Ron Clark, Emerging Elders: Developing Shepherds in God’s Image (Abilene, TX: Leafwood Publishers, 2008), 203 pages.
Ron Clark is lead church planter with the Agape church of Christ in Portland, Oregon. He holds M.Div. and D.Min. degrees from Harding School of Theology (Memphis, TN) and serves as an adjunct instructor for George Fox Evangelical Seminary. He is also a member of the Oregon Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Task Force. Clark has contributed to various publications such as New Wineskins, The Christian Chronicle, Stone-Campbell Journal, and Restoration Quarterly; moreover, he has recently published The God of Second Chances (2012) and Setting the Captives Free (2005) along with the current volume which is the subject of this book review.
Emerging Elders: Developing Shepherds in God’s Image provides a theological platform for training current elders and potential elders. Clark explores the text and terminology of the descriptive terms for “pastor” (elder, overseer) and explores such leadership in light of an incarnation model. Clark believes that only when God’s word is actually lived out and exemplified by its the church’s leaders shepherding cannot truly be what God intended it to be.
Clark has provided the body of Christ a unique text which addresses the needs of the organizational structure of churches of Christ. This is perhaps its greatest overall strength. As Clark observes, “few books are written specifically for ministers about our style of ministry” where the pastor and the preacher are distinct ministries in the body of Christ. Clark observes that most church leadership material is based upon church models which are dissimilar to churches of Christ, or based upon business models which have been given a Christian spin. Consequently, to address the lack of literature on the subject Emerging Elders is an attempt at providing a resource and a solution to the vacuum of pastoral development in light of this distinction.
In Emerging Elders, Clark provides a solid response to this lack of material to address In section one, Clark develops the need for elders who are equipped to lead the body of Christ (chapters 1-2). In section two, Clark provides a dynamic model of God as shepherd and what that means for the leaders of God’s people, he offers a situational and contextual applications of the pastoral qualifications, and then emphasizes that both God’s example and Paul’s instructions are to be applied incarnationally (chapters 3-8). In section three, Clark provides a series of chapters which specifically address the tensions and problems within church life in particular and churches of Christ in general that emerging elders must address in an incarnational model. “These leaders are appointed to imitate God’s care and concern for people.” The chapters on predators and care of the preacher were particularly exceptional and passionate, and are often not treated in the manner in which Clark has done (chapters 9-15).
What perhaps would have made Emerging Elders more helpful would have been in the area of conflict resolution (chapter 10) and the elder development program (chapter 15). In chapter 10, Clark explores the role elders have in the promotion and maintenance of unity. This lays heavily upon John 17 and Eph 4:1-6, and according to Clark speaks to the needs of the elders to “encourage reconciliation.” To be sure, Clark is complete in his development of the reconciliation process: “Reconciliation requires, conflict resolution, validation, and reinstatement of a relationship.” However, I walked away from that section wishing that Clark had spent more time on developing these ideas, diagrams notwithstanding.
Secondly, I felt that the last chapter (ch. 15) was almost a letdown. With the idea of elder development as the core of the book, I anticipated the last chapter, “Suggested Elder Development Program,” to have more details. Maybe I am being over judgmental. The cycles are a great suggestion and using a quarter year system for elders and potential elders is very helpful. The book reading suggestions are also very appropriate. But what about the first steps it takes, the conversations needful to create the atmosphere to offer and provide these classes? I anticipated more help in creating the development program; however, even in saying this the program offered and the notes to use certain sections of the book along with corresponding cycles is very helpful.
In balance, Emerging Elders is a perfect balance of scholarship and the heart of a servant attempting to live incarnationally. Incarnational leadership is at the heart of Emerging Elders and it should be at the heart of how Christian leaders serve, and how Christians serve their church, family, and community. It does not provide easy answers to the flesh and blood problems in the church, nor does it provide answers that are so impossible to achieve. Emerging Elders does call Christians to lead God’s church biblically (incarnationally), and to address the real life problems the people of God face with the most fundamental gift God has given his people agape love.
Emerging Elders calls every would be elder to be living examples of faith, integrity, loving concern for all. I highly recommend Ron Clark’s Emerging Elders to every husband and wife who serve in their church, every preaching couple, every elder and his wife, every deacon and his wife. They are truly the focus of this book. As Clark observes, “We must help families inside and outside the church heal, but this must come from incarnational leaders who model God’s style of marriage and parenting. God has a pattern; leaders follow and call others to do the same. They follow by modeling his nature through the fruits of the Holy Spirit, becoming a father like God, and being approachable. These individuals reflect God’s character to both the church and the world.”
Ron Clark, Emerging Elders: Developing Shepherds in God’s Image (Abilene, TX: Leafwood Publishers, 2008), 9.
Clark, Emerging Elders, 46.
Clark, Emerging Elders, 139.
Clark, Emerging Elders, 101.