Initial Leadership For Your New Church – Part III



When the church you’ve planted becomes established and new leaders are being called to serve by the Holy Spirit you will need to start looking at leadership transitions.  In part three of this series I want provide a biblical basis for training local leadership, as well as address some practical issues that come up when transitioning from a non-local board to a primarily local board of elders.


There are some pastors who establish boards when they plant a church that are entirely comprised of senior pastors from other churches, who never decide to train up and empower men to be elders from within their local church.  While I would never say that’s a sin, I personally don’t believe that Scripture sets that example.  The Bible seems to encourage the training and placing of elders that rise up from within local congregations to serve as overseers over the local church. Paul told Timothy that it was part of his job as a lead pastor to evaluate the desires for leadership,[1] home-life and character,[2] teaching gifts,[3] spiritual maturity,[4] and reputation amongst non-Christians of the men in his local church for the purpose of establishing a local team of elders. He told Titus that it was his job as a lead pastor to do the same work of evaluating and establishing potential elders in the churches in Crete.[5] Paul was only calling these pastors to do what he had done in the churches he’d planted.[6]


I don’t think the example of the New Testament encourages us to have only outside elders helping us oversee the churches Jesus calls us to plant for the long-haul.  But that isn’t to say that you cannot have any outside elders after you’ve raised up some men locally.  In a sense, Paul was an outside elder to the churches he established after leaving guys like Timothy and Titus to lead and further establish leadership teams in some of those same churches.

At both churches where I’ve served as the lead pastor I have always had one long-term outside elder.  The main role of this elder is to be a man who can simply offer a fresh perspective in the event that the local guys are too at odds over something to be able to move forward. Thankfully I’ve never had to call on the services of these men to help deal with negative situations, but I’m glad they’re there.


When it does come time to begin replacing outside elders with local elders I would encourage you to replace them in order from least helpful to the most helpful.  That sounds rude, but it’s simply honest.  I discovered that while none of my outside accountability elders were totally unhelpful through the process of planting Refuge, not all of them were equally helpful.  You’ll discover who fills these roles over time.  Some guys might be less accessible or less insightful than others.  Make sure you replace them first with local guys while still keeping the extra helpful guys around.  Of course, as in all things, I would encourage you to soak your decisions in prayer in this area and not merely be pragmatic.


So how in the world do you go about identifying and training the men the Holy Spirit has called to be part of the local leadership team in your new church?  The fact is that identifying and training elders doesn’t happen by osmosis!  Pastor, God commands you to do the work of training up the men He will call into leadership in your church plant.  God’s exhortation to those of us who serve as lead pastors is seen in another command Paul gave to Timothy: “And the things that you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”[7]

That is a command of God to lead planters and pastors. What this means is that you need to prayerfully develop a system for evaluating the character, family life, gifts, calling, and theology of men before empowering them as your board.  It takes more time to do this with some men than others.[8]  There’s never a way to do this perfectly without making mistakes. You will simply have to be led by the Spirit, and be courageous as He guides you.


Recently I asked another local pastor I was out to lunch with if he had any main points of advice for a young guy like me who has been in ministry for a far shorter time than he has.  One of three valuable exhortations he gave me was this: “Figure out the things that only you can do, and do those.  Delegate and empower others to do the rest.”[9]  That’s really great practical wisdom.

I have the privilege of having one of my best friends as my assistant pastor.  Our relationship has proven the above pastor’s statement to be true over and over again.  As we work together we keep discovering that while we are both called to be pastors, the Lord has given us different kinds of giftedness as pastors.  My assistant pastor Jeremy is very priestly.  He loves meeting one on one with people and focusing on shepherding ministry.  I love to see and move people toward the big picture of what our church is supposed to be as Jesus leads us.  In some ways my gifts are more suited to working on the church while Jeremy’s are more suited for working in the church.

My encouragement to you would be to look for leaders who are biblically qualified to be pastors, but who have different emphases in their gift makeup.  If you are more of a visionary leader or a missiologist look for guys with a priestly heart who can help care for the personal needs of the people. Hire and empower to your weaknesses when it comes to creating your formal leadership team of local elders. Just like the wider church body, as you each fill your different but vital pastoral roles, your leadership of the church as a team will flow well and the people will be served well.  If you hire and empower guys who are just like you, critical needs in the ministry will probably not be met.


For whatever it’s worth, I would recommend that you as the lead planter start praying about crafting a sort of internship style system that will enable you to spend the needed time with prospective leaders, evaluating the necessary areas in their lives, and testing their call. The issue of training up local leaders is so important![10] Many things you do are important.  But if you allow meeting with people one-on-one, and all the other duties you have to prevent you from training up other elders, in the end you will end up burned out and the people won’t get the attention they need because there’s not enough leaders to help them as your church grows.[11]

At the time of this writing I am meeting with twelve men on Saturday mornings for an hour and a half each week.  On Saturdays we are praying together, learning theology, and practicing accountability.  During the week each man is serving in practical opportunities we’ve designed for them to be able to test their spiritual gifts and call from God. God has blessed it astronomically! You don’t have to be flashy.  You just need to be available to train God’s men and He will do the rest.  Pray for your initial team.  Pray for your replacement local team.

Kellen Criswell

Lead Pastor, Refuge Church

[1] 1 Tim. 3:1

[2] 1 Tim. 3:2-5

[3] 1 Tim. 3:2

[4] 1 Tim. 3:6

[5] Titus 1:5-9

[6] Acts 14:23

[7] 2 Tim. 2 NKJV

[8] 1 Tim. 5:22

[9] Roy Gruber is the senior
pastor of Washington Heights Church in South Ogden, Utah

[10] See Exodus 18 for an Old
Testament example.

[11] Exodus 18 and Acts 6

3 replies
  1. Bill Walden
    Bill Walden says:

    Good thoughts Kellen….all stuff that I agree with, and that I wish I had done when we started out 20 years ago.

    I especially like the idea of the “priestly” pastor working side by side with the “visionary” pastor. Well said.

    Good stuff….I hope guys will follow this trajectory.

  2. Kellen Criswell
    Kellen Criswell says:

    Thanks Bill. I really appreciate that encouragement, especially from a guy who’s been at this so much longer than myself. You guys gotta help keep us younger brothers in line sometimes. I think we can overcomplicate stuff real quick.

  3. Bill Walden
    Bill Walden says:

    Kellen…personally, I have always had trouble delegating. It hasn’t been a matter of thinking that I could do it all, or do it better….it was just always my inclination to “do it”. If it needed getting done, just do it. Ministry according to Nike. 🙁 That characterized my early years of being a senior pastor.

    That mindset has slowly shifted over the years. The intentionality of raising up others grew on me. I guess I didn’t pay much attention to that early on, and I am thankful now that you, me, us, others are re-emphasizing this important aspect of leadership in the life of a senior pastor. Discipling guys into leadership isn’t 2nd nature for some guys. We have to be reminded to do it, and develop that new mentality. We need to, by God’s grace, have this mentality ingrained into us.

    In recent years, I have greatly enjoyed meeting with guys that have a calling on their lives. We are seeing good fruit come out of it. Some church planting from our church, other guys raised up within, etc.

    When I was growing into ministry, before I was ever hired anywhere, I put myself where ministry training was happening. I arranged my schedule to be on the listening end of good teaching and training. No one had to suggest it; I instinctively did it. I was hungry. Now as the discipler, I realize the intentionality of it, the invitations needed for some guys, the exhortations, the hands on aspect, etc.

    Increasingly, I “do less” of the day to day stuff, and disciple more. It has been great, and i am still learning and growing in this aspect of being a lead guy.

    Good post….good word. Thanks

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