inform - encourage - unite
Otumoetai Elders Reflect, NZ Rosie Atchley
In March 2020, New Zealand’s Otumoetai congregation in Tauranga became the country’s only Church of Christ with elders. This came about after a whole-church journey that prioritised learning from past experience.
Several months after the previous eldership stepped down in mid-2017, a steering group was formed. The group helped transition the congregation by presenting proposals for members to consider. Establishing the new leadership was one of three tasks assigned to this group.
Chris Miller, a former steering group member and now elder, said surveying past leadership was an essential step that revealed two key trends. ‘Past elders had become burnt out dealing with every question and concern, many of which could have been shared among others in the congregation,’ said Chris. ‘And we needed to encourage involvement by all members, so every person could use their God-given gifts to build up His body – favouring solutions over criticisms.’
These insights prompted several teaching series as well as a ‘back-to-front’ journey to new leadership. Emerging Members came first: a teaching series that encouraged individuals to consider their own contribution to a thriving church life and successful leadership. Emerging Deacons was next: establishing servants to support future elders in the four distinct areas of administration, spiritual formation, outreach, and pastoral care. And, finally, Emerging Elders: a look at what this role was (and wasn’t), leading to members nominating candidates for the eldership.
‘Emerging was an important word for us,’ said Chris. ‘We wanted to acknowledge that God had already gifted people to serve in these various ways. So this wasn’t about us ‘appointing’ people to roles, so much as seeking God’s will at every turn. The congregation was near-unanimous in its eldership nominations, which was very affirming.’
At the celebration that welcomed Chris, Mike Austin, and David W. Nelson to the eldership, members and elders stated their intentions to each other: to make the leaders’ work a joy and not a burden (Hebrews 13:17),and to serve faithfully for the next two years.
‘The two-year commitment takes the pressure off. It gives us all a natural point to look at how things are going, and if any changes need to be made,’ said Chris. One year down the road, Chris says the back-to-front approach has proved successful.
‘When we stepped in, we already had a wonderful team of ministers and other ministry leaders to work alongside. So we didn’t get overwhelmed with organising, administrating, and setting up. They’ve all allowed us to get straight to the work of shepherding: visiting people, nurturing our flock, serving them with prayer, encouragement, and offering godly guidance,' he said.
‘The three of us have prioritised time to bond as brothers in Christ. We meet regularly with our wives too, as their perspectives help us catch things we might otherwise miss. It’s been a journey to this point but, as a congregation, I think we’ve had time to settle into the new structure, and our energy is turning outward again. We can’t wait to reach more people with the Good News.’
Rosie Atchley and her husband, Johnathon, are members of the Otumoetai Church of Christ, Tauranga, New Zealand.