Sheep-focused elders and deacons work in a local church, caring for the people in that local church. In the New Testament, we know that local churches had elders and deacons, even though we know very few of their names. They were not widely known beyond their local church, but we can assume they were widely loved by their local church.
At Mars Hill, sheep-focused elders and deacons remain almost entirely focused on their local church and local ministry. They do such things as:
Some of these leaders are on paid staff, but the vast majority are unpaid volunteers.
The health of our entire church rises or falls with the quality of love and leadership that sheep-focused leaders provide.
We have organized Mars Hill to get many of the administrative responsibilities that burden the typical local church leadership team onto the expertise of a team of support specialists. This is done so that local church leaders can devote their energies caring for Jesus’ people.
In some regards, it might be helpful to think of this relationship like that which is found in a hospital or a school, where an administrative staff relieves doctors, nurses or teachers from numerous responsibilities so they can tend to people by caring and teaching, respectively. Sheep-focused leaders need to stay focused on their people and not distract themselves with details that flock-focused leaders are tending to.
Community Groups and Redemption Groups
As a general rule, much of our church's sheep-focused ministry is done in small groups—what we call community groups. These are sermon-based groups that meet weekly for a meal, application of the content of the sermon, discussion of Scripture, prayer, friendship, service to the community and evangelism.
At Mars Hill, we have around 600 of these groups. We also have redemption groups, which are for people dealing with difficult suffering, sin that they have committed and sin that has been committed against them.
Community groups are ongoing, while redemption groups run for a season and then come to an end. We find that these groups are great opportunities for those with sheep-focused gifts to exercise caring leadership. They build up our church family and bring meaningful ministry opportunities to the leaders, nearly all of whom are unpaid and overseen by flock-focused leaders on staff.
Flock-focused elders and deacons work across multiple local Mars Hill churches. Flock-focused leaders spend some time shepherding individual people, but most of their energy is spent helping steward church resources (leaders, finances, technology, facilities and policies) to help love and serve Jesus’ mission.
In the New Testament we also see various leaders working across various churches, most notably Paul, Timothy and Titus.
It is virtually impossible to put together an organizational chart of Paul’s leadership team throughout Acts. The team is fluid and flexible. It includes men and women, elders and deacons, and people we don’t learn much about. Sometimes they are with Paul, side by side, while other times they are sent on ahead to prepare for his coming. Sometimes he leaves them behind to clean up a mess in his wake. Some people work with Paul for a season, others for many years. The impression is that Paul deploys whomever he needs, wherever he needs, whenever he needs, for however long is needed.
Flock-focused leaders help to establish and support sheep-focused leaders in our various locations. This includes our ministry specialists, who are the senior leaders over our various ministries. They work locally but have authority to oversee their area of ministry across our church locations. These ministry areas include:
Flock-focused leaders also include our central support ministry functions, covering areas such as:
Most of the time, flock-focused leaders will be paid staff simply because their area of responsibility is far too much to expect of an unpaid part-time volunteer.
We have a lot to steward, and we want to be great stewards of all that belongs to Jesus. On the issue of stewardship, Gene Getz writes in his book Elders and Leaders:
"It’s not a coincidence that the first reference to elders/overseers focused on financial responsibility (Acts 11:30). Though we’re not given any specific details as to how the Jerusalem elders distributed the money delivered by Barnabas and Saul (Paul), we can certainly 'fill in the blanks' in terms of this Herculean task. They had to make sure these funds were allocated fairly and equitably to needy believers—not only in Jerusalem but also in other churches throughout Judea. Since this would have been an extremely time-consuming effort, these men must have appointed qualified assistants to help them."
Just as husbands and wives work together in a complementary fashion, with the husband being the leader, elders and deacons work together in a complementary fashion, with the elders being the leaders.
Similarly, elders working in each area of ministry do so in a complementary fashion, with a ministry specialist being the leader. Lastly, our flock-focused and sheep-focused leaders work together as equals, with the flock-focused leaders being the senior leaders who help the sheep-focused leaders succeed in their areas of oversight.
Flock-focused leaders also greatly help in the planting of new churches. Since no single local Mars Hill Church has all that is needed to plant a great church, by working together under leadership that pulls our entire church together for mission, we can do far more than we could possibly do if we were separated churches.
The flock-focused leaders not only help strengthen the sheep-focused leaders, but they also help to decide where we can plant a church next, and how.