1) Lead the Mission of the Church. We see church leaders doing this throughout Acts. Paul deliberates with the elders about his missionary travels. Local elders make decisions through reasonable discussion and dependence upon the Holy Spirit. Deliberating an important decision on behalf of the Jerusalem Church, the elders concluded, “It seemed good to us and the Spirit” (Acts 15:22-28). It is noteworthy that these elders made a decision in unity. Elders should work through issues toward unity in the Spirit as much as possible, speaking with one pastoral voice to the church on important matters. They should be careful to not bend an ear to individuals in the church, inadvertently becoming a pawn for divisive agendas, but always seek to shepherd together in tenderness and truth.
If elders don’t seek the filling and wisdom of the Spirit, they overestimate thier own power and wisdom and fail to serve the church well. They will easily become self-protective and withdraw from people or people-pleasing and engrossed in people. The Spirit reminds us that Jesus is the Chief Shepherd, so we don’t bear the burden of changing people nor do we have to find refuge in isolation, since the Lord “prepares a table in the presence of my enemies, and leads us through (not abandons us) the valley of the shadow of death.” The elders at City Life seek the Spirit together through study, reflection, and prayer. Our bi-weekly meetings and retreats help us focus our leadership.
2) Pastor the Church. Good pastoring starts on its knees. In Psalm 23, David recongizes his ultimate Shepherd is the Lord. In staying close to the Chief Shepherd, he will not lack anything he needs for his calling. Our elders open every elder meeting with prayer, and pray for specific people in the church who are in need. In addition, we pray for five members by name. We alternate emphases of our meetings between shepherding for pastoral care and strategy to set visionary leadership.
All of our elders are engaged in counseling the sinner, sufferer, and struggling saint, in community with our church. They are remarkably faithful, self-sacrificing, compassionate men. We frequently pair up to provide support to those who need counsel with the aim of: Listening to their Story, Empathizing with their Story, and Retelling their Story around Jesus. Counsel happens very intentionally through coaching and training leaders, doing life together in City Groups, and always seeking to be a counseling & encouraging presence. This is critical. Elders must be in touch with the flock to shepherd the flock. For that reason, it is unwise for elders to have a community group all thier own. They must live in the pastures, so to speak, in order care for the sheep well.
3) Promote & Protect the Gospel. Out of our devotion to Jesus, and his greater devotion to us, we are called to shepherd with the Rod, guide with the Lamp, and point to the Treasure of this Word. The rod is God’s Word, which should be used to guide, protect, correct the flock in holiness. This happens when we preach, teach, counsel, pray. We labor to push the gospel through everything in order to avoid authoritarian or passive leadership and to rivet people’s attention to Jesus Christ as thier supreme authority and King, and thier source of endless satisfaction, love, and forgiveness as Redeemer. Elder authority is alway mediated through Jesus, and points back to Jesus as Head of the Church ruling through his Word. Spiritual authority is not residential in elders, but in the office that must maintain the utmost character to carry out the ministry of the Word among God’s people.