Elders and Leadership

A Biblical Model of Church Leadership: Throughout the New Testament, principles of church leadership point to a central theme - plurality.

The church is to be led by a plurality of godly leaders. By relying on consensual agreement of godly Elders selected from the congregation, the church creates a healthy checks-and-balances of leadership direction, financial accountability, spiritual guidance, and ministry implementation.

Willow Creek implements these biblical principles in its leadership structure. A strategy of biblically based policies and guidelines within its Elder board and ministry leaders guides ministry decisions and ensure that a healthy, God-honoring implementation of leadership and pastoral care is carried out. Willow has been blessed by more than four decades of impeccable, godly leadership from an Elder board whose heart beats for the kingdom of God as expressed through the local church. We look to the future with confidence, thanks to the servant leadership this team of seasoned Christ followers provides.

Policy Governance: Optimizing Elder Direction and Staff Leadership

Willow Creek’s Elders provide spiritual oversight, direction, and leadership for the church, entrusting the implementation of that direction to ministry leaders and staff, under the leadership of the senior pastor. Senior staff leadership is held accountable for fulfilling the Elder board’s direction. This system of organizational leadership, known as Policy Governance, allows the Elders to focus their gifts and time on their biblical mandate to lead and shepherd the church, while allowing ministry leaders (staff) the opportunity to maximize their gifts and talents as they lead their ministries and make practical decisions on how to implement and carry out the direction provided by the Elders.

How are Elders selected?

The Elders, who serve as representatives of the church, are nominated by the congregation and undergo a prayerful screening, interview, and approval process. Approved candidates are then presented to those who call Willow Creek their church home, who have a 30-day opportunity to express any concerns directly to a nominated Elder candidate, utilizing the principles for conflict resolution that Jesus taught in Matthew 18. Once approved, Elders serve a four-year term. Elders are not paid staff; they serve as volunteers. The completed Elder board consists of 12 Elders plus the senior pastor (Bill Hybels) who provides a key link between the Elder board and the staff. Each member of the Elder board has equal voice to the system of consensual agreement on the team.

What do the Elders do?

The tasks and responsibilities of the Elders vary greatly and require discernment as the board strives to keep the church on its biblical course. The Elder board tackles key issues facing the church. These include:

  • Determining the overall vision and future direction of the church.
  • Creating policies to define clearly church values and biblical operating procedures.
  • Ensuring the church’s teachings and practices reflect accurate biblical theology.
  • Providing avenues for pastoral care, conflict resolution, discipline, and restoration.
  • Providing direction on financial or risk-management issues.
  • Providing accountability to the senior pastor, to ensure the vision and values determined by the Elders are being carried out.

Learn more about Elder Qualifications.