I said in the first post in this series (https://benjaminconway.net/2014/05/19/pastors-and-elders-ii-the-elders-conference/) that we would find out what Paul taught the elders at Miletus. And I give you my word that before this series is over we will look at Acts 20. But due to emails and questions that have arisen from the first post, I am going to answer some more questions first, laying a foundation to what we will say later. In Acts 14.23, it says that Paul ordained elders in the churches. Part of being a healthy New Testament church is having elders ordained by a pastor or apostle. In fact I would go as far as to say that if you do not have ordained elders, then you are not going to a church. Certainly the apostle Paul did not know a church without pastorally ordained elders! So elders are vital to any discussion of church health and leadership.
Today, I want to answer the question what is an elder. Great question – glad you asked, and glad the answer is in the Bible! Every church should have several elders. In James 5.14, sick people are told to call the elders (more than one – notice the “s” at the end) of the church (just one church, notice the lack of “es” at the end!). So a church should have some elders, and everyone in the church should know who they are. Eldership should not be a secret! Titus was told to ordain elders in the church as well. If you read Acts 15.1-2 you find out that the early church had apostles and elders. There was a plurality of elders in Jerusalem and they worked with the apostles. They had a discussion on the role of the law in the church – and Peter was the spokesman for all the apostles (see v. 7) but James (see v. 13) was the spokesman for the elders. Apostles – along with prophets, teachers and evangelists – are travelling ministries. Elders – along with pastors – are local ministries. James, functioning as the chief elder, was the pastor of the Jerusalem church. Later in history, you find James takes the title of pastor of the church of Jerusalem. And we can see that role developing here in Acts 15, and in Acts 21.18 when Paul visits Jerusalem with the phrase “James and all the elders”. That’s how a church should be run with “Pastor, and all the elders”. To meet Paul, James brought all the elders. They were all elders, but James was in a different role and office: James was the pastor – ruling over and shepherding the elders. Pastors are appointed by Jesus (Ephesians 4.11) but elders are appointed by pastors or apostles. Elders are to help the pastor oversee the church and love and disciple people.
The Bible tells us: Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation. (Hebrews 13.7). The elders are supposed to rule over the people – not in an arrogant hard-hitting way, but in the way of leading them to the Word, helping them be disciples, inspiring them to dream and challenging them to life the dream. They are supposed to teach in their house groups and they are supposed to both teach the Word, based on the apostle’s or pastor’s teaching, and then set an example for the faith. That is the role of an elder in one verse:
- Rule – through love and grace, make disciples.
- Teach the Word of God to people, based on what the apostles and pastors are teaching
- Set an example of faith for people to follow
That is what a Biblical elder should look like. They are not necessarily preaching – that is the role of the pastor and the 5-fold – they are not necessarily running the show, but they are looking after people in their house on a regular basis, showing love, setting an example, ruling in love and teaching the Word.
Next week: what are the requirements of being an elder
The hardest leadership lessons are lessons learned the hard way. If you have been in leadership of people more than a year or so, you will have made mistakes. That’s just a fact. The worst mistakes are the ones we know we could have avoided – good advisors, wise mentors, experienced experts told us not to do a certain thing, and due to our zeal, our youthfulness, our inexperience – and let’s face it, our arrogance – we did it anyway, thinking we would be the exception to the rule. And we weren’t.
I’ve learned a few things this way – through difficult experience rather than through the wisdom of others. And the truth is while it is not the most efficient and most useful way to learn, lessons learned through experience never leave you, and leave the deepest convictions in your soul. As such, there are three things I will never do, because I have learned the hard way. I am not going to share too much details about the situations, but just share the fact that these convictions stem out of difficult mistakes I made and had to face head on.
THREE THINGS I WILL NEVER DO
3. I will never appoint an elder whose spouse is not happy with that appointment. I was advised not to, a very wise mentor and friend, and one of the most experienced church planters and leaders I know told me not to. But I did. And it almost split the church in two. All the warning signs were there, but in my zeal I ignored them. But through that experience, I am now very cautious in appointing leaders. Of course, you will never find the perfect leader – but if their own husband or wife are not happy with them taking the role, and you appoint them, you are asking for trouble. That’s just a fact!
2. I will never permit someone to preach who doesn’t respect my vision and the vision of Tree of Life Church. That’s just a fact – you cannot let someone into your pulpit who thinks you are doing something wrong by planting the church and holding the church. This goes for worship leaders as well. You are better off with a CD player or MP3 player than having a worship leader – no matter how talented – who doesn’t believe in your vision. I have let people lead worship and preach to encourage them, because live worship is important to me and my values, to help raise a crowd. All of it is in vain if the person disagrees with the vision. That disagreement will come out from their leading and their being at the front, and you can’t argue with it that well with others because you put them in the front. I’ve learned this the hard way, and I am never making that mistake again.
1. I will never compromise what I believe to satiate a carnal request. A lot of Christians are carnal. They make their decisions purely based on the flesh. One lady came to us in the early days and told us our opening declarations were witchcraft. I knew they weren’t, but I seriously considered stopping them just to make her more comfortable in the church. Now there is nothing wrong with changing things in a church to make people feel more comfortable – but the declarations are a core part of our vision and values as a church. I never did stop them and the lady left, but I have hundreds of testimonies of people who have been healed, delivered, encouraged, inspired due to those declarations. Some times you just got to do what you got to do.
Part of your ministry as a pastor is to lead the people to green pastures and still waters. You need to take your people out of the wilderness and into the land flowing with milk and honey, a land of abundance and peace. This is part of being a shepherd to your people. If you don’t have a destination, you don’t have a destiny. The word “destin-y” means the path to your “destin-ation”. At the Tree of Life Church, we talk about dreams, schemes and themes. Dreams are our destination – where we are going. Schemes are our plan to get there, and themes are the plan to take the next step. We can’t sit down and dream, we have to dream while we walk.
However, sometimes leading people somewhere is hard for them. There are obstacles in their way – wild seas that they cannot cross. As a pastor, you are called to be like Moses: “But you, lift up thy rod and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea” (Exodus 14.15 and 16).
Part of your role is to ensure the path to the promised land is visible and tangible to the people. A true shepherd loves the sheep and wants the sheep to have abundance and success, and so they find out from God what actions make a way for people to get into the promised land.
You must learn how to make a way for people where there seems to be no way. This could cover all sorts of things – once a man in our church said he was going to leave our church and find another one. I asked why, and was there anything I could do to change his mind. He told me no because his house was too far from our church. So the next day, in the evening I jumped in my car and drove to his house. I knocked on the door and when it opened I said “it’s not that far”. By making that journey, he saw the journey wasn’t that far. As a pastor, I made a way where he couldn’t see a way. If you can visit them, they cannot think that their house is too far for them to come to you! If people realize they are not too far for you to visit, they will feel safer at the church.
You need to split the seas that stop people from getting married in your church. Don’t just look at someone all sad when they complain about their singleness – teach them how to find a marriage partner. Teach them what kind of person to look for. Teach them the warning signs that show they are about to marry a loser. Help people notice one another in the church as well!
Teach people that they can find good marriage partners within the church, it brings great stability when people marry in the church. I’m not saying play Cupid, I’m not saying force people to get married, I’m certainly not saying prophesy marriage, or even promise a happy marriage. Marriage is hard work, and if you force people to get married they will hate you! But seriously, make a way – part some seas.
You need to part seas when it comes to finding work for people. Teach your people how to find work, how to work hard, how to succeed in a job. You also need to help people find work – if someone in the church is an employer, then talk to them about a sheep that needs some employment. Sometimes the person you recommend will embarrass you, but don’t let that get in the way of you being a sea-splitter! It’s not enough for you to preach about crossing seas, you have to make a way!
You need to part the seas of attendance. You might have to change a meeting time or a rehearsal time for one person. We just changed the dates of our summer conference for just a handful of people – it’s called being a sea-splitter. The year before the conference wasn’t during the school holidays of every London borough and so certain people could not attend, and I failed in my sea-splitting ministry. At the end of the conference, I vowed not again – and now I am embracing making a way for people to attend. Make things convenient for people. In London you have to start meetings a bit later because some people work later. That is a sea splitter!
If you struggle with this: try having less meetings. Meet your people on Sunday. They are there anyway, so have your leader’s meetings, your deacon’s meetings and your children’s workers meetings on a Sunday after church rather than make people come out another time in the week. Don’t make someone travel twice when they could travel once. It took a while for me to see this clearly, I will admit, but this is part of your ministry as a pastor: make a way.
Listen – people always make excuses. Deal with them:
“Your church service is too long” – “How long is your favourite film?”
“The church is too far from my house” – “How long is your daily commute to work?”
“I don’t have shoes” – “I will buy you some shoes”
You need to part seas when it comes to growing up. Everyone in your church needs to know there is a pathway forward for them growing up. Teach them how to read the Bible for themselves, give them a place where they can ask questions, point them in the direction of good articles, good teachers, good books. I am always giving books to my leaders – because I want them to grow. I want people to see a clear path. How to flow in the gifts, how to behave in church. It all needs to be made clear.
You need to part seas when it comes to a place of significance. Everyone in your church needs to know there is a clear path for them to be a significant part of the church. Encourage people to join small groups, to serve on the rota and to give generously to the church. Explain that doing these things makes the people pillars in the church – people who the church cannot do without. And whenever people get saved and healed – they made it happen!
You need to part the seas of ministry as well. Don’t hold onto the ministry too tightly. Delegate. Have a short mini-preach before the sermon so people can get used to standing up in front of people, give people small groups to run, let people preach in the satellite churches (and lead worship) so they can get used to what they are doing. Make a way for people to enter into their ministerial dreams. We have invested so much in ensuring Charis Bible College London happens for example, not just because it’s great to have a Charis on the doorstep (hence, being a sea splitter for people who want to go to college) but so that the people who run the college are now walking in their dreams, being a sea splitter for them.
If you are a pastor, you are a sea splitter. Get used to it, and get doing it!
Hi there, my name is Benjamin Conway and I am the pastor of Tree of Life Church, and the founder of the Tree of Life Network. Every week I pen a Bible study for our elders to use in their homes to disciple and lead people into walking in their dreams. This week I felt the Holy Spirit lead me to put the study online with the small group questions. Hope you are blessed with this. If this does help you, consider sharing it so others can also be inspired and challenged.
Poor relationships don’t destroy your walking in your dreams – your unwillingness or ignorance on how to deal with them does. 1 Cor. 15.33 says that “bad company corrupts good character.” In terms of our dreams, there are people that help you dream big and people who don’t. The bad crowd will corrupt you, and this word means to take away purity. Your dreams are pure – they are holy and come from God and are just God’s voice to you. Someone will come along and contaminate your dreams with one sentence: you can’t be called to that, you’ll never get over that, you can’t enjoy that, people from round here don’t achieve that. Then suddenly all your mental energy is dealing with that 1 tiny thought rather than soaring with your dreams.
So how do we deal with this? Obviously, we cannot lock ourselves away from the world. Firstly, we must be very careful who we share our dreams with.
In Matthew 7.6 (read it), Jesus says don’t give the pure to the dogs. Dogs in the culture of the Hebrews and Greeks represented impurity and a lack of cleanliness. If you give a dog a bone, they will bite it. If you give a dog your dream they will bite it. Dogs are territorial, they are nice until you invade their space then they attack. Having a big dream invades people’s space: they are psyching themselves up to enduring the next 30 years in the office, you are dreaming of launching your own company. They are dreaming of surviving the world as a Christian, you are dreaming of going into nations and changing lives. You invade their small territory when you share your big dream and you make them turn on you.
Jesus then says “don’t show your pearls off to swine”. First dogs now pigs! The problem with pigs and pearls is that pigs don’t know the value of anything. They will trample your dreams because they don’t know the value of reading the Word, being in a strong church, living for God, ministering life, being the head and not the tail, confessing the Word. So they will tear you apart. Pigs only get what they can eat or roll in. So they see a pearl they crush it – then they attack you for having something they see as worthless.
So – who should you share your dreams with? I believe everyone needs a mentor (or two), a peer (or some) and a mentee (or a dozen). These three healthy relationships will give you a place to share your dreams, meditate your dreams, be challenged, inspired and encouraged and walk in your dreams. Throughout the Bible, people had good healthy relationships: Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, Paul and Timothy, Peter and John, James and John, Jesus and Peter. Businesses around the world are copying mentorship but the idea comes right from the Bible.
Your success in life – is about walking down a path. Easiest way to get somewhere is to follow someone who has been there. That is what a mentor does – they are walking in their dreams and there is a significant overlap with their dreams and yours. They will support your dream. Proverbs 13.20 says that by “walking with the wise, you become wise” – so make sure your mentors are proven to be wise: They have success in front of them. They have dealt with enemies, they have killed the dream killers, navigated the difficult path and now they can impart wisdom to you.
This person may or may not be a friend – friends love your past, mentors love your future. Friends overlook weaknesses, mentors challenge weaknesses. Not cheerleader, but the coach.
Avoid the DOGS and PIGS and get someone who can see further than you in your life. The more awesome the mentor, the more awesome you can end up.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD MENTOR?
1. A person with a good track record- A track record clearly shows us what the person has achieved or accomplished. This does not mean that they will have a perfect track record, meaning they will have experienced failures and made mistakes. But the overall track record should show that they have maintained their character and integrity while producing results in their field or industry. Look at the track record of a person to determine if they are worth being mentored by or not.
2. A person who stretches you- The person who mentors you should cause you to break out of your normal routines and your comfort zone. They should stretch you toward new levels of success. Proverbs 27: 17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” The sharpening of your skills and abilities only happen when you have the right people (mentors) around you. Take time to see if your potential mentor is seeking and willing to be stretched themselves. This will determine if they would be a person who will stretch you and challeng your comfort zone.
3. A person who inspires you- It’s imperative to find a mentor whose actions and attitude inspires you to be and do better. They should believe in you and have your best interest in mind. While at the same time being able to challenge (being firm or tough about) your actions, thoughts, and motives. They should know how to inspire you and discipline you, depending on the situation. Be careful about picking your mentor because they will either lift you to a new level or prevent you from reaching your maximum effectiveness and potential.
HOW DO I GET A MENTOR?
You have to pay the price to get into their presence. The more you are around them the more you learn. Share your heart with them – share your mistakes with them. Tell them your dreams – and where you can’t see the future! Be fiscally generous with them. Follow their wisdom. A good mentor is a shelter in the storms of life – someone who supports your dream, isn’t territorial and knows the value of things.
DON’T SHORT CIRCUIT THE MENTOR RELATIONSHIP – this is a key to absolutely fulfilling your dreams. When you have a dream, and start stepping out into that dream, the mentor will appear!
- Don’t hate your mentor! People who have been where you want to go can help you – but you have to listen and apply their wisdom, you have to admit you don’t know it all. It’s like medicine that stings – but it will make you better!
- Go at their pace – even if you can’t! People who push you to do more than you think you can (remember last session – monotony and hard work) can annoy you. You are happy being lazy and mediocre – and someone comes along and says you can do more, be more, achieve more. If you envy someone’s success let that drive you to follow them. Not drive you to hate them or ignore them.
- You learn by mentor or by mistake! The arrogant learn through mistakes, the humble learn by mentor – they know more than me, so I will absolutely take their advice.
- Third parties will hate this relationship. It will drive the dogs and pigs mad! They will do whatever they can to destroy it. “You going to THAT church?!” “You hanging around with that old guy again?” “Who do you think you are?”
- A good mentor will never force you to learn – Jesus didn’t and you can’t … if you don’t ask the question, it will never be answered!
Jesus sent people out in twos. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. So you have peers – people with a similar calling and similar stage of life. I have a couple of pastors up north – who I just love. They are my peers. Not mentors – they haven’t been where I haven’t, but they have been where I have.
A mentor shows you the path, a peer helps you enjoy the journey! It’s the missing ingredient in your journey! Find some people who know what you and have been where you have been.
The mentor chews you out for missing something obvious. It’s good to have someone else who has been chewed out the same. It’s great to know you are not alone. YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
PEERS have to be careful too:
- Ambition and competition can kill a peer relationship. Certain conversations you just don’t have: for example, about how successful you are because they are not your competition. Never correct a peer – correct a mentee, never correct a peer. The relationship is more important – you need all the peers you can get.
- It needs to be a low-maintenance relationship. That’s one where you don’t talk for weeks, months and years and you just pick off exactly where you left off. It just doesn’t work otherwise. It has to be a “No demand” relationship. The mentor is high demand he tells you to march, the peer helps you stop and smell the flowers. The mentor tells you how far to go, a good peer reminds you of how far you have come.
- It needs to be an agenda-less relationship. One of the relationships I had that I considered a peer has just fizzled out – not through lack of time but through lack of respect. They just kept asking to preach at the church. Again and again and again and again. That lack of respect of a peer killed the relationship – don’t use a friendship to try and get something. People know.
Finally you need some MENTEES. People you are helping grow. You need to invest your life into people – yes, even you. You know things other people do not know. (If you want to do this in a church setting, we have a Leadership Course on Saturday 7th December at 9am-1am, let me know if you are interested). You need to ask God for some wisdom as to who to invest in. Some people you cannot ever help (people who don’t think they have a problem, people who think their problem is insurmountable, and people who think you are their problem). Life isn’t about learning all you can – it’s also about serving and leading and learning. So is church! THERE IS A JOY IN SEEING SOMEONE ELSE STEP UP AND DO SOMETHING THEY HAVE NEVER DONE BEFORE, or ACHIEVE RESULTS THEY HAVE NEVER ACHIEVED BEFORE – if you haven’t got involved in that joy before then you are missing out! And these relationships help you realize your dreams. Helping other people walk in their dreams is the big step to seeing your own dreams come true. This is one of the reasons it is so important to be in Living Church.
- How can bad company affect your ability to dream?
- What kind of people was Jesus talking about when he talked about dogs and pigs?
- Have you ever suffered because you ignored Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 7.6?
- Why do you need a mentor in your life? What makes a good mentor? Who are your mentors?
- Why do you need peers? Who makes a good peer? Who are your peers?
- Why do you need mentees? What makes good mentees? Who are your mentees?
- Do you want us to agree with you for wisdom and boldness to find and cultivate healthy relationships?
Hi there, my name is Benjamin Conway, and I am the pastor of Tree of Life Church in Dagenham. We are currently looking at the topic of Loyalty – something you need to cultivate as a leader.
As soon as someone gets to the passive stage of disloyalty (stage 2, as discussed here), you need to know that the next step is criticism. It’s an easy step – someone gets to the stage where they are annoyed and offended to the point where they stop building the house, they are now in a position to start criticizing how the house is being built.
Someone quits the children’s ministry – not because God is leading them to a new opportunity, but because of offense. Leave it a while because they will next start to subtly attack the children’s ministry:
“They don’t care for the kids anymore…”
“It’s too worldly…”
“It’s too religious”
“If I was still there, I would…”
They have now stopped building the wall and started ripping down the wall. They have stopped living for the vision and started finding fault with the vision. You can only move into the critical phase if you have first stopped working. People on the team don’t rip the team apart – only the people who have left the team spectate and criticize the team!
When someone is critical you need to watch out – you have an explosion coming. Now – you might not know that person is critical because they may take their criticisms elsewhere. But you need to know that a critical person is hard to help.
At this stage, someone will ask “what about a legitimate criticism?”, That’s a great question, and there are three simple ways to tell the difference between a legitimate criticism and a critical attitude that will lead to disloyalty.
1. A genuine criticism can be resolved. Let’s say you were round someone’s house and broke a lamp or something. They may have genuine reason to criticize you. But if you buy them a new lamp of equivalent value and style, then it has been resolved. A critical attitude cannot be resolved. The person is offended and nothing will make them happy. You can try a few times but it won’t work.
2. A genuine criticism is reasonable. Other people can see it – if you are wise, you can hear the truth in it yourself. A critical attitude is unreasonable. A genuine criticism is that the sound quality at the back of the hall was not good today. A critical attitude wants you to resign, the board to resign and all the elders to resign as they don’t have the right revelations.
3. A genuine criticism is constructive. The person giving the criticism wants to help, wants to move things forward – they are looking for unity, restoration, progress and building. A critical attitude is destructive – it wants to rip things apart, it wants to hurt, it wants the win. Often people who are insecure end up in this stage quickly – the only way they can feel good about themselves is ensuring everyone else feels bad about themselves so they lay into people.
Dealing with this phase is difficult. People are warm – they are getting hot and are ready to explode quickly and they move onto the political phase quickly. We will discuss that next week, but let’s conclude this week with three steps to handle critical people in your church, business or camp:
1. Don’t give them responsibility. They have probably taken themselves out of any position that involves work in the passive stage, but now they will look for a position that involves responsibility over other performance but no actual work. Don’t do it. Don’t be pressured by it. If someone explodes because you didn’t make them an elder, rejoice – they would have exploded AS an elder at some point and it’s good that didn’t happen.
2. Don’t let criticism from those with attitude get to you. Don’t even respond to it. You are not criticism led, you are Spirit led. That’s a fact. You should not even respond. I don’t respond to emails that just tear down, I don’t respond to people who rip me apart and attack our church. I don’t respond – not even one bit. I don’t move, I don’t change what I am doing, I don’t fret about it, I don’t lose sleep over it. Their behaviour is their responsibility. Their attitude is their responsibility. I am responsible before God to do what I am called to do.
(As an aside, Facebook is the best way to criticize me if you want to – it has a block button and everything. It’s awesome!)
3. Don’t fight fire with fire. When someone comes at your with criticism, the temptation is point out that they are not all that. It is a real temptation to tear them to pieces. Don’t do it. Bless those who curse you.
Every single human needs someone in their life who dreams big for them and isn’t intimidated or nervous if they succeed in abundance. You need someone who loves you and knows you can make – and tells you face to face.
We all need someone with flesh and blood to tell us on the outside what God is saying on the outside: you are awesome and you can walk in your dreams!
In fact, I believe you need three people like this as a minimum. One who is further along the road than you – someone who recognizes a little bit of their younger self in you and your fanaticism and dream. Someone who has clearly acquired wisdom that you have no access to apart from them. Someone who can give you advice with integrity because you know they know what they are talking about.
You need another who is about the same place in the journey of seeing the dream fulfilled as you – someone to challenge you, a friendly rival, a safe refuge, a comrade in dreams. People like this are gold dust – so many people are consumed with ambition, that holding the hand of a peer or giving them a boost is anathema. Don’t be like that – be confident enough in your dream and value that it doesn’t bother you to help someone else shine bright.
Finally, you need to find someone that is not where you are – but you know they will be and you need to make the path easier for them. That helps you realize you are moving forward and have learned some stuff. This makes way for you in so many ways, and it makes you realize the investment that others have put in you and makes you appreciate it so much.
I am so privileged that I have an abundance of all three of these – mentors, peers and people I mentor. And the quality of people I have in all three positions is just wonderful.
Maybe you wish you had people like this in your life? If you need some help in recognizing a mentor or leader, then listen here to message 4 and 5 here, they will help you so much in how to find the people that God has prepared for you to learn from and teach to.
If you know you have good leaders, peers and people you mentor – let us know here, or if you have any advice on these or questions, please post them!