One of my greatest areas of concern for us is the imbalance in terms of training opportunities. Ministers, who are leaders but not authorities in our congregations, have many chances to learn and grow. I've just completed all the work on my MDiv, and I could not overstate just how much I have benefited from the classes I've taken and from the friendships I've made in these classes.
Elders, on the other hand, are expected to live up to a certain criteria, yet have very few opportunities for growth and learning other than what they get from week to week at the worship services. Some elderships study books together or have workshops together, and I think this is wonderful, but I have wished for a long time that there was more available for them.
The conflict that results from this situation is that sometimes you have a minister, who might have a vast education but no authority, working with men who have complete authority but often limited education (in terms of ministry...they may be well educated in their respective career vocations). I think often, the elders have a better sense of what the congregation is like because of their time invested in the congregation. Ministers move in with no prior relationship with the people, and push for this or that, based on what they've studied. I think each party has things that they bring to the table, but it is still often a recipe for conflict.
I am of the opinion that though there are some rotten eggs out there, most elders care deeply about the church and want to do a good job. I think they want their churches to prosper and they want to honor God with their service. It's a rather thankless job much of the time. I think most of them do the best they can, but often don't really know where to go to get information about how to be a better leader. It was so difficult starting off as a minister with no experience, and I can only imagine how a new elder must feel with such great responsibility and high expectations placed on him.
And now for the purpose of this post...
There are some workshops for elders in other places, but there really hasn't been much in the Tennessee area that I'm aware of. At the Harding University Graduate School of Religion, I am so excited that Dr. Eddie Randolph is now putting together a group called The Shepherds Network.
Their first workshop is going to be March 25-27, 2011 at HUGSR. What I love about how it is organized is that it is NOT just a place where elders show up and a bunch of college professors tell you what you ought to be doing. Though there are some professors--some really terrific ones!--who will make some presentations, a large part of the workshop involves elders connecting with and helping to mentor other elders. They're even going to study some test cases together, which can be such a great exercise. In churches of Christ, we do not have nearly enough fellowship between our sister congregations, and part of what they are trying to do is to increase the amount of fellowship between us. For a movement that was founded on the principle of uniting all Christians, this ought to be a great fit for us.
Here are their "Core Values" as listed in the brochure about the workshop:
- To provide encouragement for elders and their wives
- To assist elders in networking with other elders
- To provide resources and case studies to help elders address a variety of needs
- To provide a network of relationships with elders in other congregations
- To develop new and prospective elders
- To provide renewal for experienced elders
- To develop and facilitate elder-‐to-‐elder coaching
You can download an informational brochure here: http://www.box.net/shared/7sxzyek6tk