Elders as Mentors

by Rick Lowry 

The elders at First Church in Burlington, KY are adding a new dimension to their leadership this year.  The responsibility of elders has always been shepherding the flock and making decisions about the overall direction of the church.  Now they also are seeing themselves as leadership mentors.
 
As a group, the elders read the book Designed to Lead by Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck.  Their discussion of that book led to a desire to invest more time in the church’s deacons/ministry leaders.
 
The overarching purpose, in their words, is “a template for linking eldership and discipleship.”  It’s a discipling opportunity for leaders of leaders.  It is their “leadership pipeline.”
 
The idea is that key spiritual leaders invest themselves in others who have the potential to become spiritual leaders in the future.  This is accomplished through mentoring/discipling relationships.  Regular meetings for formal discussions about spiritual growth and leadership are scheduled, plus whatever time is necessary to build personal relationships with those who are being discipled.
 
The process begins with prayer, asking God to show each elder one or more men he should invest in.  After a season of prayer, elders watch for men who are already within their sphere of influence that God might be leading them to disciple. 
 
Three simple questions aid in discerning spiritual potential in men who are to be discipled.  Are they:

  • Faithful?  Is this man fully engaged in the life and ministry of the church?  Has he shown himself to be faithful to Jesus and our body? 
  • Available?  Today’s high-capacity volunteer church leaders are always going to have full calendars.  The challenge is to convince them that they can give up something in order to make time for spiritual depth.
  • Teachable?  Are they willing to listen, learn and grow?

Relationships are built with activities like:

  • Telling our stories. 
  • Getting into each other’s homes.
  • Doing life together.  Find out the interests of the men being discipled and create times to do those activities with them.  Examples:  A common hobby like woodworking or visiting museums, tennis, fishing or other outdoor recreation, or maybe movies of common interest.
  • Eating meals together.
  • Building relationships by serving the congregation together.
  • The overarching principle: are we being appropriately transparent and becoming known by each other?

This is a marathon, not a sprint.  It can take two or three years to develop the kind of relationships that have rich meaning, and also that result in the ultimate goal: men who are ready to disciple others like they have been discipled.  Of course, not everyone who is mentored by an elder will become an elder.  But any church will benefit from additional qualified leaders in every ministry area of the church.
 
Every year most churches have a season when they elect or recognize elders for the coming year.  In many churches, the leaders ask who they should put on the ballot, and ask questions like, “How about Joe?  He’s a nice guy.”  Or “Don’s a good businessman, how about making him an elder?”  The First Church elders are hoping never again to have that type of conversation – because a fresh supply of future elders is always being discipled by the current elders.

People Power

by J. Michael Shannon 

Linus once told Charlie Brown, “I love mankind; it’s people I can’t stand.” 

Sometimes, we all need a break from people.  That may especially be true after coming off an intensive week as many of us just have at the NACC.  But if we “can’t stand people,” we’re in trouble in church work.  Churches are full of people.  The world is, for that matter.  Nearly everything we do in life is dependent on us being able to manage relationships with each other.  No great thing is ever accomplished without cooperation.  No one person can perform all the tasks that need to get done – especially in the church.  When a congregation succeeds, it’s always the result of the labor of many.  

Some of the qualities that define a leader are the ability to motivate people, utilize their gifts, and marshal their resources.  Nehemiah illustrates this for us.  Even though the needs of Jerusalem – rebuilding the wall especially – were heavy on his heart, he knew there was no way he could do all that needed done by himself. 

Nehemiah first got permission from his king to go about the task God had laid upon his heart.  No doubt, Nehemiah’s faithful service gave the king a good reason to grant his request.  Nehemiah found favor in the eyes of Artaxerxes.  The king even seemed to take a genuine interest in what Nehemiah wanted to accomplish.  Not only did he give Nehemiah permission, but significant resources as well.  Our cultivation of good manners and courtesy will allow some people, even some outside the church, to help us with our task.  Nehemiah marshaled resources. 

Nehemiah also knew he had to motivate God’s people.  He did this by having a plan and challenging people.  People can be expected to react or respond to a plan, but they don’t craft one without the guidance of a leader.  It is the leader’s job to set the agenda and the goals; the people’s job is to amend and adopt them.  The vision Nehemiah cast for the people of Jerusalem was a great challenge – it seemed nearly impossible.  But the people responded and rose to the challenge, perhaps because of Nehemiah’s careful planning, and perhaps because of his enthusiasm. 

Notice his willingness to work side by side with the people.  Sometimes leaders do not receive respect because they insulate and separate themselves from the hard work and labor.  Nehemiah was, in today’s terms, a player/coach.  That is not a bad model for a minister, elder, or deacon. 

The satisfaction of seeing the walls built was not motivation enough, and Nehemiah knew this.  He helped motivate the people by allowing them to work near their own homes.  Each man was vitally interested in his own home being protected.  That personal buy-in kept the people going when the labor got discouraging. 

Finally, Nehemiah knew the ultimate reward for volunteer laborers – words of thanks and commendation.  Too seldom do we give words of commendation in the church.  Maybe this is because we have been erroneously taught that to work unselfishly means to work without thanks.  They are not the same thing.  Very few people in the church are paid anything for the labor they give.  The least they can expect are words like “well done,” “thank you,” and “we couldn’t do this without you” from their leaders.  Many people are convinced, but would never admit it out loud, that they are inept, have failed, and are not making any difference.  Our words of encouragement can keep them going and build them up for future service as well. 

We must cultivate our people power because we desperately need people.  The old saying is true: “It is never too heavy when we all lift together.” 

4 Ways

by Mark Taylor 

If church problems keep you awake at night, you’re in good company.  Even Paul wrote that “I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28, NIV). 

Let’s be candid: sometimes we cause our own worst problems.  It’s true that selfishness or sin among church members brings untold grief and uncounted setbacks for the cause of Christ.  We can’t control that.  But we can control our actions, decisions, and relationships.   I remember four commitments we, elders and church leaders, can make to minimize stress and maximize effectiveness with the simple acronym DISC.
 
Display loyalty. 
We cannot marry someone to change them, and it’s unwise, even unethical, for a person to become an elder to “straighten out” the church.  If you have a problem with your minister, talk with him.  If you don’t agree with elders’ decisions, tell them.  But we can’t join the leadership unless we can display heartfelt loyalty for the minister and elders.  We’re on one team, fighting one enemy – and it’s not the music minister.
 
Insist on confidentiality.
When I served on a church staff, I sometimes learned unfortunate facts about people in the church.  My wife knew very little, or nothing at all.  I did not want her to be disheartened, especially when we on staff were giving the offender time to repent.  There is nothing to be gained by spreading bad news widely.  Elders do well to adopt a similar position.  Leaders will always know information that should be kept private.  If a staff member is being disciplined, if a minister is getting a raise, if a complainer’s demands are being denied, the church is not well served by everyone’s gossiping about it.  Start by not telling your spouse, and it will be easier to keep quiet with everyone else too.
 
Seek accountability.
We are human, of course, and make mistakes.  Accountability helps blunt the effects of those mistakes, and we should be held accountable when we mess up.  I’m thinking of times a leader violates a principle mentioned here, or if an elder takes it on himself to speak for the whole eldership without their permission, or when someone agrees in a meeting but sows doubt afterward in the parking lot –a so-called “meeting after the meeting.”  When an elder acts or speaks contrary to the will of the whole group, the rest of the elders must hold him accountable.  Good leaders do not avoid difficult conversations.  God has not called us to be nice.  Rogue behavior cannot be tolerated.  Undermining is not good for the eldership, not good for the individual elder, and it will be devastating to the church.
 
Commit to unity.
Some church members, perhaps without realizing it, will seek to divide the eldership.  They will complain to one elder about another.  They will criticize a minister or object to a change with the elder they think they can get to agree.  Be on guard against allowing them to recruit you for their cause.  Otherwise we become party to wrangling and restlessness that can fester till it divides the whole congregation.  Our pastor at Christ’s Church Mason, Trevor DeVage, has written a great piece addressing similar ideas.  I am not saying criticism isn’t allowed or everyone must blindly agree.  I’m saying we should establish two principles for discussions with unhappy church members: 

  1. Critics should go to the right person with their questions or concerns.  Jesus Himself directed us to our aggrieved brother or sister in Matthew 18:15.  Trevor’s practice: “When someone complains to me about a decision some other leader made, my first question is, ‘Did you talk to him (or her) about this?” 
  2. Nothing should take the place of the church’s primary mission: seeking and saving the lost.  That was Jesus’ self-described mission in Luke 19:10, and we are following Him alone.  “If we don’t fight for putting lost people first,” Trevor says, “our tendency to prefer personal pleasure will always get in the way.”  

When we put aside personal preference to support the Church’s mission, we will better handle the stress of serving.  We’ll be more effective.  And we will set an example and create an atmosphere that will help the whole congregation flourish.

Faithful Shepherd

by Dr John Caldwell 

We use many Scriptural terms interchangeably.  For instance, most of us think of the terms elder, shepherd, pastor, or overseer as describing the same function in the church.  In some circles the words “bishop” and “presbyter” are used for that same function.  Some modern paraphrases substitute the term “leaders” (CEV & The Message). 

And while all may be used of leadership functions within the body of Christ, these terms do have shades of different meanings.  Elder, overseer, bishop, and presbyter are used more for formal, decision-making leaders who, at times, almost function like a corporate board.  But the terms shepherd and pastor, even minister, more denote the care-givers and spiritual protectors of the flock.  This is the very function of which Paul spoke to the Ephesian elders in Miletus when he told them in Acts 20:28, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (NASB).

Please don’t misunderstand.   My concern is not with titles but function.  We need both.  Decision-makers who are good, godly, and gifted guide the church by the prompting of the Spirit through uncertainty.  But we also need good, godly, gifted care-givers who know the Word to minister to the saints and protect the church.  After nearly 55 years in ministry (36 of them in one church), and having worked in one capacity or another with at least 300 additional congregations, it has been my observation that most elders function well either as decision makers or as pastor-shepherd-servants.  Only a few function well as both.  It is also my observation that far more desire the former function than the latter.  And while the motivation for seeking the former could sometimes be selfish, there is little to no selfish motivation in the latter. 

We all know the line, “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day,” from an Edgar Guest poem.  With that in mind I’d like to tell you about my friend Jim Mast. I’m writing this blog just a few days after preaching Jim’s funeral and have been thinking a lot about him.  Jim and his wife Wanda were one of the nine couples with us in the nucleus at the start of Kingsway Christian Church.  Jim wasn’t one of our original elders, but he accepted a call to that ministry early on; through the years he served faithfully in that role.  To be frank, Jim was usually very quiet during elders’ meetings.  I can’t remember one profound idea he shared or innovative new program he touted.  Jim was probably as lost as I was during some technical discussions of legal language or various financial minutiae. 

But if any question came up about a member of Jim’s flock, he knew. 

Our congregation of 2,000+ was sub-divided into flocks for shepherding by the elders.  Some elders were, sometimes, delinquent in their follow-up.  Not Jim.  He had visited in the home of every shut-in, seen every hospitalized person, followed up with those who had suffered loss, encouraged those who were growing unfaithful, and, from his personal and regular study of Scripture, gently re-directed those who were being led astray.  Jim’s love for his wife, family, and his people was exceeded only by his love for his Lord.  He was an exemplary shepherd. 

Today, I write in tribute to my friend Jim Mast – and all the faithful shepherds like him. 

Please, take a moment now to read John 10:1-16 and Psalm 23.  These passages show us the Good Shepherd whom Jim served,  the One who all faithful elder-shepherds continue to serve. 

“Asymptote” – Forward

by Jim Estep

“Asymptote” is a geometry term, but in a general, non-geometry sense, it can mean “always advancing, pursuing, but never achieving.”  Consider: if someone stands 10 feet from a doorway, I can tell them to close the distance by half, then stop.  If we repeat the exercise several times, they will be 10 feet, then 5 feet, then 2.5 feet, then 1.25 feet, then 7.5 inches away, and so on – but will never actually step through the door.  

Our pursuit of God’s mission is like an asymptote exercise!  We will always be in pursuit, endeavoring to move closer and closer to achieving its ultimate ends, never, this side of eternity, fully satisfied the with results; we’re committed to continuous improvement in our ministries.  With my role at e2 and 25 years as a practical ministries professor, God has given me the opportunity to visit, teach, and coach a large number of congregations throughout North America.  While visiting these congregations, those that were vibrant, growing, evangelizing and disciple-making had one factor that kept surfacing:  their relentless quest to fulfill God’s mission in the church.  They never settled for what they had already accomplished in the past, they wanted to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14, ESV). 
 
We will never “arrive,” but we also don’t stop pursuing.  Ministry will never be 100% perfect, 100% effective, 100% inclusive.  Take risks, make changes, be innovative, seek to improve on how far you’ve traveled so far.  Ask “what’s next?”  The only time we’ll actually reach our ultimate goal is when Christ returns and we experience for ourselves the fullness of His Kingdom.  Until then, we continue to move closer and closer to His prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Mathew 6:10, ESV).  
 
Asymptote churches are led by asymptote leaders; elders who are on a habitual quest for improving ministry effectiveness, guarding the mission by never compromising it – and advancing it through any iteration.  This will make our congregations both biblically sound and practically relevant.  And our congregations will keep moving perpetually toward God’s calling.

Excellent Work

by Ken Idleman

I like the way the Good News Bible translates 1 Timothy 3:1:
 

If a man is eager to be a church leader [elder], he desires an excellent work.
 
A companion verse that also applies and has always impressed me as a lifelong church leader is Romans 12:11 (NIV):  
 
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
 
The New Living Translation is a little more common and confrontational in the way it translates this Romans text: Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. 
 
As a church leader, I am both motivated and a little convicted by these verses.
 
I am grateful for the work ethic instilled in me by my parents.  They set the example with their post-Depression era “early to bed and early to rise” approach to daily life.  As a rule, my little brother and I were not allowed to stay up late, even on Friday nights.  We had chores to do the next day.  (That’s a word you don’t hear much anymore!)  We were not permitted to sleep in, even on Saturday mornings. When the basement flooded, which was basically every time it rained more than an inch, Dave and I were the “drop and mop” brigade.  When the green beans and strawberries were ripe, we were the two-man picking, snapping and stemming crew.  In the summers I could play Little League baseball … in the evenings … as long as I had worked during the day cutting corn out of the beans, and/or weeding the corn for a farmer in our church. 
 
But I have to say, as a result of the diligence and persistence of my parents, I got it.  Some might say I got it a little too well.  My problem has more often been achieving balance from the other direction.  I used to feel guilty for taking a day off.  I used to think I was a “shirker” when I would go on a vacation.  Through the years I have mellowed.  I now have no problem taking a Sabbath day at least once a week and a Sabbath week at least once a quarter every year. 
 
On the other hand, for me, serving the Lord has never felt arduous – not like “work.”  There is something that is regenerating in the process of working hard for God’s purposes.  And I am thankful that there is no mandatory retirement age for doing ministry.  I can do it voluntarily even after I have ceased to do it vocationally.  My 99-year old mother, Lois, is in a retirement facility, but daily she carries on a prayer ministry, a teaching ministry, a reading-to-the-visually-impaired ministry and an encouragement ministry that she discharges for the benefit of her neighbors.  I am still, to this day, challenged by her example of tireless, selfless service. 
 
And through the years, I have become a huge admirer of local church elders for their work ethic.  They typically volunteer many hours of their time for monthly elder team meetings, planning retreats, hospital visits, pastoral searches, crisis management and problem solving.  Of course this does not even count the scriptural priorities of a church leader – the prayer and teaching ministry of God’s Word.  We all get 168 hours in a week, which, in the light of such leadership demands, evaporate pretty quickly. For this reason, Hebrews 13:17 admonishes us to Obey them [our spiritual leaders] so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.

A New View

by Jeff Metzger 

How do we picture ourselves as elders?  Maybe it’s time to change the way we view our job as leaders in God’s church.  In John 10:42-45 Jesus clearly challenges us to a new model of leadership.  Jesus’ way of leadership is not about authority and control.  It is about serving others in love and imitating His life of sacrifice.  

That’s why it’s not surprising Jesus never used “boss” or “manager” to describe our role.  That’s a misplaced paradigm.  Jesus’ favorite description for his church is “flock.”  And the dominant biblical picture for spiritual leadership, painted across 500 pages of the Bible, is a shepherd and his sheep.  What do shepherds do?  They lay down their lives to feed, guide, protect, care for, and rescue the flock! 

So that’s our challenge.  We step out of the board room and into the pasture.  Imagine the scene.  Feel the breeze.  Look around.  Smell the grass.  Smell the sheep!  We have some wet grass stuck to our mud- and dirt-streaked sandals.  This new perspective changes everything.  In the pasture, our role is not about the institution.  It’s about the people and their well-being. 

People are fed up with institutional oversight.  They have that at work!  In God’s family they want something much better.  They want our loving, caring, mature example.  They want a spiritual parent and guide, helping them grow up and get safely to Jesus. 

Our role as shepherds flows from this – God is our Shepherd!  Our work flows out of the nature of God.  In Acts 20:28 Paul told his close friends plainly, “Be shepherds of the church of God.”  That’s why we are to …

  • Be a model to the flock who finds out what pleases the Lord (Ephesians 5:10).
  • Be a leader to the flock who always moves people toward Jesus (1 Peter 5:1-5).
  • Be a cheerleader who constantly encourages and equips the flock for ministry and maturity (Ephesians 4:10-14).
  • Be a spiritual parent caring for and teaching the flock like a father cares for and teaches his children (1 Timothy 3:5ff).
  • Be a teacher to the flock by knowing, loving, living and sharing the truth while refuting falsehood (Titus 1:9-10).
  • Be a prayer partner on call to pray for the flock and anoint the sick (James 5:14).
  • Be a watchman who guards against danger and watches out for the flock like a vigilant, sleepless sentry (Acts 20:28-30; Hebrews 13:17).

Now, let’s step back into the board room in our minds and look around.  Bosses and managers manage buildings, budgets, personnel, and programs.  They …

  • Call the shots, make the decisions
  • Withhold permission
  • Control and order people around
  • Think for other people
  • Legislate in matters of opinion
  • Grease the squeaky wheels

For too many church leaders this is how they spend the majority of their “shepherding” time.  But, none of these things are what God calls elders, shepherds, overseers to do.  Making these things our primary, or even partial, role is not what Jesus intends church leadership to be! 

The way we see ourselves matters!  We may never have been near an actual sheep in our entire life, but Jesus wants us to see ourselves as a shepherd.  

Shepherding is people-work, not meeting-work.  It is mostly about relationships.  It’s about helping people grow into the character of Christ and serve the cause of Christ.  

Imagine what it would be like to view ourselves in the mirror and see shepherds smiling back!  Can you see it?  Be it! 

Return, Remember, Rebuild

by Jim Estep 

We often relegate the notion of “thanksgiving” to a day on the calendar, one specific time that we pause and take an account of God’s blessings.  But in the Old Testament, thanksgiving was regular and even habitual.  The Hebrews cultivated a spirit of thanksgiving throughout their history.  In fact, one whole category of the book Psalms is thanksgiving, (107-150 are replete with the theme), recounting the blessings of God to the Jewish people.
 
Nehemiah was a man of thanksgiving.  Jerusalem had been destroyed by Babylon in 586BC, and after 70 years away, the Hebrews’ release from exile must have been greeted with unrestrained enthusiasm.  But it would also pose great challenges.  Nehemiah was a leader who was given the task of overcoming some of the greatest of these challenges; in the midst of them, thanksgiving to God was always present in his life and work.
 
Nehemiah 12 mentions “thanksgiving” four times as he recounts and engages God’s calling on his life.  First, he gives thanks for the return.  Nehemiah was the leader of the third group to return from exile, and verse 8 highlights the songs of thanksgiving for those who were now able to return to their homeland, Judah, after generations away.  They felt profound thanks to God for being home.
 
Next, he remembers their history, singing of them as well.  Verse 24 even speaks of responsive singing between two groups, “as prescribed by David the man of God.”  Later in the text (verse 46) he recalls, “For long ago, in the days of David and Asaph …”  Thanksgiving is part of remembering the past, embracing it, continuing its traditions.  That was especially true for the Jews, having lost them for 70 years of exile.  They were finally free to reclaim them.
 
Third, thanksgiving is given specifically because of the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls.  Having been destroyed decades before, the daunting task of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem was completed in just 52 days (Nehemiah 6:15).  Later in the book it was time to dedicate them to God with thanksgiving.  Nehemiah 12:27 says the Levites dedicated the walls “with songs of thanksgiving,” acknowledging God’s provision.
 
As we lead God’s people, thanksgiving has to be a perpetual practice for us.  (Yes, we even go beyond the occasional inclusion of “Blessed Assurance” and “Count Your Blessings” during worship!)  Let’s lead the church to times of deep thanksgiving:  returning to the foundations of our faith, helping our brothers and sisters remember our heritage, and always pointing them toward building a future that is stronger and healthier than ever before.  Amen!

A Good Reputation

by Ken Idleman 

Paul’s first letter to Timothy details the character requirements of a local church elder.  1 Timothy 3:7 declares, “An elder must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.”

AshleyMadison.com launched as a web site in 2001 as a place for people, in ostensibly committed relationships, to go if they wanted to cheat on their spouse or significant other.  Their marketing slogan: “Life is short.  Have an affair.”  The additional allure was the promise of anonymity/secrecy.  But alas, once again the things done in secret were shouted from the housetops!  The Ashley Madison database was hacked.  Their records were distributed in the public domain.  

But this time the national expose of secret sin did not result in the shaming of anyone who was particularly well known.  Rather, this time the dark shroud concealing immorality was stripped away exposing the sad lies and secret lives of a staggering 30,000,000 individuals, mostly regular folks.  The population of the United States is only 325,000,000!  This means almost one in ten people in our country were implicated in this scandal.  It means that no matter who you are, you probably know someone who has pursued this quest to experience marital or relational unfaithfulness.  For some it is just a fantasy you say?  They would never act on their fantasy you say?  Listen … if you shop, there is no guarantee you won’t buy.  If you flirt, there is no guarantee you won’t seduce or be seduced.  If you chase a fantasy, you will probably capture it – sooner or later.  And for many, their secret life of shame became common knowledge.  

Their good reputation with outsiders was at least temporarily damaged.

During the same week as the Ashley Madison hack, an Old Dominion University fraternity made the news by welcoming new female students and their fathers to the campus with garish black letters scrawled on white bed sheets hanging from frat house balconies: “Freshman daughter drop off!” and “Drop off mom too!”

It was an ominous harbinger of the very real danger faced by college girls, 25% of whom, according to a survey of graduating senior girls done by the University of Iowa, were subjected to sexual molestation, sexual abuse or date rape during their four years of college.  So, dads – entrusted with the protection of your daughters – what do you think of these odds?

I remember the late 60’s and the ‘free love’ movement in the culture.  It was dubbed the ‘sexual revolution.’  And Ed Stetzer is right: “A revolution means that a war is being fought.  In revolutions, bombs are dropped, attacks are launched and there are thousands of casualties.  Sadly, today the war is being waged against the way of Jesus … that marriage is between a man and a woman, becoming one flesh, in one marriage, in one sexual relationship, for one lifetime.”  And for those who have failed to follow the Jesus way, His cross stands in time and space as a tangible reminder that regardless of anything else, a way of rescue from sin and shame, guilt and judgment, still exists.

The Psalms gave us an infinitely better slogan than Ashley Madison’s to preserve a good reputation with outsiders: Psalm 90:12, “Teach us how short our life is, so that we may become wise.”