2 Enemies: Fear & Pride

by David Linn 

A leader battles one of two foes.  Most leaders are largely affected by one or the other.  Both adversaries lead to undesired results.  While alike in some ways, they are different in others.  These common enemies are fear and pride.
 
Fear causes a leader to focus on the wrong things.  The devil loves to make us fearful.  While this enemy can surface at any moment, my wife and I especially wrestled with fear early in ministry.  We were called to plant churches in a third world country shortly after marriage.  We easily deflected nay-sayers with statements like, this is the longest standing democracy on the continent, it’s a very stable country, it’s a safe place to start a family and raise children.  However, no sooner had we arrived than the country – Venezuela – began to unravel.  It quickly devolved into political battles that continue to this day.  We lived there through coup attempts, martial law, nation-wide protests, suspicious elections, natural disasters and a national strike of two months.  During those scary times, many missionaries left.  It would have been easy and understandable to do the same.  One day when tensions were particularly high, and an invitation to return to a stateside ministry on the table, we read Mark 5:36.  The young daughter of Jairus, the synagogue ruler, was dying.  In desperation, he found Jesus.  At that moment, the news broke: your daughter is dead!  Yet the very next frame says, “Ignoring what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe’” (RSV, emphasis added).  Those words infused courage into Jairus and thankfully into us as well.  We decided to stay.  Our ministry in the country lasted over 25 years. During the following decade, more churches were planted, more souls saved, more national leaders groomed, and more missionaries equipped than any other time in our service.  In fact, fruit from that season has a global impact to this day.  Fear has rightfully been described as False Evidence Appearing Real.  Fear is from the devil, and it is an insult to God.
 
Another enemy that leaders face is pride.  While pride can assault at any time, it seems we are more vulnerable after a few victories.  For many, this may happen later in life.  Bible scholar A. W. Pink quipped, “it is interesting to note in Scripture that younger saints typically are not the ones to ‘disgrace’ their profession.”  Joseph courageously overcame his injustices as a youth. David valiantly slew Goliath as a young man.  Daniel’s three friends survived the fiery furnace during their younger years. 
 
Unfortunately, a good profession has often been ‘disgraced’ in later years.  Moses’ most visible shortcoming happened at the end of the wilderness journey.  David fell to Bathsheba long after triumphing over Goliath.  Earlier in his life Saul said, “Am I not a Benjaminite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, is my clan not the least of all?”  However, after a modest beginning and few victories, he became proud, broke God’s law and became a public disgrace.  David said of him, “How the mighty have fallen!”
 
While our scuffles with fear and pride may vary, both are ruthless and shrewd.  Wise leaders remember they are not immune from one or the other.  “Fear is an insult to God, pride is a challenge to Him,” (Curtis Sergeant, The Only One p.33).  By God’s grace may we maintain a small image of ourselves and a lofty image of Him.

Sermon: Contagious Faith

by Gary Johnson, e2 Executive Director 

 

Text: Psalm 11:1-7

Introduction:

In the early 1990s, an advertising campaign was launched that still impacts people to this day. The commercials showed many famous men and women and each person appeared to have a white mustache, which then prompted the question: “Got milk?” It’s a product brand for which many dairy producers are exceptionally grateful. The advertising campaign was an overnight success – and it remains memorable to this day, some twenty-five years later.

Regretfully, in these challenging days, when we hear someone cough or sneeze, we are not asking, “Got milk?” To the contrary, we ask or think: “Got it? COVID-19?” When we acquire some aches and pains, we ask ourselves: “Got it?” When we develop a sore throat or begin to feel a little warm, we ask ourselves: “Got it?” In this new year, a new virus has caused us to live in a new way – and in a way we do not enjoy.

Every day, we hear of how the coronavirus becomes increasingly contagious across the country and around the world. It has become a pandemic (i.e., a disease that spreads across a country or around the globe) and one that is foremost on our minds. Yet, we need to remind ourselves that there are other pandemics that have spread—and in some cases continue to spread—around the world, such as:

  • Malaria: In 2018, the World Health Organization reported 228 million people with malaria throughout the world, and with over three billion people at risk of contracting malaria. Regretfully, over 405,000 people died of the disease, and it takes the life of a child every two minutes.
  • AIDS: Since the initial diagnosis of AIDS, the World Health Organization reports that over 75 million people have contracted the disease, killing more than 32 million individuals. In 2018, 1.7 million people contracted the disease.
  • H1N1 (Swine Flu): The CDC reports that in the flu season of 2009-2010, more than 60 million Americans contracted H1N1, with 274,000 people hospitalized, and over 12,469 Americans died of this pandemic.
  • Seasonal Flu: The CDC reported for the 2018-19 flu season, 35.5 million Americans contracted the flu, resulting in 34,200 deaths, including the deaths of 136 children. In this current flu season (2019-2020), 38 million Americans have contracted the flu and 23,000 have died from it.

Each of these viruses have reached pandemic levels because of being highly contagious. But not only does the disease spread, something spreads along with it: fear, panic, uncertainty and more. In this current pandemic of COVID-19, people the world over are gripped by fear of the unknown: “Will I or someone I love contract the virus, be laid off from work, become bankrupt, lose my house, etc.?” Fear is as contagious as the virus itself.

Yet, what IF we—the Church—were contagious in another way. What IF we had something that began to spread from across town where we live to across the nation we call home? What IF people wanted what we have? Can we—the Church—become contagious in this way?

 

In response to COVID-19, we ask the question:

“When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?”

This question was first asked nearly 3,000 years ago when a young God-follower was being chased by King Saul of Israel. The young fugitive was David, who would become the king of Israel in place of Saul – and Saul knew that to be true. He knew that his days were numbered and that is why Saul was determined to hunt David down and kill him. David’s closest friends and advisors looked at life in Israel under Saul and they concluded that life—as they knew it—was being destroyed. The foundations of law and justice under Saul were all but gone, destroyed by Saul’s jealousy and hate, prompting the question: “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?”

Some 3,000 years later, we could make the same assessment. When it comes to life as we know it, some people would say that the foundations are being destroyed. When COVID-19 began to spread across our country, it wasn’t long before the economic foundations of the USA were being destroyed, or medical service infra-structures were destroyed, or school systems, or insert whatever aspect of society you wish. But remember, it wasn’t a statement that was first posed 3,000 years ago, it was a question. “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” And today, as COVID-19 appears to many people as destroying the foundations of life as we know it, what can we—followers of Jesus—do in response?

As we dive into the text, it is vital that we understand the context before we look at the content of Psalm 11. When David wrote this Psalm, he was being chased by King Saul who wanted David dead. Saul was hunting him down like an animal to be captured and killed. David’s friends feared for him and urged him to flee to the mountains, hiding from Saul and his thousands of soldiers. But David had a different idea, and therefore, a different response because how a person THINKS determines how a person ACTS. Now for the content.

Psalm 11:1-7

1 In the Lord I take refuge.   How then can you say to me: “Flee like a bird to your mountain. 2 For look, the wicked bend their bows; they set their arrows against the strings to shoot from the shadows at the upright in heart. 3 When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do? 4 The Lord is in His holy temple; the Lord is on His heavenly throne. He observes the sons of men; His eyes examine them. 5 The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked and those who love violence His soul hates. 6 On the wicked He will rain fiery coals and burning sulfur; a scorching wind will be their lot. 7 For the Lord is righteous, He loves justice; upright men will see his face.”

This Psalm has two basic parts or sections: verses 1-3 and verses 4-7. In part one, young David was told…

Contagious Fear

In verses 1-3, David asked his friends, his counselors, his advisors: “How then can you say to me: “Flee like a bird to your mountain. For look, the wicked bend their bows; they set their arrows against the strings to shoot from the shadows at the upright in heart.”

Simply put, David rejected their advice to run for the hills, to flee in fear (i.e., “how can you ask me to flee like a bird to the mountains”). Saul and his soldiers had their bows bent with their arrows ready to fly and pierce the hearts of David and his men. David’s friends and counselors were well aware of the looming threat Saul posed. For whatever reason, these men quaked in fear and their only advice to David was to flee, to run for a hideout in the hills because according to them, “the foundations were being destroyed.”

But in response, David chose NOT to listen to them. He chose NOT to take their advice. He chose NOT to be overwhelmed with fear.

Contagious Faith

In verses 4-7, David responded in a far different manner than expected by his friends and counselors. The first words out of David’s mouth to his friends and counselors were: “In the Lord I take refuge” (v. 1). David wasn’t about to hide in a mountain cave. He took refuge in God Almighty! Why? David had learned to put his faith in God and God alone. After all, this battle with Saul was not the first in which David anchored his faith in God—even when others did not.

In 1 Samuel 17, we read of David confronting not only a warrior named Goliath, but the entire army of the Philistines. When King Saul and Israel’s army refused to confront the enemies of God, David did. And why? Young David was not overwhelmed with fear, but he was overcome by faith in Almighty God.

1 Samuel 17:45-47

David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will hand you over to me, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s and He will give all of you into our hands.”

While the entire army of Israel quaked in fear, David stood—and acted—in faith. David fulfilled the definition of faith as provided in Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” David was sure that God would empower him to conquer not only Goliath, but the entire Philistine army. Moreover, David was certain of this victory though it was still unseen. Such faith is contagious.

In his Psalm, David wrote of three reasons WHY he had a contagious faith in God and did not run in fear (see verses 4-7).

  • God is in control.

David declared that the Lord is “in His holy temple” and “…on His heavenly throne” (v. 4). Simply put, God is in control, complete control. David was emphatic in this declaration in that he said the Lord IS, not perhaps or maybe or that He might be—in His temple and on His throne. David declared absolute, unchanging truth. David had already been anointed by Samuel as the next king of Israel (1 Sam. 16:1-13), and knowing that God is in control, David knew that he would eventually be Israel’s king and not killed by Saul.

  • God is concerned.

Also, in verse 4, David declared that God “observes the sons of men; His eyes examine them.” David repeated this comment in verse 5: “The Lord examine the righteous…” David knew that Almighty God was fully aware of what was happening in his life moment-to-moment. David had faith in God that the Almighty was truly concerned for him. David would write in Psalm 139:2-3, “You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.”

Moreover, in verse 5, the phrase “examines the righteous” means “to test, to prove” something about those who are God-followers. This is yet another dimension as to God being concerned. God is concerned for His followers that they pass the test, that they prove to be faithful to God in difficult trials. David knew that God was testing him while Saul was chasing him. God was watching David to see if David would anchor his faith in Him in the face of difficulty and death.

  • God is consoling.

David was able to anchor his faith in God because of God’s great consolation. David found God to be consoling in both His Person and His Promise. David declared that the Person of God is both “righteous” and that He “loves justice” (v. 7). Righteous God will do only that which is right, and He is just. As well, the Promise of God is that those who follow Him “will see His face.” God promises eternal life when every one of His followers will finally see Him face-to-face.

Contagious fear did not capture David. To the contrary, David’s contagious faith in God enabled him to face every day in the strength and confidence of Almighty God – no matter how close Saul came to take his life.

How Does This Speak into Our Lives?

In Romans 15:4, the Apostle Paul wrote: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance and encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope.” The story of David speaks loudly and clearly into our lives some 3,000 years later.

We are being “chased down” –not by a person—but by a virus that threatens our lives. It is easy for us to reach the conclusion that “the foundations are being destroyed” here in our country.

  • Our economic foundations are being destroyed as jobs are lost, savings are spent, investments no longer exist, and our nation’s economy crumbles.
  • Our social foundations are being destroyed as people are urged to disconnect relationally for an unknown period of time.
  • Our political foundations are being destroyed as politicians continue to argue with and accuse one another in unrelenting conflict.
  • Our medical foundations are being destroyed as hospitals across our nation are crushed with tens of thousands of people needing treatment of all kinds.

So, the question remains: “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” From David’s psalm, there are two answers to that question. We can be overwhelmed by…

Contagious Fear

Remember, the word “contagious” means that a disease passes from one person to another, it is communicable by contact.” COVID-19 is not the only virus spreading across America, but a virus of FEAR washes over our nation like tsunami. Some of the news coverage – whether in print or media formats – has ignited fear among Americans with one story of “breaking news” after another. An article that fueled fear across our nation was run in the New York Times entitled “Worst-Case Estimates for U.S. Coronavirus Deaths” (NYT; Sheri Finks, 3/13/2020) and the article quoted the CDC as saying, “As many as 200,000 to 1.7 million people could die.” Statements like this causes fear to explosively spread across the US just as if we were to throw a five-gallon can of gasoline on a bonfire.

Fear is contagious. It spreads. It knows no bounds. Children and teenagers can become “infected” with fear as it spreads from their parents and grandparents. The elderly and those at-risk of contracting the virus often struggle with fear as they hear news reports of deaths involving their demographic. Fear envelopes employees, business owners, health care providers, and more.

To prevent contagious fear from “infecting” us, we need to practice “media distancing” in a real way. Change the channel and watch something other than “breaking news,” which is nothing more than repeating the same news stories from yesterday. News outlets spread stories of gloom-and-doom with rolling statistics on the screen of the growing numbers of people infected with COVID-19 and those who have died. Why don’t we hear the GOOD NEWS of those who have not only contracted COVID-19, but have been cured of the virus?

Contagious Faith

Like David, the better and right response for us to have is one of contagious faith. When the foundations are being destroyed, the righteous can—and must—live by faith. AND it can be contagious – spreading from Christian to Christian!

Remember, God is immutable. God doesn’t change. He even declared in Malachi 3:6, “I, the Lord, do not change.” Therefore, God is STILL in control. God is STILL concerned for us. God is STILL consoling us. Nothing has changed about WHO God is or WHAT He is capable of doing.

Australia is moving – literally. In 2016, National Geographic reported that the continent moves 2.7 inches per year in a northerly direction and in a slight clockwise motion (Brian Clark Howard; “Australia is Drifting So Fast GPS Can’t Keep Up;” 9/23/16). Since the last correction of their GPS coordinates in 1994, the nation moved 4.9 feet. Moreover, Australia’s GPS adjustment in 1994 was a correction of 656 feet! The reason for the shift in location is due to the tectonic plates on which the nation is built. Deep underground, there is subtle and continual movement in the rocks under Australia.

Much is changing around us, and not only the continent of Australia. As God-followers, we must remember this: God does not change. When coronavirus is changing so much in our lives, our faith is built on the unchanging truth that God remains who He is—forever.

On the night before His death, and as their world was suddenly coming apart at the seams, Jesus told His follower, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Looking closely at that phrase, the word “troubled” means upset, frightened, even terrified. With Jesus about to be taken from them, these men were suddenly upset, frightened and terrified. As well, this phrase was not a suggestion. It was a command that was to be continually obeyed 24/7 (as it is a present tense imperative). No matter the time of day or the day of the week, and no matter the circumstances in life, these followers of Jesus were NOT upset, frightened or terrified. But how can that be?

Jesus went on to say: “Trust in God. Trust also in Me.” The word “trust” means to be convinced that it something is true, to be persuaded that we can place our confidence in God and Jesus. When they took Jesus at His word, they could anchor their faith in Him. Psalm 20:7 states: “Some trust in chariots. Some trust in horses. But we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Our currency and coins state: “In God we trust.” Do we?

In this time of contagious fear, do we trust in God? Jesus commanded us to do so. The question is: will we obey?

Remember this fact: how we think determines how we live. It bears repeating; how we think determines how we live. HOW we think about God determines HOW we live on a daily basis. We must be convinced and persuaded that God is in control, is concerned and is consoling us. Then, we must live in a manner that demonstrates our beliefs.

The mouth of the Amazon River is more than ninety miles across and its current is so powerful that it pushes freshwater two hundred miles out into the Atlantic Ocean. Centuries ago, when seafarers floated for days without the wind blowing and drinking water supplies dwindled on board, they would often call out to nearby boats asking for life-giving water. Much to their surprise, a sailor would call back, “Put down your buckets! You’re in the mouth of the mighty Amazon!” All they could see was their fear of dying of thirst. They were blind to the fact that fresh water was within their reach.

As breaking news continues to spread contagious fear across America, we must never forget that God is within our reach. He is Immanuel, God with us – and He is for us. God is bigger than COVID-19 and the fear it brings. Like King David, do not listen to people who urge us to run, “fleeing to the mountains.” Instead, stand on the promises of God and become infected with a contagious faith that spreads from us to our families, to our circle of friends and beyond.

Jeremiah 32:27

“I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is there anything too hard for Me?”

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Copyright 2020 by e2: effective elders. All materials presented by Dr. Gary L. Johnson are copyrighted material. You may use this material for your teaching purposes. In doing so, please retain all copyright, trademark and propriety notices on this document, and do not make any modifications to the materials. For any uses other than this, please contact gary@e2elders.org for permission. (e2: effective elders; c/o Dr. Gary L. Johnson; 6430 S. Franklin Road; Suite A, Indianapolis, IN 46259).

What to do After Things Go Wrong

by Mark Houpt 

companion post: DOES GOD STILL HEAL (an essay by e2 Exec Dir Dr Johnson)

Last week our blog discussed what to do before things go wrong. We discussed determining your Mission Essential Functions and preparing for the inability to access those in need and having church services outside of the church building. I am sure that many of you reading that article were thinking that those recommendations were only necessary for a localized worst-case scenario, if even that. Surely, with our advanced science and technology, this type of catastrophe could never happen at this scale in our modern world.

Here we are, seven days later, and things have indeed gone wrong across the globe according to earthly definition. Despite the fact that we are in the midst of an unprecedented crisis, God is still in control. This is a crisis that is seeing earthly wealth wiped off of the balance sheets, jobs lost and businesses closed or curtailed by government decree. Churches are also physically closed and scrambling to adjust to this new way of life that is going to be with us for at least a few weeks, if not months. In today’s blog, we will take an honest, practical look at what earthly things we should do in response to manage the event in our churches.

Respond vs. React

First and foremost, God calls us as followers and the church to respond rather than react to the events that are around us and done to us. Many people do not understand the difference between response and reaction. A reaction is mostly an emotional action, many times involuntary and uncalculated; what one does in retort to something done to them. Most of us have been in the doctor’s office with our legs hanging over the side of the examination table when the doctor uses his little triangle hammer and taps our knees. Our lower leg kicks out in what we call a knee jerk reaction to that tap. It is largely involuntary and done in haste. Reactions that occur between people or people groups frequently escalated tensions and devolve into conflict. A reaction to a slap in the face is a slap back to that assailant. Reaction, in short, is nearly always our “flesh.” Contrast that with a response where a slap in the face leads to turning the other cheek. Typically, a response is a calculated, thoughtful reply. Frequently, responses elicit cooperation, compassion, and caring.

Both a reaction and response is demonstrated for us in the Garden of Gethsemane in Luke 26:50-51. We see that Peter reacts to the mob arresting Jesus by swinging his sword in anger and cutting off the ear of the servant of the high priest. Jesus then responds to this by calming the situation and healing that ear.

As Elders, we must respond rather than react to this crisis that is before us. If our congregants see our reactions in frustration to being ordered to shutter our churches, ceasing meeting in groups larger than ten, or potentially even helping the sick and dying, they will also react in the same manner. Congregants will lash out and potentially rise up in civil disobedience if we as leaders are not thoughtfully responsive. If our sheep see us responding calmly, leading the flock through the stormy waters, showing them how we can still meet and serve, then our flock will also remain calm and be more effective.  

Set up a Command Structure and War Room

In times of chaos, people need leaders and need to know who is in charge so that they can be confident that they are taken care of. In my business, when we are being attacked by a cyber threat, we establish three things – a command structure, an on-call rotation, and a command location called a war room.

A command structure is vitally important so that people know to whom to turn when they are in need. The command structure must include a person that has the authority to speak on behalf of the organization and make decisions as well as other volunteers that can carry out what the leader needs accomplished. A group of Elders could use this function to ensure that church staff can get vital questions answered, and the church congregant that may be hurting can get the help they need. The command structure is vital to smooth, clear, and concise communications.

A rotation of people to staff the command structure is of paramount importance. You do not want your people to get burned out due to being called upon at all hours of the day and night for days or weeks on end. The rotation allows people to rest their physical selves as well as their minds. Failure to have an on-call rotation will result in people getting sick due to weariness and could result in harmed relationships by reacting rather than clearly and adequately responding to situations the church needs to address in these trying times.

A war room is a location where the command structure resides. This is likely a virtual technology space like Zoom or Skype considering our social distancing requirements at this moment. However, as things change, and we are allowed to come back together, do not hesitate to make this a physical office space. The war room is where your on-call personnel will congregate, items and notes are on boards, pass down between on-call teams occurs and will be a place those in need of your assistance will know they can come to be attended to.

Over-Communicate to Address the FUD factor

Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt – the FUD factor – is strong in our nation and our churches right now. Address this head-on with frequent and transparent communications. We are all weary of “spin.” This health crisis is and will continue to be a marathon, not a sprint. We will be in this uncertain, ever-changing state for weeks if not months as our world struggles to right the ship and get back on our feet. Inspire confidence in your flock. The more accurate information a person has, the more likely they are to stay engaged and be confident. Over-communication and transparency develops a trust and relationship that makes people believe that we are in this together.

Plan for Giving Disruption

In any major disaster, a church should plan for disruption of giving and having to use the savings fund, if there is one. In this current situation, the church should be looking towards a 90% or more reduction in giving, if you do not act now. There are three key things you need to do this week to counter this threat.

  1. Establish online giving options if you have not already. A number of resources are available for processing online giving through banks or software providers such as Square and Paypal, PushPay and more. Square and PayPal are familiar to people and are great options for a quick response. I would also recommend contacting your church accountant for recommendations or conducting a Google search for church online giving options.
  2. Extend giving options. Many times banks can take automated transfers or allow persons to setup automated checking withdrawals. In the church I attend, we currently have five methods of giving: traditional cash/check, through the website, through an app, text to give, and electronic banking.
  3. Teach or Instruct your people that giving is still important. Unfortunately, many people will believe that because they are not in the building, giving is not necessary. As an Elder, we need to teach our people that giving is not determined by whether you are in the building on Sunday or not. I would recommend that your elder team record a short, five-minute video that addresses the biblical importance of giving, instructs your flock to give, and teaches how to use the methods of giving.

Risk Analysis:

As Gary introduced me last week, I am a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) in a large, nationwide data center provider. I deal with risk analysis day in and day out, even under normal conditions. Typically, the risk analysis that I conduct is related to cyber attacks against computer infrastructure and systems. Risk analysis is also used in many of your jobs in the financial sector, general business, and elsewhere. So why are we not using it in the church to guide our decisions?

Risk analysis comes in two forms: qualitative and quantitative. Qualitative risk analysis is more of a subjective process while quantitative analysis is very much fact-based. Typically, a qualitative analysis will lead to a quantitative analysis when it can. Both are formulas. One takes a threat such as a pandemic, determines the vulnerability that the organization has to the threat, and gains a risk (Threat x Vulnerability = Risk). To that, you can add what you believe the impact would be to the church.

In our current situation, I would recommend that you consider qualitative risk analysis to determine a multitude of impacts to your church and when to start recovering or coming back to traditional in-person meeting and corporate worship. A quantitative risk analysis should be conducted against financial loss due to the possible loss of giving or inability to pay bills due to that loss. Both methods are essential for elders to understand the health of the church, and to make well-informed decisions.

Conclusion:

The next few weeks and months are going to try us and stretch us. Our spiritually weaker and/or spiritually younger members of the flock will be prone to wander. Some physically vulnerable members may not be with us at the end of this. Through all of that, Praise Him Through the Storm (Casting Crowns 2005). Remember, God is in control, and through Him, we can do all things. There will be painful moments because we live in a fallen world. But our hope is not here; it is eternally with Jesus in His glory. As elders and leaders, it is our job to guide our flock to that eternal glory.

Go forth and be the church!

Does God Still Heal?

by Gary Johnson, D.Min.

 

This essay can help elders encourage individuals in their sphere of influence experience both help for today and hope for tomorrow in these uncertain times as we answer the question: Does God still heal?

 

As we welcomed the arrival of 2020 in the early hours of January 1, never would we have imagined that we would welcome a new life-threatening virus to the United States. In simply a matter of a few weeks, this new virus (SARS-CoV-2 virus / COVID-19 is the disease) has not only swept around the world from nation to nation, but it has now swept across our country to the very places where you and I live. Moreover, as one day passes to the next, both the number of infections and deaths continue to rise. Panic is real. Anxiety is measurable.

Many people – even the strongest of Christians – struggle with fear of the unknown, wondering if they or a loved one will contract the coronavirus. And should that happen, we wonder, does God still heal? If we or someone we know and love contracts this virus – or any disease for that matter – does God still heal? It’s one of our most pressing yet unasked questions.

We hear updates that our medical systems are insufficient to handle the anticipated number of Americans who will contract this disease. Knowing that there is not yet a vaccine for this virus and that the number of beds in ICUs are limited for such a crisis, people’s panic is amplified. The New York Times ran an article with statistics from the CDC saying there could be more deaths from this virus than the number of Americans who died in World War 2 (“Worst-Case Estimates for U.S. Coronavirus Deaths”; 3/18/2020). Our lives have been invaded by a life-threatening enemy.

When I read that article, I thought of one of the most powerful invasions that took place in World War 2. It was the invasion known as D-Day. On June 6, 1944, our Allied Forces launched a massive attack against Nazi Germany along the beaches of Normandy, France. The battle began just before dawn. Indescribable emotion gripped the hearts of many thousands of soldiers landing on those beaches, even as they witnessed more than 4,000 fellow fighters gunned down by the Nazis. Massive confusion reigned with more than 11,000 planes flying overhead, more than 6,000 vessels sailing towards shore, and more than 150,000 soldiers landing on the beach. Yet, when the battle came to an end and the smoke cleared, a conclusion was reached and it was obvious who would eventually win the war.

As this new virus invades your world and mine, we experience emotion and confusion that will lead to a conclusion. In the midst of it all, let’s ask – and answer – the question: does God still heal?

 

EMOTION

2 Kings 20:1-3

About that time Hezekiah became deathly ill, and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to visit him. He gave the king this message: “This is what the Lord says: Set your affairs in order, for you are going to die. You will not recover from this illness.”

When Hezekiah heard this, he turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, “Remember, O Lord, how I have always been faithful to you and have served you single-mindedly, always doing what pleases you.” Then he broke down and wept bitterly.

King Hezekiah experienced his own personal D-Day. His life was suddenly invaded by a life-threatening illness. The prophet Isaiah went to the King and told him he was terminally ill. Hezekiah was told to put his house in order for him impending death. Hezekiah was to make sure that his last will and testament was written, his accounts at the bank were in joint custody, and more. Notice also, that his D-day invasion was full of emotion. Immediately he prayed, while sobbing uncontrollably.

Centuries later, nothing has changed. COVID-19 has suddenly invaded our lives and as we hear that people of all ages are becoming infected, emotions begin to unsettle us. We panic and the shelves in stores become empty. Worry and anxiety begin to take their toll as we hear of schools shutting down, and the closing of offices, restaurants, work places and more. We become unnerved when we begin to cough, sneeze, run a fever – wondering if we have the virus. And not only do we experience emotions, but…

 

CONFUSION

2 Kings 20:2-3

When Hezekiah heard this, he turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, “Remember, O Lord, how I have always been faithful to you and have served you single-mindedly, always doing what pleases you.” Then he broke down and wept bitterly.

Notice that Hezekiah prayed, asking God to remember how he had lived a devoted, faithful, godly life. King Hezekiah was a morally good king, a godly king. We even refer to him as “good King Hezekiah.” Could Hezekiah have experienced confusion? Could he have struggled with the “why” question of suffering this terminal disease? Was God punishing him for something in his past?

This line of questioning has always been part of this life. Many people are confused, thinking that each and every illness is a direct consequence of sin. Yet, that is a wrong assumption. Before Jesus healed a man who had been born blind (John 9:1-3), His disciples asked Him, “…who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus’ answer was that neither of them had sinned. His being blind had nothing to do with sin. Even the righteous man Job was afflicted with much suffering. His wealth was stolen from him. Serious illness afflicted him. Then all ten of his children were killed in a single catastrophe. Once Job’s three friends arrived to console him, they quickly began to accuse him of cherished sin in his life that resulted in what they believed to be God’s punishment. What CONFUSION!

Should we be personally impacted by the coronavirus, we should not be surprised when confusion comes. In confusion, we may struggle with the question, “why do bad things happen to good people?” If we allow confusion to reign and we assume that our sickness is God’s punitive response to our sin, we may begin to doubt His love and care for us. Our confusion becomes worse when we hear of people being healed, but we know of others who are not. Is God’s love and care arbitrary? Will our prayers make a difference? Will God hear even hear them?

 

CONCLUSION

2 Kings 20:4-6

But before Isaiah had left the middle courtyard, this message came to him from the Lord: “Go back to Hezekiah, the leader of my people. Tell him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your ancestor David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will heal you, and three days from now you will get out of bed and go to the Temple of the Lord.  I will add fifteen years to your life, and I will rescue you and this city from the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my own honor and for the sake of my servant David.’”

Once the smoke-filled skies cleared over the beaches of Normandy, France, we knew who would eventually win the war. The conclusion of all the battles that were fought throughout the World War 2 led to the final victory of the Allied Forces against the Axis. Likewise, a conclusion was reached by good King Hezekiah: 1) God heard the king’s passionate prayer, 2) God’s heart was deeply moved because 3) God healed Hezekiah. Previously, God had told Hezekiah to “Set your affairs in order, for you are going to die; you will not recover” (v. 1). Obviously, God relented. God showed mercy.

God is immutable. God does not change. He even declared, “I, the Lord, do not change” in Malachi 3:6. That means you and I can reach the same conclusion whether we are “invaded” by COVID-19, cancer, TB, malaria, H1N1 or another disease. The conclusion of the matter is this: God STILL hears our prayers, we STILL can touch the heart of God, and God can STILL heal.

 

A PRACTICAL APPLICATION

As elders, we must remember that the first-century church faced life-threatening disease. Believers experienced fear as they saw loved ones become ill and die. How did elders back then respond? What action did believers take back then?

James 5:13-18

Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises.  Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven.

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.  Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops.

 

Context Before Content

Here’s the context.

The author of this brief book in the New Testament is the half-brother of Jesus. James did not believe that his big brother was the promised Anointed One until Jesus was raised from the dead. It wasn’t until Jesus died on the cross, was buried in the tomb, and then raised to life that his little brother James became a believer – and what a strong believer he was! James was also known as “James, the Just” and “camel knees.” He was “Just” because he was very devoted to his faith, even praying for hours on end at the temple in Jerusalem. His long hours of praying on his knees caused them to become deformed in some manner. Tradition teaches that when James would not renounce Jesus as his Messiah, he was taken to the top of the Temple and thrown him to the ground, in hopes of killing him. Surviving the fall, he was then stoned and beaten to death with a club. James died as a martyr sometime in the 60s, decades after the resurrection of his brother, Jesus.  

Now for the content.

When we go to the doctor, our physician looks us over and makes some observations. Let’s do the same with this passage. Let’s just look it over, making four observations that help us as elders to minister to people when their health, or the health of someone in their congregation, is threatened by COVID-19 or with any other illness or injury.  

Observation #1:

In these six consecutive verses, something keeps being repeated and that something is prayer (vv. 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18). Prayer is the theme of these verses, not illness. We shouldn’t be surprised by this because James was a man devoted to prayer. James commands us to pray. As a matter of fact, of the 108 verses comprising the entire book of James, there are 54 imperatives in Greek. An imperative is a command, and a command is meant to be obeyed. A number of those commands are in this passage. When a person is in trouble (v. 13; suffering hardship, difficult times, trials, persecution) or sick (v. 14 to be weak, having no strength, being incapacitated or disabled), that person must pray. Don’t just run to the doctor. Run to God.

Observation #2:

When a person is sick, they are to call the elders (v. 14). Elders were – and still are – the spiritual leaders of the local church. One of the words for an elder in Greek is poimen, meaning “shepherd.” A shepherd cares for the sheep, which is a powerful metaphor for elders of the church to care for the people of the church.

In the first century church, people struggling with illness called for the elders to pray over them and to anoint them with oil. There are two words for “anoint” in NT Greek. One word means a religious and ceremonial anointing, such as in anointing an individual as the new king. The second word for anointing is practical in nature, such as when oil was put on something (i.e., rubbing oil on a wound, treating the person medically). In Luke 10:25-37, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan traveling on the road to Jericho. When the Samaritan came upon the man who had been robbed, beaten and left for dead, Jesus told of how the Good Samaritan “poured oil and wine on the man’s wounds,” (v. 34) thereby cleansing his wounds and medically treating him. First-century elders were like modern-day doctors who, at times, treated sick people medically, as well as spiritually.  In this twenty-first century church, when we are afflicted with illness and injury, be sure to call on the elders to pray over us and be certain to seek medical treatment from our physicians. Pray! And have elders pray! Run to God, and after doing so, go to the doctor. Do what is medically right, reasonable and necessary. And remember – as the SARS-CoV-2 virus keeps us physically away from one another, we can still have the elders pray over us. Consider using Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, or any other medium. Let’s leverage technology during this crisis period. 

Moreover, the elders were to anoint (i.e., medically treat) the individual “in the name of the Lord.” This phrase means that the elders were depending on the Lord, trusting in the Lord to bring healing to the individual. They waited on the Lord for His will to be done. Waiting on the Lord and praying for His will to be done in times of illness is not easy. In our age of instant everything, waiting is hard. Praying for the Lord’s will to be done is difficult to pray. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed: “Father, if it be possible, may this cup pass from Me. Nevertheless, not My will, but Your will be done” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus had to suffer the wrath of God for the payment of our sins. He was not exempt from suffering and death. In times of suffering, it is exceptionally difficult to pray: “Lord Jesus, your will be done; nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.” Praying that takes courage and surrender.

Verse 15 reads, “Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven.” Jesus was known as the Master Physician while He walked on this earth. Of the thirty-seven recorded miracles of Jesus in the Bible, twenty-eight involved physical healing. Fully seventy-five percent, three out of four miracles of Jesus, were of physical healing. Being that Jesus is “the same yesterday, today and forevermore,” all that He has ever done, He can still do. I, personally, have witnessed healings of people where confirmed illness was diagnosed and confirmed healing took place, and the only explanation could be God.

Then again, there are moments when the Lord chooses not to heal in this life. Every person dies at some point in time and by some kind of illness or injury, even if it is simply old age. The only way “to be home with the Lord” is to be “absent from this body” (i.e., to die; 2 Corinthians 5:8). Even Elisha, the great prophet and miracle-worker, suffered from an illness from which he eventually died (2 Kings 13:14). His complete healing happened when he went home to be with God. Paul healed people and even raised them from the dead, such as the young man Eutychus, who fell out of a third-story window and died from his injuries (Acts 20:9-10). Yet, Trophimus was another friend of his, whom Paul had to leave behind ill in Miletus (2 Timothy 4:20). Paul could heal people, so why wasn’t Trophimus healed? Moreover, why wasn’t the Paul himself healed? There was a time in his life when he had a “thorn in his flesh” that “tormented” him (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). The very same Greek word used in James 5:14 for “sick” (astheneo) is the same word Paul used to describe his thorn. Something took place in Paul’s life that caused him to become sick, weak, and incapacitated. He prayed three times, begging God to heal him, and yet, Paul wasn’t healed. God said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Now, there’s one more thing about the word “well” in verse 15. “Well” is the Greek word sozo, and one of its meanings is “to save.” We must remember that because of sin, death happens to all of us. There will be some illness or injury that will claim your life and mine, but those who die in the Lord are ultimately healed (i.e., saved). When we turn to the Lord in prayer, waiting on Him, trusting in Him, submitting to His will in our lives, “the Lord will raise us up” (v. 15). We will be more alive than we have ever been in this life, never to die again! The curse of death will be destroyed (Rev. 22:3). When the Apostle John wrote: “No longer will there be any sea” (Rev. 21:1), he was writing from the prison island of Patmos, separated from his loved ones who were back on the mainland, with roughly sixty miles of open ocean separating them. “No longer will there be any sea” means that when Jesus returns and God creates the new earth, the curse of death will never happen again. Death will never again separate us from one another. Now, death is an interruption, a separation that will someday come to an end for those who have surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ, trusting in His death on a cross for the forgiveness of their sin.

Observation #3:

James ended verse 15 writing about sins being forgiven, and he continued into verse 16 writing that we must “confess [our] sins to each other and pray for each other so that [we] may be healed.” Why did James bring up the issues of sin and confession in relationship to illness? Simply put, sin was the cause of illness from the beginning of time, having its origin in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve committed sin. The entrance of sin into this world brought death.

Romans 5:12

When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned.

The curse of death is the result of sin. Our bodies age, illness strikes, and we eventually die. Still, there are times when we see a direct relationship between sin and sickness. We may have not cared for our bodies; our life choices or patterns (substance abuse, anxiety or compulsive worry, overwork, etc.), may have brought on us an illness or condition that leads to death.

As we work through these observations, we need to remember that a spiritual healing must take place in our lives with God. All of us struggle with the sickness of sin that results in death, both physically and spiritually. If we die without Christ as our Savior and Lord, we experience a spiritual death; that is, eternity in hell – forever separated from God. We must be spiritually healed of our sin and only Jesus Christ can accomplish that healing for us through His death on the cross. As elders, we must help people find this ultimate healing as we urge them to believe, repent, confess, be immersed and remain faithful.

Observation #4:

In verses 16-18, James emphasized the importance and power of prayer. Not only is prayer possible, it is powerful. When people are “righteous” they sincerely walk with God with a hunger and thirst for all that is good and right, a vital and faithful relationship with God can result in powerful and effective prayer. Remember, prayer is depending on and trusting in God. Prayer aligns our lives with the will of God, submitting to His sovereignty. Prayer is not thinking of God as being a genie in a lamp, who says to us, “Your wish is my command.” Rather, when we continue to sincerely walk with God, we grow increasingly able to say, “Your will for my life is my desire.”

Our Prayer for you…

Our Father in Heaven,

Please enable each and every elder serving Your Church to be shepherds of God’s flock that is under their care, for those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. Remind them of Your promise: The Lord your God is with you. He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you. He will quiet you with His love and rejoice over you with singing. As the foundations are being destroyed, urge them to not let their hearts to be troubled. But to trust in You and in Your Son Jesus, our Great Shepherd,

In whose name we pray,

Amen.

 

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Resources Consulted:

Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993.

Kistemaker, Simon J. James & 1,2,3 John Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1986.

MacArthur, John. James Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1998.

Nystrom, David P. NIV Application Commentary: James Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997.

Rienecker, Fritz. A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991.

Wright, N.T. The Early Christian Letters: James, Peter, John and Judah Louisville, KT: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011.

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Copyright 2020 by e2: effective elders. All materials presented by Dr. Gary L. Johnson are copyrighted material. You may use this material for your teaching purposes. In doing so, please retain all copyright, trademark and propriety notices on this document, and do not make any modifications to the materials. For any uses other than this, written permission is required. (e2: effective elders; c/o Dr. Gary L. Johnson; 6430 S. Franklin Road; Suite A, Indianapolis, IN 46259

What to do Before Things go Wrong

by Mark Houpt 

companion post: CRISIS RESPONSE (an excerpt from our Playbook)

The news and other media resources are awash in stories of the world-wide crisis due to the COVID-19 virus, better known as the Novel Coronavirus.  Every day, numbers of infected and the numbers of deceased scroll like sports scores or financial market tickers across the screens of our televisions and computer monitors.  As businesses and other organizations across the globe assess what to do in reaction to such an event, it is not inappropriate, in fact, it should be mandatory, for Elders and church leaders to discuss how we would maintain our own operations in the event this impacts our home areas.  We can address this in what is commonly known as “Continuity of Operations.” 

Continuity of Operations Planning (CoOP) is a concept that defines a plan of action an organization will take to ensure that Mission Essential Functions (MEF) continue during an event, incident, or emergency.  As a church, we are not immune from needing these plans that define our Mission Essential Functions and how we will continue to serve when a crisis or disaster occurs.  

The CoOP should encompass a five-stage process:
Phase I                  Preparedness
Phase II                 Activation and Initial Response
Phase III               Full Operations of MEFs
Phase IV               Return to Normal Operations
Phase V                After-Action Evaluation 

Preparedness is the key to a smooth CoOP.  Preparedness, by definition, occurs long before any event or incident is a possibility.  It includes your documented plan, training, testing of the plan, and maintaining the plan.  It is a continual cycle.  A CoOP document template can be found here at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website.

In the Preparedness phase, one of the key functions is to determine what the Mission-Essential Functions (MEF) are for your church.  While the CoOP may appear to be the function of the operations aspect of the church, Elders should not overlook their need to be deeply involved.  Elders need to define how the church accomplishes her primary mission when the doors are locked, when quarantines or isolation events are declared, or for that matter, when fear, uncertainty, and doubt reign in the community.  Some possible MEFs Elders should consider are visiting the sick in their homes and hospitals, and continuing to teach and preach the Word.  You also need to ask what functions cease or change for a season; for example, children’s and youth ministries may cease while daily office operations continue in a remote work scenario (i.e. work from home).  Elders should also consider whether some people should be asked to stay away for a season.  For example, I am aware of one church where a large group went on a cruise in the past week.  In the middle of the COVID-19 situation, those having been on cruises are high-risk.  It may be prudent to ask these people to stay at home and attend online or home services for the 14-day period recommended by the CDC.  Another group of people to consider asking to stay home, or better yet, giving permission to stay at home, are the elderly and infirm.  They are the highest risk for mortality and catching the virus.  Many elderly feel it is their duty to be at church when the doors are open.  An Elder giving them permission to not attend may be a key to their health and continued life.  All of these are legitimate questions that only an Elder can answer through prayer and seeking the guidance of the Spirit. 

A key consideration for Elders to address in your MEF definition is who responds to and determines doctrinal questions and statements.  Previous major events such as 9/11, the Gulf War, the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, etc., have shown that there will be questions whether these are “signs of the end times” or “punishments brought on by God.”  Historically, the church could have been better prepared to answer these questions.  Elders are the key to sound communication in advance, or in the midst, of an event. 

How might you determine the MEFs?  For an initial list of MEFs, perhaps consider the description of the tasks and qualifications of an Elder such as the ability to teach and preach (1 Tim. 5:17), care for the spiritual needs of the flock (Jas. 5:14), make judgments on situations such as rebuking those that are conducting false preaching or teaching, challenging those who are taking advantage of the fear in the community (Heb. 13:17, 1 Tim. 5:17 and Tit. 1:9-13).  The second layer of listing MEFs will involve seeking input from church leadership and other staff positions on what they view as essential. 

Phases II calls for activation of the plan.  It is important that the church knows who has the authority to execute and command during the plan’s activation.  In a time of crisis, without clear leadership, leadership will emerge.  A CoOP with defined leaders will prevent the power vacuum and resulting confusion that occurs when definition is lacking. 

Phase III and IV is stabilization and return to normal operations.  Stabilization is key but, because we are discussing crisis , “stabilization”  is always fluid and will be impacted by the changing situation.  Be prepared to react in this phase.  Ensure that your plan addresses the return to normal operations. 

Too many times, the plan is enacted, and no one considers what went right and what went wrong with the plan.  Phase V deals with this.  Do not skip this phase.  Without evaluation, the plan will never get better and it will fail you in the future. 

Continuity of Operations Planning is essential to your duties as Elders and leaders.  It is essential to shepherding the flock and meeting the spiritual needs of people in a crisis situation.  A CoOP is designed to ensure that the Bride of Christ is protected, maintained, and relevant in the midst of a crisis. 

Play #9: Crisis Response

by Gary Johnson 

In Acts 27:9-44, Dr. Luke provides a detailed account of a storm. Paul was standing trial and he appealed his case to Caesar in Rome. Hence, Paul was on a ship, en route to Rome, when it was caught in a storm. According to Luke’s account, the storm was both 1) sudden and 2) serious. The storm was a “northeaster,” and from that word we derive “typhoon.” It was life-threatening. Moreover, the crew took drastic measures to save their lives, such as in the passing of ropes under the ship to hold it together, as well as throwing the cargo and rigging overboard to lighten the ship. In reading carefully through the text, Paul provided exceptional leadership throughout the two-week ordeal, helping all 276 men aboard to survive.

Similarly, every day, everywhere in the world, crises happen. A crisis can be both sudden and serious, causing great fear and distress to the people impacted by it. Elders, like Paul, must lead courageously and competently through the crisis for the well-being of the local church. Elders are called “shepherds” – and shepherds protect sheep. Ergo, elders must protect the congregation in times of crisis.

Being that crisis response and management is an enormous field of study and leadership, this article provides merely a simple step-by-step template to follow in the event of a sudden and serious crisis impacting the congregation.

Step Identification: Like clothing, crises come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Not all crises are alike; one may involve the church building (i.e., a fire, flooding, etc.); whereas, another crisis may intimately and personally impact the lives of people (i.e., sexual abuse, injury, etc.). A “one-size-fits-all” response to a crisis is not appropriate. Elders must identify the type of crisis impacting the church and then move to the logical and right next step.

Step Safety: Again, depending on the nature of the crisis, step 2 is essential when there is a threat of harm to individuals. In the case of fire, an active shooter, injury to individual(s), etc., an immediate call to 9-1-1 must be made. The church must have an evacuation plan that is known to the congregation, in the event of fire, sudden storm (i.e., tornado), active shooter, etc. The local church must have an emergency response team within the congregation. These individuals can be volunteers with training in first-aid, security skills, etc. Moreover, first-aid equipment should be available in the church to use until emergency response personnel arrive on the scene.

Step Triage: The elders must appoint an emergency response team whose responsibility is to triage the crisis. Just as when individuals are taken to a trauma center following a massive accident and the medical team is trained to triage injuries, so also must the local church have a trained and identified team of individuals who will triage the immediate steps to take in the event of a crisis. This team, appointed by the elders, must be given authority, along with their responsibility, to act on behalf of the church with immediacy. When a serious crisis suddenly occurs, there is little time to call an elders’ meeting.

Step Communication: A communication strategy must be developed. Should a crisis occur that is immediately visible to the public (i.e., a fire, a shooting, etc.), media representatives will appear at the church, wanting to interview people. One person should be the designated spokesperson for the local church so that this individual alone is providing information to the media. Also, a communication strategy includes the manner and method in which the congregation will be provided with appropriate information. For example, if there are allegations of sexual abuse of a minor, this information must be expertly handled with both law enforcement and the congregation. Again, the nature of the crisis dictates the type of communication that is necessary in that very moment.

Step Professional Assistance: The elders must contact the insurance carrier providing coverage for the congregation. Whether storm, fire, flood, abuse, malpractice, etc., the congregation must carry adequate and appropriate insurance coverage, and the congregation’s insurance agent must be contacted immediately and informed of the crisis. Moreover, the church may have an identified attorney who provides legal services to the congregation. Depending on the nature of the crisis, the elders may contact this individual with information of the crisis at hand.

Step Damage Control: The elders and staff must work with one another as the crisis unfolds in the following days, weeks, months and even years. A strategy for continuing appropriate communication must be developed, and it must address what is being posted digitally on social media platforms. Moreover, the long-term response must include ministry to individuals directly involved in the crisis (i.e., victims of the crisis).

Back to Paul. When reading through Acts 27, it’s important to notice Paul’s great declaration. To survive his sudden and serious storm, Paul shouted over the wind that he “had faith in God,” and not in the ropes placed under the ship, nor in the pilot of the ship, etc. His was an anchored faith! Moreover, Paul yelled to the men in the midst of the storm, “So keep up your courage men…” His was an active faith, as he attempted to encourage and build others up, pointing them to God, as they faced fear head-on.

Like Paul, elders must anchor their faith in God, believing that He alone is the source of unlimited wisdom and strength to survive any and all crises. Moreover, elders must point people to God, actively sharing their faith in hopes that others caught in the storm of crisis will survive by the great mercy of God. 

Running the Play: 

During a crisis, action is preferred to inaction, especially acts of faith and ministry that are obviously selfless.

As an Elder…

by Tom Ellsworth 

My father served as an elder in my hometown congregation for decades. He and the men who served with him had a huge impact on my life, an impact that followed me into ministry and shaped my understanding of what an elder could be. Central Christian Church in Huntingburg, Indiana, was not a large congregation during my youth but the one hundred or so people who worshipped there laid a solid spiritual foundation on which to build my life. That was due in large part to good elders whose influence filtered down through the pews.

Interestingly, every elder liked to sing and they all had great voices. (Liking to sing and being able to sing are not synonymous!) They became known as The Singing Shepherds and were frequently invited to sing at revivals, men’s rallies and area congregations. I realize now how truly unique they were; those shepherds served and sang as one voice to the Lord. Their slightly faded signatures on my ordination certificate remind me of their rich legacy imprinted on my life. What was it that made their ministry so effective? Let me share a few reflections:

They were qualified. These men were not perfect by any stretch. They had flaws like all of us, but they were above reproach. I watched genuine servants at work. As an elder, strive to be above reproach. Nothing detracts from our Lord’s church like a disconnect between a leader’s role and his character.

They were friends. These men truly enjoyed one another’s company. I realize there is no biblical requirement for elders to be friends, but their comradery was indispensable in the challenging moments of church work. As an elder, spend time with your fellow elders away from church duties. Eat in one another’s homes; find times for social activities without gathering in a corner for a “quick elder’s conference.” Keep the church business separate – build friendships, because those relationships will keep your eldership intact through the tough times.

They were positive. I’m not suggesting that everything went smoothly; it didn’t. They dealt with some prickly issues over the years, but they remained positive even through the challenges. As I look back on those elders, the word laughter comes to mind. These men could always find a reason to smile and laugh. And, as we know, laughter is good medicine. As an elder, keep smiling and laughing. I know there are heartbreaking issues in the church but stay positive. We serve a God for whom nothing is impossible. I hope the congregation you serve remembers your smiles and laughter.

They were role models. Long before I understood the concept of mentoring, these men were doing that for me and others in the congregation. I marvel to think of what I learned from their examples. As an elder, be worthy of imitation. There are youth in your congregation who are desperate for a positive role model.

They were faithful to their last breath. As an elder, stay faithful to the very end. With your last breath, leave a legacy of faithfulness. On Saturday evening, January 18th, my 92-year-old father’s last earthly breath slipped from his lips and he drew in his first breath of celestial air in that place where death is no more. I miss him but he was ever so ready to go! And I know where he is and Who is with him. Dad was the last of The Singing Shepherds to go home – the last of a band of brothers who impacted my home congregation and my life personally. I sure would like to hear them sing now!