Much time, money, and energy is expended in North America by well-intentioned people who desire to live a healthy lifestyle. Many spend their hours, hard-earned cash, and strength, while eating healthy foods, so as to reach and maintain one lofty goal: health. Church Elders: How to Shepherd People Like Jesus is a book that is also concerned with health. However, author Jeramie Rinne is not concerned so much with healthy individuals, but rather with healthy churches. This book’s inclusion in the 9Marks Building Healthy Churches series, published by Crossway books, make the book’s purpose obvious. The book’s title makes it clear that the author believes church elders are part of what makes a church healthy.
More specifically, Rinne believes that a proper understanding of biblical church leadership among both the leadership and the congregation will promote vitality in the local church. Thus, Rinne provides a “concise, biblical job description for elders” which is “an easy-to-read, inspiring summary of the elder task” (15). The author hopes to instruct the church on biblical eldership, instill a desire in men to pursue the office of elder, and inspire any men whom God may be calling to vocational eldership to consider this great privilege in ernest.
The author, Jeramie Rinne, is the Senior Pastor of South Shore Baptist Church and studied church eldership when he became a full-time pastor (elder). He graduated from Wheaton College in 1993 with a B.A. Bible and Ancient Languages and followed this degree with a Master’s of Divinity from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in 1996. Rinne’s passion for church leaders and congregations is apparent in the pages of this book.
In chapter one, the author initiates his attempt to provide a proper understanding of eldership, which will lead to healthy churches, by listing six qualifications of elders. These qualifications are gathered from the New Testament. Rinne invites the reader to consider the following marks of an elder: the desire to be an elder (1 Tim. 3:1, 1 Pet. 5:2), godly character (1 Tim. 3:2-3, Titus 1:7-8), the ability to teach (1 Tim. 3:2, Titus 1:9), leading one’s own family well (1 Tim 3:4-5), being male (1 Tim 2:12, Eph. 5:22-6:4), and being an established believer (1 Tim. 3:6).
Chapter two describes the overarching responsibilities of elders with the job description of “shepherding church members toward greater Christ-like maturity” (102). Elders have as their goal seeing the image of Jesus in their congregation and understanding the means to this end being investment in their lives. Thus, elders are more like shepherds and less like trustees.
The emphasis of chapter 3 centers on sound teaching; elders accomplish their tasks through teaching the Word. The author recognizes there are many different scenarios in which teaching occurs–from one-on-one discipling to small group leadership to preaching to the congregation–but he insists that biblical teaching is integral to shepherding God’s people.
Rinne uses the fourth chapter to expound on another duty of elders/shepherds: tracking down stray members/sheep. While explaining the duty of searching for lost sheep, the author also describes five different types of strayers: sinning sheep, wandering sheep, limping sheep, fighting sheep, and biting sheep. With each of these types of people he includes some ideas for how the church elder might help.
Lead Without Lording, the title of the fifth chapter, indicates the direction the author moves. Rinne wrestles with two ideas that are often in tension. The first, confident leadership, often seems to clash with the second, gentleness. According to the author, an elder should lead confidently but with being a bully, without being arrogant, and without domineering. In fact, a “Jesus-shaped humility gives [the elders] a moral authority to which the church willingly defers” (103-4).
Chapter six introduces the issue of polity: a church is to be lead by a plurality of elders. The life of the elders is a mirrored microcosm of the life of the church. The author demonstrates the plurality of eldership present in the early church with a brief survey. He follows this up with a brief apologetic for multiple elders.
Much of the preceding chapters are about doing eldership; chapter seven is about being an elder. Rinne calls elders to model maturity. Elders should live lives that the church can imitate and should encourage congregants to do so. God uses elders who have a “well-tended life” (105). Eldership is not for those who have finally arrived, but rather it is a call to a deeper and more profound imitation of Christ.
The importance of prayer is the focus of the eighth chapter. The author produces arguments for the necessity of prayer and also includes what a “prayer-soaked elder ministry” (113) should look like. This includes public prayer, presbyter prayer (praying at elders meetings), personal prayer (praying with members), and private prayer. In praying for their sheep, elders are joining with the Great Shepherd, Jesus, who is currently praying for his people (Heb. 7:25).
In concluding this book, Rinne reminds the elder and potential elder the eternal ramifications of being an elder. On a serious note, the author warns the reader that an elder will give an account for his stewardship of this office: elders will “answer to the Groom for how [they] treat his bride” (122). Secondly, the author reminds the reader that there is an unfading reward for those who faithfully shepherd God’s flock.
Church Elders is a book that challenges me on a very personal level. As someone who has been in that office and continues to aspire to that office, I found ample opportunities in the pages of the book to question my own character and calling. In particular, the love a shepherd has for his sheep and the sacrifices he is prepared to make for them, as they are compellingly presented in the book, cause me to re-evaluate my own life in light of what biblical eldership is.
On a practical note, this book offers many helpful suggestions on the day-to-day aspects of being an elder. It offers ideas that the author has formulated from his experience leading the church. The suggestions are powerful because they are attainable and they come with a persuasive, urgent plea from the author. The author is serious about this topic and his gravity is coupled with a great joy. Both the seriousness of the calling and the enjoyment of the office as expressed by the author are contagious. I found this very edifying.
Finally, this book strengthened many philosophical positions that I already held. I hold to a view of church leadership that is very close to the one espoused by the author. The book did not challenge my beliefs, but rather bulwarked them.
Church Elders strength is its content and its conciseness. The book is very accessible and very readable. It is relatively short in length and the style is informal. That being said, its message is very important and the author covers a surprisingly significant amount of material considering the size of the volume.