Training Shepherds

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In the life of the congregation, sheep reproduce sheep, while shepherds reproduce shepherds. And to the degree that shepherds reproduce shepherds, the flock will be in a healthy state to be fruitful, multiply and replenish the fold. This, like God’s creation mandate to Adam and Eve, is the new creation mandate of the Lord Jesus Christ to his people. Simply, Christians are to bear the fruit of another Christian, and Christian shepherds are to bear the fruit of another Christian shepherd. Elders produce elders. Further, since Christian pastors, like every church member, are also sheep, it is to be expected that pastors/elders are fruitfully producing another Christian. This is the clear teaching of such well-known passages as Matthew 28:19–20. A non-disciple making elder is a contradiction in terms.

But an elder/pastor/shepherd carries the responsibility of making disciples into the realm of making shepherds. We are to be leading other men into spiritual maturity, and some of these men should be trained to shepherd the flock of God. Paul exhorted this very duty when he communicated to Timothy, “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men  who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). Thankfully, this is happening at BBC.

Many months ago, it was made know to the congregation that Quintin Starkey, Edwin Steytler and, more recently, Anton Beetge, have embarked on the journey towards becoming elders. In keeping with their expressed desire, we are training them toward that end.

The purpose of this article is to explain the process so that every member will be well-informed. This is important. For, ultimately, the congregation will make the final call concerning who will be its shepherds.

Bur first, let’s define who we are talking about.

“Elder candidates” are those men who, as members of BBC, having expressed their desire to serve BBC as elders, have been approved for eldership training by the existing elders. Men who come to us from other churches for our internship program are not in the same category.

What is the first step in this journey?

It begins with the discernment of a desire to care for God’s flock. Sometimes, a man will initiate a conversation, expressing his desire to help to shepherd the church. In other situations, a man may be approached and asked to begin to pray and ask the Lord for such a desire. But, of course, desire is not enough; there must also be character. First Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–9 provide the God-prescribed character requirements to be an elder. If, having assessed the man’s character to the best of our ability, we are convinced that there is no reproach to be levelled, then we are happy to consider his candidacy. Finally, if the eldership is confident that the brother has potential as one “skilled to teach,” then, all things being considered, the training will commence.

This training consists of several prongs. The first is rather mundane: attendance at the bi-weekly elders’ meetings. The elder candidates are given exposure to the inner workings of church life as various administrative and shepherding matters are discussed. In very personal matters, sometimes the candidates will not be privy to information. We make those calls on a case-by-case basis.

Where possible, some pastoral responsibilities will be given to an elder candidate, such as visiting a member, seeking out a wandering church member, or some administrative responsibility. Such practical experience proves invaluable in the long run. We also look for opportunities to assess their soundness of doctrine as well as their ability to constructively communicate this. Grace Groups, Family Bible Hour, and other opportunities provide a helpful platform.

Another tier to the training is a regular meeting with me to study what God requires of an elder. For several months, I have met early on Wednesday mornings with our three elder trainees, along with Stephen Scholtz, Ryan Sun, Tommie van der Walt and Shane Williamson (and fellow elder Stuart) to discuss the classic book Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch. We talk through the biblical qualifications and biblical responsibilities of an elder. We talk through practical matters and I share lessons that I have learned over the years. This is beneficial because it removes any sentimental, romanticised veneer that being an elder is always a lot of fun! It provides a revelation of reality, thus preparing the brother for the hard—yet rewarding!—responsibilities of shepherding the flock.

In the days ahead, we will begin reading other material as well. Again, these are attempts at equipping potential shepherds who will, in turn, help all of us to reach our potential as sheep to the glory of God.

The eldership candidacy is normally anywhere from one to two years. If all goes well, and the elders are persuaded that a brother would serve well as an elder, his name will be brought before the congregation. We will inform the church of our recommendation and will ask the congregation to continue to evaluate their lives for another period of at least four weeks. This is vital.

Church members need to understand their responsibility to assess the character and competence of a potential elder. After all, the man will be one of our shepherds, and so we need to be persuaded that we can confidently and joyfully submit to him. It is neither a popularity nor a personality contest; rather it is a biblical test: Does the brother meet the biblical qualifications? Not biblical plus something else. We are not allowed to add to what God has written. So, if, having examined a man’s life, a question arises in a church member’s mind about his suitability for eldership, the member should speak either to the candidate or to an elder about the concerns. Otherwise, silence is assumed to be consent.

If there are no good reasons to halt the process, then, after this four-week period, the church will publicly affirm the brother’s appointment. With a hearty amen—as well as any hearty nays—the church will publicly and corporately pledge submission to the ministry of the new elder. The brother will be prayed for publicly by the existing eldership, representative of the entire congregation. Then, with the addition of another shepherd, we can anticipate a healthier and reproductive flock as well as expecting even more shepherds to be reproduced.

It might be helpful to note that while we hope for unanimity in affirmation, this is not required. Consensus is the issue—an overwhelming consensus. Obviously, if a man’s character is in question, the church would be wise not to appoint him to the eldership. But all things considered, just because Arnold doesn’t like Ned is not sufficient reason to keep Ned from serving as an elder.

In closing, I cannot emphasise this enough: Congregations affirm and appoint elders. So, church member, please do your job. Examine those who aspire to be your elders, speak helpfully into their lives, and encourage them as they seek to grow as shepherds—for your joy, and for your faith, to the glory of God (2 Corinthians 1:24).

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