Can You Let Your Preacher Change?

by Jim Tune

Is it OK for your preacher to change?  Churches expect their leaders to grow.  Christians expect their preacher will become more saturated by, and competent in, handling Scripture.  Time in study should lead to greater depth and maturity.  Shepherding a flock should, over time, lead to stronger skills in conflict resolution, mediation, and reconciliation.  Your preacher will attend conferences, read books, and embrace new ideas and fresh vision. 

For the most part, this kind of growth and its changes are generally welcomed by the elders and congregation.  But what if deeper change takes place in the life of the leader, change disrupting the status quo?  What if time in study, immersion in the Bible, and experience with body life actually make him a different person from the man the church hired 20 years earlier?  Can we cope with that kind of change?  Can we admit that life should reshape our souls and adjust our lenses?  

Let me be clear about what I am not saying.  I am not talking about heresy or adopting a plan of salvation distinctly different than the one you hired him to preach (and that he professed to believe). 

Still, many preachers feel a deep reluctance to reveal who they really are to those they lead.  They ask, “Where can I truly be myself?  If people know who I am, will they reject me?  Do people love me as their pastor but not as a person?” 

I think, for the most part, churches have improved their level of care in terms of salaries, benefit plans, retirement, vacations, and sabbaticals.  Despite this, vocational fulfillment seems elusive to many preachers and staff.  We want to be valued for who we are and who we are becoming, acknowledged as trustworthy, creative, thoughtful, capable leaders.  We want to use our gifts, abilities, and skills to make positive, unique contributions.  To be real at work is as important as the paycheck. 

Without being overly sentimental, the best thing you can do for your preacher is to love him.  Love is not a word that comes up very often in the rough-and-tumble environment of employment.  But in the church employment environment, love is not only the “greatest of these,” it’s everything.  Love is an act of humility that says, “You have value. We need you here!”  How many annual reviews in churches ask the question: “Does our preacher or staff member feel loved?” 

Let me offer an example. For several years I’ve been slowly backing away from what I call the “Evangelical Ghetto.”  Inside this ghetto is a subculture of its own that rallies and bases inclusion on several extra-biblical earmarks.  Many Evangelicals live, behave, lobby, and vote as though the hope of the world rests upon worldly kingdoms.  But the Bible teaches that hope lies in a Kingdom established by Jesus, expanded by people committed to following Him only.  They may even be pacifists, Democrats, and oppose capital punishment!  

I have taken a walk outside the “ghetto” walls from time to time, and I’m beginning to like it. It’s a part of who I am becoming: a resident alien.  People who love me unconditionally have accepted my departure from the right-wing party line.  Others have backed away, dropped support for the mission I lead, or expressed concern for the state of my faith. 

Too often, when someone arrives at different positions and convictions, we cut them off.  We then distance ourselves from anyone who likes that person.  Of course, this is wrong, un-Christ-like, unloving.  

My move away from the tribal markers of Evangelical subculture has changed me. I believe it is a change brought about by spiritual growth.  Others believe differently.  That’s OK, because we “show tolerance for one another in love,” (Ephesians 4:2, NASB).  Again, not tolerating “a different kind of Good News,” (Galatians 1:8, NLT), we can still, even when they change, “have confidence in [our] leaders…because they watch over [us] as those who must give an account,” (Hebrews 13:17, NIV), “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ,” (Ephesians 5:21, ESV), because it is Jesus Himself who was and remains “the author and perfecter of our faith,” (Hebrews 12:2, NASB). 

Churches, give your preacher the space I’ve received.  Give your preacher room to change. 

The Obvious Key to Church Health

by Derek Dickinson 

In my opinion, planting a new congregation in Fairbanks, AK was a terrible idea.  The winters are brutal.  It occasionally hits -50 degrees!  In the winter, it’s literally a place of darkness, getting down to 4 hours of sunlight per day.  Thankfully this “terrible idea” wasn’t mine, but God’s.  I was so opposed to planting a congregation here that I fasted from all solid foods for 30 days on two different occasions and prayed that I could plant somewhere else.  But God’s answer was clear: I was to be the founding elder of a new congregation here, at “the end of the road.” 

Today, there are three of us who elder this thriving congregation.  Prayer isn’t the only key to the health of this work but we believe that it’s the engine that powers our progress.  One of our core values says it this way: “Prayer: Committed to consistently pray with shameless audacity expectantly looking forward to all God will do.”  Clearly, every church prays.  However, we have become a praying church; the difference is foundational.  Prayer is woven through Scripture, with the Bible containing about 650 prayers!  In addition, some of the most remarkable moments in history are literally answers to prayer.  In the early church, when the apostolic elders of the Jerusalem church were challenged about their failing compassion ministry for Greek widows, they took care of the problem, but defended the importance of their focus on prayer.  So how do we as elders continually create a praying church?  

One: we pray, preach, and believe the prayer promises in Scripture.  The words of Jesus are stunning: six times He tells us we can pray for anything.  Those prayer promises are as close to a blank check as God can give us.  Archbishop Richard Trench once said, “Praying is not overcoming God’s reluctance; it’s laying hold of His highest willingness.”  Two: we pray boldly.  One mistake we’ve made in the past was praying for things that, if we worked really hard, we could accomplish.  Not anymore; we pray for answers that make it clear that God acted!  Author Max Lucado once said, “Nothing pleases Jesus as much as being audaciously trusted.”  Third: we pray together consistently.  Prayer time in intentionally woven into our small group program, our leadership meetings and even daily prayer meetings.  Yes, a small number of us come and pray together every day at 7am.  At least one of our elders is always present.  Daily, our church is fighting for Biblical truth, surprising grace and compelling holiness in our community.  Like Moses, Aaron, and Hur at the battle with the Amalekites, we as elders stand together praying fervently because we realize life transformation is won in prayer, not programs.  As author Mark Batterson put it, “When we work, we work; when we pray, God works.”  

Our desire at Journey isn’t to see what we can accomplish but to clearly show all that God can accomplish.  I invite you to move your church from a congregation that prays to a praying church – it makes all the difference.

Speaking Truth in Love

by Ken Idleman

3 John verses 9 & 10:
I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us.  So, if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us.  Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers.  He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church. 

In the content of the very personal letter of 3 John there is a warning about a man in the early church named Diotrephes.  He is described as someone who “loves to be first.”  He is described as someone who is standoffish and critical.  John says he “will have nothing to do with us” and that he is “gossiping maliciously about us.”  In fact, John said, Diotrephes “refuses to welcome any of the brothers… He also stops those who want to [be welcoming] and puts them out of the church!” 

Wow.  This guy, Diotrephes, had some major spiritual blind spots!  He was self-serving and self-projecting.  He loved to be preeminent, the center of attention, occupying a place of power.  He was what we might call “a control freak.”  He wanted to call the shots.  He expected people to defer to him.  He was aloof.  He was an armchair general.  He used verbal skills to manipulate and intimidate others.  He did not want the church to grow.  He was not a welcoming presence to say the least.  He even actively opposed those in the church who wanted to be welcoming of others.  He excommunicated people who were hospitable!  That is the furthest thing from a Spirit-filled disciple of Jesus – and he was wreaking havoc in the life of the early church. 

Thankfully, church people with attitudes like Diotrephes are few and far between.  They truly are the exception, and certainly not the rule.  However, when they do surface, they need to be firmly, but lovingly, confronted.  In five decades of ministry in local churches and our Bible colleges, I learned that if I get into necessary, loving confrontation early, we’re already halfway to solving the problem.  Situations like this never “just go away.”  If we think a problem “can’t get any worse,” it can. 

As the apostle John promised, “If I come, I will call attention to what he is doing.”  Remember, John was formerly described by Jesus as a “son of thunder,” so I’m pretty sure he could handle it.  But, without an Apostolic presence in the contemporary church, this task of loving-and-firm confrontation falls on the elders/pastors.  It must be entered into with a spirit of humility, but it must be done. 

Pray with me… Father in heaven, we know that people seeing Christ in us and hearing about Christ from us is the hope of the world.  May we never have a down day or even a moment of weakness that would cause us to identify with the alien spirit of Diotrephes.  As Jesus was, may we be ‘full of grace and truth.’  In His Name, amen.

The Sheep, and Shepherd

by John Caldwell

Throughout the Bible the people of God are referred to as “sheep,” such as when the Psalmist writes, “We are (the Lord’s) people, the sheep of His pasture.” (Psalm 100: 3).  There are many reasons that figure of speech is appropriate.  Sheep are prone to stray, they follow the flock (the crowd), they are dependent, and they need shepherds to feed, protect, and guide them.  In I Peter 5:1-4 we learn that the shepherds or elders of the church are to “care for,” “watch over,” and “lead (the flock) by your own good example.” 

There are many things Scripture does not prescribe about the eldership, the shepherds of the church: method of selection, term of service, organization, and many other issues that the local church is free to determine as to what is best in their particular situation.  The qualifications (so-called) in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1 speak primarily to the character of the shepherd.  The example of the Good Shepherd in John 10:1-16 speaks not only to character but to duty or responsibility as well.  

I would suggest, however, that the most extensive description of the dutiesof a shepherd/elder is found not in the New Testament but the Old. Take a careful look at Ezekiel 34:1-10 and you will find that God expects His shepherds to…

  • Feed the sheep
  • Take care of the weak
  • Tend the sick
  • Bind-up the broken
  • Bring back the wandering
  • Seek the lost
  • Protect the flock
  • Not use force or cruelty

The Apostle Paul captures much of that in his instructions to the elders of the church in Ephesus: “And now beware!  Be sure that you feed and shepherd God’s flock – his church, purchased with His blood – over whom the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders.  I know full well that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock.” (Eph. 20:28-29).  Hebrews 13:17 indicates that the primary duty of church leaders is to “watch over” the souls of the people entrusted to them; and we’re told that such leaders will be held accountable in that regard.  

I recently heard a message on the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15.  In that parable Jesus indicates His heart for the lost, leaving the ninety-nine to go search for the one.  No passage better demonstrates the value God places on each sheep.  The speaker suggested, however, that the ninety-nine had had their chance and could fend for themselves.  But even as the church has a primary responsibility to reach the lost, the ninety-nine who are not lost are also in need of shepherds who do for them all those things we find in Ezekiel 34.  And from the parable of the Good Shepherd (John 10) we learn that those sheep need shepherds who know them, who are known by them, who lead by example, and who are trustworthy. 

Many modern day elderships reflect a corporate board philosophy of ministry. What is often missing is the tender care of loving shepherds for sickly sheep, rebellious sheep, wandering sheep, and even nasty sheep.  There are also healthy, contented sheep for whom the shepherds are responsible; and there are wolves in sheep’s clothing that must be exposed and dealt with.  To fulfill the Biblical calling of a shepherd/elder is a tremendous challenge but has tremendous rewards.  “When the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor.” (I Peter 5:4).