It’s a powerful thing when God’s people see their leaders growing—and it’s good for the church!
This is the dynamic behind Paul’s command in 1 Timothy 4:15: “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.”
At Camelback Bible Church, we are committed to leadership development as a church, and that includes our pastors and elders. Elders must meet the biblical qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 before they are appointed to that role, of course. But like all believers, we want our elders to continue to grow as they serve.
We devote our second elder meeting each month to our development. We developed a four-year curriculum to help our elders grow personally and as a leadership team. Our elder terms are four years in length so a man will go through the full sequence during his time on the board.
This requires discipline. We jealously guard these meetings! There is always church business we could do when we gather, and business would soon fill that entire meeting. Growth is one of those Quadrant 2 activities: important but not urgent. We say “No” to other good things so we can say “Yes” to growth. We see how important it is, so we make it a priority.
We focus on the following topics: Word ministry, personal spiritual life, systematic theology, and leadership.
Year One: Handling God’s Word
Elders must be able to teach (1 Tim 3:2). The purpose of this year is to sharpen our ability to rightly handle the Word of truth (2 Tim 2:15). We want to help our elders grow as men of the Word who know the Scriptures and can use it competently, not only to teach but also to make ministry decisions, evaluate doctrine, and lead the church.
We use the First Principles video series from the Charles Simeon Trust (CST) to work on Word ministry together. Each man prepares an expositional worksheet on an assigned text before we gather. After we watch the video, a couple guys present their worksheets and receive feedback from the group.
We are essentially replicating the content and format of a CST Preaching Workshop. Our pastors attend a CST workshop every year to sharpen their skills; this gives our elders the same opportunity for growth.
Year Two: Personal Spiritual Disciplines
This year focuses on the elder’s inner life as a follower of Christ. Elders need to be able to say with the Apostle Paul, "Follow me as I follow Christ" (1 Cor 11:1). Modeling spiritual maturity is also a core component of an elder’s role. We also recognize the grave spiritual harm done to the church when leaders fall. We want to help our men stand strong.
There are a number of good resources for this. We have used Bob Thune’s Gospel Eldership and Kent Hughes’ Disciplines of a Godly Man.
Year Three: Systematic Theology
The church is the pillar and buttress of the truth (1 Tim 3:16), and elders are tasked with guarding sound doctrine for God’s people. They must be able to teach the truth accurately, recognize heterodoxy, and think theologically about new questions that arise.
Phoenix Seminary is a great partner here. We asked Dr. Steve Duby to teach a 10-month overview of systematic theology for this third year of growth. The men had assigned reading for each session to prepare for Dr Duby’s teaching. And of course, we provided him with an honorarium.
Year Four: Leadership Development
This year focuses on growing as leaders. For the good of God’s people, we want our elders to grow consistently in our personal leadership ability, interpersonal skills, effectiveness as a team, etc. As Moses discovered in Exodus 18, leading God’s people requires planning, strategy, delegation, and sound administration—along with godliness.
We are currently in this fourth year of our curriculum and are working with a church leadership coaching organization, mostly via Zoom. They are leading us through process to sharpen and implement Camelback’s vision.
Growing together with my brother elders through this curriculum has been a great blessing to me as a pastor. Our friendships have gone deeper through these second meetings of the month. We have aligned our vision for ministry. We’ve sharpened each other in the Scriptures. And we’ve set a tone of continuing development as a team.
My prayer is that our people would continue to “see our progress.” It’s a powerful thing when God’s people see their leaders growing, and it’s good for the church.
Dr. Jim Johnston is the Senior Pastor of Camelback Bible Church in Paradise Valley, AZ. Dr. Johnston attended Wheaton College (1988) and went on to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School for an M.Div. and eventually a Ph.D. in New Testament. His family spent a year at Tyndale House, Cambridge, where he worked on his dissertation. He has been a pastor for over 30 years.
He and his wife Lisa met when he was the Singles Pastor at College Church in Wheaton, IL and have been married since 1996. God has blessed them with four wonderful children: Claire, Julia, Sarah, and Andrew.
He loves hiking, reading, long road trips, and National Parks. But most of all, he loves the church.