Policy Governance: Elders

Willow Creek Elders are nominated by the congregation and undergo a robust screening and interview process before they are eligible for election to the Elder Board. Accepting the volunteer role of Elder is not something to be taken lightly; Elders make extensive time commitments and take on deep spiritual responsibility in leading Willow Creek, and we are grateful for their selfless service on our behalf.

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. We look to the future with confidence, thanks to the servant leadership this team of seasoned Christ followers provides.

Meet the Elder Board.
Meet our senior pastor, Dave Dummitt.

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 lead 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. Once approved, Elders serve a four-year term. Elders are not paid staff; they serve as volunteers. Each member of the Elder board has equal voice to the system of consensual agreement on the team.

If you have a concern about a senior or lead pastor at Willow Creek, please contact Capin Crouse at 630-682-9797, ext. 1291, or email [email protected].

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 lead pastor, to ensure the vision and values determined by the Elders are being carried out.


Elder Prerequisites

  • Cannot be nominated by self or spouse.
  • Elders must have attended Willow for at least five years.
  • Elders must have completed the Leadership Covenant or are in process.
  • Must have volunteered in a ministry or Section Community for at least two years, preferably in a leadership or coaching role.
  • Must be known and approved for consideration by a staff member or a member of Willow’s Leadership team.
  • Must have capacity, flexibility and availability to serve in the Elder role. The time requirement varies greatly month to month, but the minimum includes monthly meetings, annual retreat, and committee responsibilities.

Time Commitment for Elders

  • Elders’ meeting—one evening per month.
  • Elders’ retreat—one weekend per year (in June).
  • Eight to ten hours (on average) per month for review of Elder Board materials, policies, correspondence, meeting preparation, and team conference calls.
  • In addition to the regular Elders' meeting, committee responsibilities may require additional hours each month, depending on the committee's requirements.
  • If serious issues arise that require immediate attention by the Elder Board, additional hours may be required outside of regular Elders' meetings.

Scriptural Overview of the Role of Elder

General Overview

Scripture verses that address the role of an Elder: Titus 1:5–9; I Peter 5:1–4; Acts 20:28–31; James 5:14

At Willow Creek, our Elders:

  • Carry the ultimate responsibility and authority to see that the church remains on a true biblical course; that its members are being appropriately shepherded, that the body is being fed through insightful and accurate biblical teaching, and that the life of the church is being well managed with the assistance of competent and godly leaders.
  • Guard the body of Christ against harmful influences, confronting those who are contradicting biblical truth or continuing in a pattern of sinful behavior.
  • Shepherd the church by being an example and role model.
  • Care about the spiritual and physical well being of congregants; pray regularly for the sick.
  • Oversee the central South Barrington campus, all regional campus ministries (including Casa de Luz), and the Global Leadership Network.

Specific Duties

The Elders of Willow Creek are responsible for the following, but will delegate to qualified others in the body so these duties are carried out effectively.

Provide Spiritual Oversight

  • Confront false teaching and behavior contradictory to biblical truth and implement appropriate church discipline
  • Maintain the administration of Baptism and Communion as instituted by Christ
  • Review and evaluate teaching and curricula for biblical accuracy and consistency with WCCC values (weekend services, classes, and sub-ministry materials)
  • Implement and monitor compliance with board policy
  • Mandate ministry to the poor and distressed

Shepherd the Flock

  • Participate (as needed) in the biblical process of conflict resolution outlined by Jesus in Matthew 18
  • Direct people into appropriate processes for guidance, assistance, and problem resolution
  • Respond to letters/phone calls from the church body, staff, or public

Manage the Church

  • Affirm the annual WCCC budget
  • Encourage the senior pastor, his or her staff, and volunteers
  • Conduct annual review of the senior pastor
  • Delegate to qualified assistants, staff, and/or outside experts as needed
  • Delegate to qualified teams:
    • Conciliation Team—oversees processes leading to conflict resolution
    • Elder Response Team—manages situations where people are experiencing significant relational difficulties or moral failure
    • Anointing Team—anoints those who are sick with oil for healing purposes

Pray for the Sick

  • Affirm the work of the Anointing Team
  • In special circumstances, visit congregants who are sick (at home or in the hospital) for private counsel

Essential Components of an Elder

The biblical teaching on church leadership begins and ends with the character of the individuals who are called to the leadership team of the church. Our evaluation of individuals who aspire to serve as Elders at Willow Creek Community Church includes a comprehensive process to evaluate the “Five Cs,” with the primary focus on Character.

1. First “C”—Character (1 Timothy 3:2–7 and Titus 1:6–9)

  • Above reproach—Elders must lead by example and demonstrate a lifestyle free from patterns of sin.
  • Husband of one wife—Elders, if married, must be devoted spouses.
  • Temperate—Elders must be self-controlled, enslaved to nothing, and free from excesses.
  • Prudent—Elders must be sober, sensible, wise, balanced in judgment, not given to quick, superficial decisions based on immature thinking.
  • Respectable—Elders must demonstrate a well-ordered life and honorable behavior.
  • Hospitable—Elders must be unselfish with personal resources, willing to share blessings with others.
  • Able to teach—Elders must be able to communicate truth and sound doctrine in a non-argumentative way.
  • Not addicted to wine—Elders must be free from addictions and willing to limit their liberty for the sake of others.
  • Not pugnacious or quick-tempered—Elders must be gentle, patient, and able to exercise self-control in difficult situations.
  • Uncontentious—Elders must not be given to quarreling or selfish argumentation.
  • Free from the love of money—Elders must not be stingy, greedy, or for sordid gain, or preoccupied with amassing material things.
  • Manage own household—Elders must have a well-ordered household and a healthy family life.
  • Not a new convert/not a new believer—Elders must not be new believers. They must have been a Christian long enough to demonstrate the reality of their conversion and depth of spirituality.
  • Good reputation with outsiders—Elders must be well-respected by unbelievers and free from hypocrisy.
  • Not self-willed—Elders must not be stubborn, or prone to forcing their opinions on others or abusing authority. They must be servant-minded.
  • Loving what is good—Elders must desire the will of God in every decision.
  • Just—Elders must desire to be fair and impartial. Their judgments must be based on scriptural principles.
  • Devout—Elders must be devoted Christ followers, seeking to be conformed to His image. They must be committed to prayer, worship, the study of Scripture, and the guarding of their spiritual walk.
  • Holding fast the faithful Word—Elders must be stable in the faith, obedient to the Word of God, and continually seeking to be controlled by the Holy Spirit.

2. Second “C”—Competence: Defined as specific, Holy Spirit-endowed gifts and abilities, combined with skills acquired through training and life experience.

3. Third “C”—Chemistry: The intangible quality of being able to “fit” within the existing team. The ability to blend into and enrich the current circle of community and relational harmony within the board.

4. Fourth “C”—Courage: The ability, when needed, to enter into difficult exchanges and defend the faith, the church, and individuals in ways that preserve and maintain the community. The ability to speak the truth in love without destructive results.

5. Fifth “C”—Calling: The ability to sense God’s calling on one’s life for a particular season of service to the body of Christ: “I think God is in this.”

Essential Characteristics/Skills of Elders

  • Spiritual maturity 
  • Able to keep confidential information
  • Able to exhort in sound doctrine
  • Excellent interpersonal skills
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Team player
  • Humility
  • Conflict-resolution skills

Essential Spiritual Gifts for Elders

The spiritual gifts of discernment, wisdom, and leadership are considered foundational gifts for those who serve as Elders; however, the presence of other gifts such as teaching, administration, encouragement, and mercy greatly enhance Elder functioning.

1. Discernment

The gift of discernment is the divine enablement to distinguish between truth and error. It is the ability to discern the spirits, differentiating between good and evil, right and wrong. Scripture references are: 1 Corinthians 12:10; Acts 5:1–4; and Matthew 16:21–23. People with this gift:

  • Distinguish truth from error, right from wrong, pure motives from impure motives.
  • Identify deception in others with accuracy and in an appropriate manner.
  • Determine whether a word attributed to God is authentic.
  • Recognize inconsistencies in a teaching, prophetic message, or interpretation.
  • Can sense the presence of evil.

2. Wisdom

The gift of wisdom is the divine enablement to apply spiritual truths effectively to meet needs in specific situations. Scripture references are: 1 Corinthians 12:8; James 3:13–18; 1 Corinthians 2:3–14; and Jeremiah 9:23–24. People with this gift:

  • Focus on the unseen consequences in determining what next steps to take.
  • Receive an understanding of what is necessary to meet the needs of the body.
  • Provide divinely guided or given solutions in the midst of conflict and confusion.
  • Hear the Spirit provide direction for God’s best in a given situation.
  • Apply spiritual truth in specific and practical ways.

3. Leadership

The gift of leadership is the divine enablement to envision the future of the church coupled with a humble heart to serve others. Scripture references are: Genesis 12:1; Isaiah 43:18–19; Matthew 7:7; Matthew 20:25–28; Luke 22:27; John 10:3–4, 11; I Corinthians 2:9–13; and James 1:5. People with this gift:

  • Are servants by nature; eager to see the church prevail in the world.
  • Demonstrate spiritual foresight that anticipates the work of God.
  • Allow Scripture and prayer to inform their decision-making process.
  • Impart vision to others using clear communication.
  • Can assess significant past events and their potential for impact on the present and future.
  • Are able to think creatively and apply ideas and concepts in new ways.
  • Desire accountability in fulfilling their responsibilities and meeting the needs of those they serve.

4. Teaching

The gift of teaching is the divine enablement to understand, clearly explain, and apply the Word of God, causing greater Christ-likeness in the lives of listeners. Scripture references are: Romans 12:7; 1 Corinthians 12:28–29; Acts 18: 24–28; and 2 Timothy 2:2. People with this gift:

  • Communicate biblical truth that inspires greater obedience to the Word.
  • Challenge listeners simply and practically with the truths of Scripture.
  • Present the whole counsel of God for maximum life change.
  • Give attention to detail and accuracy.
  • Are committed to consistent personal time of biblical study and reflection.