For the first two hundred years of the Brethren movement, it prospered both spiritually and numerically without a salaried ministry. Led by free ministers and elders who were called and equipped by God through their local congregations, the Brethren received sound doctrinal preaching and teaching.
While the Scriptures give ample exhortation for all believers to be instructed in scriptural matters, there are few if any passages directed exclusively to ministers and elders regarding education. All believers should hold fast to the faithful Word that they have been taught, and all should stand fast in the traditions (precepts) they have been taught. Although 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 give specific qualifications for ministers and elders, they should apply to all believers. As overseers, however, ministers and elders should be more thoroughly equipped in these qualifications in order to fulfill their responsibilities to the flock—apt to teach, able by sound doctrine to exhort and convince, be stewards of the mysteries of God, able to feed the church of God, and able to provide oversight.
Prior to the advent of the salaried ministry in the Brethren movement, new ministers received “on the job training” while serving their congregations. They were instructed by older ministers and elders inside and outside their own congregations, and by diligent scriptural study. Thus, capable ministers and elders were raised up and equipped in the way that God ordained. They were able to feed the flock of God, able by sound doctrine to exhort and convince gainsayers, and able to present the Gospel of Christ to sinful man. Therefore, we would exhort each called minister to diligently develop both the general ministerial gifts and their particular spiritual gifts to their greatest potential for the edifying of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 14:12; 1 Tim. 5:17; 2 Tim. 1:6; 2:15).
The mission of the Preparation Committee of the Council of Brethren Elders shall be —
“To uphold the New Testament, as applied by the Brethren Confession, as our rule of faith and practice”
“To assist brethren called to the set-apart ministry to become faithful and effective elders of plural, non-salaried ministry congregations following the historic Brethren understanding of the New Testament.”
2. Philosophy of preparation for elders
Effective preparation to serve as an elder involves three dimensions: understanding of the scriptural requirements of the office; awareness of the minister's individual character, gifts and abilities; and recognition of the setting in which he serves. The CBE course to prepare elders will incorporate all of these aspects. The development of Christ-likeness, through obedience to God's Word, will be of primary importance.
3. Commissioning of ministers
CBE will assist in commissioning ministers by the following procedure:
When a congregation calls a new minister, the Presiding Elder of the congregation will schedule and organize a commissioning service. After the commissioning, the minister will be considered a commissioned minister of his congregation. His preparation for the full office of elder will continue under the supervision of his congregation.
4. Ordaining of elders
The office of elder is biblically established and historically practiced by the Brethren. This biblical and historical foundation for the office of elder is presented in Doctrinal Statement on Church Polity. It is the desire of CBE to continue this office in our non-salaried plural ministry congregations. To effect this end, CBE will ordain elders by the following procedure:
Upon satisfactory completion of the commissioned minister's preparation, and with the approval of his congregation, the minister's Presiding Elder will organize his ordination with assistance by CBE as requested by the Elder. The ordination service will employ the vows adopted by the local congregation. After the ordination, the minister will be considered an ordained minister or elder of his congregation. He will serve under the authority of his congregation as a minister or an elder.
5. Preparation of elders
The CBE Elders Council will designate a Preparation Committee which shall be responsible for developing and implementing a biblical program to prepare brethren to serve in the scriptural office of minister and elder. The duties of the Committee shall include selecting appropriate teachers, according to the criteria of CBE Polity. Materials used for preparation shall be chosen carefully. Authors and content shall affirm the goals and ideals of CBE. Existing courses from other organizations or institutions may be recommended and accepted according to the guidelines set by CBE Polity and the Preparation Committee. Various methods of instruction may be recommended to recognize individual differences in methods of learning.
In addition to the standard CBE program of training, a minister’s skills, gifts and life experiences may be considered part of his preparation for the office of minister and elder. If his congregation has chosen to accept his experiences as equivalent to formal training, his Presiding Elder and Ministry Team will work with the CBE Preparation Committee to develop his program of training. The minister will choose an ordained elder to serve as his mentor during his preparation. He and his mentor shall meet regularly during his preparation. The Preparation Committee will give guidance for the mentoring process.
The mentor and Presiding Elder will monitor and hold accountable the minister and his progress throughout his preparation. The instructor and Preparation Committee will report periodically to the minister’s mentor and Elder as needed.
6. Continuing education
CBE provides courses that are mutually beneficial to ministers in training and ordained ministers. Therefore, ordained ministers and elders are encouraged to participate.