Laugh Again

by Gary Johnson 

Every Christmas, my wife Leah says that she is going to buy me “Miracle Ear” for my gift.  To her, it seems that my hearing is waning.  Like many, I have what we call selective hearing.  Yet, there is a sound that I have not heard in recent times, and perhaps you can say the same. 
 
Where has all the laughter gone?  Have you noticed its conspicuous absence?
 
Life today is not a laughing matter.  COVID is making a comeback across the country and around the world.  Businesses that were told they could open are now being told to close.  Our nation is divided politically as never before.  Civil unrest is unrelenting.  Even Christians are at odds with one another.  Even the American Psychological Association recently stated that 70 percent of Americans say this is the lowest point in US history they can remember.  These are heavy-hearted days and there is little about which to laugh.
 
Yet, we need to laugh again – loudly and often.  We need to enjoy belly-busting laughter.  And why?  Proverbs 17:22 reminds us that “laughter is good like a medicine.”  We all want a vaccine for the virus, but we already have some great medicine for our souls that is readily available – laughter!
 
Laughing actually improves our breathing, increases our blood flow, reduces our stress, activates our “feel-good” hormones in the brain, and makes for a stronger immune system.  Knowing this, who would not want to “take this medicine” and laugh out loud?      
 
Think with me.  Jesus had a fun side.  In John 21, the resurrected Jesus appeared to some of His disciples at the Sea of Galilee.  Peter and six other disciples decided to go fishing.  It wasn’t an afternoon of recreational fishing, hoping to get a few bluegills for supper.  The text reads that they fished through the night – and caught nothing.  Ashamed for having denied knowing Jesus three times, Peter reverted to his old ways and went back to commercial fishing.  Jesus appeared to them early in the morning and the boat was about one hundred yards from shore.  He could have called out to them, “Hey guys!  It’s Me, Jesus!  Get in here!”  But, He didn’t.  He told them to “throw their nets on the other side of the boat,” and as they did so, the nets were filled with 153 fish!  Been there.  Done that.  Jesus performed this miracle with the disciples when He firsts met them some three years earlier.  Immediately, they knew it was Jesus and they took off for the shore.  Peter even jumped in the water and swam, the laden boat moving too slowly for him.  Talk about a practical joke.  I can “hear” the gut-busting belly laughter coming from Jesus.  Luke reminds us that Jesus “was filled with joy through the Holy Spirit” (Luke 10:21), and the same can happen with us.  After all, the fruit of the Spirit includes joy (Galatians 5:22).
 
We have been made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27), and God has a sense of humor.  We often think of God as being serious 24/7, but we need to think of God as being our ultimate joy-giver.  In Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale (HarperCollins, 1977), gifted author and pastor Frederick Buechner describes a joyful moment from Genesis 18.
 
The place to start is with a woman laughing.  She is an old woman, and after a lifetime in the desert, her face is cracked and rutted like a six-month drought.  She hunches her shoulders round her eyes and starts to shake.  She squinnies her eyes shut, and her laughter is all wheeze and tears running down as she rocks back and forth in her kitchen chair.  She is laughing because she is pushing 91 hard and has just been told she is going to have a baby….  The old woman’s name is Sarah, of course, and her old man’s name is Abraham, and they are laughing at the idea of a baby’s being born in the geriatric ward and Medicare’s picking up the tab.  Maybe the most interesting part of it all is that far from getting angry at them for laughing, God told them that when the baby was born, he wanted them to name him Isaac, which in Hebrew means laughter.  So you can say that God not only tolerated their laughter, but blessed it and, in a sense, joined in it himself.
 
Does it look like we have been baptized in vinegar and weened on a pickle?  Maybe it’s time we start smiling and laughing again.  Let’s resolve to watch more comedies than we do action, suspense, or even horror movies.  And speaking of horror, rather than binging on fear-driven news updates, let’s read humorous stories.  Are there funny stories from your past?  Tell them again and again as if they were happening for the very first time.  And let’s not forget to laugh at ourselves! 
 
Years ago, someone gave me a piece of art as both a gift and a reminder.  This piece of art has never left my desk.  It is a well-known sketch of Jesus.  Drawn in 1973 by the late Canadian artist Willis Wheatley, Christ, Liberator (probably more commonly known as “Jesus Laughing”) became a sensation.  Why?  Few Christians ever gave thought to Jesus having a sense of humor.  This sketch reminds me to laugh like Jesus.  After all, “the joy of the Lord is my strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
 
Go ahead.  Laugh out loud.  People will wonder what we’re up to. 

News Story by Vancouver Sun about Willis Wheatley and the image:
https://vancouversun.com/news/staff-blogs/meet-the-creator-of-the-laughing-jesus-photo/

Tools for the Times

by Jeff Faull 

Chances are, you saw the same stuff I’d read.  Dust storms all the way from the Sahara are the latest threat to our safety.  One person humorously responded to the news like this:

“Always wondered what it would be like to live during the times of the Civil War, the Spanish flu, the Great depression, the civil rights movement, Watergate and the dustbowl.”

And, I might add, murder hornets, giant asteroids, Cyclospora food-borne illness and the list goes on…  Seems that threats are multiplied.  We definitely live in a V.U.C.A. world: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous.

So how do we live on this planet in these chaotic times?  How do we respond to 2020?  And what can elders do to understand the times and help believers navigate this increasingly insane culture?

We who are shepherds can start by identifying some tools for God’s people to have in their discipleship toolbox to face uncertain times.  We can’t merely tell them what they are supposed to think, but we can provide biblical tools to help them learn to think and use the tools well.

At Mt. Gilead, where I serve, we are highlighting and demonstrating some of these tools and how to use them in our next sermon series, 2020 Tools for the Times.

We are building our toolbox and developing our skills with things like…

  • Courage and Conviction
  • Discernment and Wisdom
  • Spiritual Awareness
  • Active and Prayerful fasting
  • Good Theology and Hermeneutics
  • Uncommon Decency
  • Healthy Community
  • Righteous Justice
  • Honest History
  • Enduring Effort

Our responsibility as leaders and elders is to equip our people, including our children, with these essential cultural tools to use in an increasingly confusing and unsettling future.  

We can do this.  

Indeed, we must.

No Strangers Here

by Jeff Stone 

All leaders have had that awkward moment when encountering someone we’ve met, but find ourselves struggling to remember his/her name.  Remembering names is a leadership tool we all can develop that pays large Kingdom dividends.
 
Dale Carnegie, in his best-selling business classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People, observed, “A person’s name is to that person, the sweetest, most important sound in any language.”  Making the effort to learn, remember, and call people by name, is a path to make a genuine connection and have spiritual influence on their lives. 
 
Jesus thought it was important enough to mention in John 10 that the Good Shepherd “calls his own sheep by name” (v. 3).  A moment later He also said, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me…” (v. 14).
 
As shepherds of the flock, taking a personal interest in people makes a profound difference as we lead the flock.
 
I’ve often had people tell me, “At first when I visited the church, I felt a bit intimidated because it was larger than our previous church, but when you called us by name on our return visit, it made us feel ‘at home’ and that the church wasn’t too large for us to matter here.”
 
Remember that “people want to know and be known.”
 
Here are some practical tips to help us do a better job of learning people’s names:

  1. When meeting someone new, make a conscious effort to remember the name.  Often, we fail to concentrate or are distracted when being introduced, then later when we can’t recall the name, we realize that we weren’t focused when we met.
  2. Repeat the name when you meet.  “Don, it’s good to meet you.  I’m really glad you chose to worship with us today, Don.”  That will ensure you heard the name correctly and the repetition will reinforce the name, better engraving it in your memory. 
  3. Write it down as soon as possible for later reference.  After meeting, when you walk away, jot in down on your bulletin or in the flyleaf of your Bible the name of the guests you just met for future reference.  It’s also OK to say when meeting, “Could you spell your name for me, please?  I’d like to write it down to help me learn it and be better able to remember your name.”  Few people object to someone making an extra effort to take a personal interest in them.  Also, the exercise of writing it improves our retention since we remember 10% of what we hear, 20% of what we see and hear, and 40% of what we see, hear, and write down.
  4. Review your list on Sundays before arriving at worship.  Study the names of new guests who have recently visited your church and pray for them on following weekends that God will bring them back to your services that day.  Refreshing yourself on their names will help you call them by name when you see them.  That’s done not to impress them with your recall, but to impress on them that God knows them, loves them, is interested in their struggles, and wants to enter their lives on a personal level.  He demonstrates His love through each of us.

That’s your assignment the next time you see a new face.  Go out of your way to welcome and authentically connect with that new person.  Remember what Will Rogers said: “A stranger is just a friend I haven’t met.”
 
We want to always be willing to enlarge the circle and include the next new person whom God sends our way.

Do youth ministers make you nervous?

by Andy Hansen 

Do young youth ministers, especially those fresh out of Bible College, make you nervous … especially if you are an Elder?

Well, I was that guy as a 20-year-old long blonde-haired recent graduate. As a matter of fact, when the church hired me, I hadn’t even graduated yet. I did grow up in a church, attended local Christian camp & CIY faithfully, and served as a weekend youth minister for a couple of years. However, “seasoned” did not apply to me! One of my saving graces was my sweet wife Marcia – everyone wanted to have her on stage to sing special music for Sunday services!

As one who wasn’t even sure youth ministry was his calling, this was definitely a grand experiment! Gratefully, it turned into an incredible 10-year experience of calling youth to Jesus and building a youth ministry system within the church. As a young church plant, I guess you could say we grew up together.

Honestly, though, I never would have made it except that I had a Senior Minister who was in my corner, other people twice my age who signed on to serve as youth coaches, parents who were encouraging, and an Eldership which was clearly supportive. In fact, three elders served in the youth ministry all the years I partnered with them to teach and model God’s word to the children and teens in the church.

Thirty-five years later, I can still tell you the names of Elders whose walk with Jesus influenced me. Yes, I could realistically also tell you some of their flaws (as they certainly could tell stories about mine), but overall they left a positive spiritual mark on my life.

One specific Elder was Ted Hammond. He was an exceptional businessman and salesman who created a major company from scratch though he never went to college and, for a while, sold shoes door to door. He had a big grin and a twinkle in his eye, and a soft spot for an optimistic yet green youth minister (he often asked me how many times I used the word “exciting” or “excited” each day ).

He allowed me to drive his new deluxe station wagon with six young people and a sponsor to a Bible Bowl tournament back in the day. I really did pay attention and drove fairly conservatively. However, when a car suddenly stopped in front of us, even though I really hit the brakes, there was this sickening feeling as the car (loaded with 8 bodies) just kept moving forward until there was a little contact with the other car.

After examining both vehicles, we saw a small crease in the very nose of the Hammond station wagon. I just felt sick. It was a miserable tournament as I knew later that evening I would have to show my Elder what had happened to his vehicle.

To my great relief, he really didn’t react much at all, was glad we were safe, etc. The next day, on Sunday, he did call me out to the parking lot after the service with a stern look on his face. I really thought, “This is it! He’s going to let me have it! I’m going to lose my job!” At that moment Ted whirled around and pointed to the crease in the nose of his station wagon – which now had an oversized band aid applied to it! Ted immediately doubled over in laughter and came up gasping and with tears in his eyes! I was dumbfounded, forgiven, and made fun of for a while (though he did allow me to drive the car again).

A couple of years later, our church sponsored what we called a “State-Wide Rally.” There were only half a dozen Christian Church youth ministers in the state of Michigan, but the little regional youth rallies

were dying out. So, we programmed a weekend event and invited all the churches in the state to come. To our shock, over 400 attended and packed out our church facility. To get to the next level and rent a high school facility, promote and build the program, bring in special talented guests, etc., would take capital that our youth budget couldn’t sustain. We were stuck. We could stay the same, fade away, or find some other way.

That led to lunch with Ted Hammond. As his sparkling eyes focused in on me with a slight grin, it’s as if he knew why I wanted this lunch (and to this day I believe he really did)! Mumbling and bumbling about the dream for this event and how we just didn’t have the capital to move forward, he graciously spoke up during a pause and said, “Just tell me what you need.” I explained the need for a loan of $5,000 to get us to the next level, and how with the projected numbers of attendance we could pay him back in two years.

Ted not only supplied the loan, he helped me craft a “business plan” (I had never heard of this in Bible College) and allowed me to use one of his business numbers for free to call all the Christian Churches in the state to promote the event. Within a couple of years, the Michigan State Wide Rally was running over 1,200 and located in the nicest high school in Western Michigan. This rally even continues today! And by the way, Ted donated the payment check for the loan back to the ministry.

What actions do you observe, what gifts of expression did Ted Hammond as an Elder provide to this young youth minister?

Words that come to mind to me: grace, encouragement, forgiveness, relationship, laughter, belief, training, generosity, coming along side to take a ministry risk, accountability, mentorship, friendship.

Does your Eldership have such contact and interaction with the staff at your church?

I know our mantra is “Staff Led, Elder Oversight” … but I wonder if we have too easily faded the influence of the Elders of the church out of the lives and ministry of her staff?

I asked a number of youth ministers to respond to several questions concerning their Eldership, and here are their responses with a few observations.

Feel free to highlight key words or concepts and discuss your observations with your fellow elders.

  1. WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE ELDER AND WHY?
  • Rod is involved in serving as a greeter at church and in the community of our campus. He invites his neighbors to church. Rod is a huge encourager and we respect and look up to him.
  • Keith serves in our youth ministry as a driver, cook, small group leader and helps with anything.
  • Geoffrey was with me in youth ministry for seven years as his kids went through the ministry. He randomly calls to check in and pray for me and my family.
  • Micah is wise beyond his years. He is good at waiting to make a big decision and is not afraid to be honest.
  • Geoffrey spends time investing in me, checking in on me and my family, and has pushed me to invest in student ministry.
  • Nick sees the need to move in new directions for the sake of the church. He supports our ideas/vision and gives us full trust.
  • Rick uses his spare time to visit members of the church and cares for people. He seeks people out. I go to him for advice because he is wise and understanding. Trust is so huge for the relationship between youth minister and elder.
  • I really trust Craig’s judgment. He’s a quiet guy and a good listener. He advocates for all of our staff.
  • Sam regularly checks up on me. He spends time talking to me abut my hopes and dreams.
  • Jon is so committed to the mission and vision of the church, and very transparent. He spiritually provides conversation, leadership and support.
  • Greg is an optimist that believes God is going to do even bigger things in the church! He is always encouraging and uplifting. Greg celebrates even the smallest wins!
  • Richard is so approachable, and full of wisdom and love.
  • Jon intentionally encourages us by sending cards, randomly stopping by the office to chat – asking how we are doing and listens for what he can pray for.
  • Rick has his own company, but when a family in our church experienced tragedy while he was out of town for business, he drove 11 hours round trip in one day to be there to minister to the family.
  • Jim is a great listener – he cares about the mental health of the staff. He also is willing to take challenging and uncomfortable steps to move the church forward.

Review your “highlights” and discuss the top five key words or concepts you discovered with your fellow Elders!

What two or three attitudes or actions can you consistently demonstrate to the staff as an Elder?

Personal Thought Question: What staff member would list you as their favorite Elder?

In today’s growing churches, it can be hard to minister to every staff member, and there is much focus on management and prayer with the executive leadership. However, could an Elder or two focus on the Children and Youth Ministers of the church as a focused portion of their responsibility?

  1. HOW OFTEN DO YOU MEET WITH THE ELDERS FORMALLY?
  • I meet with our Youth Elder once a month. I don’t really meet with the other Elders.
  • Never formally, informally, probably every other week (calls/texts/prayer/meals/disk golf).
  • Never formally, informally, probably once or twice a year.
  • Never formally. Two or three times I went to eat with an Elder in the last three years just to check in with me.
  • I meet with my Elder liaison for lunch often. Other Elders get a coffee and check in. Other than giving approval for events and prayer, the current elders don’t have a big role in person with the ministry … at all, really. One elder out of 20 is involved in my ministry.
  • Never formally. Once a week [I meet] with one elder. He lives in my neighborhood.
  • Unfortunately, this has not been a part of my experience as a minister. I have gone to lunch with an elder one time in fifteen years.
  • It is rare for me to formally meet with the elders. Our Senior Pastor and Executive team meet on Wednesday night. Informally, I see them at church and in the community and at the staff Christmas party. I do have a first name relationship with most of them.
  • We used to meet as a staff monthly with the elders, but now just the Senior Minister meets with them. There is an elder assigned to my family and he takes me out to eat once and a while.
  • A couple times formally and maybe 10 times informally a year.
  • Never formally, once or twice a year informally.
  • Never formally. I attend an Elders Meeting once a year to update them on children and youth ministry. The Elders do check in with us during church meeting times, rarely over a lunch or designated time.
  • I’m on the Leadership Team so I meet with them once a month.
  • When the Elders have a question they reach out to me.
  • Just on Sundays when we see each other.
  • I attend Elders meetings once every three months and send a youth report every month. One Elder takes me out twice a year to talk about student ministry.
  • I had a formal meeting with an Elder one time, over lunch. Informally, two are youth coaches and I call and talk with them regularly.
  • I’m in elder’s meetings every month formally. Informally I meet with several of them.
  • At the Staff and Elders Christmas party, and maybe a couple of other times a year.

What are the common denominators you perceive after reviewing the above? How do you believe your Youth / Children’s Minister(s) would respond? Should elders be more involved in the staff? When I was in youth ministry in the 70s & 80s, I often was involved in elder meetings and my wife and I were often in elders’ homes. I had at least two or three elders who were youth coaches whom I met with and bounced off ideas, vision, direction for the youth ministry. Before I ever made a proposal for a new youth ministry concept or need, it was elder tested!

Times have changed. Larger churches have supervisors, team leaders, etc., and the elders have high, over-arching oversight. Pros? Cons?

  1. HOW DO THE ELDERS ACTIVELY SUPPORT, AND HOW COULD THEY DO A BETTER JOB?

Support answers:

  • Prayer
  • Encouraging Texts
  • Notes of Encouragement
  • Serve at Large Youth Events
  • Supportive Budget (scholarship fund to allow students to also earn enough to attend CIY)
  • Willing to Try New Things
  • Give me space to run the ministry without micromanagement.
  • It is obvious they value my opinions and like to be around me when they can.
  • Serve as Trip Leaders, Small Group Leaders
  • Often check in on me and my family.
  • They let me know they are praying for me and the ministry and ask for specific prayer needs.
  • I receive phone calls from elders just to pray for me.
  • Elders ask to attend our youth team meetings occasionally, ask us to share stories of what God is doing and pray with us.
  • One elder is involved in our youth program and he says he is also there to help with encounters from what he affectionately calls “crazy parents.”
  • This is a crazy statement but in almost 15 years at the church I have never been told “no” on any trip or event, perhaps because I haven’t done anything outlandish. Reaching youth is the church’s #1 priority.
  • The elders financially support our summer camps and mission trips where life change takes place.
  • Not sure. The Leadership team and elders for our church are a bit of a closed loop.
  • Allow me to represent and share an overview of youth ministry with all the elders once a year receive feedback, ask questions, etc.
  • Full health care for our family and other benefits.

Review the above list line by line. Which ones could you identify as currently taking place through your eldership? Which ones need to begin … and by whom?

How might elders do a better job?:

  • Show up at events to support and see what is happening. Appreciate they trust us and let us lead, but [they could] be a little more present.
  • Be more aware.
  • It would be huge if one had the passion and gift to actively serve in our student ministry. Perhaps the elders, if not gifted with youth, should add an elder (or groom a potential elder who has children in the youth ministry) who does have that passion. It makes it hard to cast vision to leadership when they are not around to see the implementation of that vision. I’d love to receive more feedback on how to hone my skills. I appreciate the encouraging texts, but showing up is entirely different.
  • I would certainly have benefitted in my early years of youth ministry with direct elder involvement on a regular basis in our high school youth ministry.
  • Ask me what I am reading in the Bible and what is challenging me from Scripture, and share the same with me. Personal spiritual encouragement and guidance are better than technical advice.
  • Have intentional conversations concerning the plans for future youth ministry, what vision we can have as a church for youth ministry.
  • I don’t get to meet much with the elders so I feel a little out of touch as to what the elders are thinking and what they desire to see from the youth ministry. It is good to have the freedom to run the program, but it would be nice to know what you are doing is valued as well.
  • Have a genuine care for me as a person instead of me as an employee of the church.

Do you identify with the ways that Elders are supporting the youth ministry staff and activities? What are a couple of new ideas that you need to implement? How could your elder group do a better job?

  1. IF YOU COULD SHARE SOME ADVICE TO OVER 1,000 ELDERS IN CHURCHES ACROSS THE COUNTRY, WHAT KEY CONCEPTS WOULD YOU SHARE?
  • Be Available. We need accountability and we need support. It has been HUGE for me to have an elder as a safe person to whom I can ask questions, seek advice from, who can hear our thoughts and help us receive direction.
  • Be Prayerful. For the youth ministry, the youth ministers, their families, the youth ministry volunteers, and pray with them for their goals and dreams.
  • Be Financially Supportive. Make youth ministry a priority of the church.
  • Be Celebratory! Find ways to celebrate what is taking place in the youth ministry in front of the church body. Celebrate youth ministry with spoken word and occasional fun gifts when special occasions, accomplishments take place.
  • Be Involved. Lead a small group, drive a vehicle, help cook for a weekend retreat, serve as a sponsor at camp, drop in regularly. “Get your hands dirty and your heart involved so you can attest to what the church (youth ministry) is doing.” Could at least one elder be dedicated to investing their gifts in youth ministry? This way the elders would have the perspective of student ministry from an insider on their team.
  • Be Perceptive. Youth ministries are basically a church operating inside the big church with needs and challenges. Youth ministry changes methodology (not tradition for tradition’s sake), but the message of Christ and the call to Kingdom work should not.
  • Be Present! Stop and chat with us in the hallway, show up to events, drop by the office, have an occasional coffee time, etc. Just a little of this would be helpful for relationship.
  • Be Encouraging but not Micromanaging. Trust the staff you hired, but lovingly give occasional guidance and suggestions.
  • Be Transparent. How are you growing spiritually? What are you struggling with? I need a spiritual leader who is like this in my life whom I can trust to share Scripture with, prayer concepts, seasons of fasting and times of fun, who can speak into my growth and my actions as a parent and spouse.
  • Be Leaders. “Speed of the Leader, Speed of the Team” is also true for the growth and vision of the church. Ask us about our vision and passion for the church, and share with us the direction the leadership envisions. Let us pray for your leadership!
  • Build Unity! This was one of Jesus’ highest passions in His prayers. So much can be accomplished as well as endured if there is a content spirit of unity in the leadership.

I am so grateful I had personal contact and life involvement with the elders when I was a youth minister!

It made youth ministry better, and it for sure molded me and made me a better candidate for long term ministry! Is that taking place in your church? Can that happen today? How could it creatively take place or be improved?

Traveling a Rough Road

by Gary & Jared Johnson

All of us have driven on rough roads from time to time.  Whether the road was poorly constructed, hadn’t been maintained in a long time, or a detour took us onto some rough pavement, every mile was difficult.  We quickly wanted to get back on smooth pavement so that we could move along at a good clip.

As elders, we may feel that way about life in the present.  Soon into the new year, we discovered 2020 to be one of the roughest roads of life on which we have traveled.  A new and deadly virus began sweeping the globe, and before that crisis had passed we found ourselves surrounded by protests, sweeping across our country, against systemic racism.  Like it or not, we find ourselves on a rough road and we are going to be traveling on this route for a while.  Since a quick transition to smooth pavement is “miles” off into the future, elders need to provide practical help and genuine hope to the local church they serve.  How can we do just that?

Practical Help

First and foremost, pray.  When we hit a baseball, we always run to first base; and life is no different.  With the dawn of every day, always run to God.  Life in America is indescribably broken and as elders, we must pray.  Pray bold prayers.  In the full hearing of the people, Joshua prayed aloud, boldly, for the sun and moon to stand still – and the earth stopped turning (Josh. 10:12)!

Not only should we pray for God’s healing from COVID-19, but also from the deadly disease of racism.  Specifically, we must pray prayers of repentance on behalf of the church we lead.  As a God-follower, Nehemiah recognized the deplorable state of God’s people: “When I heard [about Jerusalem’s trouble], I sat down and wept.  In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven.”  (Neh. 1:4).  From exile, the prophet Daniel did the same: “O Lord, you are a great and awesome God!  You always fulfill your covenant and keep your promises of unfailing love to those who love you and obey your commands.  But we have sinned and done wrong…” (Dan. 9:4-5).  Individual repentance for corporate wrong is entirely warranted in the face of such pervasive, society-wide sin.  The text is clear: when society is broken and sinful, we all own it.

Second, we need to act on those prayers.  Paul preached that we “must repent of [our] sins and turn to God – and prove [we] have changed by the good things [we] do” (Acts 26:20); and as elders, we must lead by example (1 Cor. 11:1).  In a time of so much tension, when people have already experienced great loss due to COVID, elders must provide compassion-driven kindness and outrageous generosity.  Greek-speaking widows – an ethnic group – “were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food” (Acts 6:1-7).  When they were threatened by starvation and this problem was brought to the attention of the apostles, they took initiative, acted immediately, and solved the problem.

After centuries of racial inequality, elders must take the initiative and be intentional peacemakers in times of conflict.

  • Paul took the initiative to begin healing the broken relationship between Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2).
  • Barnabas encouraged, comforted, and mentored young John Mark when Paul had rejected him as a part of the ministry team (Acts 15:39).
  • Paul took the initiative to heal the relationship between Onesimus and Philemon (Phlm. vv 10-20).

Paul told the Corinthian Christians outright that when a small part of the body suffers, we are all suffering with it (1 Cor 12:26), and in those moments, “we weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15).  When were we last driven to literal tears by someone else’s pain – COVID, racism, or otherwise?  Look for opportunities to lead the local church, proactively, both individually and corporately, by example.  Later in Nehemiah’s story, public, corporate repentance played a major role (chapters 9-10).  The practical help you, as an elder, can offer will strengthen your brothers and sisters to stay the course when the road of life is difficult and rough.

Genuine Hope

As elders, we not only provide practical help, but we point people to God, who provides us with genuine hope.  First and foremost, “the LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed” (Ps. 34:18) in these difficult days.  God’s presence is real.  It’s His nature to be with His people – from the opening pages of Scripture when He walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:8) to the closing pages of Revelation when God makes His dwelling with us on the new earth (Rev. 21:3).

While on this rough road, it is essential that we grieve; something that we as Americans do not do well.  Our culture likes to “move on.”  COVID has caused many people much loss: jobs, retirements, graduations, weddings, and lives.  Centuries of racism has caused much loss: lives, human dignity and worth, equal opportunities, freedom from fear, livelihoods and more.  We must grieve our losses.  We must sit in lament because in those moments God’s presence is felt and known.  He is faithful and will never leave us or forsake us.  God promised to be with us in times of trouble; rescuing, protecting, and delivering us in those moments (Ps. 91:14-16).

We can also experience genuine hope in God’s power.  With Israel’s impending destruction by Babylon, Isaiah reminded the people of God of His hope-filled power.  The prophet reminds us that God does not grow tired or weary, that He gives strength to the weary.  When we anchor our hope in the Lord, He renews our strength to press on from day-to-day (Isaiah 40:28-31).

As elders, let’s keep “our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.  Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame.  Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.  Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up” (Heb. 12:2-3).

When the road we are on becomes a detour of rough pavement, we are tempted to use Google Maps to find an alternate route – one with smooth pavement.  Though the road of life on which we find ourselves now is more than difficult, stay on it.  God has a purpose for us.  By His grace, serve the church, leading her over this rough road in a God-honoring way.

LINK TO ALL THE SCRIPTURES REFERENCED

Elders Know…

by Bob Hightchew 

As Senior Minister at South Fork, there are three things that I love about the Elders I serve with: they know the Word of God, they know our congregation, and they know me personally.  I believe these three factors led to the success of our ministry together and I believe these three things will lead to a successful ministry in any church.  Let me explain what I mean.

Know the Word2nd Timothy 2:15  
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

I love the ministry with all my heart.  I really do.  But as any minister will say, there is nothing more exhausting than being the only 22resident Bible “expert” in your church.  People desire to go to someone they know is studied for the answers to the questions they have.  This allows them to grow.  When it is only the minister they can go to, there is a bottleneck in the system.  I love that my elders are not only studied, but the congregation knows they are.  When elders become studiers, the whole church will follow their example. 

Know the Congregation1st Peter 5:1-3
To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing…  

Our elders have their finger on the pulse of the church.  They work to know every family and as many individuals of that family that they can.  It would be a lie to say that they knew every person, but I will say it is not for lack of trying.  If you remember the song from the show Cheers years ago, there was a line in the theme song: “You want to be where everybody knows your name.”  That is true.  When people know that their elders know who they are, it makes a world of difference when they come in.  There is also an accountability that comes with being known.

Know the Preacher1st Timothy 5:7
The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.  

Often times, there is a division between the elders and the minister.  I feel sorry for the brothers I know in ministry who talk about how terrible it is when they meet with their elders.  I am so blessed when it comes to this.  The elders I work with are like my brothers.  I really mean that.  When I go to them with church issues, they carry the load as well.  I never feel like I have the weight of the church on my shoulders alone.  My elders will often pull me aside just to see how me and my family are doing.  They ask if there is anything I need.  I cannot tell you how cared for that makes me feel.  They know me personally and they care about the needs of my family and myself.

These items above can be done by an elder at any size church.  I often hear, “Well, that may work at a big church, but not one our size.”  These three steps work no matter what size church.  Try them and see.  I bet you will be very happy with the results. 

Provision During Pandemic

by Gary Johnson 

I have lived in Indianapolis for 31 years.  The month of May here is all about the Indy 500: a festival, a mini-marathon, parades, celebrations of all kinds, practice sessions and Carb Day, all culminating in 33 cars vying for the world-famous checkered flag on Race Day.  This year, race officials looked ahead, through the impact of the COVID pandemic, and rescheduled the race to August 23rd.  Looking ahead, they took necessary steps to make the race happen.  

Are we doing the same in our local church?  Are we, as elders, looking ahead and making plans for the steps necessary in light of all that has been happening?  Are we working with the church staff to determine how we are going to address our summer schedule, change our ministry methods, and more?  Let’s consider three essentials in taking our next steps.  This is part of strategic planning – a skill that elders must cultivate in leading the local church.  Below, we have included a link to our e2 Talk on Strategic Planning.  It’s free for the time being on our YouTube channel and may be a benefit to you. 

In the news cycle’s dominance by COVID-19, one story came and went quickly, but still caught my attention.  It told of how teens had completed driver’s education, but because of social distancing, were given waivers on their road tests. 
 
That story brought back memories of my driving test.  After pulling out of the parking lot and going through all the paces, the examiner had me pull onto the expressway.  It was both exciting and unsettling.  I remember glancing in the rear-view mirror to see who I left behind as I sped off. 
 
Teens are not the only ones who have learned to drive during this pandemic. 
 
As elders, many of us have had to put the proverbial pedal to the metal.  We were forced to the on ramp of leading ministry in ways never experienced and for which we were not prepared.  It was unsettling for many of us to merge onto the virtual church expressway.  We worried and were greatly unsettled about who we were leaving behind while racing down this new ministry path.
 
We suddenly found ourselves bumper-to-bumper with every fellow American church on the digital highway.  We learned to drive virtual worship gatherings, hold leadership meetings and life groups, pursue student ministry, etc., all on screens.  We have now spent more than two months barreling down this virtual highway, often simply hoping that we would not run out of gas.  We urged people to help refuel the church by giving digitally, and fortunately, many chose to do so. 
 
After being forced to drive the virtual expressway, did we look in the rearview mirror, trying to catch a glimpse of where we had been prior to COVID-19?  Did we look back and wish we could do a U-turn to pre-COVID days?  If we hope to navigate this new road well, we cannot keep looking back.  With steeled determination and Spirit-given courage, we must drive the Church forward – and to do so, we must think forward. 
 
Our Provider
Through all of this, God has been, and will be, our faithful Provider.  One of His many gifts to us is the ability to think.  Being “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14), we can think and reason, having been given “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). 
 
To what degree are we using these minds God has provided?  Are we taking time to simply think?  Dr. Thomas Edison would sit for hours at the end of his dock in Fort Myers, Florida.  The good doctor did not like people bothering him while he fished; so much so, that he often did not bait the hook.  He simply wanted to sit and think, with absolutely nothing to bother him – not even the fish!  
 
The COVID crisis has intensified our need to think critically and strategically.  God expects us to ask Him for His wisdom (James 1:5).  There are at least three ways this challenges us and for which we need God-given wisdom. 

A New Perspective
COVID-19 has forced us to adjust our ministry worldviews.  We have all merged onto the expressway of virtual church.  While many of us were not early adopters of “streaming church,” here we are now.  Remember, the sons of Issachar had “minds to understand the times and they knew what Israel should do” (1 Chronicles 12:32).  We must understand our culture and know how to respond; what next step to take.  Have we been seeing obstacles or opportunities these last couple months?  How you and I answer that question has much to say about our perspective. 
 
Thinking – and asking – the question “what’s next?” is a discipline of leadership.  Elders must develop this as a regular practice.  Thinking forward moves the church forward.  If we fail to think about the future strategically, the church is in ‘park’ or ‘neutral’ while we simply rev the engine – making a bunch of ministry noise and spending resources to capture the attention of people, but making little or no measurable progress.  Thinking “what’s next” helps us develop and implement a strategic plan for the church.  God provides us with minds to cultivate this perspective.
 
A New Platform
The coronavirus shut down the traffic in Lane A, forcing everyone to merge into Lane B, where everyone did ministry on a digital platform.  With Lane A reopened or soon to be, do not go back!  Merge, instead, into Lane C, where we do ministry in a “both-and” world.  We can be an embodied, gathered church, and a church with global, virtual reach. 
 
God provides us with minds to understand that technology is the way the world works.  We even have wearable technology that syncs to our other devices.  We must make use of digital platforms to preach and teach the Word, to disciple others, to conduct meetings, plan events, receive donations, and more.  The list of possibilities is endless.  Church is not relegated to Sunday only in a specific building.  Our digital platform opens wide the door of the church 24/7.  God provides us with His wisdom to leverage this platform in myriad ways for each unique congregation.
 
A New Place
Gathering physically for church will never be outdated, but cyber church is also here to stay.  Retail stores with a strong internet presence move people from clicks to bricks; from their websites into their store sites.  We can do the same.  What will it take for us to move people from just viewing to actually visiting the church?  Will we invest in our virtual campus, hiring staff, buying necessary equipment and more?  Think with me.  People from all five living generations are online, from websites to Facebook to TikTok. We must meet them there with the Good News.  
 
Before, during and after the crisis, God was, is, and will be faithful.  He provided for all that we needed and more.  Being that God doesn’t change, He has been, and will always be, our Provider.

Better Together

by Rory Christensen 

Why do we have elder teams anyway?  One of my favorite arguments comes from the 1930s.  It’s found in the story of one of the greatest newsmakers of that decade.  No, I’m not talking about FDR, Lou Gehrig, Clark Gable, Hitler, or Mussolini.  Go to 1938, and believe it or not, the most newspaper column inches were devoted to “an undersized, crooked-legged racehorse named Seabiscuit” (Laura Hillenbrand, Seabiscuit, xvii).  The reason for it was obvious.  The “Biscuit” was a racing phenom.  He broke track and attendance records.  He became an unlikely hero for a nation that badly needed one. Seabiscuit was remarkable.

More remarkable than Seabiscuit’s success, though, was his rise to that lofty perch. Early on, Seabiscuit was anything but a sure bet.  His team, more so.  Seabiscuit was a tired, rundown, too-small racehorse.  His jockey, Red Pollard, was unsuccessful and oversized.  His trainer, Tom Smith, was an inexperienced, eccentric loner.  And his owner, Charles Howard, while professionally successful, had significant personal struggles.  Individually, these characters were tired, broken, and worn out (Tom Jones, Creating a Church Planting Team. 122-123).  Together, though, they became a team that mesmerized America.

Maybe there’s something there for us.  I like how Jones puts it, “Teams have a way of doing that kind of thing.  Whether it’s horse racing teams, baseball teams, business teams, or [elder teams], we are far better together than we are apart. (Jones, 123)

I couldn’t agree more, for at least two, connected reasons.  First, we’re better together because teams push us to rise from “me” to “we” … and it makes a difference.  Ecclesiastes reminds us that “two are better than one,” that “a cord of three strands is not easily broken” (Ecc. 4:9, 12).  There’s truth in that.  Elder teams provide a natural conduit for the knowledge, ability and experience necessary for making key, church-shaping decisions; this is Providential provision that we would be impoverished without.  They are the natural avenue for the physical, emotional and spiritual support we all need to stay the course in ministry leadership for the long term.  Note the way that teams form a natural environment for biblical “one-anothering,” for creating an atmosphere of prayer (Jas. 5:16), teaching (Col. 3:16), accepting (Rom. 15:7), carrying burdens (Gal. 6:2), confessing sin (Jas. 5:16), and loving each other (Jn. 13:35).  Teams push us to rise from “me” to “we,” and we’re better for it.

A second reason we’re better together is because teams unlock the “we-together factor.”  Teams provide an opportunity for us to punch above our weight class ministry-wise.  A functioning team provides opportunity for overlapping strengths, and the potential for weaknesses to be counterbalanced.  In Building Teams in Ministry, Dale Galloway wrote:

When mutual ministry is emphasized and a system of shared ministry is developed, an amazing multiplication takes many forms—all of them significant. More persons are won to Christ. More believers are nurtured in the faith. More service satisfaction is experienced by more believers. Healthy churches result. As we know, a kind of synergism of strength happens when a team of horses pull together: one can pull a full load, but two working together can pull the weight of five or six loads.” (p. 12)

We’re better together because of this “we-together factor.”  

Why elder teams?  I’m sure you can come up with other reasons.  As you do, give thanks to God for your own team.  Emphasize the “we” in your leadership.  Live the “we-together factor.”  Trust that we’re better together.  Because elder teams make a real difference.

O.P.E.N. – 4 Things Elders Must Do

by Gary Johnson 

Believe it or not, this Sunday, May 3, has been declared “ReOpen Church Sunday” by Liberty Counsel, an organization that defends the rights of churches.  Though we may have the legal right to do so, elders must determine if now is the right time for their local congregation. 
 
Throughout America, we hear of many states and communities reopening businesses, parks, offices, stores, malls and more.  Some churches have already reopened.  Last Sunday, churches in Montana were permitted by their governor to resume gathering.  It appears churches may be opening sooner than later.  But what about the church you lead?  Your elder team must determine what is best for your church. 
 
When people are stopped at a red light, individuals respond differently when the light turns green.  For example, when the light goes green, some people look to their left and right one last time to be certain no one is speeding into the intersection, and then they proceed with caution.  Yet, if you are like me, I put the pedal to the metal and I am off and running!  Similarly, when your governor gives your state the green light to reopen, your elder team must determine how your church will respond.  Think O.P.E.N.
 
OVERSEE
At e2, we have coached over 7,000 elders and church staff to practice elder governance as found in Acts, and one responsibility of elders is to on-board policy.  A policy will be needed to reopen the local church.  President Harry Truman is well remembered for having a sign on his desk declaring “The buck stops here.” Truman did not think that he had ultimate authority in the country, but that he had ultimate responsibility for leading the country.  As shepherds of the church (1 Peter 5:2-4), we are responsible for the wellbeing of the congregation and must oversee when and how the church reopens. 
 
PLAN
Long before the light goes green, your church needs a plan to follow for its reopening.  This doesn’t mean that the elders dot every “i” and cross every “t” of the plan, but you must give thought to major components of the plan and then trust the church staff to develop and execute the details.  For example, elders must decide if the church will practice social distancing or not, and if so, the staff then determines how to implement that decision.  Elders must decide if the church will be a “touch-free” environment, and if so, the staff determines how to observe communion without passing plates, etc.  Elders must decide if children’s ministry will open right away, and if not, the staff need to design family-driven worship services. 
 
ENGAGE
Elders need to engage the congregation with essential communication.  Once the plan is completed, it must be communicated to the congregation before they arrive for their first Sunday back on campus.  People need to know what to expect when they pull into the parking lot for the first time.  Use the website, email, video, even snail-mail to creatively and thoroughly communicate specific information with the entire congregation about your reopening.  And be sure to communicate the WHY behind your well-thought out plan, which is simply to create as safe an environment as possible for everyone to appreciate. 
 
NEW NORMAL
All of us are moving into a new normal.  We will never be “back to business as usual” on the other side of COVID-19.  The word bittersweet best describes the day we are back in church.  It will be sweet to worship the Lord with one another.  Yet, there is a bitter aspect in that many people will be grieving loss.  In addition to the loss of life, untold numbers of people have lost jobs, retirement savings, businesses, memories of canceled commencement and wedding ceremonies, and much more.  The new normal demands that we acknowledge these losses and help people cope with grief and fear.  Joshua led God’s people into a land where they had never been, and we will be leading the local church into a new social environment where we have not yet been.  Just as He said to Joshua, God calls us to be “strong and courageous”.  After all, God will be with us every step of the way (Joshua 1:9).  Welcome to the new normal.
 
As of this week, the CDC reported 91% of fatalities to COVID-19 are Americans 55-years of age and older.  People in that age group are well represented in congregations as regular church attenders.  If we fail to develop a plan for as safe an environment as possible, we will put far too many people at risk of infection.  As shepherds, we must work to keep the flock together and safe.  Elders must determine the when and the how of reopening the church. 
 
You can watch a video discussing these four essentials by clicking the button below. 
 
Also, we asked 16 leaders what ONE CHALLENGE each of them would give to elders to pursue on the other side of the coronavirus.  These #LifeAfterCOVID mini-podcasts are also available on our YouTube channel through the button below.

Passing the Baton before Leadership Collapse

by Billy Strother 

Too often, the baton of eldership is foisted on younger, inexperienced elders through a church leadership collapse; beloved and wise serving elders have health crises, retire and move away, go on to be with the Lord.  With them disappears their experience and wisdom. 
 
Sometimes a leadership collapse comes by way of tragic church conflict; seasoned elders throw up their hands in surrender and leave leadership, or even the church.  In many churches, long-serving elders, faithfully giving of themselves year after year (or for decades), grow weary, and resign in fatigue.  I have seen groups of senior elders resign, collectively saying, “It is simply time for the younger men to start doing their leadership part; I’m tired and just want to go to Sunday school.” 
 
An unhealthy leadership collapse occurs. 
 
In a leadership collapse, often, younger men who love their church step up to serve as elders for the first time – but with no training, coaching, or mentoring.  “OJT” in eldering forestalls church health.  From the frying pan into the fire, or a baptism by fire, seldom produces exponential kingdom fruit.  Overwhelmed, burn out often happens fast in these situations.  Mission progress stops, or at least digresses.  The church declines.  The learning curve is steep.
 
For over four years, our long-serving senior-age eldership at the church I previously served was consciously, actively, and responsibly passing the spiritual leadership baton to the next generation of leaders.  Identifying, training, and mentoring younger leaders into eldership was a consistent priority.  And it bore great Kingdom fruit.
 
The faces around the eldership table began to demographically shift – on purpose and with a purpose.  The team grew healthier, love and pouring into one another, the honoring of one another, was all a great joy to experience.  The passing of the baton of leadership was well under way.  The younger elders and older elders were beloved, honored, and respected by the congregation.  The last of the older, faithfully serving, long-term elders were about to receive their first sabbatical in many years from eldership; the rest and refreshment had been well-earned.  And they are the biggest supporters and fans of the younger elders.
 
So, how do we avoid, or at least mitigate, an elder leadership collapse?  We begin passing the baton to the next generation of leaders well ahead of a leadership collapse, whether that collapse occurs by crisis or attrition.  What follows is just a suggestion and only one of many models of passing the baton of elder leadership.
 
Offer Rotational Church Leadership Training
 
On a rotating basis, the elders team teach with me; we engage purposefully in leadership training.  It is church-wide.  The invitation is open for anyone interested in leadership at any level.  We are not just investing in unearthing elder candidates through leadership training.  No promises are made.  We are looking for ministry team leaders, small group leaders, and key volunteers.  There is no one way to do the training.  It requires tailoring for your own congregational setting.  The calendar is important.  You might do one night a week, along with the school calendar, for one semester, for 10 to12 weeks.  Each meeting should be highly focused on a specific topic and conclude on time; for example, at 60 minutes.  You would be greatly surprised how much could be caught in just 12 hours of leadership training.  All of the more recent elders began leadership life in one of those training sessions.
 
Identify Potential Elders
 
These are men who are not ready now, but who could possibly, with the right mentoring and coaching, be ready in the future.  The active elder team keeps the list of future potential elders in strict confidence.  Over time, the current elders prioritize the list and identify a few who they believe have the greatest future potential.
 
Mentor Identified Potential Candidates
 
Elders are assigned as mentors and potential candidates are approached.  The approach is low key and relational.  No burdens are placed on the candidate.  They may be occasionally invited to sit in on an elders’ meeting as a part of their mentoring, or they might ask to be included because of their own desire to investigate what it looks like.  Basically, the mentoring elder is called upon to shepherd those with potential.  It may be a year, or two, or 3 of mentoring.  The candidate might find himself unwilling to ever serve.  There are no promises with mentoring, it is simply a time of personal spiritual investment.
 
Coach First-time Elders
 
Though dad has gone on to be with the Lord, my memories of fishing with him remain vivid.  I was six-years-old and was fishing with my dad in Little Walnut Creek.  I had a line was in the water with a worm or a Wheatie ball on the end.  Dad looked down at me and said, “Son, did they teach you to swim yet at school.”  I just shook my head “no.”  Dad said, “That is a shame.  Well, you are going to learn now.”  He literally picked me up and threw me in Little Walnut Creek in a hole so deep it was well over my head!  Well, I am writing this, so I made it!  No Michael Phelps natural stuff; just a choking dog paddle to shore.  If I had not have made it back, to this day I am unsure of dad’s rescue plan, if he had one.  I do not recommend teaching a child to swim like that!  I put my own kids in swimming lessons with a certified public instructor.  There was no panic and they learned to swim well.  Even now, when I fall out of a boat fishing, I still just dog paddle back to shore.
 
No new elder should be thrown in the deep.  An experienced elder must guide and coach.  And in time, we all coach each other.  Eldering is a team sport, and early coaching for new elders is a lifetime gift.
 
Is it required to go through those four processes to become an elder?  No.  Sometimes, the Lord calls a trained servant leader to partner with and do life with a congregation.  That person of great experience would be fast-tracked, but still receive personal investment.
 
But, if you are serious about hedging against a leadership collapse in your congregation, it may be time to start a purposeful process to begin passing the baton to the next generation of elders.