Differences

by Jon Weatherly 

When asked to be an elder, I only knew one thing about the job for sure: I didn’t know what I was doing.
 
That might seem like an odd thing for me to say.  After all, I had a Bible college degree, two seminary master’s degrees, and a doctorate in New Testament studies.  I was a genuine expert and had the papers to prove it.
 
But I knew that eldering mostly involved things for which I had no special training.  I knew that elders had to make personnel decisions, like HR professionals.  I knew that they had to make facilities decisions, like real estate developers.  I knew that they needed to make communication decisions, like marketers.  I knew that they needed to act sensitively toward people in crisis, like counselors.  I was none of those.
 
And so at my first meeting, I began to learn a lesson that I’ve continued to learn since: God calls us to service together, not as individuals.  Church is group work, and so is eldering.
 
Among our elders were the very kinds of people I mentioned above, people with knowledge and experience in areas that I lacked.  Some had professional skills, some had life experience, and some had what I could only call God-given insight.  Together we still didn’t know everything, but together we knew much more than we knew separately.
 
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.  To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
1 Corinthians 12:4–7
 
Paul’s familiar words apply to the church’s elders as well as the church at large.  The power of God’s Spirit is exercised through the elders together, the church together, exercising the gifts each has received from the Lord.
 
So that realization changed how I operated as an elder.  It meant that I listened much more than I spoke.  It meant that when I did speak, it was often to learn more from my brothers, asking them for their perspectives on the issues that lay before us.  It meant that I approached even the matters about which I thought I knew something with greater patience and humility, remembering that all of us were relying on one another, learning from one another.  It meant that a good elders’ meeting was not one in which I got my way, but one in which I saw others apply their wisdom to everyone’s benefit.  Over time I pray that it brought a greater measure of wisdom to my own life as I learned from the accumulated wisdom of others.
 
And in retrospect, I realize that we learned another lesson about serving together.  The Spirit of God empowers us in our differences, but not so that we will go to one of two extremes.  The first extreme is insisting on our individual empowerment by always finding reason to disagree.  But the second is just as dangerous and sometimes harder to recognize: standing together in conformity to exercise autocratic power.  Sometimes elders are tempted to “stand together” to bend people to their will.  But the love of Christ enables us to see the different gifts and perspectives of elders as reminders to act in love toward one another and toward all in the Lord’s church. 
 
My ecclesiastical forebears insisted that the leadership of the New Testament church was always plural, never the responsibility of one person.  Their disappointments with kings and bishops drove them to read the New Testament with an eye to the plural pattern of leadership.  The answer they found reflects the very nature of the church as the Spirit-empowered people of God.  Our differences overcame my weaknesses.  Working together, a church’s elders in their diversity lead the army of Christ against which the gates of hell will never stand.

Faith vs Sight

BY LARRY CARTER 

I often tell people that Great Lakes Christian College is “a faith-based organization.”  We believe that we exist because of God’s faith in us and our faith in God.  It’s all about faith.  

But, sometimes we get confused on this issue.  Things get complicated.  Troubles mount.  Crises loom.  “Success” and “failure” seems to hang in the balance of our very next decision.  We ask ourselves, where does God’s provision and our responsibility meet?  Where does His power and our effort intersect?  Where does our faith and His faithfulness coincide?  

I’ve been around long enough to see God at work in so many different situations.  His actions were so powerful that they seemed almost independent of anything we did.  But, to be hones, other times it seemed like He was leaving us to work out the problem like He was simply a silent partner in the process.  

What happens in my world the world of the Christian non-profit is that people can become wary about being a truly faith-based organization.  

The tendency is to try avoiding those stressful times when a dependency on God is all we have going for us.  What most organizations want is a healthy bottom line and rather robust endowments.  Those things aren’t bad, of course, but it does seem to move one further from the necessity of looking to God for the answers.  It also tends to eliminate the need to step out in faith.  We make decisions on the basis of affordability and “being fiscally responsible.”  “Our future depends on it!” … so the reasoning goes.  

But at that point, is it still true to think of oneself as a faith-based organization?  According to Hebrews, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.  This is what the ancients were commended for.”  

I am not saying we don’t “count the cost.”  We do.  It’s more a matter of emphasis.  In our organizations, in our lives, what do we emphasize: faith or sight? 

From Unanimous … to Unity

by Stuart Jones 

Do you remember playing Red Rover on the playground?  There were two teams lined up across from one another separated by a span of a few yards.  With arms linked together, one team would yell, “red rover, red rover, send Johnny on over!”  And with all the speed and energy he could muster, little Johnny charged out from his team toward the human wall.  If he broke through, he got to return to his team and take one of the other team members with him.  But if the line held and Johnny couldn’t break through, Johnny was now a member of this powerfully unified team.

In the life of the church, there will be moments when the leadership will need to stand together, arms linked, on a decision or a spiritual stance.  We tend to call this “unity.”  But is that all there is to unity?  Unity is more than defining the party line and holding to it.  Unity is more than voting on a decision and accepting the outcome.  Excitement, ownership, investment and trust among the leadership give unity its real traction and power.  Reaching a unanimous decision often requires time, treasure, and talent.  Not receiving true “buy-in” that goes deeper and beyond the simple acquiescence of “toeing the party line” is a recipe for failure.  So how do we differentiate between unanimity and unity?

Real unity is formed through the trust and appreciation that exists among leaders.  If the interaction among leaders is limited to a once-a-month elders’ meeting, the “red rover lines” are weak.  The on-boarding process for elders must share the same value and weight that Paul presents in 1 Timothy 3. Paul starts his thoughts with “Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task” (1 Tim. 3:1).  When part of the leadership process includes meaningful applications and interviews, we raise the felt value of the position and begin significant, deep relationships with the individuals who do, and who will, comprise the group.  But that is only the beginning.  When we make time among the leadership for socializing, retreats, conferences, etc., we galvanize our leadership relationships.  It is during these moments, void of votes, decisions, and “business,” that true unity is born.  In these moments we learn each other’s stories, history and idiosyncrasies that become such valuable elements of our leadership team.

This depth of unity is further strengthened in times of corporate prayer.  Elders’ meetings must involve defined moments of prayer beyond the opening and closing of a meeting.  Elders are the spiritual leaders of the congregation.  Part of the way we value each other is by praying for and with one another.  Unity is formed as we pray for each other’s families, health, career conflicts, financial concerns and moments of celebration.  Whether it’s during the elders’ meeting or during a weekly prayer time separate from the elders’ meeting, unity grows when we celebrate and care for each other through meaningful, heartfelt moments of prayer.

We can see unity on display when leaders stand shoulder-to-shoulder, locking arms.  But unity is not formed in those moments.  Unity grows and becomes real when we know the lives of those with whom we stand, when we know them as the unique creations God intended for such a time as this, when we know them through times of laughter and conversation outside the conference room.  We build unity by holding each other up, lifting each other up, rejoicing with one another in prayer.  

“Unity” is not a vote or decision.  “Unity” is a strong and powerful team of people that God has put together, moving in the direction He has clearly defined.  What could be stronger?  It is that kind of strength and unity that will call people to join the line – and not to break through.

Power, Authority

By Rick Justice

Recently, I twice taught a course on servant leadership for TCM International Institute.  They were held at two locations in Asia.  During the course, we came upon the concepts of “power” and “authority.”  I paused for my translator to translate, and in both sessions, they stopped, looked at me and asked: “Can you describe the concepts to us?  We don’t have a word for that in our language.  We don’t have words that differentiate ‘power’ from ‘authority’ in our culture.”

Scripture does differentiate power from authority.  Remember Paul told the church at Colossae: “For in Christ all the fullness of the deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority” (Col. 2:9-10, emphasis added).  So I had the students look up the reference in their Bibles.  Now, either their respective translations simply transliterated* the Greek terms, or the translators used such an arcane word that the concepts of power and authority were foreign thoughts to them.  You see, their cultures think of leadership only as the exercising of power.  Sadly, that aspect of culture has leaked into their expression of church leadership as well.

That experience caused me to pause to consider two questions.

First: How often do we, as Western church leaders, also confuse these two concepts?  James Hunter (The World’s Most Powerful Leadership Principle: How to Become a Servant Leader, WaterBrook Press, 2004) tells us that ‘power’ is the ability to force others to do what we want because of our position or strength; ‘authority’ is the skill to get others to willingly do what we want because of our personal influence.  Power works but it always damages relationships.  Power works when it is present and strong.  When the power is absent or weak, behaviors are not changed for long.

The second question: How often do we resort to power when we could accomplish the same thing using authority?  Sometimes church leaders need to use power (e.g., when defending the flock from harm), but Hunter reminds us: “ … whenever I am called upon to exercise power, that is usually a bad day for me as the leader.  Why?  Because my authority has broken down and I had to resort to my power.”

So, how about our leadership?  Do we rely on power or authority?  Do we limit the use of power to rare instances when it is truly necessary?

As we continue to shepherd the congregation for which we are responsible, let’s encourage each other with the words we find in Jude 24 and 25: “To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy – to the only God our savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore!  Amen.”  (NIV, 1983) 

*transliteration: the representation of one language’s word in the script/characters of another (i.e. “baptism;” Baptizo was an ancient Greek term that became our English word “baptism” over time.)

Character Still Matters

by gary weedman

If your congregation is like the one where I grew up, the preacher preaches a sermon or two on the qualifications of an elder before it’s time to choose these leaders each year.  The sermon usually focuses on the 16 requirements for elders mentioned in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.  The discussions that follow often include exactly what some of those qualifications mean.  Does “the husband of one wife” disqualify an otherwise godly and faithful widower?  Does “hav[ing] faithful children” eliminate a man who demonstrates the other 15 characteristics but who never had children?  Should the title be “bishop” (as in Timothy) or “elder” (Titus uses both terms)? 

Furthermore, while the two separate lists have overlapping requirements, they are not quite identical.  Why does Timothy include three not mentioned in Titus, which has one not mentioned in Timothy?
 
These are interesting questions, but if we understand the passages to be some sort of check list, which, when “ticked off,” qualify someone to be an elder, we have missed Paul’s point.  These lists are examples – important but not exhaustive – of the core principle of character expected of those who lead.
 
Should character be a prerequisite for leadership?  The question has become one of popular discussion in our current political atmosphere.  Can we overlook the character of potential leaders if they can produce some desired result regardless of character?  What long-term, unintended consequences follow such a choice?  Some believe that even evangelical Christians have accepted that character can be ignored in leaders if they can bring about an otherwise desired outcome.
 
Yet, important voices cry out that character still matters.  Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has spoken extensively about the importance of character as it relates to leadership.  In his article, “Character in Leadership – Does it Still Matter?” he reminds readers that in 1976 Jimmy Carter (as candidate) created a scandal by agreeing to be interviewed by Playboymagazine, a move criticized by many Christian leaders in spite of the fact that Carter strongly affirmed biblical principles for personal morality.  Mohler contrasts that scene to one 40 years later when a prominent evangelical leader (the first among many) chose to endorse a presidential candidate with his framed picture on the cover of Playboy proudly displayed in his office.  What difference four decades can make! 

[Link to Dr Mohler’s character piece: https://albertmohler.com
 
Indeed, some concern about the ultimate importance of character still exists.  Journalist David Brooks recently published a book, Road to Character, much of it the core of his popular ethics course at Yale University.  In the work he affirms the importance of what he calls the “eulogy self” as opposed to the “résumé self.”   What is more important in our lives: character traits for which we would like to be remembered at our memorial service, or check lists of accomplishments that bring temporary acclaim and applause from the culture?  The “eulogy self” is our true character.
 
Not to be outdone by Yale, Harvard professor Michael Sandel has taught, for over two decades, the most popular course in Harvard’s history – “Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?” Nearly one thousand students crowd Sanders Hall each year to participate in Socratic dialogue about how to make ethical choices that transcend utilitarian purposes – proof that many still search for truth grounded in something beyond the mere useful and temporary.
 
Yes, character still matters.  It matters in leadership in any enterprise, and it matters most of all in the Church.  Yes, those 16 listed characteristics are important, supremely so because they point to something larger than any individual item listed.  They illustrate the incredible character needed to lead well – being “above reproach,” “blameless,” “an example” – as Paul and Peter described (1 Tim. 3:2, Titus 1:6, 1 Pet. 5:3).  They describe a “eulogy self” rather than “résumé self.”  May our congregations demonstrate that character still matters as they choose elders who first of all value the “eulogy self.”