How long is too long? Elders, Apprentices & The Adventurous Spirit.

02 Oct 2015

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I have recently been pondering the idea of ‘succession planning’ for elders. When I visit churches, one comment that I often receive is about leadership hanging on for too long. This poses a couple of questions, how long is too long and should leaders take time out from church oversight after an extended length of tenure?  

While Scripture is silent with respect to terms of leadership, I do think common sense suggests that no leader can lead on extensively without some break or time of sabbatical. So rather than being prescriptive, let me offer the following thoughts for your leadership team.

In order to have a succession plan, one needs to raise up and apprentice new leaders. Recently I have been encouraging eldership teams to apprentice or co-opt new leaders to help them learn the art of church oversight. This can be done as a precursor to formal appointment and helps the church green new leaders.

Elders who have done a decade of continuous service should take a break. Many say they have noone to carry the load, but until you step aside, you will never allow others to explore leadership. It takes courage to move aside, to let go of control and to watch someone new do things differently.  

It is healthy for the church to change its leadership.

Elders who want to stay in leadership should demonstrate a continued learning posture. This means that they should be reading both Scripture and ministry books that enhance their capacity to ‘understand the times’. Our world is rapidly changing and leaders need the important skills of change-management, communication, vision-casting and conflict resolution (to name a few).

Finally, elders should embrace an ‘adventurous spirit’. We spend far too much time on church matters and minimal time on community mission. Imagine what would happen if every elder made a commitment to change the agenda from church business to community engagement.

I pray you have the courage to chat through some of these matters. Your church needs you to.

Dr Andrew Ball 
Executive Ministry Director, Fresh Hope