Bryan Collick, assistant editor for Elder's Digest, spoke with two church elders and asked their views and opinions on local church leadership.

Cesar Conzalez is an elder at the Washington Spanish Adventist Church. He lives with his wife, Grace, in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Terrence D. Nichols is an elder at the Mt. Carmel Adventist Church. He lives in Pelton, Delaware, with his wife, Denise, and their college-aged son.

ED: Thank you for your time. Tell me briefly about your history of church involvement .

Cesar Gonzales: I was born and raised an Adventist and I grew up very involved in all aspects of church work. I was in Pathfinders, served as AY director, taught Sabbath School, planned socials, etc. Then I graduated from academy and went to a public college. I left the church at that point and did not return for about five years.

Terrence Nichols: I've been a member of TN: I think that before an elder is trained, the church for more than 32 years. I've served as an elder for many years, and before that, I was a youth elder. My work in the church has primarily involved working with young people, prison ministries, Sabbath School, and other areas as needed.

ED: What does it mean to be a church elder?

CG: It's a heavy responsibility. Recently, our church was without a pastor for more than a year. The elders ran every aspect of the church. It was a difficult time for us, but we all became close and the church carried the load with us. We came out of that experience tired but stronger and we are all better leaders for it.

TN: The most vital role of the church elder is to model the Christian life. Elders assist the pastor in creating a vision for the church through evangelism and by challenging and encouraging people to grow in their spiritual walk.

ED: How can we train and prepare members for the duties of eldership?

TN: I think that before an elder is trained, he or she must first have a calling and the gifts needed to be an elder. The best training is a converted life and a heart for ministry, with a desire to prepare the church family for the kingdom of heaven. As a lifelong church member and the head of a large workforce, I have been trained by God to be a church leader. These factors, along with a strong prayer life and much Bible study, have equipped me for my work as an elder.

ED: What challenges face the church elder?

TN: The elder faces two major challenges. One is trying to assist the pastor when he or she has a vision that the church does not embrace. Second, ministry is a full-time job; even for an elder, the demands are enormous.

ED: Can a pastor assist the elder in facing these challenges?

TN: The pastor and the elder must be united. The church can be blessed and experience growth only when its leaders work together and are united in ministering to the body of believers.

ED: A pastor needs support from the elders. How can elders provide this assistance?

CG: An elder will give positive analysis of church needs, help the pastor make a plan of action, and work together to achieve the goal. Unity is paramount. If you can't work together as a team, everything falls apart.

ED: Unity seems to be a recurring theme in your comments. Let's include the church in the equation. How does your church encourage and affirm your pastor?

TN: We also recently hired a new pastor. We haven't yet had a Pastor's Day, but I think it's a good idea, one we will implement. My church encourages and affirms the pastor through acts of love and by supporting the direction and plans that the pastor shares. Over the years, I have found that when a love relationship exists between the pastor and the church, the relationship is self-evident and church becomes a place where members want to be.

ED: What is your church currently doing and which challenges demand the most attention?

CG: We have a five-year plan for growth, new ministries, and discipleship. It's quite comprehensive, and finding ways to motivate and unite our people will be a big part of it.

ED: And which ministry has been successful in your church?

CG: Young-adult ministry has flourished in the last couple of years, which is great because we have been able to integrate these energetic young people into leadership positions. I think every church could use more leadership.

ED: Definitely. What three qualities do you think are most important for a local church leader?

CG: Spirituality: If you are trying to lead people to God, you'd better know the way. Wisdom: You need to know how to react to difficult situations. And finally, the ability to unite very different people behind one cause. This cannot be overemphasized. If your work is not uniting the church, it is not the Lord's work.

ED: What lessons have you learned from your role as an elder?

CG: I need to be close to God all the time. When you work for Him, you are on duty 24/7/365. You never know when there will be a crisis, and you have to be spiritually prepared for it.

TN: The most powerful lesson I have learned is that it is not about what people think or do it's how I respond. I've also learned that it is an awesome responsibility and a great privilege to serve the Lord and His church.

CG: Exactly. I actually work for the denomination full-time, but I have come to realize what I do at work is my job. What I do at my church and in my home is my true ministry.

TN: Local church leadership can be a very arduous task. It can often be frustrating, and sometimes it seems unrewarding. Yet knowing that I have been called to serve, seeing God move, answer prayer, build a church, or increase membership in spite of our shortcomings, knowing that He is faithful and uses whosoever will it makes it all worthwhile. It's an awesome feeling to know that God uses me to build His kingdom. Only a loving God would do such a thing. That's my God.