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.

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!

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. 

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!

2 Questions

by Billy Strother 

I love elders – always have and always will.  These dedicated spiritual servants put their hearts, souls, and finances on the line for local congregations.  In some congregations, new elders are recruited with no training or mentoring.  There is a last-second nomination scramble, with only a few days to affirm or not affirm one’s willingness to accept the nomination.  

Sometimes, new elders have no idea into what they are being launched into.  They simply said “yes” out of a servant’s heart … then comes the whirlwind.  

The congregation I was serving most recently provides rotational and intentional leadership training, mentoring, and personal spiritual care before one is invited to serve as an elder, and active mentoring continues in the first term of eldership.  

With or without training, even in the best of healthy circumstances, surprises in the burdens and joys of eldership happen to us all.  

In a recent elders’ meeting, I asked our multi-generational group of nine elders two questions.  (Our eldership is a larger number because we have been actively passing the elder leadership baton to the next generation of church leaders – half of our elders are in their early thirties or early forties, six of the nine are in their first term serving as an elder).  My explanation for the two questions posed to our elders was that I would record and share their answers on this blog, in the hope that their answers would help other newly-serving elders or those contemplating serving for the first time in eldership.  Our elders were vigorous and eager in their sharing of answers. I’m still not sure if they were talking to you or simply over-eager to educate me!  

Perhaps you have or have had that “deer in the headlights” look after your first elders’ meeting.  (My elders conceded such was unanimously their experience.)  Or, it could be that you have been asked annually to serve for years; but annually you have declined nomination – from the outside, serving in eldership looks severely mystical, or  too much like a monthly city council meeting, possessing all of the excitement of a root canal.  

I share our collective answers to two simple questions in the hope you will find encouragement in your own journey as an elder or to eldership.  

Question 1: “What do you wish someone had told you before you became an elder?”

  1. Serving would include more than a “one hour a month” meeting.  (Some elders had been recruited with the promise that eldership only consisted of one meeting for “one hour a month.”)  We corrected that inaccuracy in approaching candidates.
  2. Muting cell phones.  If you are not retired, and still work full-time, mute your cell phone!  (Texts, emails, phone calls, prayer requests, and Facebook posts will come in at all times.)  The advice?  Take control of your cell phone; do not let it control you.  Don’t just put it on vibrate mode, use the Do Not Disturb setting.
  3. Learning there is only one important voice to which to listen and follow: Jesus.  Eldership is not like politics – you represent no group in the church; you only represent Jesus, and what is best in Jesus’ eyes.
  4. Understanding the church is not like a secular, “normal” business, especially if you are from a professional business background.  (There is at times no clear “chain of command” and sometimes no “best practice” to lean on.) 
  5. Sitting in an elders’ meeting is different than sitting in a secular management meeting or fiscal court.  It is more of a burden to serve as an elder than to be a small business owner.
  6. Deferring church business out of our meetings and into staff hands as much as possible, so we could be active Shepherds to real hurting people. 
  7. Keeping necessary confidential secrets (even from your spouse) and prayer requests you become privy to as an elder, until/unless the elder team is ready to disclose them for a Kingdom benefit.
  8. Committing to be supportive when the elder team makes a decision, even if I personally (or church friends close to me) disagree.  Unless I am willing to resign, I must commit to be supportive for the sake of elder unity.  Sometimes, it is hard to admit that I might just be wrong, and that I will need to trust the rest of the elder team.
  9. Abandoning the naïveté to believe that if I reached out to every disgruntled church member who disagreed with an elder team decision, that, since they knew me, they would trust me.
  10. Finding it difficult to carve out time for prayer and Bible study because of the tyranny of the church-urgent. 

Question 2: “What Unexpected Blessing Have You Experienced by Serving as an Elder?”

  1. Watching a new idea for ministry delivery get tossed into elder meeting discussion, and then seeing it come to fruition
  2. Possessing an inside look at God’s faithfulness: knowing things kept in leadership confidence, which are best not shared outside the elders, and then watching God make bold moves to resolve or complete those things
  3. Watching people spiritually grow, including my fellow elders.
  4. Experiencing deep fellowship with elders who are spiritual heroes.
  5. Mentoring from older, experienced elders; being challenged in healthy ways by younger new elders
  6. Becoming more Christ-centered by being with seasoned elders who are already Christ-centered.
  7. Becoming a more effective leader in one’s small group, by spending time in team with effective elders
  8. Experiencing unity develop as a group of Christian men. (There was an associated quote: “There is no way I could have predicted the friendships, the connections, and my own spiritual growth with these men.”)
  9. Discovering even seemingly small leadership decisions can lead to positive, amplified Kingdom fruit
  10. Experiencing deep spiritual refreshing in elder meetings, often unexpected, and always when it was needed the most
  11. Participating in something that will bear spiritual fruit long after the second date is carved on one’s headstone

All agreed, the blessings of serving as an elder far exceeded the burdens. (That is why there are 11 answers to question 2, but only 10 answers for question 1.)  At its worst, none of us had ever experienced an elders’ meeting as bad as a root canal or a raucous city council meeting.

Never the Same River

by Rick Lowry 

In the sixth century B.C., the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “No man ever steps into the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

Every church elder in America today understands this metaphor. From decade to decade, from year to year, maybe even from elders meeting to elders meeting, the river of progress keeps rolling, causing us as leaders to constantly adjust. I’ve been a church leader for over forty years, and I’ve seen the questions in the forefront move from doctrinal (“How often should communion be served?”) to the methodological (“What style of worship services should we have?”) to the current challenges, like “How would Christ have us regard the gay couples who are visiting our services?”

How can elders stay ahead of the endless adjustments? Here are three practices and attitudes that may help:

  1. Stay grounded in the Bible and Prayer.  In a time that can be disorienting and confusing, Christ stays the same. Keeping our focus on Him is the place to start when things are rushing past us. As leaders, we can keep a priority on meaningful interaction with Scripture on a daily basis, and serious prayer that involves personal worship, confession and intercession for our church. If we lead by trusting our own power and intellect, we will do nothing of lasting spiritual value. If we stayed tuned in to Him, He promises He will guide us: “In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:6)
  2. Go the distance.  We all have seasons of fatigue when we it would be easier to just rest and not feel the constant pressure to keep pushing ahead. As spiritual leaders in the 21st century, we do not get that privilege. There have been times and places in the history of the church when the job of leaders was to be the keepers of tradition and make sure things did not We do not live in one of those times, so our leadership has to remain dynamic. We lay a solid foundation through the Word of God and prayer, but from there we resolve to never close our minds to what God might be doing. We see examples around us of church leaders who stopped somewhere along the way, and the effectiveness of their church waned. Some landed on insisting that church members wearing clothing styles of a past century. Some insisted that a certain version of the Bible must be protected, burdening church members with a translation that is difficult for modern readers. As hard as it is, we church leaders have to live that daily, difficult balance between the truth and the times. We are here today because someone before us found that balance and persevered it. The stakes are high: will we lead faithfully on our watch?
  3. We cannot control the transforming world in which we live.  In a day of change, our church is going to change, no matter what we do. Because the people in our church are changing and the world around us is changing. To be an effective church leader in most of the U.S. means to be in the hot seat. If we are doing our job right, there will always be people within our church who don’t like our decisions, and there will always be people outside the church who don’t like our decisions. In fact, if we aren’t addressing difficult concerns regularly, we probably aren’t leading aggressively enough. Most things are beyond our control, but we can resolve to trust Christ for our leadership, and jump into the deep.

What does God want from us as elders of His Church?

by David Roadcup 

As we serve our Father as leaders in the body of Christ, a critical question that we should always be asking is, “What does God want from us as leaders in the body of Christ?” What are our Father’s expectations? How does He want us to lead? This will be a two-part series which will offer a response to this critical question.

After 23 years of coaching and consulting with churches and their leaders, one impacting fact stands out: “As the leaders of a church go, so goes the church.”   This is absolutely true. It will always be true. It will never be untrue. Leaders set the example, tone, faith and practice for the believers in the church where they serve. The leaders set the pace.

Using Scripture as our guideline, here is an overview of what the Lord wants from the paid staff, elder team, deacons and other impacting leaders in his church:  

First, God wants the leadership team of any church to serve from a healthy and growing spiritual life. We know what creates spiritual health and growth in the life of a Christian:

  • Jesus calls all leaders and believers to die to themselves on a daily basis. We kill our will and invite the will of Jesus to direct and guide our lives (Luke 9:23-24.) This is the cornerstone to growing and maturing in our faith-walk. It is the essential element in personal, spiritual maturity. For a church leader to lead without the transforming experience of deciding to die to self, it will surely mean that the leader is leading in the flesh, not leading in the Spirit.
  • As a result of dying to ourselves, we learn obedience to all of the Lord’s commands and expectations. We learn to obey, in all things, all the time, in every situation. Obedience is Jesus’ love language!   In John 14:15-24, Jesus makes clear to us that obedience is the acid test of our love for him. When studying Scripture, we need to remember that if something is repeated, it’s important. Four times in ten verses in John 14, Jesus tells us this, “If you love Me, keep my commandments.” He is essentially saying, “This is how I really know if you love me or not: if you do the things I ask you to do.” The Lord expects the leaders of His body to continually be growing in obedience in their personal lives. When we experience baptism, the dedication of our lives to Jesus, we give up the right to say “no” to Him in any way.
  • Growing leaders know the Lord is calling them to personal spiritual growth. Scripture indicates this repeatedly, for example, in Eph. 4:11-16; Col. 1:28-29; Col. 2:67; Heb. 5:11-6:1; I Pet. 2:1-3.   Our growth comes through the regular application of the classic spiritual disciplines. We study and learn the disciplines and begin weaving them into our daily schedules and routines. The spiritual disciplines include reading and study of the Word of God, prayer, meditation, fasting, journaling, service, generosity, solitude and silence, secrecy and others. These ancient practices are the nurturing exercises that bring us into the presence of our Father where He feeds, nurtures and strengthens us as His children. The disciplines can move us to levels of spiritual awareness that we have never experienced before. Further reading on this topic will help you learn the classic disciplines and assist you in weaving them into your life and routine. As you develop them, they will take you to a new level of understanding, growth and maturity as a believer and as an effective leader.

Second, God wants elders and staff to know and understand their job description as indicated in Scripture.

As overseers and leaders, elders are:

  • To provide general oversight for the health, care and management of the church in all aspects of her ministry.
  • To handle, along with staff, the major decision-making tasks of the congregation.
  • To work together in harmony, unity and love.
  • Together with staff, to create from Scripture, the Vision, Mission and Values of the congregation. This also means that the congregation is taught and informed about these important concepts. Elders should play a key role in overseeing these navigational aspects in the life of a church. While staff usually leads in the initial creation of these elements, the elders should oversee and participate in the execution of them.
  • To develop an effective plan for the recruiting, training and development of new leaders for the future. This is often a neglected part of effective church leadership but it is one of the most important elements in cultivating a good leadership team.
  • To provide good oversight when it comes to the collection, depositing, distribution and managing of all the financial aspects of the church.

As Shepherds, elders are:

  • To be “heart-deep” in the life of their church. Each elder should be spiritually, emotionally and mentally committed to the believers who make up their congregation.
  • To oversee and encourage the evangelism ministry of the church. Are we reaching first time believers on a regular basis?
  • To manage the discipling and maturing of the believers committed to our care. We should have a plan in place that reaches out to new believers when they come right from the baptistery. This plan would move them into a system that connects them spiritually and emotionally to the church family. We should also be managing an identifiable plan to involve believers in personal, spiritual growth. We oversee the need for our people to be fed, nurtured and stimulated to grow in their faith journey. On the website, “XPastor,” the elders of Northwest Bible Church in Dallas, Texas attest to the following: “The purpose of our Council of Elders is not meetings but maturing. It is about knowing God and growing in Christlikeness which is the fruit of true spiritual community.”  
  • To make careful and discerning decisions when it is time to make decisions. We get all of the critical information, immerse the issue in prayer and then decide. Decision making is one of the critical responsibilities of church leaders.
  • To protect the doctrinal purity of the church body. False teaching abounds today. Protecting our people from incorrect doctrine is one of the main roles of biblical elders.  
  • To pray for the sick and anoint them with oil, praying for their healing.  
  • To oversee any matters involving church discipline. We do this biblically, with great care and discernment, always with the goal of restoring the struggling brother or sister to Christ, if possible.
  • To teach in multiple ways. If formal teaching is one of an elder’s gifts, then he would teach in classes, small groups and other opportunities. If we do not possess the gift of teaching formally, we teach by our example, words and influence.
  • To give generously and model the giving of our finances as obedient stewards. We must be financially committed to the body of Christ. It is impossible to teach our people to give if we are not leading by example.

When God birthed the Church, he had a structure and a plan for the church to effectively accomplish His intended outcomes. This plan included men who would lead through prayer, obedience, wisdom, discernment and love. He also gave a job description for them. Knowing what the Lord expects and then, with commitment and focus, we accomplish with excellence what He has requested.

Brothers, lead well!

You Can Improve your Prayer Life

by Mark Taylor 

“Talking to men for God is a great thing, but talking to God for men is greater still.”

The quote from E.M. Bounds, posted on Facebook by Harvest Prayer Ministries, is not controversial.  In fact, many busy church leaders probably read it without giving it much thought.

“Yeah, yeah.  Prayer is important.”

“I always pray when I’m preparing my sermons.”

“I really appreciated it when they prayed for my sick mother.”

It’s common to acknowledge the value of prayer while hurrying to serve God without spending much time in prayer.  Yet David and Kim Butts, who direct Harvest Prayer Ministries, have reminded us again and again that prayer is one of our principal duties as leaders of God’s people.

In their new book Prayer Ministry: Equipping You to Serve, they point out that prayer was one of only four priorities demonstrated by the first church, along with apostles’ doctrine, fellowship, and breaking of bread (Acts 2:42).  But how many congregations today would include prayer as a core value?

The Problem with Prayer

As much as we talk about prayer, many feel uncomfortable with prayer.  Perhaps this is because they are people of action; sitting in silence before a distant God doesn’t fit their temperament.  Probably they would say they are busy, and no church leader would deny how many expectations and duties pile on to preachers, elders, and ministry organizers.

But the reason some leaders don’t do much praying is so simple or embarrassing that it’s often not mentioned.  They don’t pray more because they don’t know how.

In their prayer ministry handbook, the Buttses acknowledge that prayer is a problem for most Christians:
Recognize that the majority of the congregation struggles in prayer. … Most adults in your church have grown up in homes where prayer is little practiced or neglected altogether.  Many have prayed only during meals or in times of extreme crisis.  They have prayed to open and close meetings, have mentioned mostly health issues in their prayer requests, have a distinctive sameness to their prayers, and generally feel inadequate about their prayer lives.

It seems sure this description fits many church leaders as well, not only volunteers but also professional, paid staff.  Yet a congregation will not become a praying church, according to Dave and Kim, until “they see their leaders praying and placing great importance on the practice of prayer.”

Anyone Can Do Better

But the challenge to pray need not intimidate or discourage.  Anyone can improve his prayer life.  Here are a few first steps.

  • Study what the Bible says about prayer. A search for “pray” or “prayer” at a site like Biblegateway.com can create a list of Scriptures that will deepen anyone’s desire to pray.  [Editorial Note: Depending on the version searched, there are approximately 350 references to “pray,” “prayer,” “praying” etc. in the Bible.
  • Keep a prayer journal.  Some use a notebook.  Some keep prayer requests in their smartphones.  Many have reported that faithfully doing this for months demonstrates that God is listening and responding.
  • Set a goal.  Establish a routine.  Habits aren’t formed overnight, but consistent practice will make a difference.  It’s okay to start with a goal to spend fifteen or even just five minutes every day in prayer.  Negative messages will invariably come to the person who makes such a commitment.  “I’m too tired today.”  “I need to get to work early.”  “There’s no place I can be alone.”  “I’ll do double time tomorrow.”

Patiently resisting such thoughts will lead the growing Christian leader to discover prayer as a delight more than a duty.  He will see God at work, feel more confident about his Christian life, lead more effectively, and discover new depths of peace and joy. 

Leading through Holiness

by Shawn McMullen 

Robert Murray M’Cheyne was a nineteenth-century Scottish minister, a powerful preacher and leader. He had a lasting impact on the church even though he died at the age of 29 during a typhus epidemic. After his death, his friend Andrew Bonar compiled M’Cheyne’s writings along with his biography under the title, The Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray M’Cheyne.

M’Cheyne was known for his devotion to Christ and his love for his congregation. Speaking about his ministry in the local church, M’Cheyne is reported to have said, “My people’s greatest need is my personal holiness.” M’Cheyne realized that if the Lord was going to bless his ministry and open even greater doors of opportunity, he needed to live a holy and blameless life to the glory of God.

But there’s more. M’Cheyne believed that personal holiness is more important to God’s work than any amount of skill and charisma. He is also credited with this observation: “It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.”

It helps to be talented, of course, but that’s not what’s most important. What matters, as M’Cheyne suggested, is “great likeness to Jesus.” And how are we most like Jesus? When we imitate his holiness. Certainly Paul must have had this concept in mind when he wrote, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Can you imagine how society would be affected if every follower of Christ lived like this? Can you imagine how the lives of church members would be affected if every church leader lived out God’s call to holiness in their personal life and set that as the standard for conduct in the church?

Naturally, our first call is to imitate the Lord. But it’s also true that seeing holiness lived out in another Christian helps pave the way for our imitation of Christ. Let’s go back to something M’Cheyne said to see how it applies to leaders in the local church: “A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.” Every soldier who goes into battle wants the best weapons available in the best condition possible. Going into battle with inferior equipment, or even good equipment poorly maintained, can be the difference between victory and defeat, even life and death. To those who lead and serve in the local church, personal holiness is that weapon. It changes more lives than great preaching or great leading. It wields more influence than charisma or confidence. It produces more lasting benefits than great programming or great fundraising.

Think about the great revivals of earlier centuries. Or the exponential growth of the house church movement today in countries hostile to Christianity. Have these movements past and present hinged on impressive facilities, charismatic leadership, skillful communication, stellar programming, or great coffee? Not at all. Powerful movements within the church are led by the Spirit of God, and the Spirit of God works in and through God’s holy people. Paul pointed to personal holiness as a priority in his own ministry: “You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed” (1 Thessalonians 2:10).

Transformative ministry is rooted in personal holiness. If we’re living holy lives to the glory of God, we become “awful weapons” in God’s hand. If we are God’s weapon of choice in the battle against Satan and the forces of darkness, what kind of weapons should we be? What kind of weapons will we be?

Thanks

by Jared Johnson 

“I mean, what’s with the Christmas cups; it’s barely Halloween?”

I wouldn’t say it any differently myself. I teach Bible at a faith-based high school nearby during 1st hour and on Monday after Halloween a couple weeks ago, one of the students was commenting on his coffee cup, decorated with wintry/Christmas-y motifs. It seems to be our cultural default anymore to “skip” directly from the fright, decay and blackness of Halloween straight to a “gimme stuff” mode around Christmas – at least, culturally.

In between, of course, we’ll probably do something to deliberately celebrate Thanksgiving. AAA has been projecting 50+ million Americans travel around the Thanksgiving holiday in each of the past few years; it’s not as if we ignore Thanksgiving completely, but on the other hand, I don’t think it’s inaccurate to surmise that we mentally jump ahead to Christmas and give little thought to Thanksgiving, besides how we’re going to tolerate an obligatory visit to the relatives.

I have always enjoyed Thanksgiving. In our family, we have deliberately celebrated with my mom’s family for the vast majority of the past 30 or so years. I consider myself fortunate and blessed that we, a family comprised 50% of preachers, would often meet in a church’s fellowship hall space and utilize their kitchen. And if it wasn’t a preacher hosting that year, we would meet at my grandparents’ house, and they were always deficient – at least in the world’s eyes – in the TV department, so watching the Macy’s parade or a football game just never became part of our pattern. Even now, the 4th generation – my kids – automatically associate Thanksgiving with travel, games, good food, laughter, cousins and second cousins.

I’m glad I live in a place with a long history of giving thanks on a holiday, both culturally and through official laws of the land. When we see a “Festival of Shelters” or “Festival of Booths” in Scripture, it’s functionally what we think of as Thanksgiving – a society-wide celebration of God’s blessing in light of harvest at the end of a growing season. Like our Thanksgiving, the ancient Hebrews didn’t completely ignore it, but it isn’t exactly preeminent in the biblical story either. It was established in Leviticus 23, revisited in Numbers 29 and Deuteronomy 16 and 31, and we see it celebrated during the reign of Solomon (1 Kings 8, 2 Chronicles 5, 7, 8), along with a deliberate corruption of it under Israel’s first king Jeroboam (1 Kings 12). We next see it overtly celebrated only after the exile period, under Ezra/Nehemiah, in the mid-400s BC (Ezra 3 and Nehemiah 8).

Giving thanks, as a culture-wide celebration in some fashion, has a very long history.

“Thank” and its various forms is used, depending on your translation of choice, about 150 times throughout the Bible.

At e2, we give thanks often – daily – for leaders of God’s Church. Thank you, elders, for faithfully shepherding God’s people that He has entrusted to your care. Thank you, staff, for equipping the saints who gather every week to worship the One to whom we all give our collective thanks.