The Kind of Elder every Minister Needs

by Mike Shannon 

Recently I received news that an elder I worked closely with for several years had passed way. As I thought about him I was reminded of how he was the kind of elder every minister needs. His name was Ben. I was in a small church and it was my first full time ministry. I was just out of school, lonely, and single. Ben would frequently take me to lunch and would always insist on paying the check. I tried to make him stop, but he would say, “I have seen your paycheck. Just think of it as a supplemental salary.”

His home was a place I could always visit if I was discouraged. We might have dinner or just watch a little television and talk. Ben would also go visiting with me to talk to prospective members. We even experienced a fender bender accident while we were calling. I was at fault. He would compliment my sermons, and even sometimes, my singing. Ben rarely got angry and rarely raised his voice.

But the biggest favor Ben did for me was to talk me out of leaving the ministry. The little church where I was serving was not shy about expressing their complaints and disfavor. Some of the issues were of my own making, but most of them were not. I began getting anonymous hate mail. The mail was cruel and undeserved. For instance, one letter said, “Why don’t you go back to Bible college. It obviously didn’t take the first time.”

I had decided that I just wasn’t cut out for ministry, and figured I was young enough to recover in some other kind of secular job. I wrote out a carefully worded resignation letter and delivered it to Ben, who was chairman of the board at that time. After opening the letter and carefully reading it, he ripped it in two and said, “I refuse to accept your resignation.” He continued, “This church will have a lot to answer for if we drive a good man out of the ministry. Stay with us as long as you can. Start looking for another church if you have to, but whatever you do, do not quit the ministry.” I stayed for a while longer–long to enough to meet the woman I would marry. Ben and his wife were among the matchmakers. I did begin to look for other opportunities and eventually left, but I am not sure I would be in the ministry today if it hadn’t been for Ben.

Don’t get the wrong idea here. There were a few times Ben had to gently tell me I was on the wrong track, or that I was overreacting. He never did this to me in public. He always did it calmly and with love, so I was able to accept his counsel and learn from my mistake.

One time I lost my temper in a board meeting. After the meeting Ben said, “You were in the right on this issue, but next time let me fight that battle for you.” Sometimes when I talk to younger ministers they interpret elder support as being the absolute and unequivocal approval of everything they do or want to do. That is not the kind of elder every minister needs. We need an elder who will look out for us, support us, and even love us. If an elder does that then he can even admonish us and edify us.

We could all use an elder like Ben.

2 Enemies: Fear & Pride

by David Linn 

A leader battles one of two foes.  Most leaders are largely affected by one or the other.  Both adversaries lead to undesired results.  While alike in some ways, they are different in others.  These common enemies are fear and pride.
 
Fear causes a leader to focus on the wrong things.  The devil loves to make us fearful.  While this enemy can surface at any moment, my wife and I especially wrestled with fear early in ministry.  We were called to plant churches in a third world country shortly after marriage.  We easily deflected nay-sayers with statements like, this is the longest standing democracy on the continent, it’s a very stable country, it’s a safe place to start a family and raise children.  However, no sooner had we arrived than the country – Venezuela – began to unravel.  It quickly devolved into political battles that continue to this day.  We lived there through coup attempts, martial law, nation-wide protests, suspicious elections, natural disasters and a national strike of two months.  During those scary times, many missionaries left.  It would have been easy and understandable to do the same.  One day when tensions were particularly high, and an invitation to return to a stateside ministry on the table, we read Mark 5:36.  The young daughter of Jairus, the synagogue ruler, was dying.  In desperation, he found Jesus.  At that moment, the news broke: your daughter is dead!  Yet the very next frame says, “Ignoring what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe’” (RSV, emphasis added).  Those words infused courage into Jairus and thankfully into us as well.  We decided to stay.  Our ministry in the country lasted over 25 years. During the following decade, more churches were planted, more souls saved, more national leaders groomed, and more missionaries equipped than any other time in our service.  In fact, fruit from that season has a global impact to this day.  Fear has rightfully been described as False Evidence Appearing Real.  Fear is from the devil, and it is an insult to God.
 
Another enemy that leaders face is pride.  While pride can assault at any time, it seems we are more vulnerable after a few victories.  For many, this may happen later in life.  Bible scholar A. W. Pink quipped, “it is interesting to note in Scripture that younger saints typically are not the ones to ‘disgrace’ their profession.”  Joseph courageously overcame his injustices as a youth. David valiantly slew Goliath as a young man.  Daniel’s three friends survived the fiery furnace during their younger years. 
 
Unfortunately, a good profession has often been ‘disgraced’ in later years.  Moses’ most visible shortcoming happened at the end of the wilderness journey.  David fell to Bathsheba long after triumphing over Goliath.  Earlier in his life Saul said, “Am I not a Benjaminite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, is my clan not the least of all?”  However, after a modest beginning and few victories, he became proud, broke God’s law and became a public disgrace.  David said of him, “How the mighty have fallen!”
 
While our scuffles with fear and pride may vary, both are ruthless and shrewd.  Wise leaders remember they are not immune from one or the other.  “Fear is an insult to God, pride is a challenge to Him,” (Curtis Sergeant, The Only One p.33).  By God’s grace may we maintain a small image of ourselves and a lofty image of Him.

As an Elder…

by Tom Ellsworth 

My father served as an elder in my hometown congregation for decades. He and the men who served with him had a huge impact on my life, an impact that followed me into ministry and shaped my understanding of what an elder could be. Central Christian Church in Huntingburg, Indiana, was not a large congregation during my youth but the one hundred or so people who worshipped there laid a solid spiritual foundation on which to build my life. That was due in large part to good elders whose influence filtered down through the pews.

Interestingly, every elder liked to sing and they all had great voices. (Liking to sing and being able to sing are not synonymous!) They became known as The Singing Shepherds and were frequently invited to sing at revivals, men’s rallies and area congregations. I realize now how truly unique they were; those shepherds served and sang as one voice to the Lord. Their slightly faded signatures on my ordination certificate remind me of their rich legacy imprinted on my life. What was it that made their ministry so effective? Let me share a few reflections:

They were qualified. These men were not perfect by any stretch. They had flaws like all of us, but they were above reproach. I watched genuine servants at work. As an elder, strive to be above reproach. Nothing detracts from our Lord’s church like a disconnect between a leader’s role and his character.

They were friends. These men truly enjoyed one another’s company. I realize there is no biblical requirement for elders to be friends, but their comradery was indispensable in the challenging moments of church work. As an elder, spend time with your fellow elders away from church duties. Eat in one another’s homes; find times for social activities without gathering in a corner for a “quick elder’s conference.” Keep the church business separate – build friendships, because those relationships will keep your eldership intact through the tough times.

They were positive. I’m not suggesting that everything went smoothly; it didn’t. They dealt with some prickly issues over the years, but they remained positive even through the challenges. As I look back on those elders, the word laughter comes to mind. These men could always find a reason to smile and laugh. And, as we know, laughter is good medicine. As an elder, keep smiling and laughing. I know there are heartbreaking issues in the church but stay positive. We serve a God for whom nothing is impossible. I hope the congregation you serve remembers your smiles and laughter.

They were role models. Long before I understood the concept of mentoring, these men were doing that for me and others in the congregation. I marvel to think of what I learned from their examples. As an elder, be worthy of imitation. There are youth in your congregation who are desperate for a positive role model.

They were faithful to their last breath. As an elder, stay faithful to the very end. With your last breath, leave a legacy of faithfulness. On Saturday evening, January 18th, my 92-year-old father’s last earthly breath slipped from his lips and he drew in his first breath of celestial air in that place where death is no more. I miss him but he was ever so ready to go! And I know where he is and Who is with him. Dad was the last of The Singing Shepherds to go home – the last of a band of brothers who impacted my home congregation and my life personally. I sure would like to hear them sing now!

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

by David Roadcup 

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

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

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

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

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

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

As overseers and leaders, elders are:

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

As Shepherds, elders are:

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

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

Brothers, lead well!

You Can Improve your Prayer Life

by Mark Taylor 

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

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

“Yeah, yeah.  Prayer is important.”

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

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

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

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

The Problem with Prayer

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

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

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

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

Anyone Can Do Better

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

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

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

Leading through Holiness

by Shawn McMullen 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus Came to…

by Ken Idleman 

It is the month of November 2019, and as a Christian leader, an under-shepherd of the Good Shepherd, I want to be sure I am representing Jesus and His purpose faithfully. Here is the checklist against which I am measuring myself today as a shepherd leader…

  1. He came to serve… “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life…” (Mark 10:45). This was His calling and it is mine as a Christ follower. I want to have the mind of Christ. I want to look not to my own interests, but to the interests of others. I want to be a servant of the Servant.
  2. He came to call sinners to repentance… Jesus said… “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). In our present generation I know this has to be done with genuine concern and a spirit of humility, but I also know it must be done. Today, the lines have been blurred. The black and white of God’s truth has been reduced to a politically correct grey. I want to be bold to do what Jesus did in the way He did it.
  3. He came to give light the world… Jesus said… “I have come as light into the world…” (John 12:46). So many walk in darkness… stumbling, confused, lost… in some cases hiding from God or hiding out in order to victimize others. Without His coming our world would be a very dark place! And He said to his followers, “You are [now] the light of the world.” I want to be a bright spot in my corner of the world.
  4. He came to divide… “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). Jesus warned that His loving Lordship would not be appreciated or embraced by everyone and that His cross would be an occasion for division in families and between friends. It was true then and it is true today that there are deep divisions between those who believe in Him and those who don’t. I am committed to help people find the bridge over this divide.
  5. He came to save us from hell… “For God sent not the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17). It is scriptural and it is rational, in a world so obviously dominated by the struggle between good and evil, to believe that a good God will punish evil and reward good, but in His mercy will save all who return His love. I want to be on a rescue mission with Him.
  6. He came to give us eternal life… “… whoever believes on Him [Jesus] will not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). It is stated in so many places and in so many ways in the New Testament. Like the thief next to him on an adjacent cross, one day we want to hear Him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” I want to go to heaven with my family and take as many others with me as I can!

Will you join me in a devotional act of recommitment to His call?

Rest

by Rick Grover 

I need a little niksen in my life, and I bet you do, too. And, no, that’s not a misspelling of “Nixon,” thank you very much.

Niksen is a Dutch word for doing nothing. It’s when you take a conscious stand against busyness and let your brain rest and recover. According to Olga Mecking in “The Case for Doing Nothing,” niksen “literally makes us more creative, better at problem-solving, and better at coming up with creative ideas” (The New York Times, April 29, 2019).

It’s hard to do nothing, because our brains and bodies are always doing something, even when we sleep. Psychologist Doreen Dodgen-Magee likens niksen to a car whose engine is running, but it isn’t going anywhere (idem). You set aside time where you have no plan other than to be. With burnout, anxiety disorders and stress-related diseases on the rise, intentional idleness might not be such a bad idea.

Sometimes we need to sit idly so we can think actively … and pray. But the idol of busyness keeps our thinking and praying at a minimum. We believe our busyness is a symbol of our status: the busier I am, the more important I must be. We want to prove our self-worth by the measurement of activity.

Nonsense. The busier I am may only prove I lack discipline and time management.

Not long ago, I gave our church elders a proposal for me to take a sabbatical. After looking through it, they responded with one critique: “Your proposal is too busy. We don’t want you coming back from your sabbatical more tired than before you left. You need to cut it back and build in times to rest.” Basically, they told me I needed to include niksen. I did, and they approved my sabbatical. And I am forever grateful for that gift of grace and that nudge for niksen.

Now, I’m trying to live that on a weekly basis. I’m trying to set aside one day every week for a sabbath. Shabbat, the Hebrew word for sabbath, means to cease, rest, desist. Or, as the Dutch would say, shabbat means niksen. I’m also trying to do a better job of implementing niksen on a daily basis, where I build into my schedule regular breaks. Studies have actually shown that regular breaks increase work performance and productivity (https://doi.org/10.1038/nn864).

Whether you are a minister or an elder, you need to set an example that rest is just as important as serving. If you try to lead from a tired soul, you will burn out, give out, and fall out from the role God has given you.  

I hope you will give yourself permission to take time each day to let your brain rest and recover and a day each week to exhale the stress and inhale the rest. Put down your smart phone, close your laptop, turn off the TV, and idly sit so that you can actively pray.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Jesus, Matthew 11:28, NIV).

Drill Your Way to Christlikeness

by Rod Nielsen 

If you have ever been in military basic training, law enforcement academy, or if you tried out for sports you remember the drills you did over and over until certain behaviors became automatic. Even Typing or Key-boarding class used drills:

  • frf(space)
  • juj(space)
  • frf(space)
  • juj(space)
  • ded(space)
  • kik(space)
  • ded(space)
  • kik…

…and on and on through the keyboard until our fingers found the keys by muscle memory. We hated the drudgery of repetition, but the end result was that we knew what to do “in the heat of battle;” we knew how make a play in real time; our typing skills advanced to hundreds of words per minute.

Spiritual disciplines are like that. We practice them over and over, throughout our lives seeking to become mature, attaining to the full measure of Christ. We train ourselves to be the right kind of Jesus follower and do the Christ-like thing in every situation.

As leaders in our churches, Elders and Preachers, we know that our congregations want us to set the example. They watch us to see what a “good Christian” does. They trust Paul’s advice in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” We want our brothers and sisters to become more and more like Jesus. For them and for us there is probably no better method of growing in Christ than to practice spiritual disciplines.

Through the centuries of Christian faith and practice, the search for God happens through the classical disciplines of spiritual life. These activities of mind, body, and spirit are the tools God uses to help us become like Jesus. They are how we follow Jesus in discipleship.

Richard Foster, author of the well-read book Celebration of Discipline wrote in the preface to its accompanying workbook, Celebrating the Disciplines that we are in a “double search.” We are searching for God and God is searching for us. God initiates the search. He plants a yearning in our hearts to know Him, but that does not make our search any less important. He invites us to seek Him.

In his book Foster discusses 12 separate disciplines. I do not in any way suggest that every Christian must follow this method of getting to know our wonderful God. I certainly do not want anyone to make a checklist of them. I suggest these as individual ideas that you can apply in your life that will help you in your spiritual growth. As you increase and strengthen your Christlikeness your example serves to teach and encourage members of your congregation who are looking to you for guidance and direction.

To lead our churches well it is necessary for us to follow Jesus well. I suggest to every Elder and Preacher: refresh your knowledge and understanding of spiritual disciplines and practice them in view of your congregation. You will grow in Christlikeness and your church will grow with you.

Cool Guys Don’t Say “Good Morning”

by Dick Wamsley 

I was taking my early morning ride on the way to a bike trail in central Illinois.  It was a beautiful, though typically humid, summer morning.  As I approached the trail, bordered on both sides by trees and brush, I did not see the young woman walking on the trail.  As soon as I turned from the road onto the trail, I had to swerve left to miss her.  As I passed, I said, “Sorry.  Good morning.”  She replied, “That’s okay.  Good morning.”  

Later during my ride, I saw a biker approaching me in the distance.  In a few seconds, I could see the rider was a young, good-sized athletic guy with sunglasses.  His t-shirt and shorts looked like they had been painted onto his muscular frame.  When he came close enough to hear me, I said, “Good morning” and gave a brief hand wave, as I always do when I meet someone on the trail.  He did not flinch, nor say anything.  He looked straight ahead and kept up his pedaling cadence.   I said to myself, “I guess cool guys don’t say ‘good morning.'”  

Later that morning I sat down at my computer and found the daily “Focus on the Family” newsletter.  One of the stories they linked was headlined, “Why lawmakers are cursing more now than ever,” from The Hill.  The article said in part that “Profanity — once considered a major no-no among those seeking public office — is no longer an earth-shattering political snafu.  And according to new research, this year could be on track to see members of Congress swearing up a storm more than ever before.  The research … shows a stark uptick in the overall usage of curse words by legislators on Twitter.”  (Link to The Hill story)  

These experiences remind me how social civility and common courtesy are waning in our culture and in some churches as well.  There is a growing lack of respect for elected officials, police officers, teachers, political candidates, those with differing opinions on social issues, pastors, parents … and the list goes on.  Instead of sitting down at a table and debating our differences, some choose to shout down and even physically attack those with whom they disagree.  

As Christians, and especially as Christian leaders, we are commanded in Scripture to: “live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18); to “Pay … respect to whom respect is owed” (Romans 13:7); and to always be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do[ing] it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).   

A recent blog by Thom Rainer was entitled, “Ten Common Responses from Fired Pastors.”  After listening to hundreds of fired pastors, here are three of the ten responses he commonly hears from them:

  • No one gave me a reason for my firing.  Rainer adds, “Though this comment may seem unfathomable, it is commonly true.  Pastors are often dismissed without any reasons.  They are then told not to say a word if they want a severance.”
  • No one asked for my perspective.  Rainer says, “Countless personnel committees and similar groups fire someone because of comments they hear from others.  They have no desire to hear the other side of the story.”
  • A power group pushed me out.  Rainer comments, “This reason often explains the [previous] response. The perspective of the power group or the bully is the only one they hear.”

(Link to Thom Rainer blog)  

Is it any wonder that a large percentage of those who enter vocational ministry leave it during their first seven years?  The apparent lack of civility and common courtesy is a “black eye” for the church as a whole and contradicts the command given at least 22 times in the New Testament to Christians, “love one another.”  

If the tide of social civility and common courtesy is ever to rise in our culture, people will need to see those traits in the church and especially in its leaders.  As Jesus said to his disciples and future church leaders, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).