
The consistent pattern throughout the New Testament is that each local body of believers is shepherded by a plurality of qualified, male elders.
The two primary responsibilities of an “elder” are seen in the two descriptive titles used in the New Testament—“overseer” and “pastor.” As demonstrated in Colin Smothers’ helpful illustration, each of these words overlap in various ways with each other.
The different terms, then, indicate various features of the elders’ ministry. Elders are to oversee and to shepherd/pastor the congregation.
2. If these titles are used interchangeably in the New Testament, why does Gateway make a distinction between “pastor” and “elder”?
We both do and don’t make such a distinction.
On one hand, we do make a distinction in that we use the title “pastor” to describe the staff members who provide pastoral leadership to areas of our church and using “elder” to describe the men who provide governance to the church. This distinction is largely a cultural accommodation, in that the non-staff elders don’t want people thinking they work full-time at the church and, thus, are as available as those full-time pastors.
On the other hand, we don’t make a distinction in that we expect both staff “pastors” and non-staff “elders” to have the character qualities, skills, and theological chops to effectively lead the church in accordance with 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-7. The main difference in our structure has to do with availability (full-time vs. volunteer) and responsibility (day-to-day vs. big-picture).
3. What is the role of the elder team at Gateway?
The elder team at Gateway has a number of responsibilities:
- Pray regularly for the congregation and staff. Like priests who go before God on behalf of the people, one of their primary ways to serve the church is through intercession.
- Keep a finger on the pulse of the congregation. Like shepherds who smell like sheep, they should know people, love people, and have a sense of what is happening in the lives of people.
- Provide wise counsel to Lead Pastor and senior staff. Like godly sages, they are able to offer perspective that is easy to miss in the day-to-day of ministry.
- Entrust ministry design and day-to-day leadership to Lead Pastor and staff. Like the owner of a sports franchise, they set the tone and empower the GM and coaches to succeed.
- Approve the big-picture budget. Like a husband who is responsible for the household but trusts his wife to steward resources wisely, the elders set the parameters and give freedom to the staff to use resources in ways that are good and responsible.
- Carry out church discipline, in harmony with pastoral staff. Like parents, they step in and discipline wayward members as needed.
- Hold the keys of accountability. Should something go amiss with the Lead Pastor or staff, the elders can step in. Like brakes, they can immediately stop something that shouldn’t be happening (though brakes shouldn’t be ridden constantly).
- Be a crisis team in waiting. Provide the church the security of knowing that if a genuine crisis hits, we’re ready. Like firefighters playing cards in the firehouse, they are prepared, connected, and ready if the bell should ring — and some days, bored enough almost to wish it would ring.
4. How long do elders serve at Gateway?
Elders serve 1-year terms that are renewable indefinitely.
5. Does each elder have oversight responsibility over a particular ministry?
Some elders may have roles as part of their personal ministry involvement, but generally the answer is “no.” We want the team of elders to be big-picture overseers of the entire church, not elder representatives for particular ministries. All of the elders have their “name on the fridge” in terms of serving and ministry ownership (they smell like sheep), but aren’t expected to lead a ministry or ‘represent’ a ministry.
6. Are there a particular number of elders that a congregation should have?
The Bible teaches that a local church should have a plurality of elders, but does not give a specific number. Each church must use wisdom in determining how many elders are necessary to effectively lead the church.
7. Is it biblical for staff pastors to serve on the elder board?
The Bible neither prohibits nor mandates that paid pastors serve as governing elders in a local church. The Bible does allow financial support for those serving as elders (1 Timothy 5:17-18; 1 Corinthians 9:11). Redemption congregations have historically had both staff and non-staff elders. While the concept of staff pastors serving as elders is unfamiliar to some, it is not prohibited by Scripture. At Gateway, our desire is to have more non-staff elders than staff elders.
8. How are elders selected?
The Elder Process consists of six steps.
- Establish an Observable Track Record — Establish a known track record serving, leading and giving at Redemption Gateway with demonstrated leadership skills and observable fruit in ministry, marriage and family life.
- Nomination Phase — The Elder Team may nominate and approach certain men whom the team thinks should prayerfully consider being an elder. When a Redemption Gateway member senses an internal call from the Holy Spirit to serve as an elder/pastor, he should make his desire known to the current Elder Team. Those men will confirm the calling and give further direction.
- Applicant Phase — The applicant submits information, responds to three questionnaires (testimony & financial, doctrine & shepherding, and confidential personal), and meets for a formal interview (with his wife) with multiple elders.
- Candidate Phase — Once a man has had his qualifications confirmed by the elders, he may enter a phase of preparation and evaluation for the specific work of eldership. This phase involves intentional mentorship by the current elders, study related to the roles, responsibilities and functions of elders, and participation in Elder Team meetings. In addition to preparing the candidate, the primary goal is to gauge the candidate’s fit and chemistry with the team. The time required to complete this phase may vary by individual.
- Approval Phase — The candidate is brought before the congregation and the members of Redemption Gateway will be invited to give feedback about his life, conduct, and character. If a member is aware of any disqualifying sin or character flaw in an elder candidate, he or she will be urged to make the matter known to the existing elders, who will investigate the claim. Members will have a 4-week window in which to bring any concerns.
- Installation — Following the satisfactory completion of all requirements, new elders will be installed publicly at a Redemption Gateway worship gathering.
9. How are the elders held accountable?
The elders are accountable first to God and his word and then to one another. They pray with and for each other, share their burdens with one another, and strive to model healthy, Christ-centered relationships with one another. Additionally, the Gateway elders are accountable to the leadership team of Redemption Church, who has the authority to intervene if necessary.