How can a triad of sound doctrine, missional goals, and kingdom vision be insufficient for changing the way Christians operate in the local church?
An often-overlooked precondition is trust. Trust in God means trusting in God’s character and Word as evidenced by conviction that endures trial, confidence that energizes outreach, and calm that is incomprehensible to the world (John 6:33). Such trust is not only factually embraced in an “assent to truth,” trust is relationally experienced in the presence of love. In his book, Anatomy of the Soul, Christian psychologist and author Curt Thompson depicts how the experience of trust and love require being known. But in North American church culture, being known is not the practice we foster. We embrace efficiency and efficacy instead.
By default, many pastors and elders organize their communication and activities to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of the church’s institutional goals. Staffing needs (whether paid or volunteer hours), financial needs, and program needs drive the agenda of many Sessions. Prophetic discipleship and the spiritual formation of believers are sidelined for another day and another year, or they are eclipsed altogether by the competing values of the current church culture.
Elder Leadership Institute (ELI) provides a means to cut through the dominant culture to reach the heart and soul of the churches’ leaders: the pastors and elders. By nurturing its leaders, the congregational culture can change. It does this in three strategic phases.
Phase 1: Preparing for Spiritual Leadership is for all pastors and elders enrolled in ELI. It occurs on site at the local church and involves reading, video-based learning, and sharing. This can be completed within three months.
Phase 2: Immersion Experience in Spiritual Formation and Discipleship is for the pastor and two to five elders from each church enrolled in ELI. Immersion takes place at one of two conference centers easily accessed from a major airport. It begins on a Thursday evening and concludes with worship on Sunday. Pastors continue for one full year in a coaching relationship with a trained coach.
Phase 3: Equipping for Ministry and Mission is for all pastors and elders enrolled in ELI. It occurs on site at the local church and involves learning, sharing, and praying together. The Equipping Phase is a 30-minute experience at the beginning of the Session agenda each month. Every month, a downloadable video of 8-12 minutes is provided with follow-up discussion guidelines for sharing and prayer for 18-22 minutes (30 minutes total). Teaching foci will include leadership strategies, missional practices, theological education, practices in-group discernment, best practices in ministry and mission from sample congregations, engagement in justice, and more.
We invite you to learn more about ELI by joining us at the upcoming ELI seminar at the National Gathering in Dallas, this August. Details about ELI conference locations, dates, cost, and registration will be posted on the ELI website by mid-August.
Rev. Dr. Sara Singleton is the founding director of ELI and was formerly an associate pastor in spiritual formation and marriage ministries in Colorado Springs. She now serves as a stated pastor in Londonderry, New Hampshire. She authored the two audio-devotional series published by Oasis Audio, Hearts On Pilgrimage and Continuing the Journey. Upcoming works include A Simple Walk: Following God Beyond Fear, to be published in 2014 by InterVarsity Press.