Messy Eldership: Empowering Elders Without Killing Your Church Plant

By Brandon Shields

If you grew up playing sports you’re probably familiar with the old adage, “Teamwork makes the dream work.” However, if you’ve ever tried to actually assemble, lead, manage, and develop a team, you might find yourself thinking (or saying) things like, “Teamwork makes the dream hurt, “ or possibly “Teamwork makes...more work.”

There are few places where the work of team-based ministry can be more acutely painful than the first several years of a new church plant. In our dreams, these embryonic years are full of collaborative vision, shared memories, robust friendship, and kingdom mission. In our lived experience, the first season of attempted team ministry can be full of competing visions, shattered dreams, broken friendship, and mission frustration.

There are few places where the work of team-based ministry can be more acutely painful than the first several years of a new church plant.

The New Testament shows us both the redemptive potential and yet the painful realities of developing teams in the ministry of the Apostle Paul. We see no less than 100 people listed as co-conspirators in the gospel movement that swept through the urban centers of the Roman Empire, and in several cities like Ephesus Paul appoints teams of elders in less than three years. On the other hand, Acts 15 lifts the veil on a “sharp disagreement” between Paul and Barnabus on how to handle a restoration case that led to a parting of ways and ministries.

Team work makes the dream work.

During my breakout at The Soul of Eldership I’m going to unpack the joys and sorrows of recruiting and raising up pastoral teams in the first three years of church planting. We all know it’s unhealthy, unsustainable, and ultimately unbiblical to pursue church planting alone, and so we work hard to recruit ministry buddies or former staff members to join our team. Or, we rush into eldership and too hastily appoint elders in attempt to cure our loneliness. Unfortunately, we often approach the organizational structuring of these teams with naïve assumptions, unspoken expectations, and unclear communication often born out of our own ministry wounds. We know what we’re against, but we have no practical ideas about what we’re for when it comes to organizational philosophy, convictions, authority, unity, and accountability. The result is a culture of chaos, confusion, and disappointment. I know personally because I’ve lived it for the past three years.

  • How can you redeem team church planting?
  • How do you raise up elders from scratch?
  • What kinds of expectations should you be communicating on the front end of church planting with your team?

We’ll address these questions and more in our time together. If you’re a church planter, coach, or even a supporting church pastor, I hope you’ll join me as we look at these issues through the lens of a hopeful realism.