Biblical Eldership

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I feel like I’ve argued both sides of this debate. Early in my ministry, I was confronted about whether an elder could be a single man. Later, could he be a divorced but remarried man. I’ve heard that the qualifications for eldership ought to be taken at face value, and that they ought to be understood as guidelines. I would pay to see the longitudinal study that showed the results of both understandings.

The truth is I’ve seen a few church elders in my time. I’ve had the privilege of working with some great men. And I’ve worked with men that were not so great, and some that were really petty. Some Elders were far more interested in personal or family power in the church than delivering sound judgment. I’ve seen many good men shy away from the leadership because the men in already in power were corrupt. And I’ve seen good Elders sour under peer pressure and pressure from those of influence outside church leadership.

I see the church elder as a dying breed, whose role and scope is slowly being taken over by staff, the “hired guns” from out of town, out of the colleges and seminaries. Staff take up the role of the Elder, but don’t do the work of shepherding, not like a home-grown Elder, allowing the sheep to wander on their own through the week because staff don’t necessarily understand the community like the Elder does.

That is the price of cheap grace by the way. If its easy to get into faith (by raising your hand or standing up at the close of the message) its just as easy to fall back out. Salvation costs you nothing, but it costs you everything.

We’ve so corrupted the understanding of what an Elder is that we don’t even try it anymore. It’s a title for a church officer and nothing more. He manages church business and hiring and often firing the preacher, if he has any power at all. In a small church, the Elder is the “Great Power”. In a large church, you can scarcely find him, eclipsed by the personality of the Preacher. Somewhere in there is the biblical role of an Elder.

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (1Ti 3:1-7)

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (Tit 1:5-9)

When we look at the qualifications for an Elder we see a man who is an upstanding citizen, well-known in his community. He is a man with a stable marriage and family life. He is a man who knows his Bible and has good management skills. he has been through the school of hard knocks and graduated with honors. He is respected by his peers, but humble. He is evident in his faith and willing to share it. He is a man with life experience and wisdom, and the ability to pass this on to others. This is a man whose wife and children look up to him. This is one who is just as qualified by who he is as by those who know him.

This is the heart of Pauline Eldership, and let us tread carefully on this ground, since the leadership of God’s Church suffers, if not shatters and crumbles, if we do not take this seriously. As Alistair Begg recently said, “The chaos of an Elder’s home bleeds over in church leadership.”

The systems our churches use are far too weak, and far too lenient to meet this standard. And this leads to weak and lenient churches. We must be willing to accept the notion that if no man is qualified, then God has chosen no one to fill the role. We must be willing to keep the position open and vacant until men are qualified. Contrary to the “by-laws”, the Bible does not make it mandatory, and it may well mean the Lord is not ready to appoint any elders at this time. I think there is something to be said for men to be deacons before they are elders, but the diaconate is a different kind of position.

The Elders’ role (always in plural, by the way, never singly) is the shepherding of the flock. Its instruction and ministry of the Word, anointing the sick, and giving wise counsel.

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. (1Pe 5:1-3)

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. (1Th 5:12-13)
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. (Jas 5:14)

The elders are not responsible for the budget, the collection, benevolence, or making sure the stairs get fixed. The Elders are responsible for the spiritual depth of the local Church, while the deacons are responsible for the physical well-being of the church. As Shepherds and Overseers, they pursue the strays and lead the flock. They are responsible for dreams (as the old men, Acts 2:17) not the bottom line. An Eldership not willing to entrust these things to the Diaconate has done a poor job of selecting deacons. An eldership unwilling to stand against peer pressure from the church or even wife pressure at home is a poor eldership at best.

If Elders has been selected according to the standards we know are written in God’s Word, our churches would be in very different places now, and not nearly so dependent on the colleges and universities for leadership and advice. That places the Scholars in those leadership roles, not seasoned elders. That’s not what the Scriptures teach. That’s not the New Testament Church.

What we are seeing today among our larger churches reflects this. The Church has become a place to be entertained, not an encouragement for service. If we see the elders at all, it is the stumbling meditation of the Lord’s Supper, very much out of tune with the rest of the service. Where are the elders leading from the pulpit, through the song service, and giving the invitation? They are often men unskilled in speaking, uncomfortable before a crowd, and very willing to let the preacher take over for them. Where is the enthusiasm of the Board Meeting? Or the emotional vitality when telling the preacher where to go?

Men, if you are an Elder reading this, I encourage you to become more involved and out front in your church. Don’t be content to hide behind the title, or simply show up when the Board Meeting is called. You are the Head Christian in your Church, not your preacher. Everyone expects the preacher to be a Christian. But the Elder is one who lives where they live, and has been through what they experience and still loves the Lord. The Elder is the man who calls on the sick and the infirm, who shepherds the flock, knows the flock by name, and encourages the weak. If you are not up to the task, resign, and let God call someone who is. Encourage your preacher and admonish him, hold him accountable, but never tear him down in front of others. If you don’t like your preacher, hold him up before God in prayer. If you are not a praying man, then get on your knees. its time you started. If you are depending on your preacher to do your job, then its time for a wake-up call. Help him do his job by doing yours.

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Doing Church

IMG20031Myopia is the medical condition of only being able to see things up close. It is the condition many churches fall into when they only look at themselves and their own needs for too long. A church can become myopic when it only focuses on the needs of a few, instead of the whole, or its members, instead of a community. For a church, this can be fatal. For example, if ministry is offered only to the offended, the blessed are ignored, and no one else notices when they leave, and vice versa.

We need to pull back and take a larger view of the controversies going on among our brethren so that we can biblically navigate through them ourselves. We are not the only church, and what goes on among them affects us as well. This month our churches celebrate together at the North American Christian Convention in Indianapolis. I won’t be attending very simply because I cannot justify the expense. I have been waiting for some kind of workshop schedule where I might find a seminar or two to brush up my skills for Chaplaincy. No such luck. The last schedule I saw was directed primary for those in churches doing church work, largely according to a large church model, or telling you how to get a large church. It seems like I’ve been hearing that rhetoric for the two decades of my pastoral ministry. It’s easy to see why.

The balance of influence in our brotherhood has shifted. It used to be that all the churches supported the Bible Colleges more or less equally, because the colleges’ needs were modest. But as they have grown, their needs have grown, as their need for church support. Churches who are larger contribute more, and as a result, have a greater stake in the graduates they produce. The colleges, now universities, have produced graduates more suited to the specialized ministries of the large church. Ministry graduates are now being trained in one or two things, not the many roles demanded by the small church, who can only pay part-time wages despite full-time expectations. Yet these ministry specialists bring hefty college debt and narrow training, like youth, counseling, or pulpit ministry. It is a recipe for frequent minister burnout, short pastorates, and vacant small-church pulpits.

And this is where we find ourselves today. We have hundred of small churches asking for a guy who can preach and change the light bulbs, while the graduates are continually frustrated by the small-minded of the small church. All they can think about (and I include myself in that bunch, once upon a time) is how to grow that church into a mega-church, just like Bob Russell did at Southeast Christian Church. Many of the men I trained with, and now myself included, have come out of the ministry with an overwhelming sense of frustration and guilt that we couldn’t do it. It is guilt and failure. It is also doubt. Has the Lord said? Did the Lord call me to ministry? Somewhere, somehow, there has been a disconnect between the average church and the average Christian University. And the smaller churches are turning to lay preachers, men who have little formal education in Bible, because they simply cannot afford the high-priced graduates (who have decades of college loans to pay off).

What can be done? It seems to me that two things needs to happen. First, the small church needs to wake up and and realize their ship is sinking and that all hands need to be on deck. There is no room for pew-sitters anymore. If a small church is going to survive, everyone, no matter the age, needs to be about the business of ministry, because they cannot afford someone to do it for them.

Second, The Colleges and universities need to wake up, and train more men for small church ministry. If colleges depend on donations, they need to realize their donation pool is drying up. The more often they have to compromise for funding, the more the small churches are going to bail on them. The Universities need to realize that its not all about the specialists. There needs to be a call for the generalists, those who can do a little of everything. This is a role that needs to be marketed and pushed, because that is the world their graduates are going back into. There needs to be a course on church politics, and how to do spine surgery on spineless elders. There needs to be a backbone clinic to speak truth to the powerful in the small churches and deliver the word of God without compromise, but with tact and respect.

Ok, soap box aside, I’ve been in enough small churches to see the same personalities with different faces. I love the small church, and I love the way small churches do things, how they impact their communities, and most of their people are honest, hard-working, down-to-earth folks. I miss it, just like I miss the quiet of Christmas Eve Communion and the strains of Silent Night, the Easter Choir and the Sunrise Service (followed by breakfast, of course). I miss the sense of belonging, of family in the small church. That’s why I think God made so many of them, because He loves them too.

Let’s stop playing church, and let’s be the church, and let’s do it together.

What We Need in Church

What does our church need to achieve fundamental change? Three things: Greatness, Openness, Direction.

We need Greatness in worship and personal spiritual experience. We need to rise above mediocrity and “just enough to get us by.” We need great worship. We need worship where we come face to face with Jesus Christ, with Almighty God. We need sacrificial worship. We need to bring something to the service and to God’s presence, rather than expect to take something away from it. We need to expect to bring a gift to God, our broken and bleeding hearts, the kind of sacrifice He desires. We need uplifting worship. We need worship and personal spiritual experience that is literally “out of this world.” This is what gives us the glimpse of the “other side,” the realm of the eternal and the spiritual. Without it, our religion becomes dull, lifeless, monochrome, and carnal.

Next, we need Openness. We need to be open and transparent to our brothers and sisters in faith, to open our hearts to them. We also need openness to God, so that we do not approach Him with hypocrisy, but with complete and sincere honesty about who we are and we wish to become. This is called in John 4 worshiping in “Spirit and in truth.” “In Spirit,” for God is spirit. We can only approach Him as translucent spirit, not as opaque flesh. This is true intimacy, not the kind of “lets-make-love” philosophy passed around by fornication, but true and lasting intimacy of heart, shared between Christians, other Christians, and Christ, the true intimacy of the “Body.”

Lastly, we need direction. We need to know where we are going. What is the point of all this? Is it to make more money, to hire more staff, to break 200, or something else completely pointless? Are we trying to achieve a certain level of spiritual maturity (Ephesians 4:13) together, something that we can measure and touch? Are we trying to bring new lives into the Kingdom? What is the direction that all of our services and groups and ministries are aiming for? Firmness of direction gives us a sense of purpose. Without it, we will fail, because we will fail to set goals. Failing to even set goals is a mark of a dying church. There would be no life here without direction. As children, out intention is to grow up. As older children, we set goals for our future, what will I be? As adults, we set goals in our career, how high will I go, or, how well a job can I do? As as Church, what is our direction? To get bigger? How big? How soon? Who will cater to? How will we grow? Are we willing to sacrifice our building to build newer and bigger? Are there sacred cows along the way we will have to butcher in order to make more room (i.e., music, wall color, more preaching, more services, more home Bible study)

Without these three, Greatness, Openness and Direction, Church is pointless, monotonous, and will eventually die. Do you want to be a hanger-on, one of the last to go down with the ship, or do you want to live?! Do you want to live the life that Jesus calls for in Scripture, to be filled overflowing with the water of life, to live life more abundantly? (John 10:10)

Forget Not His Benefits

When the Affordable Care Act engaged in full force, small businesses were already making hard choices, hiring employees for part-time rather than full-time. Many people who were promised not to lose their healthcare were faced with losing their jobs. Now with labor day on the horizon, we begin to see the condition of jobs and benefits deteriorate unlike we’ve ever seen before.

Now, these same folks love Jesus, go to church, and are good Christian folks. But while the preacher goes on and on about the sweet by and by, they are hurting in the here and now. Does the eternal, holy, and good God see my needs where I am? Are God’s good gifts only eternity? Or are they for the here and now? What are God’s promises for his children while they tread upon this earth?

When we start a new job, we have come to expect certain kinds of benefits, including health insurance, dental insurance, vision and a retirement plan. Some jobs even include a life insurance policy in effect while we work for that job to help take care of our families. And these will be the subjects of our messages this month, for God supplies richly and abundantly the benefits of His kingdom upon those whom He has called.

But all those benefits assume that you are doing you job. Even these heavenly benefits are contingent upon the practice and growth of your faith. Are you expanding your toolbox by reading and studying God’s Word? Are you strengthening your relationship with Jesus by spending time in prayer? Does the practice of your faith include both going to church weekly and sharing your faith daily, with family, friends and people you meet?

Our job description is clear: As you go, make disciples, baptize believers, and teach them to be like Jesus. This is our great commission as the church, which applies to each of us if it applies to any of us. Each of us has been called, however we are equipped by the Spirit, to make disciples, to show others even if only by our example, what it means to be a Christian. Whether in tough times or easy, how do you labor for the Kingdom of Jesus Christ? Does everyone you know know you are a Christian? If not, repent of this sin, and seek to show others your faith. It’s ok to make others uncomfortable. We weren’t called to make them comfortable, but to bring their souls to Jesus. This is our job, and we have this job to do.

We find that the benefits to this job far outweighs the headaches and frustrations.

Health Insurance

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
(Jas 5:14-15)

Dental Insurance?

“I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me,” declares the LORD.
(Amo 4:6)

Vision Insurance

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
(Mat 7:3-5)

Retirement

even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.
(Isa 46:4)

Life Insurance

And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life.
(1Jn 2:25)

Penciling In

Another year has come and gone, and we are faced with a new year, complete with new challenges and new opportunities. There is something about opening a new calendar, and putting away an old one. The scent of fresh paper, the sound of crinkled plastic, and the bright and playful colors of the approaching year’s pictures. But, just as soon as the new calendar is opened and hung, it becomes filled. Without fail, it becomes a battlefield, with armies of meetings and programs threatening the placid surface of the page. The old calendar bears silent witness to the war between your time, and the time claimed by everyone else, your job, your children, and your spouse.

I can’t speak to all of your other commitments, but I can guarantee at least one hour a week well worth the investment of your time. That hour is the hour you spend with God and His people. Many of you may not have been to church in recent months. I want to formally invite you to revisit God’s house, where His name is worshipped and His word is read and examined. That hour, and you can put this in your calendar, is the hour you spend with Jesus. Jesus won’t monopolize your time; it must be freely given. But for the cost, it is the most profitable 60 minutes of your week. For what you give, you get peace of mind, and of heart. There is joy here, and love. There is also hope. For here is a Savior, and a forgiver of sin. If you want the rest of your 167 hours to be meaningful, I ask you to spend 1 with Jesus.

Why should Sunday occupy an important part of our time? Examine the following:

It is the day on which God created light. (Genesis 1:3)

It is the day on which our Lord was resurrected and on which He appeared to His Disciples. (John 20:19, 26)

It is the day on which the 120 believers received the baptism of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. (Leviticus 23:15-16; Acts 2:1-4)

It is the day when the Apostle John was given his revelation of the glorified Christ. (Revelation 1:10)

It is the day on which the early Christians gathered to worship (Acts 20:7); to hear the Word (Acts 20:6-7): and to make their contributions for God’s work. (1 Corinthians 16:2)

The first day of the week, Sunday, is the foundation for the remaining six days. If the foundation is holy, so will the rest be holy. But if the foundation is full of holes, the rest of the week cannot stand.

Please pencil Him in.

So, Are You Coming?

If you are one of those 33% that don’t go to church anywhere, then this article is for you. So those of you who are already members AND regular attenders at a church, either this one, or elsewhere, I ask you to give this article to someone you know.

Now, it’s just us. You the rare-if-ever church-goer, and me, the minister of a local church. The question that plagues me is what can I do, or what can I say that might encourage you to darken the doors of our church building? You may have some objection to coming to church, and this I fully understand. There are times when 9:30am is really too early to be in a church building on a Sunday morning. Sometimes I am tired from my busy weekend and would really just rather stay in bed. I can’t. And its not just the fact that I have to preach on Sunday morning, but that I want to be in this church. This is where all my friends are. The people I love come to church. This is my family.

Some people just don’t like church. It’s filled with too much politics. If you agree with this statement, I am your newest best friend. You are the kind of person that truly loves the Lord. Amen, brother. Because you have a place reserved for you in Heaven. I hate church politics. It only gets in the way of real worship and expression. What we need here at Jesus’ Church are more people that think like this. They are willing to worship Jesus no matter what. If you are willing to trust in Jesus alone, then you have a home here with us.

Some people have been to this church before and have either been burned or felt that they weren’t welcome here. I want to tell you that this church isn’t your father’s church or the preacher’s church. This is Jesus’ church and it belongs to Him. We have the great privilege of being invited to belong.

Listen, I don’t want to beat you up over this, but it’s very important that you find out the answer to this question: If you were to die tonight, and God asked you at His throne, “why should I let you into my Heaven?”, I want you to be prepared to answer. Only Christians can say with confidence, “Because Christ has died for me.”

Christ isn’t just an odd concept. He is a living, real person. He has done a marvelous thing for us. He lived just like we do. He was working-class, and never made any bones about it. He lived his life, the best life that was ever lived, and died for you. He died so that you, and I mean you on a personal level, could stand before His Father, and answer. Your eternity depends on it. Don’t wait any longer. You need to decide today.