August 19, 2015 — by Lisa Johnson


Leadership & Growth: How Do You Equip Your Elders?

Ask yourself these 3 questions:

1) How does the church equip elders to be effective spiritual leaders who will lead the church where God wants it to go? 2) How does your church equip the elders that are called to serve? 3) If you are currently serving, or have served as an elder, what training did you receive to prepare you to be an one?

My educated guess is that some of your answers to these questions may reveal that churches don’t equip and support our elders well for the ministry to which they are called.  

In many Presbyterian churches, it goes something like this: elders get nominated (mostly for their corporate resumes). Candidates get invited with a loose job description of what is expected (mostly how many meetings/hours per month). They then get installed into their 3 year terms, placed on Session, and it’s hoped that they’ll learn as they go.

Most new elders learn their role from the current elders (who may not have been equipped or trained) as to what church leadership looks like, thereby perpetuating the status quo of what the session has always done. Even if there is an annual session retreat for the purpose of reviewing the mission statement or conducting strategic planning, this time together may only assume that spiritual leadership is already functioning in the lives of the session members.

Too many elders are not as prepared as they could be.  Not because the church undervalues the equipping of its  leaders, but because there is so much work to be done and the session is the body that needs to do it.  There is limited time, money and resources for preparing elders theologically and practically for their role as spiritual leaders.

Why is there a problem?

If we want our churches to grow deeper and more missionally focused, then the leaders of the church have to lead as models.   Elders need to show the members what a vibrant life in true discipleship and missional living might look like.  As much as we pray and plan, we won’t see the changes we desire in our churches unless we make changes as a session first.  As church leaders, we can’t give away, teach or lead  in ways we don’t exhibit ourselves.  Elders need to develop their own flourishing relationship with Christ, know Biblically what God expects of them, and practice practically what skills are needed to lead the church effectively.

Where do you see a disconnect between the church you want to be and the session that you are?

How to solve the problem?

Elder Leadership Institute was founded by an elder who understood these spirituality problems very well.  He had a passion for investing in elders so that they could be effective spiritual leaders who could impact the church from the inside out. The Lord led him to gift seed money to trusted spiritual friends and colleagues to the end that every Presbyterian church would have an affordable, realistic way to train their elders from year to year.

ELI has developed a four part curriculum (over 3 years) that will give your elders a clear sense of who God calls them to be, and then helps them to get there. The four repeating categories for equipping elders are:

  1. Biblical/Theology: becoming grounded in the Word and Reformed theology

  2. Spiritual formation and practices: growing attentive to God and responsive to His presence through spiritual disciplines

     3.   Leadership strategies and cultural context: learning how to be effective spiritual leaders within our 21st century context

     4.  Evangelism/Mission/Discipleship: sharing the faith, developing a discipleship culture within the church and living out the mission of God in the world

Over the course of a year, each session engaged in ELI training will cover these four categories three times. Each time a topic is covered, the Elders will dive deeper into the topic in order that their understanding might be gradually enriched.  ELI is designed to be user-friendly, flexible, affordable, and effective in equipping and training your elders.  

It is the heart of the ELI Team that we provide quality resources, grounded in the Word and powered by the Holy Spirit, that will make it possible for every church to train their elders well and equip them to bear much fruit for the Kingdom.  If you feel that your elders could be better prepared for leading the church, we invite you to call us and enter into further conversation about Elder Leadership Institute.

If the mission of ELI resonated with you, or meets a need of your church, we invite you to send some “scouts” to our West Coast Immersion Retreat in Colorado October 15-18th.  It would be a great way to see what ELI is all about and discern whether the resource is right for your session. Find more information or register here.


Lisa Johnson

Lisa Johnson grew up in Orange County, California and received her BA in Communication Studies at Westmont College. She received her Masters of Divinity at Princeton Seminary and was ordained in the PC(USA) in 1999. She has ministered at five different Presbyterian churches in New Jersey, Santa Barbara, Orange County and San Diego as an Associate Pastor. She has a passion for teaching spiritual formation and discipleship and feels that ELI is a great fit for her. Lisa currently lives in Coronado, California with her husband and two children (ages 9 and 11).

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