This message was preached by Steve Oliver at Gather 2015 Conference at Igatpuri on July 22nd 2015
We believe in eldership- 3 elders or more in a church.
Q. But where do we actually start?
I. In 1996 Heather and our 3 boys planted our first church.
The day I became an elder, Jeff Kidwelll was the key elder/leader. The day they announced I would be an elder, they announced that we would be leaving the church to plant a church
There was an honoring and sending with authority. I come from a context similar to many many of you (Africa). We planted the church with very little experience. I had only preached once or twice before. I had no formal training, only a promise from God. I was sent off to plant this church. Sheldon as an 18 year old came with us and helped to lead worship. 64 people got saved on the 1st Sunday when a friend of mine preached (I was too nervous) and within 9 months we had between 200-300 people
I read scripture. In the book of Mark, Jesus gets released into his calling. He begins teaching and praying for people and sees massive healings. He starts speaking about the kingdom- big things!! A lot of disciples started following him. Jesus didn’t start with 12. Jesus began to teach the crowd and disciples and began to model a kingdom life to them, then began to call out specific people.
He called Peter and Andrew who were fishermen, the Tax collector – Matthew, even a Zealot. Not everybody had to be the same! But then a time comes in Mark 3: 7 when Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake and a large crowd from Galilee followed. In verse13, Jesus went up on a mountain and called to him those he wanted and they came to him.
I started with a crowd. Heather would you cook every Wednesday for 24 people. One night, double the amount of people arrived and we had food only for 18. God multiplied the food.
We only had 1 car in the church. In Africa we have a saying "How many can you get in your car?" - "Well, how many are there?"
Got 24 into the car once
Q. Whom did I bring home?
When I saw someone taking initiative - a lady straightening the chairs - I invited her to my leadership meeting. There must be something in her for her to do that. When we wanted something done in the church and someone did it - I invited them. All we would do is this - eat Heathers lovely food, sing a few songs, pray and I would bring a simple teaching. I didn’t ask anybody their qualifications because 1 Cor. 1 says that God chooses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise. Why have only the educated?
I chose a random group of people. One guy was very naughty - within a few weeks he got a lady pregnant. One man stole stuff from the house - he had a drinking problem. Out of the original 18 about 7 started to arise as leaders. Raising leaders is all about faith. If you believe God I have to lead these people I need leaders - it is a faith issue from the word go. So when church leaders say "I don’t have any other leaders in the church" I quote scripture "O ye of little faith".
Ask God, he builds his church, gives his materials for it. Pray them into the church. You've got to start living with leaders even if you don’t have them. So we begin to work with this raw material - many of them could not read or write. 50% could not speak English. I could not speak their language. We used sign language, acted out scripture. God is good.
The bible tells me that my God takes the people on the ash heap and lifts them and empowers them so they become princes. Ps 113:7 He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; He seats them with princes ...
Sometimes we have created this understanding that elders fall out of heaven. That is not true. God lifts us up, he makes us he forms us. When you become biblically convinced it gives you faith for people. Stop judging people from the outside, ask for spiritual eyes. After a period of time we had this massive group gathering on Sundays. A time came when I began to see leadership anointing on some people
Wherever I went, I always took 1, 2 or 3 with me. Heather sent me shopping, I took someone. I used every opportunity to train. You are a nation that loves qualifications and certificates. Please continue to get them, they are good! But there is so much training we can do in everyday life. You can’t live in a book.
Without realizing it we were changing a culture by sharing our lives. For me to preach a message on a Friday mornings, takes me 9 hours to prepare. But by the following Wednesday no one remembers the 3 points I’ve shared. Share your life and you will see people learn!
We were very wealthy compared to everyone else in the church, so the pressure is how do we share that with so many people? We did our best to share everything. I even gave some of my young leaders my best red wine. I didn’t want them to learn rules, I wanted them to learn godliness.
I didn’t lead a private life and then something else on Sundays. We need to share our lives. People started to trust us and then I started training and teaching them. The night I took 16 people into the big meeting room/barn to teach them about baptism with the Holy Spirit, God poured out on all except 2 even before I began to teach.
Q. did we have failures? Yes we did
Some mistakes I made:
1. Not being inclusive when it came to my leadership team. So I would gather them to tell them what is going to happen. They would come from very ordinary backgrounds and I never empowered them to take decisions. If I wanted something done - I would tell them how and when I wanted it done. That was a mistake.
2. I never involved enough people from outside to be involved in my life. We had lots of friends who would come and minister. But my understanding was that God had called me, it’s my responsibility- and nobody should interfere. 7 years later, God pulled the carpet, and the church came crashing down and I realized that I needed help. I got sent to Gary Welsh. I realized how badly I was building and I started all over again with the help of godly brothers. Things were so bad with my team that I got Gary to lead the team even though he was living so far from us.
We honor one another’s gifting. All these wonderful things we have been learning- we preferred one another, I started giving people freedom- Ok you lead the meeting this week. When someone would ask me, what must I do, I said go and pray. Suddenly we started to see leaders coming through. We started to give the younger guys opportunity to preach and usually, we didn’t check their notes.
We wanted them to know that I trust what I have taught you. Afterwards we used to be so encouraging, point out a few shortcomings but we would celebrate that a young leader took a step of faith. Where they made errors we just brought a simple explanation and suddenly we saw leaders come through. Eventually we had 7 elders and 5 in training and 12 young men and women in future leaders. Fusi Mokeana is one of those 12 who came.
II. Then we moved to Dubai
It was a different scenario. There were no elders in a church of 200. I had to do it in a different way. There was a loose leadership team and so I took the existing group - 2 of them had preached in the church before- and started to work with them and started to release them almost immediately. It was a bit of a shock for them. I guided them a bit and off you go. Very soon, I started to watch for other leaders.
Where leaders make a mistake is to wait for people to prove themselves before they recognize them. It should be the other way round. If you see something in someone, it’s your job to get it out of them. I started to go after people. After about 7 months of being in Gateway we grew from 200 to about 275 and one of them who had been there for quite a while came to visit us. When he arrived he saw all these new leaders in operation and he wept. All I did was to give people opportunity and let them know I was there for their success. We met together, drank coffee, talked about the things of God and gave opportunity.
I said to the church, because of the nature of Dubai, we could have a big name preacher every week and gather a crowd or we could take some of the young men in the church and give them opportunity to preach. By choosing the latter, in a year to come, we will be able to celebrate that we have raised a whole army of people. Often we want our leaders to be perfect before they minister
Q. Who then is up to the task?
After 3 years we began establish an eldership team. I had 10 men - this is the key- not all of the elders could minister publicly from the word of God.
1 Tim 3: 3 says that the elder should be able to teach. Some of my elders are able to teach 5's or 10's but not able to teach a group of 100. But they are elders. It doesn’t say -elders must be charismatic and able to expound the scriptures to 150 people. To some of my elders I would say, “would you meet that new convert and teach him?”
Not all my elders are able to handle a church budget. So what we do? In the eldership team, we understand our capacity. We understand what we can do and can’t do. I (Steve) am not on the finance team because I would give all the money away. I submit a proposal and the elders decide. If I as the lead elder overrule then it shows I do not trust them. That’s how team works.
I do not lead our elders meetings because then all we would do is pray and prophesy and we would never plan. Somebody else leads the meetings. So play to your strengths.
When it comes to setting our budget - 5 of the 10 elders have the capacity to handle that type of thing and so we let them do it and then once they finalize and have a good budget and plan for the year they send it to all 10 and then we meet and pray over it.
We also handle very little pastoral issues in our eldership team. We have got a church of between 600-700 people. The church is full of sinners so there are lots of problems. If we know someone is having a problem we don’t take 10 men’s time to discuss it. We find those who are relationally linked and release them to go address the issue. All they have to do is to tell us that it is done.
All the elders were not exactly the same. They did different tasks, had different capacities and anointing. But we are a Team.
Word of Grace is an Evangelical (Born Again), Spirit filled (Charismatic), Reformed, English speaking in Pune that upholds the Bible as God's inspired Word for life. We are a church community that have people from every part of India and parts of the world. We are here to put the Great Command and the into practice by equipping and releasing every member into works of service. To know about us please log onto www.wordofgracechurch.org.