I was a leader for change long before I became an elder or even a deacon. Not everyone is in a position to do so, but all churches have leaders without an office. Don’t be afraid to lead from whatever position God has given you.
(Rom 12:6-8) We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is … teaching, let him teach; 8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; … if it is leadership, let him govern diligently … .
(1 Cor 12:28) (1 Cor 12:28) And in the church God has appointed … third teachers, then … those with gifts of administration … .
Whether you are a leader is determined by your gifts, not your title. How you lead certainly depends on your position — but not whether you lead.
Just so, the scriptures speak of teaching as a gift. If you have it, teach … and lead.
(Eph 4:11-12) It was he who gave some to be … teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up
Even if your only gift is encouragement, God urges you to use it.
Now every congregation presents its own challenges. In some, the elders exercise so much control as to cultic. In others, freedom reigns. And there is everything in between.
And so, recognizing that every situation is different, and all these ideas won’t always work, here are some ideas —
* Pray. A lot. Pray that God will open the hearts of the congregation and its leader, that God will give you wisdom and the words, that God will help you be gentle and kind.
* If you’re a teacher, teach as many different classes as possible. Try not to get stuck teaching the same class all the time. This leads to splits, rather than change.
* Befriend the elders. Eat lunch with them. Honestly share your heart with them. Share reading lists. Invite them to sit in your class. Don’t let your disagreements become a basis for emotional distance. You can’t influence men you don’t talk to.
* Befriend the ministers. Actually, many ministers have trouble making friends within the church. They are afraid of leaving them when they are fired or quit. Many members are intimidated by their education or goodness. Your ministers need friends.
And you’ll benefit from the minister’s Bible knowledge. Talk about the church and your desires and the scriptures. Brainstorm how the church could be better.
* Till the soil. I can’t count the times I’ve heard a preacher say, “The church isn’t ready for that,” when I’d been teaching that in every single classroom for a decade. Make sure the classes are ready to hear what the preacher needs to preach. Teach, teach, teach, and teach.
* Don’t conspire. As tempting as it might be to build up a team of zealots ready to fight for change, political power plays are dangerous, usually fail, often split the church, and aren’t submissive to the elders. Maybe sometimes they’re necessary, but usually there’s a better way.
Here’s the rule: elders will not allow change they consider wrong. Therefore, the only path to change is to persuade the elders of what is right. Or else persuade the resistant elders to step down. That’s it. And in the Churches of Christ, unless there’s a re-affirmation process in place, there’s no established way to remove an elder. And when a majority of the elders opposes change, it’s just not going to happen unless the overwhelming majority of the congregation insists — which is rarely going to happen.
Occasionally, the elders will reach a doctrinal compromise — we’ll allow the teens to sing contemporary music and clap but no one else. But such compromises are just ways to slow the split. They don’t prevent it.
Hence, it’s really all about teaching. And teaching comes best from someone the elders respect — who knows his stuff and who serves the congregation from the heart.
* Know your stuff. The worst thing you could ever do is lead the church into error. And you’ll never be an effective teacher until you truly understand the Word. And the best way to learn the Bible is to teach. So teach.
Read commentaries and books from all kinds of people. Those with the most to teach you are those that don’t merely affirm what you already know. Be curious.
Iron sharpens iron. Find friends who know their Bibles and discuss it — over coffee or on the Internet (there are countless opportunities). Listen to what your opponent has to say. He may be right.