Over the years I’ve written this column, I have tried to sound several constant themes. One is that the Biblical work assigned to an elder is pastoral in nature rather than administrative, as many churches seem to envision. Another is that the deacon is assigned responsibility over a wide diversity of the gifts of God’s people, called to manage spiritual gifts, time and talents as well as financial resources. A third is that most elders and deacons who take office in today’s church believe themselves horribly unprepared to understand and thus to do the work God has called them to do. I have been repeatedly impressed with the caliber of men I meet whom God has raised up to hold office in His church. I have also been repeatedly grieved at how little most churches do to help them do their work Biblically, effectively and efficiently.
This column is a bit different than most I’ve written in that it is not an article containing an argument or an instruction. It is, instead, more like a prescription. I propose in it a schedule for ongoing elder and deacon training in the local church. The schedule includes Scriptural materials that would allow the material to be used in a “devotional” format. It also includes topical themes that allow the leaders to adapt to a variety of settings, including such things as indepth studies, instructional presentations, seminar discussions and preparatory homework assignments.
In my travels among a wide range of Christian Reformed, Reformed and Presbyterian churches where I have led officebearer training seminars, I have become more convinced than ever that on-going training and study is essential on the local church level, but that it is sorely neglected in most of those churches. I offer the schedule below to suggest a monthly format to remedy that oversight.
The Nature and Work of the Pastoral Elder
Scripture: Acts 20:17–31 (see also many references to “shepherd” in both or/and NT)
Theme of Study: identifying the terms used for the pastoral elder and the specific duties assigned to them in the passages studied.
Goal: to develop a sense of office that is pastoral in character.
The Spirit and Motive of a Biblical Elder
Scripture: 1 Peter 5:1–4
Theme of Study: analyzing the Biblical requirement for pastoral-elder’s heart motives.
Goal: to kindle a love for the Lord and for His church in the men of God who serve as elders in your church.
The Nature and Work of the Deacon
Scripture: Acts 6:1–7
Theme of Study: an examination of why the Apostles appointed the deacons, what kind of men they appointed, what the work assigned included, and what the result of the diversity of ministry was. Pay special attention (do careful Bible word study) to the phrase “wait on tables.”
Goal: to develop a proper view of the interrelationship between the two offices.
The Positive Role of Women in the Ministry of the Church
Scriptures: Romans 16:1; I Tim. 3:11; I Tim. 5:9–16; Titus 2:3–5
Theme of Study: an examination of the active role women played in the ministry of the church in Bible times, despite the prohibition against women serving in teaching/ ruling offices (I Tim. 2:12, etc.); an examination of the requirements for and the work of such women in church life.
Goal: to find ways to make appropriate and proper use of the gifts God has given His church in the lives of the women of God.
The Ministry of Visiting
Scriptures: Acts 20:20 (Also see articles in this column in October and November, 1995.)
Theme of Study: an examination of the reason and purpose for visiting God’s people in their homes. You may use your denominational Book a/Church Order requirements as supplemental material.
Goal: to convince the brethren of the pastoral value of home visiting as an extension and application of the ministry of the Word of God to individual lives.
The Ministry of Visiting
Scriptures: varia (Again, I refer you to the articles in this column in October and November, 1995).
Theme of Study: specific training for the how of a visiting program in your church, including suggestions for frequency (some churches require annual visits; I believe that is a good start, but is woefully inadequate in today’s world), content (including suggested Scriptures, starter questions, etc.), and diagnostic tools (assessing the pastoral findings and accomplishments of the visit).
Goal: to equip the brothers to take God’s Word and their own pastoral hearts into the homes ofGod’s people in an effective way.
The Educational Ministry of the Church
Scriptures: Matt. 28:20; 1 Tim. 2:2
Theme of Study: a review of the importance of training in Scripture doctrine and in practical Christian living; an assessment of the quality and effectiveness of the curricula for both children’s and adult education in your church; an assessment of the effective and appropriate use of various teachers (see I Tim. 3:2 “apt to teach”).
Goal: deepen awareness of this urgent ministry; develop commitment to teach on the part of the local elders; improve the educational ministry overall.
The Ministry of Preaching
Scriptures: 1 Cor. 1:18–2:5; Romans 10:14–17; 1 Pet. 1:23–25
Theme of Study: a discussion and study of the importance of preaching in the life of the local church; a frank assessment of the effectiveness of the preaching in your congregation (include guest preachers!); a devoted time in prayer for the preacher and for the preaching; a discussion of themes that the elders and deacons believe should be addressed by the pulpit in the pastoring of the local flock.
Goal: to begin to involve local pastoral elders actively m both the oversight and the planning of the preaching ministry of the local church; to develop prayer support and encouragement for the preacher.
Scriptures: 1 Cor. 11:17; Acts 2:38–9; Col. 2:11–12
Theme of Study: a review of the crucial role and purpose of the sacraments in the life of the local church (include references to the creeds for greater depth of study); an assessment of the practice of the sacraments locally (merely rote observance? ways to improve preparation, oversight, understanding?).
Goal: to improve in the pastoral elders both a renewed understanding of the importance of and a commitment to greater effectiveness in the ministry-practice of both of the sacraments God has given the local church.
The Ministry of Accountability
Scriptures: Matt. 18:15; Matt. 5:23; 1 Cor. 5
Theme of Study: a review of the purposes and practice of pastoral church discipline with a view to restoring an oft-neglected practice that Calvin called one of the irreducible “marks of the true church.”
Goal: to develop a pastoral purpose for the practice of discipline; to avoid a mere “secretarial” perspective.
Ministry to Marriage and Family
Scriptures: a wide variety of passages on marriage, divorce, parental roles and duties, including Eph. 5:21; I Cor. 7; Matt. 5:19
Theme of Study: a review of the Scriptural basics on the foundational relationships of marriage and family, so necessary for pastoral elders and deacons who must minister in an age of such wicked pressures undermining those institutions. Be specific: assess the overall Biblical health of the homes under your care; spend a great deal of time on the Biblical concept of “headship” and what that means in the homes of the elders and deacons, especially; review what the Bible says about divorce, remarriage, and how you will handle the growing number of such cases in your ministry area.
Goal: to stand unitedly on Scripture on ministry issues of greatest concern in our generation.
Qualifications for Elders and Deacons
Scriptures: 1 Tim. 3:1–13; Titus 1:5f
Theme of Study: a review of the Scriptural basics for office-bearer requirements, necessary for the work of nominating and screening potential servant-leaders in the local church. It would be wise to do this study a month before the meeting at which you make those nominations, thus affording yom men time to reflect, assess, and pray diligently for this urgent pastoral work.
Goal: to cultivate spiritual sensitivity in the assessment of pastoral gifts; to renew commitment to prayer for the men God is raising; to awaken joy at the spiritual gifts of the Lord in the local church.
Dr. Sittema, editor of this department, is the pastor of the Bethel CRC in Dallas, TX.