3 Words

by Mike Shannon 

There is an incident in the book of Acts that gives us insight into the role of elder as it was understood by the New Testament church.  It is recounted in chapter 20, verses 13-38.  Paul is on his way to Jerusalem.  He did not know precisely what would happen to him there, but he suspected it would be difficult and perhaps even cost him his life.  Paul took time from his journey to Jerusalem to say his farewells to the elders of the church in Ephesus, a church that meant a lot to him.  This meeting ended in many tears as Paul said they would never seem him again.  In verse 17, Paul summoned the “elders,” which is probably the most common term for the office, even in our own time.  In verse 28, he called them “overseers,” and admonished them to shepherd (pastor) the flock, which is the church.  This is a passage that gives strong evidence that all three terms were applied to the same “office.”  Let’s look at these three words as a guide to critical elements in our understanding of the work of an elder. 

First, consider the word “elder.”  It means just what is sounds like it means.  It is an older or mature man.  The Bible never prescribes exactly how old an elder should be, but we can still draw some conclusions about what is behind this designation.  A leader in the church should be mature, at least emotionally, intellectually and spiritually.  These qualities would most often be found in people who were also chronologically mature. 

Secondly, consider the word “overseer.”  The English word is actually a quite accurate translation.  We instinctively know what it means.  The elders provide general oversight over the life, doctrine, and health of a church.  Although it doesn’t sound like it, the English word “bishop” is derived from this Greek word. 

Finally, the last word is “pastor.”  That word is used widely in our world today, but it is actually used rarely in the New Testament, at least when referring to an office.  It is the word “shepherd,” and in this passage it is the verb form that is used.  While the term “pastor” is often used for the minister or preacher of a church, it seems that this term originally applied to elders, and some elders were, no doubt, teaching pastors. 

My purpose is not to make a case for proper titles.  There is a place for such discussions, but my purpose is to consider that these three words describe essentials components of a church elder’s work. 

He should be mature.  Almost nothing is more destructive in a church than an immature leader.  Childish behavior will disrupt meetings and the overall building of a Christian community. 

He should be sure to take care of the overall health of the church.  While good elders delegate to deacons and other church workers, there is nothing outside of their concern.  For instance, good elders will take the time to study and understand biblical theology so they can guard the spiritual health of the community.

He should have a shepherd’s heart.  It is not just about meetings and policies, however important they may be.  Elder boards should consider how they can care for the flock: visiting the bereaved, visiting the sick, consoling the broken hearted, etc. 

I could say it like this: elders, be mature, be aware, and be compassionate.  In doing so, you will lead like Jesus – our good shepherd.

What’s next for the Church?

by Daniel Overdorf 

What’s next for the church?  What will the coming years look like?  The short answer…I don’t know.  Only God does.  But here are a few things I feel in my gut – not an exhaustive list, but a few matters to consider.
 
 A THRIVING CHURCH IN THE NEXT GENERATION WILL BE:
 
1. Global.  Can you imagine if the Apostle Paul had access to air travel?  The internet?  Skype?  Thriving churches in the next generation will recognize their opportunity to participate in God’s expansion of His kingdom down every dusty road, in every metropolis, in every village.  As the world grows smaller, our opportunities for global impact grow larger.    
 
2. Diverse.  A year ago, I participated in the Metro Christian Convention in New York City.  I was one of only a few Caucasians in the room.  Around me, worshipping, stood brothers and sisters from every ethnic background imaginable.  I thought to myself, “This is what heaven will be like.”  Then I prayed, “May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  
 
3. Missional.  Rather than waiting for our communities to “come to church,” thriving churches in the next generation will actively engage people – actual people, not just stereotypes and labels – relationally and compassionately functioning as salt and light in their cities and neighborhoods.   
 
4.  Authentic.  Recent revelations about the abuse of power among Christian leaders have damaged our credibility and our mission.  Further, they have reemphasized the need for openness, honesty, transparency, and accountability in the church.
 
IN THE NEXT GENERATION WE WILL WRESTLE WITH:
 
1. Technology.  How does a church leverage technology but not bow to it?  As we move beyond websites to livestreaming and social media (and who knows what’s to come), how can technology advance the kingdom?  What about “online church?”  
 
2. Multi-Site Churches.  This recent phenomenon is mushrooming, and multitudes are coming to Christ through multi-site churches.  In some ways, they’re more consistent with the New Testament model than our typical approach.  Will the trend continue?  Will multi-site campuses be released from the mother ship?  What will this look like in thirty years?   
 
3. What Does it Mean to be “Non-Sectarian?”  Speaking from the perspective of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, how will we interact with others who are also laying aside (or at least deemphasizing) denominational ties, and who share our core beliefs, but who do not share our heritage or doctrinal distinctives?  How will we live out our ideal of non-sectarianism in this new environment?
 
4. The Relationships Between/Among:

  • The Church and the Government. How will the church and government relate?  How can the church influence the culture without become intertwined with it?  Speaking of the American church, how will we handle a loss of privilege and influence in our government?  
  • Christian Higher Education and Government.  As regulations from the government and accrediting bodies evolve around issues such as sexual identity and practice, discrimination, financial aid, and tax policies, institutions of Christian higher education may have difficult decisions to make, with significant financial implications, regarding their hiring, admissions, and discipline policies.
  • The Church and Christian Higher Education.  Because of the previous two points, the church and institutions of Christian higher education may have to rely on one another more than ever before.  Some current efforts are strengthening the bond between the two, such as residencies, teaching church programs, and semesters in ministry.  We will need to strengthen such efforts in the coming years to survive – thrive, even – in the next generation.  

What’s next for the church? I don’t know for sure, but I think it may involve matters such as these.  I do know for sure that it’s God church, He is sovereign, and His Church will thrive.  What we fear, He uses as opportunities for purification and growth.  In the next generation, the church will continue to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus as the hope of the world.

Is it Still a Plane?

by Jared Johnson 
image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Retired_C-5_Galaxy_transports_at_Davis-Monthan.jpg | posted by “RevolverOcelot”

Before reading any further, take an extra moment to notice some details of the image above. 

How might one define “airplane?” 

We could use a functional definition: a plane is a human-built, heavier-than-air transport machine (as opposed to, say, a blimp or hot air balloon). 

We could use a purpose/design definition: a plane is a mechanical device made to transport things of value (people or cargo) through the air (as opposed to driving or floating).

We could use an attributes definition: a mechanical device with fuselage, wings, air-dependent propulsion (i.e. not a rocket), control systems and surfaces, and landing gear.

When we see an image like the one above, we immediately think “that’s a plane.”  But if we think of a plane in the first and/or third senses – function / parts – our notion that “it’s a plane” falters.  This one, particularly, doesn’t have either of its starboard engines; might be missing all four.  It’s missing its horizontal stabilizer, slats, multiple body panels, a landing gear door, some of the actual landing gear, rear cargo door, and more.  It’s missing many attributes, thus, has also lost its capacity to function.  It was originally designed to fly cargo but can’t do so any longer.  The original design hasn’t changed, but the expression of that design has changed – drastically. 

Is it still a plane?

There are many aircraft “boneyards” the world over, full of airframes like the one above.  Are they still planes? 

Jesus designed and established His Church to reach the entire world and bring His life into the lives of people in a way that Moses’ Covenant never could. 

  • “The Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all [ethnicities] will hear it; and then the end will come.” (emphasis added, Matt. 24.14)
  • Together as one body, [the Chosen One] reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. (Eph. 2.16)
  • “…My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” (John 10.10)

The world – especially the “Western” world – is populated by many congregations that don’t take the Good News of Jesus to those who don’t yet know Him.  (Of course, that can and does mean both people who live next door to the church and people on the other side of the world.)  So are they still “churches?”  If they appear to be churches at first glance, but they don’t reach outsiders (Rom. 11.13-24) or reconcile people to God or each other (Matt. 5.24) or bring life as Jesus said in John 10, are they still churches? 

“The Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3.8).  Jesus Himself destroyed and destroys the work of the devil; if a congregation isn’t doing the same, is it still a part of His Body?  The enemy came “to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10.10); he’s “the father of lies” (John 8.44); he undermines relationships (2 Cor. 2.5-11), and more.  Are these types of anti-godly, wicked behaviors and traits noticeably fading in our congregation or are they allowed to fester while we drift in “maintenance mode?”

Yes, I do understand that “God does the work, we don’t,” but through the direct prompting/action of His Spirit, the Church – His Body and Bride – does His work.  If a congregation isn’t “destroying the work of the devil” maybe our standards aren’t high enough.  Maybe our expectations aren’t biblical enough.  How brightly is our lampstand (Rev. chapters 1-2) shining?

If a machine doesn’t fly, if it’s missing a wing, an engine, some of its flaps … is it still a plane? 

If a congregation isn’t deliberately, measurably, beating back the kingdom of darkness in the brighter and brighter light of Jesus, is it still a church? 

I’m not now a preacher nor have I been; I’m not an elder at my church nor am I on staff in any capacity.  As “just a regular guy in the pew,” I do know how I answer that question for myself.

Communicate

by David Eubanks 

If I were asked to suggest five items of advice to church leaders, near the top of the list would be communication.  We must place a high premium on communication.  How often I have seen wrong conclusions drawn, misunderstandings occur, unnecessary hurt feelings experienced, and outright division rend the church, simply because of a lack of communication.  In some cases, those consequences were suffered because of a refusal to communicate.
 
Leaders are elected or selected because people have confidence in them and in their judgement.  One way to maintain that trust is wise communication.  Even though critical decisions are often made by a small number of leaders for a large number of people, and sometimes a few of the factors in those decisions need to be kept confidential, it is wise for leaders to communicate accurately and in a reasonable time all that can be related concerning their decisions and plans.
 
Unfortunately, with a few leaders any question raised regarding a decision they have made is interpreted as a challenge to authority, and stubborn bullheadedness ensues; conflict, occasionally irrevocable, follows.  Sometimes, a little communication beforehand or afterward would have prevented the questions even being raised and the conflict prevented entirely.
 
I remember vividly a true circumstance in which a friend of mine, a former elder in the church, prevented a major schism in the congregation by merely calling together younger members who were ready to leave the church immediately.  He told them that he was certain that they did not know the whole story concerning the situation that troubled them and urged them to wait until more was known.  Providentially, they listened to him; division did not occur, and the church is thriving today.  The leaders had made a personnel decision and some of the details could have been related earlier, but they saw no reason to do so, taking the approach: “The people elected us; they should trust us.”  While that statement is true, we need to recognize that we do not live in an authoritarian culture, but an anti-authoritarian culture, augmented by an electronic media craze that demands information and thrives on gossip and misinformation.  Wise, measured, deliberate communication by the leaders of a congregation can prevent the spread of those relational cancers. 
 
Paul was chosen by Christ and miraculously endowed to fill the role of an apostle.  By God’s own appointment, he commanded authority and sometimes exercised it.  Yet, I never cease to be amazed at the level of communication that he carried on with the churches that he established and served.  Much of his communication was to clear up misunderstandings, identify troublemakers, clarify the truth, and soothe hurt feelings.  But he sometimes communicated in anticipation of misunderstandings that could arise and to head off conflict that might result accordingly.  
 
We do well to follow Paul’s example. 

They Have Names

by Barry Cameron 

 

Someone once said, “The church is not a HOTEL for saints, but a HOSPITAL for sinners.”  Unfortunately, even those who work in a hospital often forget why they’re there.
 
In the movie Patch Adams, (which is based on a true story), Robin Williams played a medical student (Patch) who cares more about people than procedures and protocol.  He heads out on a number of experiments to prove his point that people want to be cared for; and when they are, they’ll get better.
 
In one of the more moving scenes, a group of medical students is following a medical professor on his rounds.  They walk up on a woman in a hospital gown lying on a gurney in the hallway.  The professor looks at his clipboard and says, “Here we have a juvenile onset diabetic with poor circulation and diabetic neuropathy. As you can see, these are diabetic ulcers with lymphedema and evidence of gangrene.  Questions?”
 
One of the students asks, “Any osteomyelitis?”
 
“None apparent,” the professor says, “although not definitive treatment.  To stabilize the blood sugar, consider antibiotics, possibly amputation.”
 
The woman lies there, obviously embarrassed and confused as this group of future doctors stares and openly discusses her problems in front of everyone.
 
All of a sudden someone asks, “What’s her name?”  There’s an uncomfortable pause as if something is happening that shouldn’t be happening.  The group of third-year medical students back away to reveal the questioner. “I was just wondering the patient’s name,” Patch (Robin Williams) says.
 
Caught completely off guard, the professor hurriedly struggles to find the patient’s name on his clipboard.  Finally he finds it, and with obvious embarrassment says, “Marjorie.” 

“Hi, Marjorie,” Patch says, with a warm smile.
 
“Hi,” Marjorie replies, lifting her head, revealing her own smile of unconcealed surprise and appreciation.
 
The flustered professor tries to regroup and says, “Yes, thank you.  Let’s move on,” and the group walks on down the hall.
 
Patch Adams was trying to get the faculty and his fellow students to see that people matter and the difference it would make if people were treated with kindness, respect and yes, even love.
 
We need to see that in the church, too! People matter to God, and they need to matter to us.  Have you ever stopped to consider the thousands of names in the Bible, many of which we can’t even pronounce?  Ever wonder why they’re there?  Because people matter to God.  They have names.
 
Everyone who attends church has a name, too, and we need to care enough about them to find out what it is.  I’m not suggesting that any of us know everyone’s name.  In many congregations, that would be virtually impossible.  What I am saying is everyone needs to be known by someone, and that is easily attainable.
 
Name tags help, and we should use more of them in as many settings as we can.  But the most effective method is simply to ask, “What’s your name?”  Every person who attends a church service or activity ought to have the privilege of hearing someone say their name … every time they come.  It’s true, “People won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  And it begins with caring enough to know their name.
 
We need to commit ourselves to making sure our church is a place where people matter more than programs, procedures or protocol.  After all, what could be worse than lying in a hospital gown on a gurney in a hallway somewhere with people talking about you and your problems?  How about being in a church where no one knows your name and no one really cares?
 
Let’s make it our goal to be a church where people know they matter. Let’s communicate loud and clear to everyone who comes: You matter to God and you matter to us!
 
When we do, like Patch Adams, we’ll make ’em smile.