I pastor a smaller, traditional Baptist church. We have a single pastor/elder, 2 (soon to be 3) deacons, and a board of trustees. This makes pastoral leadership a little bit of a lonely place. My long-term goal is for our church to have lay elders. But what do elders do? What’s our “job” (even if you don’t get paid for it)? In his excellent little book, Jeramie Rinne tries to answer that very question. Church Elders: How To Shepherd God’s People Like Jesus (2014, Crossway) is one of the 9Marks series of books on building healthy churches. I love these little books. They are not perfect, and you won’t agree with everything you read in them (they’re not the Bible after all!). But no one is putting out books at the level of the average person in your church on important issues like 9Marks is.
Rinne’s book has 8 chapters. He starts with a good introduction on eldership in general. Chapter 1 deals with the qualifications of a biblical elder. This is a really good foundation. In too many churches the biblical qualifications are not seriously looked at, studied, and prayed through when seeking out a pastor/elder (whether paid or on a lay-level). In chapter 2, Rinne talks about the role of the elder. We are shepherds. As such, we should “smell like sheep.” By this, the author means that we need to be among the sheep, walking with them, living with them, and knowing them. Chapter 3 hits in the importance of keeping the Word of God central in every aspect of the church’s ministry. From my limited experience, this is the most neglected area of elder ministry in most churches. Who is making sure your Sunday School classes are actually communicating the Word of God? Who is responsible to make sure that whoever is in the pulpit on a given Sunday actually communicates the Word? What about your children’s ministries? Is VBS one big carnival, or does the Word go out with power? This is a very important concept for us to get. Chapter 4 covers “tracking down the strays.” The fact is that some sheep stray, either because they are not really sheep, or because their faith is weak. The church needs strong elders who will pursue these folks.
The second half of the book begins with attitude of the elder in “lead without lording.” This ties tightly in with chapter 6, which covers the necessity of “leading together.” Churches struggle with lone-wolf elders. Multiple elders balance each other out and help each other grow. The work of the ministry is shared, rather than carried on the shoulders of one paid pastor. Chapter 7 addresses the idea of “modeling maturity.” Elders don’t have to be perfect, but they are expected to model a mature Christian walk. The final chapter deals with the prayer life of the elders. This cannot be overstated. Elders must pray, and they must pray often for the flock in their care.
In a 133 page book, no subject can really be exhaustively covered. However, Jeramie Rinne has done the church a great service by writing Church Elders. It is helpful, easy to understand, timely, and very significant for helping churches become healthier. I think it’s a great book for pastors and elders, as well as deacons who actually function more like elders to read. Great contribution to the health of the church.