No Rungs

by Stuart Jones 

The American Dream continues to challenge and inspire people of all ages and backgrounds.  Motivated by the ascending rungs of the corporate ladder, employees seek to rise to the next level of success, while supervisors seek to rise to the next level of recognition.  The beauty of the system is the seemingly limitless opportunity for achievement and advancement.  In some parallels, these same motivators challenge the Church to fulfill the mission laid before us by Christ himself.  Battling complacency and constantly pursuing excellence promotes God-honoring advancement of His Kingdom on Earth.

However, within the church leadership structure adopted by most congregations, ladder rungs that mimic the American Dream have the potential to bring about a “holy nightmare.”  As we read Scripture, we discover key positions and roles that should structure the local church.  Searching the text, we can find the role of deacon defined as those who are called to action with spiritually-enlarged hearts for service.  Elders – shepherds – are defined as the pastors or overseers that God calls to lead a congregation.  And sprinkled throughout Scripture, we find the roles of staff or ministers who professionally direct and lead areas of ministry.  These Scriptural definitions hold throughout time and governance.  But their placement, interaction and value have suffered unfortunate alterations through the lens of the American Dream.  

The American Church has embraced a corporate ladder mentality of leadership that typically flows in ascending order from volunteers to deacons to elders and staff.  Those seeking to find success and advancement within the church, and within the Kingdom of God, are encouraged to strive for the next rung of the ladder.  For example, great volunteers are challenged to become deacons, while deacons are simply waiting to become elders.  This hierarchical structure for leadership does not exist in the New Testament!  Did some deacons become elders?  That seems probable.  Did some elders become staff?  That most likely defines the “elder of double-honor.”  Yet, churches falsely assume that the expectation for achievement and advancement through the leadership roles is implied in the New Testament leadership structure.  It is not. 

Instead, the New Testament highly values those who accept the roles they are gifted and called to perform.  Deacons are men who implement and complete the ever-growing tasks and needs of the church.  The role of deacon or high calling of servant leader is not a steppingstone to pastoring or overseeing a congregation.  Those who bring action to the ministry of the church and those who bring wisdom to the ministry of the church are often two very different groups made up of very differently gifted individuals.  Church leadership structures often create a progression of roles and titles that may very well inhibit the God-given gifts of individuals within the church.

Will many deacons become strong elders in a church?  That transition does often happen.  However, we cannot assume these are the next steps in the American Faith Dream.  Many who are gifted in implementing and accomplishing tasks and projects are needed as servants and doers for the duration of their time on this earth.  The time that deacons serve does provide an opportunity for the church to gain trust and confidence in their leadership potential.  However, the value of servant leadership must not be perceived as an inferior rung to shepherding leadership.

Paul said, “If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be?  If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?” (1 Cor. 12:17). We apply these exaggerated questions to the congregation as we seek out volunteers.  However, we seem reluctant to equally value the multiple leadership layers of the church.  If all elders became deacons, who would spiritually guide the church?  If all deacons became elders, how would anything ever get done?  “But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” (1 Cor. 12:18).  Leave the corporate ladder on the ground and celebrate the leaders God has placed in your church, exactly as He wanted them to be.

More Prayer = Shorter Meetings

by Randy Boltinghouse 

Our elder leadership team meets twenty times over the course of a year, typically twice a month for two hours.  During the first hour of our meeting, we pray over each of the prayer requests made from the previous Sunday’s communication cards.  Furthermore, all of us have the same daily devotional book which we read between meetings then share on the evenings we meet.  A rotational schedule assigns each elder the opportunity to lead both the devotion and prayer time.  After praying, sharing scripture, and reflecting on the devotions, it’s been an hour, leaving an hour for congregational matters.  Our meetings consistently end at the two-hour mark.  
 
We have a policy governance system which delineates the responsibilities of the elder leadership team, the senior minister, values, vision, limitations, etc.  Policy governance streamlines what decisions need to be made and by whom.  When needed, we have spirited discussion over necessary issues.  All decisions are by consensus.  Our policy governance serves as “good bones” supplying structure, discipline, and an operational unity that results in leadership alignment.
 
That said, I don’t believe it’s enough to have “good bones.”  We need an environment of spiritual nutrition and brotherly warmth entrusted to God and His Word.  Paul wrote about this in his parting words to the Ephesian elders: “I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32).  A proper understanding of biblical eldership involves shepherds who, when they gather, do so to consume the Word, seek to be built up by it, and then strive to remind each other from it that in Christ they are heirs with the saints of all God has promised.  How can any meeting of the elders go wrong when such a spirit dominates the room?  

I’m convinced that prioritizing prayer and the ministry of the Word are what keeps our meetings unified, efficient, on schedule, and spiritually nourishing for each elder.  One of my priorities as senior minister is not only to encourage each elder toward the work of the Lord but to see that the Lord’s work nourishes each elder.  Starting each meeting with prayer, Bible reading, devotions, and spiritual reflections ensures unity, love, and a brotherly affection among the shepherds of the flock.  Our elders tell each other that our meetings are a highlight of the week; a spiritually enriching small group time.  Sometimes the agenda changes in the meeting itself because one of the elders (or the senior minister!) has a heavy heart, needing conversation time and prayer.  What that means is that the other elders will rise from their seats and surround the one in need, praying fervently with the laying on of hands.  This does not mean we do not have difficult conversations.  Nor does this mean we won’t process through differing points of view.  It means that the difficult conversations situate themselves in a larger context of loving, truthful, prayerful Christian unity.  It means that differences are discussed in a gospel tone of grace and truth.  Such unity spreads out through the congregation, contagiously affecting the church family.  Christ-honoring elderships lead to Christ-honoring congregations.  

When our elders meet, we don’t come representing the interests of the church.  We come foremost to represent the interests of our Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ.  We come to build one another up in Him.  Our brotherly unity touches the entire church family.  If your meetings are consistently running more than two hours, they’re probably too long.  So if you want richer, more effective meetings, pray more. 

10 Commandments for a Pastor Search

by Daniel Overdorf 

Elders fulfill one of their most impactful roles when they hire ministry staff.  The wrong hire can lead to years of heartache, the right hire can result in years of fruitful and joyful ministry.  The following commandments (okay…they’re really just suggestions) can help.

1. Begin – and stay – on Your Knees.  Prayer is not just the first step in the process, it must weave itself through the entire process.  Engage the entire congregation in prayer.

2. Establish an Efficient Search Process.  Define the stages through which the search will progress.  As an example:

  • The elders appoint a search team.
  • The search team gathers résumés.
  • The search team checks references, performs phone/video interviews, then recommends the top two or three candidates to the elders.
  • The elders conduct phone/video interviews with the top candidates.
  • The elders choose a candidate to host for a face-to-face interview and visit.

3. Develop a Profile of the Ideal Candidate.  No individual will perfectly match the ideal, but developing a profile will give direction to the search.  Consider such matters as education, doctrine/beliefs, and the particular needs and personality of the church and community.

4. Assemble a Search Team.  Often, elders appoint a search team that includes a cross section of church members.  In other circumstances, elders prefer to serve as the search team themselves, or to commission existing church staff to conduct the search.  Each option is fine, but it should be defined and communicated. 

5. Get the Word Out.  Solicit recommendations from people who know ministers, such as professors, well-connected leaders, and workers from parachurch organizations.  If such networking fails to uncover appealing candidates, widen the search by posting the opportunity on ministry placement lists.  Most Christian colleges keep such lists, and consider online postings such as SlingshotGroup.org and ChristianStandard.com/help-wanted.

6. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.  Consider at least a weekly email to all candidates still in the mix, even if just to say “We’ll be meeting next week…”  Appoint someone who is friendly and well-organized to handle this communication.  Also, provide as much information as possible to candidates about the church and community, perhaps an information packet filled with newsletters, pictures, bios of leaders, church history, budget, demographic information, and anything else that will be helpful.
 
7. Keep it Personal.  In this regard, churches should operate more like families than like businesses.  Families do not send form letters.  They do not draw conclusions based solely on résumés.  Instead, families talk, relate, interact, and ask questions.  Likewise, a personal search process gets voice-to-voice, then face-to-face, as soon as possible.
           
8. Host a Productive Visit.  When a candidate visits, plan the itinerary carefully to make it productive and enjoyable.  For example: pay all expenses, reserve a nice hotel room, stock the hotel room with a personal note and a basket of goodies, provide a car and a map with some free time to explore, plan some time for formal meetings but also informal gatherings.  Engage the help of someone who has the gift of hospitality. 

9. Reject as You Would Have Them Reject You.  At whatever point in the process you decide a candidate is not the right fit, remain personal and respectful.  Cold search teams hide behind form letters.  Caring search teams ask themselves, “How can we minister to this person?”  Through personal letters or phone calls, they’ll comment on the person’s strengths and promise to pray that God will guide them to the right opportunity.

10. Enjoy a Productive First Year.  When a candidate is hired, celebrate.  Allow time and resources for the new minister to transition smoothly.  And, don’t expect the new minister to “hit the ground running” too quickly or intensely.  That time will come, but first encourage the minister to settle his family into the community, to begin developing relationships, and to get his footing as a leader in your church.

Soon, we’ll no longer count the weeks or months but we’ll count the years our “new” ministers have served our churches.  May we begin a pattern in those early months that will stretch into those later years, a pattern of healthy partnership.

How to Persevere Under Criticism

by Mike Shannon 

I once saw a sign posted in a business that said, “When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”  That is good advice for anyone, but especially good advice for those who work in the church.  Many factors can potentially discourage us in church work.  There are many times we are prone to give up, but God’s work requires staying power.  Nehemiah knew that.  Nehemiah had staying power.

Sometimes we are filled with good intentions.  We begin a job, but when the boring and tedious parts come we walk away.  This is, I suppose, a common human failing.  However, our character is developed not in the exciting times but in the routine times.  The job itself can become discouraging, but if it needs to be done, and it is a job God has commanded, then we must persist. 

Sometimes it is not the boring part of the job, but the challenging parts that engender discouragement.  Critics often threaten us.  Nehemiah had such a critic in a man known as Sanballat, along with his co-critics Tobiah and Geshem.  It was not long after Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem to rebuild the city walls that Sanballat and company resisted him fiercely; they even laughed in his face.  He ridiculed those who worked with Nehemiah.  Not only did Sandballat conclude the job was impossible, he mocked those who tried to accomplish it, calling them “feeble.”  Their critics suggested that a fox could knock the wall down.  They tried to distract Nehemiah with requests for meetings.  They spread slander about Nehemiah and suggested nefarious motives, once even claiming he was trying to set himself up as king.  I suppose every church has a Sanballat.  When nothing else worked he resorted to threats, suggesting something bad just might happen, but Nehemiah simply would not relent.  When Sanballat asked Nehemiah to come and consult with him, Nehemiah calmly, but firmly, replied, “I can’t come down from this great work” (Neh. 6:3).

Critics are too often allowed to control the agenda.  The harshest critic, of course, is usually the one who has never accomplished anything.  The critic is free to find fault with everything because he/she has never personally taken the risk of trying and failing.  Generally, you will find that critics are rarely doers and doers are rarely critics.  We should be humble enough listen to genuine feedback, particularly if it comes from those who are wise, but we should never let the pathological critic force us to come down from a great work.

We can change direction, change strategies, change tactics, but we must persist in our mission.  Remember when Paul came to Corinth, he had many reasons to quit.  He was discouraged, lonely, in poor health, and faced sharp criticism.  In the midst of that discouragement God promised Paul that he was with him.  God sent him people to help him deal with his great task, and a great church was built in Corinth.  Since God does not quit on us, we don’t have to quit in His work. 

We must expect the discouragers to come, but we must be strong enough to resist their influence.  In spite of the chronic critics, we can succeed if we are determined God’s work should, can, and will be done.  No doubt, most of the jobs we will take on are not nearly as challenging as building the city wall in Jerusalem.  Think of what we could do if we just had a little staying power. 

Elders Cast Vision

by David Roadcup 

The ability to craft and utilize a compelling vision is one of the cornerstones in the life of an effective church.  

What is vision?  It is developing the ability to see what is not yet there.  It is seeing things as they could be through God’s eyes.  It is looking beyond where our church is at the present and asking, “What does God want to see happen in the life of our church in the future?”  The ability to proactively move to develop a workable vision and then communicate that vision to your congregation members, leading them to buy into that vision, is a crucial step to moving a church forward.  

A very important question:  What part does an elder play in determining the vision of a church?

First, we must ask another question: Who determines the vision of a congregation?  There can be a variety of views on this issue.  It is only logical to respond to this question in this manner:  in most cases the lead minister (senior minister, preaching minister, etc.) of the organization should be the “tip of the spear” when it comes to vision casting.  A good lead minister will always seek the Lord in prayer for the vision for his church.  In addition to prayer, the lead minister should consult with his staff and the elder team when setting the vision.  This process should always be a collaborative process initiated by the Lead Minister.  All key leadership individuals (paid pastoral staff and elders) should have input into the development of the stated, written and communicated vision.  

In bringing input and ideas to the vision casting table, let me encourage every elder to keep the following in mind:

  1. Vision should be determined through the direction of the Word of God and prayer.  All we strive to accomplish should be directed by God’s Word and prayer.  We know from Scripture that God’s will is very clear about our ultimate vision.  The Great Commission (Matt.28:18-20) indicates that our ultimate goal is to win those who are lost and outside of Christ, to immerse them and nurture them to a healthy level of spiritual maturity.  This work is to be done here at home and around the world in every country, city and village.  It is as clear as that.  Winning the lost and nurturing the saved, here at home and around the world, is our primary objective. 
  2. Key leaders create and agree on the vision.  The Lead Minister propels this effort.  He must lead in this area.  But as an elder, know that you should be able and encouraged to make a contribution to this process.  Here is an effective question that every elder should ask himself when vision-casting: If money were no object (if a church had all the money it needed – an unlimited supply), what would you like to see happen in your church?  What would we do when it comes to evangelism?  What would we do in terms of our youth ministries?  What would we do when considering our missions outreach and urban evangelism?  What would we do for the marriages in our congregation?  in other words, if the sky was the limit, where would we like to see our church in 5 years if we were truly accomplishing our vision and mission?  I truly believe that as the leadership team of the church, we should dream big!  We should ask the Lord to show up powerfully – undeniably – in our church.  
  3. We communicate the vision to the church.  The vision we believe God has given us for our church then needs to be communicated to the body through a series of sermons, the church’s bulletins, newsletters, etc.  We make sure that everyone in the church knows the vision of the church and will come on board in executing that vision through our staff, finances, prayers, buildings and ministries.  

Elders, as a main part of the leadership team, should participate in the vision casting of their church.  THrough prayer and collaboration, a Holy Spirit led vision can be clarified and accomplished! 

Elders Resolve Conflict

by Rick Grover

Over the past six years, our congregation has gone through more than its fair share of change, disappointment, loss, and now renewal.  And through it all, our elders have remained united. We had to acknowledge our own mistakes and failures as leaders, the changing context of our church family, and the role of the Holy Spirit in guiding us through the murky water of conflict. 

In the midst of everything, we discovered that our congregation was not equipped to handle conflict in healthy ways.  We had the typical “fight or flight syndrome” rather than the “share and care syndrome” of working through conflict.  We learned that there are four basic reactions to church conflict that, if not addressed, can lead to greater infighting and division. 

Over-spiritualizing
Some church members avoid conflict because they see it as an evil rather than an opportunity.  Thus, rather than deal with conflict, they respond with spiritual platitudes such as, “We don’t need to discuss this any further.  We just need to be on our knees and pray that God will convict the hearts (of those with whom we disagree).”  It’s hard to argue with someone’s conviction to pray, but prayer should never be used as an excuse not to deal with real issues. 

Denying  
Whether in marriage or ministry, some Christians take the ostrich approach and want to bury their heads in the sand.  Elderships can be on a dangerous path of disarray if they are unwilling to go through the tunnel of conflict.  As I’m sure you’ve heard before, “Facts are your friends,” even if those facts are not very encouraging. 

Trivializing
This is the “frog in the kettle,” where churches are facing significant problems, but elders are still living in the glory days and not in current reality.  When elders trivialize conflict, factions, or divisions, they are playing into the hands of the enemy.  We should never make a mountain out of a molehill, but too many unaddressed molehills can trip up an eldership and congregation. 

Guilt-tripping
In church conflict, we easily fall into the trap of the blame game.  The minister blames the elders for the church’s problems.  The elders blame the minister.  The congregation takes sides and blames the elders or the minister or both.  When we were going through our own tunnel of conflict, we had to stop blaming each other and start collaborating on possible solutions and ways to move forward. 

Responding to conflict is never easy, but it is necessary for church health and growth. When we had significant internal tension, it was no surprise that newcomers could sense it and wanted no part of it.  Healthy things grow – and that includes churches.  Your church may be in a geographic area of non-growth, but healthy growth is still possible, even if it is measured in ways that go beyond simple Sunday morning attendance. 

For our congregations to handle conflict in healthy ways, elderships must take the lead.  Are your elders’ meetings characterized by any of the above four common responses to conflict?  Does your eldership over-spiritualize, deny, trivialize, or guilt-trip each other when conflict occurs?  If so, the path forward for your church begins with you taking the first steps in your eldership and handling conflict in ways that honor Jesus Christ. 

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 
1 John 3:16 (ESV) 

And in the church, that begins with the elders. 

God’s Grace to Make Decisions

by Dick Wamsley 

I was beginning my eighth year as Dean of Students and Professor of Pastoral Care at Nebraska Christian College.  The college was in the first phase of a leadership transition.  The President and Academic Dean had both been there over 30 years and were scheduled to retire at the end of that academic year.  Three years earlier, I was asked by the trustees to consider accepting either of those two administrative positions, so I committed to be the Academic Dean.  But at their September meeting, the trustees approached me to reconsider my decision and apply for the President’s position.  I did not see myself as president material, which was why I did not pursue it earlier. 

At the same time, I was completing coursework toward the Doctor of Ministry degree at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.  I was enrolled in the class “The Decision Making Process, Systems and the Planning Cycle.”  It required that I complete a project in my ministry that applied what I had learned in the classroom.  So I decided my project would be to discern the will of God for this ministry decision. 

What I experienced from that project not only changed the course of my role at the college – I accepted the presidency – it awakened me to how God was just waiting to extend His grace at a time when I was focusing more on my perceived weaknesses than His grace to enable me to lead the college as its president.  If I had walked away from the trustees’ challenge because I focused only on my perceived weaknesses, I would have failed to experience the grace of God. 

Like me, you may have always believed that God bestows His grace at His discretion and not at our request, and in some respects that is true.  But there may also be times when He expects us – in fact waits for us – to seek from Him the grace He has already reserved for us. 

The Apostle Paul talks about God’s all-sufficient grace in 2 Corinthians 12.  Speaking of his “thorn in the flesh” he wrote, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.  But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness…” (2 Cor. 12:8-9, ESV).  The writer of Hebrews goes a step further:  “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). 

One of the actions I took while seeking God’s will concerning my role with NCC was to ask three friends, who knew me well and my giftedness for ministry, to devote some quality time to pray concerning the specific guidance I was seeking from God.  I provided each of them with a list of reasons I had prepared for accepting either position.  After a prescribed period of time, they were to report back to me their own conclusions as God had directed in their prayers. 

Those conclusions were a key to the confidence I had in approaching God’s throne of grace for help in a critical time for me, and in making the decision to accept the call by the trustees to become the college’s fourth president.  Now some might consider that kind of approach to prayer too bold, maybe even a bit presumptuous.  But I considered it “drawing near to the throne of grace,” taking action to seek God’s grace in a time of need. 

When you or your group of elders are faced with having to make some tough decisions, instead of first seeking human resources that will help you “stand on your own two feet,” drop to your knees seeking God’s all-sufficient grace.  

Elders as Mentors

by Rick Lowry 

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

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

Relationships are built with activities like:

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

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

Faithful Shepherd

by Dr John Caldwell 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Asymptote” – Forward

by Jim Estep

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

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