Memory Makers

by Terry Stine 

Forty-four years ago, six men signed my Ordination Certificate.  These were men who had influenced my life, who had disciplined me spiritually and physically as I grew up in the church where they served as elders and spiritual leaders.
 
One man was an executive in the construction industry.  He looked at the church through the eyes of a man who was used to making decisions that initiated change. 
 
Another was a corporate executive who preached when needed and taught classes to Jr. and Sr. high boys.
 
The minister of my home church was also an elder and he encouraged young people to go into ministry.  He took us to Bible college campus activities and gave me opportunities to preach while I was still in high school.
 
I remember how another signer, who as a financial consultant, used his gifts to serve the church.  He helped people in the church in such a soft-hearted way.  Money was a tool for God, not a goal for gain.  He made sure the congregation gave significant scholarships to young men and women who wanted to go to Bible college.
 
The signature of the minister that I was serving under as a new youth minister reminds me of his practical help in my life.  He had been a Bible college professor, started churches, and took time to help me through my first wedding and funeral.  He gave the “charge” for my ordination.
 
Finally, one signer is a long-time friend who grew up in the church with me, and had accepted the call to minister there after he graduated from college.  His life also gives testimony of godly elders who had known us personally, and had invested in our lives.
 
These men took time to exhibit the qualities that Paul wrote to Timothy about in II Timothy 4:2.  They were prepared to correct, admonish, exhort with encouragement and patience, with careful instruction from the Word.
 
They all had worldly skill sets that could have been dominant in their eldership.  Instead, they allowed their spiritual calling as elders to be dominant and allowed their worldly skill sets to be used in secondary ways.  Instead of thinking like COOs, CFOs and CEOs, they were ministering simply as elders.  Most of these men also took night classes at St. Louis Christian College to increase their biblical knowledge to lead as biblical leaders.
 
Jewish elders in the Old Testament were older men and respected for their spiritual wisdom.  They were instrumental for the preservation of life with God in the covenant community.  When Paul appointed elders in the new churches that he planted the purpose was the same.  That is the reason Paul emphasized the qualities that should already be exhibited by those selected to spiritually protect and guide the local congregation.  
 
Paul shared with Timothy and Titus the qualities that elders should exhibit.  These lists of practical actions and attitudes would allow these men to be models of mature Christians in action and thinking.  They were to be memory makers. 

Some of the men who signed my Ordination Certificate have passed away.  Others moved and are in various congregations across the United States.  What they did as elders, how they exhibited the love of Christ through teaching and example, made an impact on me.  My ministry during the past forty-seven years has influenced many people in several countries to accept Christ.  The memories of those who shaped me live on in lives that they personally never knew.
 
What memories are you making as a biblical elder today that will reach around the world and through the years for Christ? 

Collateral Damage

by Jared Johnson 

We have probably all heard the phrase (or used it ourselves) “kick the can down the road.”  It seems, in our society, that the national debt is the topic about which this phrase is typically expressed.

Unsurprisingly, we find an example of this kind of abdication and “not-my-problem” thinking in the pages of the Bible.

In 1 Samuel 15, Saul was ordered to purge the Hebrews’ territory of all Amalekite people.

Leaving aside the intractable issue (for a blog) of “sanctioned genocide,” there is a leadership lesson to be gleaned from the fallout of Saul’s failure in this chapter.

Saul, in his own mind, followed the direction of 1 Sam. 15.3 and attacked.  As he did so, he struck down Amalekites “from Havilah to Shur” (v 7).  Specifics about those two places are debated; we don’t know where exactly they were.  But we know, unequivocally, that Saul and the whole army kept, basically, whatever they felt like (v 9), especially animals.  Saul spared the life of the king, Agag, for whatever reason, despite God’s instruction to the contrary.

Some number of years passed by the time we get to 1 Samuel chapters 28-31.  Sparing a number of the intervening details, David and the entire band of men with him returned home from a military outing and found that … Amalekites had raided their homes and carried off all their wives and kids, along with possessions.  Had Saul carried out the direction to purge the Amalekites, David and crew and their families probably would have been spared the heartache and travail of 1 Samuel chapter 30.

Our tendency, in leadership, to put off a decision or to not definitively complete a task or initiative can – does – have repercussions.  And those repercussions can be outright harmful.  Saul’s ungodly leadership, his sin of omission, directly resulted in the kidnapping of hundreds of women and children and the ransacking and burning of David’s hometown at the time, Ziklag.

Decisions can’t be made with perfect clarity.  And when we make mistakes we need to admit as much and course-correct quickly.  There are usually unintended consequences.  However, there is also, especially from this biblical example, the very real phenomenon of avoidable pain.  Saul was irresponsible.  He deliberately chose personal convenience and preference over God-honoring leadership, and it harmed many people in many ways.

David was, usually, an example worth following.  Saul was not.  Let’s be careful that our chosen paths in leadership aren’t kicking proverbial cans down the road; we don’t want to cause collateral damage.  

People of the Book

by Gary Weedman 

Two of the early slogans in our Stone-Campbell tradition were: “Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent” and “No book but the Bible.”  Yet, for such a people of the Book, where is the Bible in our public worship?  I fear that it is all too absent.  A few years ago, I talked to a young married couple, raised in the Christian church, who had migrated to a more liturgical denomination. I gently inquired as to the motivation for such a move.  Their response: “We miss hearing the Bible in worship.”
 
The public reading of Scripture has always been an important part of corporate worship.  After a long period of absence of the Scriptures in worship, Josiah (7th C. BC) “read … all the words of the book of the covenant that had been found in the house of the Lord” (2 Kings 23:2).  Imagine – a worship service that consisted of the reading of the entire book of Deuteronomy!  The event launched a mighty reform throughout the Kingdom of Judah in behavior and devotion. 
 
A similar phenomenon occurred in the 5th Century BC as Ezra led a large group of exiles from captivity in Babylon to Jerusalem.  He read from the Law “from early morning until midday … and the ears of all the people were attentive” (Nehemiah 8:3).  The result was, once again, a great religious awakening.
 
This emphasis on public reading continued in the synagogue.  Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah (now chapter 61) and declared himself as the fulfillment of the text that very day (Luke 4:21).
 
These readings were considered an act of worship and not merely preparatory to the main event.  So, when Paul advised his delegate Timothy to “give attention to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Timothy 4:13), he was merely affirming the accepted practice of the early church adopted from their roots in the synagogue. 
 
A powerful demonstration of the power of the oral impact of Scripture is the dramatic presentation of the Gospel of Luke by Bruce Kuhn, a Broadway actor.  Through a dramatic recitation of this Gospel from memory, the impact is remarkable.  Although I had read Luke for myself and have written about large portions of the Gospel, I “heard” aspects of the Gospel for the first time.  For example, I had never “heard” how many times that Luke records Jesus and others saying, “Fear not.”  Those who heard his presentation can never read Luke the same.
 
Elders can lead in the restoration of the public reading of the Bible in contemporary worship.  We have the tradition of Jewish worship, the practice of Jesus, and the admonition of the apostle Paul to support such practice.  May we once again be a “People of the Book.”
 
What, then, can we do?  A few suggestions: 

  • Restore the ancient practice of Scripture reading in worship, preferably a substantial portion from the Old and the New Testaments.  There are many examples of weekly readings available from the Internet and from church history.
  • Make these readings a celebration of the presence of God and not merely a perfunctory preface to the sermon.
  • Create a ministry team of readers whose work is the reading of the Scriptures in worship and who learn the role of public reading of the Scriptures throughout the history of the church.
  • Use varied reading presentations, such as a leader with response from the congregation, two or more persons reading together, or a choral reading.
  • Promote Scripture memorization and recitations through church programs like Bruce Kuhn’s. 

Communicate

by David Eubanks 

If I were asked to suggest five items of advice to church leaders, near the top of the list would be communication.  We must place a high premium on communication.  How often I have seen wrong conclusions drawn, misunderstandings occur, unnecessary hurt feelings experienced, and outright division rend the church, simply because of a lack of communication.  In some cases, those consequences were suffered because of a refusal to communicate.
 
Leaders are elected or selected because people have confidence in them and in their judgement.  One way to maintain that trust is wise communication.  Even though critical decisions are often made by a small number of leaders for a large number of people, and sometimes a few of the factors in those decisions need to be kept confidential, it is wise for leaders to communicate accurately and in a reasonable time all that can be related concerning their decisions and plans.
 
Unfortunately, with a few leaders any question raised regarding a decision they have made is interpreted as a challenge to authority, and stubborn bullheadedness ensues; conflict, occasionally irrevocable, follows.  Sometimes, a little communication beforehand or afterward would have prevented the questions even being raised and the conflict prevented entirely.
 
I remember vividly a true circumstance in which a friend of mine, a former elder in the church, prevented a major schism in the congregation by merely calling together younger members who were ready to leave the church immediately.  He told them that he was certain that they did not know the whole story concerning the situation that troubled them and urged them to wait until more was known.  Providentially, they listened to him; division did not occur, and the church is thriving today.  The leaders had made a personnel decision and some of the details could have been related earlier, but they saw no reason to do so, taking the approach: “The people elected us; they should trust us.”  While that statement is true, we need to recognize that we do not live in an authoritarian culture, but an anti-authoritarian culture, augmented by an electronic media craze that demands information and thrives on gossip and misinformation.  Wise, measured, deliberate communication by the leaders of a congregation can prevent the spread of those relational cancers. 
 
Paul was chosen by Christ and miraculously endowed to fill the role of an apostle.  By God’s own appointment, he commanded authority and sometimes exercised it.  Yet, I never cease to be amazed at the level of communication that he carried on with the churches that he established and served.  Much of his communication was to clear up misunderstandings, identify troublemakers, clarify the truth, and soothe hurt feelings.  But he sometimes communicated in anticipation of misunderstandings that could arise and to head off conflict that might result accordingly.  
 
We do well to follow Paul’s example. 

Ministry of an Open Door

by Rory Christensen 

I blame my parents for this one.  When I read through the 1 Timothy 3 list of ministry leadership essentials, there’s one that always hits me with an internal, assumed exclamation mark.  It’s their fault.  For as long as I can remember, my parents have used their house to welcome guests, host missionaries, house traveling musicians, and launch Bible studies.  Over the years, I’ve seen the good news shared (Jule Miller film strips anybody?), weddings conducted, meals served, even a displaced family of 8 given a home for the summer (and separate housing provided well beyond).  It all happened because my parents were committed to this particular ministry qualification.  You know what it is by now.  Read 1 Timothy 3:2 to see it spelled out.  “The overseer is to be … hospitable.”  Hospitable.  I hear that word, ministry memories come, and my conviction is sharpened all over again.

It’s my parents’ fault.  Really. 

But in the same breath that I blame them, I realize that I need to thank them too.  As I’ve processed this “hospitable” leadership requirement through the lens of their example, I’ve realized that there are at least a couple reasons why we could all do to emphasize hospitality a little more.

First, we should emphasize it because of its potential.  I like the way Alexander Strauch put it:

I don’t think most Christians understand how essential hospitality is to fanning the flames of love and strengthening the Christian family.  Hospitality fleshes out love in uniquely personal and sacrificial ways.  Through the ministry of hospitality, we share our most prized possessions.  We share our family, home, finances, food, privacy and time.  So hospitality is always costly.  Through the ministry, we provide friendship, acceptance, fellowship, refreshment, comfort and love in one of the richest and deepest ways possible for humans to understand.  Unless we open the doors of our homes to one another, the reality of the local church as a close-knit family of loving brothers and sisters is only a theory” (The Hospitality Commands, p. 17).

You hear that, and you get a feel for the power behind the “ministry of the open door” (to borrow words from Ozark Christian College President Matt Proctor).

As we lean in to hospitality, our lost, hurting world is impacted (Hebrews 13:2, anyone?), and our Christian family is uplifted.

Second, we should emphasize hospitality because of its practicality.  Go to the Bible and you find hospitality used as a natural conduit for the disciple-making way of life.  Take a scan and you see all manner of Jesus followers using it in all manner of ways:

  • Matthew, for evangelism (Matt 9:9-13)
  • Priscilla and Aquila, for …
    • welcome/care (Acts 18:3)
    • correction (Acts 18:26)
    • worship (1 Cor 16:19)
  • Paul, for evangelism (Acts 28:30-31)
  • The entire early Church, for …
    • table fellowship (Lk 24:13-32; Acts 1:4; 10:41; Gal 2:1-21)
    • instruction (Acts 5:42) 

Robert Coleman has long told us of the need for association, instruction, and demonstration in the disciple-making process (cf. The Master Plan of Evangelism, chapters 2, 4, and 5).  I see these biblical examples and note how “the ministry of an open door provides” a natural context within which all these God-honoring actions can occur.  It is a useful conduit (the best conduit?) for the disciple-making way of life.

When I read these reasons and descriptions again today, I’m inclined to reach a bit beyond definitions that limit hospitality to merely making people feel welcome.  Defining it only as “feeling welcome” strips away its deepest significance.  When we engage in the ministry of open doors we tap into something that has incredible, unlimited Kingdom potential.  Yes, it certainly is practical, but it is much, much more.  In Acts 28:31 Paul’s Kingdom work, rendered through the conduit of hospitality, was unhindered.  

Our Kingdom work can be unhindered as well.  I absolutely believe that and I’m committed to living like that.  Maybe you can join me in it.  I still blame my parents for it, by the way.

Saying “No”

by Ken Idleman

I love this Scripture passage in the Pastoral Epistles:  Titus 2:11-14.  It consists in a short declarative statement followed immediately by one of the longest recorded sentences in the entire New Testament.  Ready to focus? 

Here we go:

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.  It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

One of the first words we learn to say as toddlers is the word “no.”  You and I probably don’t remember saying it during our own childhoods, but those who have reared toddlers know very well that they have it down!

“Time to go to bed.”  “No!”

“Brush your teeth.”  “No!”

“Eat your carrots.”  “No!”

“Clean up your toys.”  “No!”

Of course, our job as parents is to teach our children the real meaning of “no” and the appropriate times to say it.  It can actually be a good word.  “No” can be used in a very positive way if it describes God-honoring boundaries for your life.  Learning to say “no” is a capacity that can and should be honed and directed; when it is, it’s a good thing.

To say “no” to some things is actually a virtue.  Saying “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions is a prelude to living a self-controlled, upright and godly life.  “No” helps to define your values.  It shapes your ethical and moral development.  It divides good from best.  It shapes your future.  It ensures your destiny.  

We all need more practice at saying “no.”

Agents of Joy

by Ken Idleman 

Hebrews 13:17 admonishes us as churchmen and churchwomen: “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account.  Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you” (emphasis added).  Church leadership should be a joy!  Christians can inspire joy in their congregational leaders and they, in turn, will eagerly follow such leaders.  I have heard it said that, “People won’t follow negative leadership anywhere.”  I take it that the converse is true that, “People will follow positive leadership anywhere.”

It was back in 1994 that I was personally impacted by a new book, Happiness Is A Choice, co-authored by Christian psychologists Frank Minirth and Paul Meier.  I think I had always believed the assertion implied in the book title, but I had never read anything in print that actually documented and developed the idea.  John Ortberg writes, “We will not understand God until we understand this about him: God is the happiest being in the universe.”

Joy is foundational to God’s character.  Joy is God’s eternal destiny of choice for each of us.  Jesus told his friends that his aim was that they should be filled with joy, but not just any kind of joy: “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11, emphasis added).  The problem with people, according to Jesus, is not that they are too happy, but that we are not happy enough, and that we are not happy as he would make us.

Lewis Smedes puts it this way: “To miss out on joy is to miss out on the reason for your existence.”  C.S. Lewis said, “Joy is the serious business of heaven.”  The apostle Paul wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Phil. 4:4).  The Bible puts joy in the non-optional category.  Joy is a command.  Joylessness is a sin, one that professed religious people are particularly prone to indulge in.  It is the sin most tolerated in the church.

Church leaders: we lead by example.  Let’s set this example well.

Pray with me… Father God, Your Word speaks of a ‘joy that is inspired by the Holy Spirit.’  We pray for that joy to show itself in our lives, in the moments when we are front and center and the moments when we are backstage, in our shining moments and in our unguarded moments.  We pray for this grace of joy… the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives that will attract others to the Lord of Joy, Jesus… in His name we pray, amen.

Want it My Way

by Dick Wamsley 

If you go into a Starbucks today and consider the milk options, number of shots, various syrups, and the choice of whip or no-whip, you have over 87,000 combinations, all customized to your own individual needs – or whims.  That feeds the consumer mentality: “I want it my way.”  We live in a consumer culture, which is a shift from a few decades back when we were a producer culture.  We are now buyers and hoarders and users.  That’s how our economy keeps growing.

Paul writes to his son-in-faith, Timothy, in 1 Timothy 6:6-8 (ESV), “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”  Paul advises Timothy that the greatest gains come through “godliness with contentment,” not through consuming.  That requires a daily renewal of commitment to your priorities as a Christian leader and making a conscious decision that the accumulation of things is not going to be the priority of your life.  

In his book The Good and Beautiful Life, James Bryan Smith reports that neurologists once scanned the brains of people of faith as they recalled and re-experienced the times they felt close to God, either in prayer, worship, or solitude.  Then they exposed the same people to stained glass, the smell of incense, icons, and other religious images that connected people to God.  The same specific area of the brain, called the “caudate nucleus,” lit up in all of these people when they felt connected to God.

The neurologists then tested another group, but this time exposed them to material possessions.  When they showed images of products that were tied to “cool” brands, the exact same area of the brain lit up.  The neuroscientists discovered that people who bought certain items experienced the same sensations as those who had deep religious experiences (The Good and Beautiful Life, pp. 163-164).  Maybe that’s why Paul says to be content with the simpler things.

Contentment is also preferred when you recognize the uncertainty of riches.  Later in 1 Timothy 6, Paul writes, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (verse 17). 

Riches are deceptive.  They portray themselves as bringing a sense of security, but they are in fact very unstable.  A recession, government intervention, an unpredictable stock market, lawsuits, health problems any of these can wipe out a lifetime of accumulated wealth in short order.  Even what we call “Social Security” isn’t.  As someone wrote, “Money will buy a bed but not sleep; books but not brains; food but not appetite; finery but not beauty; a house but not a home; medicine but not health; luxuries but not culture; amusements but not happiness; religion but not salvation – a passport to everywhere but heaven.”

It is imperative that leaders in the church guard themselves against the idol of consumerism.  I echo what Paul said to Timothy after he warned him of the love of money, “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things.  Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness” (1 Tim. 6:11). Those who do will be less likely to want “my way,” and more likely to desire God’s way. 

Lead with Integrity

by LD Campbell 

We’ve heard it over and over, “America is suffering an integrity crisis.”  And we all agree.  And we are comforted in blaming political leaders for the moral mess we are in. 

However, Christian leaders must bear the greatest responsibility for the moral mess in which we find the world, our country, and our churches.  The largest Christian denomination in the world has been rocked again and again by the lack of moral integrity of its leaders and now is losing members by the thousands.  Recently, the biggest protestant denomination in the United States is coming to terms with the lack of integrity among its leaders past and present.  It will be interesting to see how the members of that denomination react to the revelation that revered leaders were not so “obedient to their calling.”

There is no way to lead without integrity.  But what is integrity?  Everybody agrees we need more integrity, yet hardly any of us explain what we mean by integrity, or how we even know that it’s a good thing, or why our culture needs to have more of it.  The problem is, it means something slightly different to each of us. 

Perhaps the best definition of integrity I have seen comes from Yale’s Professor of Law Stephen Carter, in his great book called Integrity:

Integrity, as I will use the term, requires three steps: (1) discerning what is right and what is wrong; (2) acting on what you have discerned, even at personal cost; and (3) saying openly that you are acting on your understanding of right and wrong.  The first criterion captures the idea of integrity as requiring a degree of moral reflectiveness.  The second brings in the idea of an integral person as steadfast, which includes keeping commitments.  The third remind us that a person of integrity is unashamed of doing the right. 

Carter is on to something.  What if all of us who lead the church, pastors, elders, deacons, ministry leaders, small group leaders not only believed Carter’s definition of integrity but practiced it?  This kind of integrity can only be accomplished by obedience, simply learning to do as we have been told, primarily by the Word. 

Carter also said:  “The wholeness that the Christian tradition identified as central to life with integrity was a wholeness in obedience to God, so that the well-lived life was a life that followed God’s rules.”

And he goes on:  “But obedience to what?  Traditional religion teaches that integrity is found in obedience to God…  Everything that you do, do for the sake of God.” 

Obedience pure and simple is the beginning of “soul care.”  One of the best books I’ve ever read on the ministry is The Pastor As Minor Poet by M. Craig Barnes, President of Princeton Theological Seminary.  In it he writes that “There is nothing that pastors (church leaders) do for the congregation that is more important than taking care of their own souls.” 

The church does not expect its leaders to be perfect, but they do have the right to expect us to be models of integrity; integrity that results in being obedient to the One who was obedient even unto death.  They have a right to expect that a church leader’s obedience will lead them into a life of holiness – an unused word in our time.  

I can still hear my grandmother saying to me, “When will you learn to do as you are told?” 

Brothers and Sisters in India

by Gary Johnson

Greetings from India!  As I write, we have just completed our first-ever international elders’ conference. We joined CICM (Central India Christian Mission) to provide focused teaching on this critical subject. Dr. Ajai Lall, a close friend and brother in Christ, invited e2 to share for three days. The conference was recorded and will be distributed to their 3,000-plus churches across India and in neighboring countries. Hundreds of church leaders attended from both India and neighboring nations.

Dr. Ajai said that this is the first time, in the thirty-six-year history of the mission, that elder-exclusive material was presented for their church leaders. Not only will the videography and transcripts be provided to their thousands of church plants, it will also be utilized in their undergraduate and graduate curriculum in CIBA, their Bible college. An evangelistic zeal is present here, with tens of thousands of people coming to faith in Jesus. Many of these churches are new plants and are desperately in need of spiritual leaders. Moreover, there is a great deal of horrific persecution of Christians in India. Please pray for these leaders to be boldly and compassionately courageous as they advance the kingdom of God in a nation of more than one billion people.

We met one brother who has been walking for hours on a regular basis into an extremely remote village sharing Jesus. He has been privileged to pray over some of the children in the village and seen God miraculously heal them. Please pray for Brother E. as he brings Jesus to people who don’t know Him. Likewise, we heard from other Christians and ministers who have been disowned by their Hindu families, persecuted viciously by [former] “friends” and neighbors in the province of Orissa, and others who have continued to boldly proclaim the Good News in the face of death threats. Our Christian brothers and sisters shine the light of Jesus in a spiritually very dark place.

Thanks to many of you who prayed for us, and to those of you who gave financially to make this trip possible. In particular, we thank – once again – CDF Capital for their generous support that enabled this conference to take place. CDF Capital believes in and encourages elders across the country – and now around the world – by their generous partnership with e2.

In many ways, e2 is becoming a movement of leaders around the world who are determined to lead well.