After the post on what my functions would be during my elder candidacy I received many questions about how Redeemer distinguishes elders and pastors, and how the church goes through the elder candidacy process. Church leadership is always an issue of concern or interest. Concern because unfortunately there have been examples of pastoral abuse of the sheep. I myself have been under such leadership in the past. Church leadership is also a point of interest because without it, mission and vision lack. With out mission, vision, and leadership, a church wanders aimlessly away from glorifying God by loving Him and loving our neighbors. The elders of the church are set forth as shepherds that care for the people of God, by loving, encouraging, and challenging each other to abandon sin and cling to Christ.
What’s the Difference between Elder and Pastor?
I am going to go out on a limb and say that I do not see a difference between an elder and pastor. I see all individuals called (I am intentionally using that word) by God and affirmed by His people in the role of elder as pastors and pastors as elders. Some say, “I do not see the title pastor in the bible” we do not see the word “Trinity” either but affirm the truth that is presented in Scripture. Elders/Pastors/Overseers, all are shepherds of the flock. All have been called (again, using intentionally).
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. – Acts 20:28
The distinction? The only difference I see is that of function or role and pay. We use the terms because it is what we are use to. We as a church have been programed to differentiate between elder and pastor. Even those with a great understanding and practice of elder parity make a distinction sometimes described as vocational vs non-vocational elders. In all honesty and respect (and I have much, much respect for some churches that use this distinction) I hate it because of the "us" & "them" mentality, where one is "higher" than the other, that it could breed. The basic definition of vocation is work or calling. Is not the role of eldership a calling as well? If a distinction must be made, I prefer elders who receive stipends and those who do not.
So what does that mean for those who teach? Doesn’t the bible say to give double honor to those who teach? Great question! I want to encourage you to head over to For The Church and read Jonathan Leeman’s article on “The Pastor as First Among Equals on an Elder Board.” Leeman is the Editorial Director of 9Marks and clearly presents a biblical understanding that churches need to strive for and discuss.
What’s the Elder-Candidacy Process?
I remember when I first sensed God’s calling on my life. I was sitting in chapel (I went to an all men’s private military academy overseen by Benedictine Monks) and it had only been going two years before that I had been drawn by the Holy Spirit into faith. I sat there, listening to the priest, who had such a wonderful heart for others, explain God’s sovereignty and faithfulness to not only call people to service, but to be with them and work through them. I know he may have been trying to encourage some to join the monastery, but for me, I couldn’t shake the idea of serving the Lord the rest of my life. I told those who I trusted, mentors, about my desire and they themselves sensed it. One must know deep down what God has called them to. Those around you who know you best will also see this calling. At Redeemer Fellowship, an individual who senses God’s calling brings this before the elders (or the elders approach them), the elders’ work through the process with them and test out.
Redeemer Fellowship employs a twelve month process for eldership. During this time the individual has assigned reading, completes summary reports of what God is teaching them, attends elder meetings, and shadows the elders as they minister and shepherd God’s people. They begin to function as an elder while being trained by elders. Some books are standard readings for all elders, but the rest are tailored to specific growth areas of the individual. The reading could be done alone, but in my case I have been reading with an elder and discussing the chapters as we go through it. It has been such a blessing. The training is fantastic for personal confidence. After the first time I attended an elders meeting I called one of the elders to ask if I spoke up too much and should keep my mouth shut and ears open. He encouraged me to share and not hold back. The training is a time where one learns to be free in whom they are, unashamed to speak up when they disagree or offer advice where they see fit: humbly, graciously, not boastful or prideful, but lovingly.
Testing is occurring through out the entire twelve-month process, in the elder room, in the sanctuary, and at visitation. One’s life is being examined and watched over. After the twelve-month process is complete, an “official” testing takes place. The candidate then is questioned by oral exam. The topics include their theology and philosophy of ministry.
After the testing, comes affirming. With the unanimous, and it must be unanimous, affirmation from the elders, the candidate is considered an official elder nominee who must then be affirmed by the membership of the church.
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? – 1 Timothy 3:1-5
The process is intensive. The candidate must be able to trust and believe that they are called and that the elder team is going to protect, encourage, and challenge them. The training is a time of intentional discipleship to help soften areas of ones heart, hone skills, and build faith and dependence upon the Holy Spirit to lead and to guide.
Looking for more? Check out Functions During My Elder Candidacy