What is the place for long-time elders and other church leaders within the new focus on the Love, Hope, and Faith Avenues of a healthy church?
By Glen A Weber, Central Region Support Team, Coach
Leadership in our denomination has been on a constant trajectory of growth over the past few decades. I began serving in ministry in late 1972 (fifty years ago next fall). Church leadership involved having a pastor and occasionally an associate pastor if the church was large enough. Pastors would often ordain elders. Typically, the standard for ordination of an elder was based on the qualifications given in 1 Timothy 3/Titus 1, but rarely with any job description. Elders served “at-large” simply being “pillars” in the church and occasionally serving the pastor by preaching, leading Bible studies, anointing the sick and similar duties. Similarly, deacons and deaconesses were also ordained – based on their service in the church.
Many years later, GCI began to focus more intentionally on the “ministry” being performed and began to appoint and “commission” leaders for specific ministries – worship, children’s church, youth, hospitality, etc. Because of this new focus on commissioning ministry leaders, we stopped the practice of ordaining deacons and deaconesses. We also stopped focusing on titles and positions and gave more focus to mission and ministry. It was a good move for where the Holy Spirit is leading us.
As President Greg Williams began to focus us more on team-based, pastor-led leadership, our pastors also needed to make significant changes. It has not been easy for some of our pastors to transition from having to make the bulk of the day-to-day decisions, to working with a team of leaders who are more than capable to make decisions on their own. It takes more training – and frankly, it forces our pastors to function more like Jesus did – raising up, training, leading and sending a team into effective ministry.
Within the team-based, pastor-led approach to ministry, Greg Williams also introduced the concept of three Avenues – the Hope, Faith and Love Avenues. Hope (all aspects of the weekly worship service), Faith (helping people grow in their faith, discipleship) and Love (engaging with the neighborhood around our church) have become the three legs of a strong leadership process that allows us to reach new people, disciple all members, and more easily connect new people into the life of the church. These Avenues help us focus more on developing emerging leaders – an absolute necessity for the future of GCI. In my forty-eight years of pastoral ministry in GCI, I have never been more excited about the strong foundations on which our congregations are being built!
However, as the Avenues have been developing, some other congregational leaders – elders, ministry leaders, Advisory Council members, etc. are sometimes feeling side-lined and wondering where you fit into the new leadership structure. “What is my part now? I’m feeling left out!” “Am I being put out to pasture?” Only if you choose to go out to pasture. Our new focus on the Avenues and developing emerging leaders might not leave you “in charge” of a mission or ministry, but it never stops you from having an impact. Young leaders need mentors; they need encouragement and affirmation; they need your prayers; they need your support.
The Avenues are designed to make sure each congregation has a healthy focus on all three areas of the ministry of Jesus. This means an adjustment in our systems within our congregations. Budgets, mission, and ministry are now built around the three Avenues.
Some of our readers will have been invited to become an Avenue Champion. That means you are being put in a position of recruiting others to participate on your team. The team will work with the pastor and the other Avenue Champions to develop that aspect of their congregation. This opens more opportunities for current and future members to participate in one of these key areas of ministry.
Hope: Worship team, hospitality team, greeters, ushers, and more as needed.
Faith: Connect groups (of many types), Bible studies, topical workshops and other formats to help members grow in their faith.
Love: Planning and executing engagement activities outside the church walls, fundraising through community sponsors, and positions to be developed as appropriate for your church.
As an elder, retired pastor, or former church leader, I suggest you look for opportunities to share your passion, your gifts, and your maturity with the Avenue that draws your interest.
Here is a thought from pastor, author and leadership trainer, Terry A Smith (www.terryasmith.com) from his podcast – Sept. 19, 2021 “What Could Go Right?”
You must develop a possibility instinct. You must see the potential of a preferred future. Your first thought should be, What if?” What if you take off your old church hat (the one you have maybe worn in service for decades) and begin serving in every way possible – with an attitude of possibility – and Jesus will provide you a new hat that will thrill your heart!
Five years ago, I retired from full-time ministry and all official responsibilities within GCI. My wife and I moved away from the congregation we were serving in Los Angeles and moved to Colorado. My wife and I had determined that we would attend a GCI congregation, so we began attending the local congregation in Arvada (a city in the northern part of metro Denver). I also began attending the other GCI congregation that continues to meet on Saturday. I thoroughly enjoyed both congregations and simply began supporting and serving the pastors and others in the congregation. For five years, I have been attending both congregations and loving on them. I still don’t have an official position. I’m simply striving to be the most supportive member and local elder that I can be. Sometimes I am invited to preach or enter into leadership meetings and sometimes not. Has it been different for me? Sure, I’ve actually been freed up to really love people and the church and serve as needed.
Because I had been trained and certified as a GCI coach, I continued to coach a few interns/pastoral residents and a couple pastors after my retirement. Over time, I was asked to do group coaching with pastors from the North Central Region (Five Voices) and later pastors in our Central Region (Hope Avenue, at first). I am now coaching nearly thirty people (many in groups of 5-6).
Rather than feeling a little “left out.” our congregational leaders (elders, deacons, deaconesses, former advisory council members, etc.) can now be freed-up to really enjoy serving the members, Avenue champions and pastors in new and exciting ways. In 1 Peter 2:5, we are told that we are living stones being built into a spiritual/holy temple. Where does your brick fit now? It’s a good question to pray about.