Moral Authority

by Ken Idleman 

Let’s be honest and admit it.  We all know it’s true.  No one can effectively lead, in any context, without authority.  You have to have it to both endure and to be effective as a leader.  So what is authority?  In short, it is the power to influence others.  And while this may be a good, concise dictionary definition, it forces us to ask questions of ourselves.
 
So how do you get this intangible, yet indispensable, leadership commodity?  
 
It is not a set of techniques you learn. It is not a personality adjustment you make.  It is not a particular style you adopt. Deference is uniquely the by-product of genuine morality.  Your most important authority as a leader is moral authority. 
People don’t necessarily follow someone just because he/she has the highest salary, the corner office or their name at the apex of an organizational chart.  We have all seen people who have been conferred with lofty titles, honorary degrees and monetary perks who have not endured; nor have they been truly effective.  In fact, they often fail spectacularly because of the organic lack of followership that results from being perceived as secretive, insular and self-serving.  
 
But, by contrast, people naturally defer to someone they admire, someone they trust, someone who is perceived to be genuine, someone who is believablesomeone who is good.  

Jesus Christ is Exhibit A.  He did not take the political, military, fiscal or popularity path to exert His influence and change the world.  He took the pathway of humility and righteousness.  He chose to quietly and patiently love, serve, teach and extend grace to people.  And throughout the ages since His death and resurrection, right up to the present, more people freely bow their knee to Jesus as Lord of Life than any other.  
 
His secret: “He faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15).  He is the incomparable Leader of Leaders because “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!  Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the Name that is above every Name” (Philippians 2:8-9).  People instinctively follow those that they consider to be morally underpinned and personally sacrificial.

There is a reason why every single one of the ‘qualifications’ for a church leader/elder in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are character qualifications, except one – the ability to teach.  Jesus wants His church to be led by righteous men, moral men who embrace God-honoring holiness.  They were to be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom (Acts 6:5).  The Church is the one place where a man’s financial portfolio/net worth, academic credentials, business acumen, name recognition and connectedness in the community are simply beside the point.  We respect and select promise keepers to lead the church.  What are the commitments that the leadership candidate has dared to make and cared to keep in his life?  That’s it. 

So that was then … what about now?  Hebrews 6:6 clearly says that it is possible to ‘crucify the Son of God all over again and subject Him to public disgrace.’  This is happening most often today as Satan succeeds again and again in his quest to either immediately destroy or gradually erode the moral authority of the shepherds of Christ, church leaders, professed Godly influencers.

  • Gordon McDonald’s book, Rebuilding Your Broken World, is a personal testimony about the consequences of his loss of leadership because of his adultery. 
  • Jim Bakker was honest about the fallout from his moral failure and greed in his book, I Was Wrong. 
  • Jimmy Swaggart was nationally televised as he dramatically confessed through tears to his immorality, “I have sinned against you my Lord!”  His church and TV ministry tanked.
  • Ted Haggard, Robert Tilton, W.G. Grant and many other ‘leaders’ over the years have been publicly exposed for their sexual proclivities and financial improprieties.
  • Pedophile priests & cover-up cardinals have produced congregational disillusionment and incalculable financial loss for Catholicism.
  • Bill Hybels categorically denied the testimony of sexual impropriety by 10 different women and the abuse of power by several close coworkers… and then disappeared into thin air leaving behind a traumatized church.
  • Jerry Falwell Jr. has recently been indicted by pictures and videos posted online, along with his juvenile responses to his immoral choices, before walking away with $10 million of severance pay from Liberty University.  

Too ungracious of me to name names? Too much brutal honesty?  I am sorry, but we as the church have got to apply some kind of discipline to stop these 20th & 21st century public scourgings of the Lord Jesus.  We have got to do something to block these gut punches to the Body of Christ / the Church.  The perception of moral authority in Christian leaders has been and still is being undermined.

A Christian leader living a duplicitous life must repent!  A church leader involved in secret sin must repent!  The only other path is to resign and quietly slip out of the leadership yoke at least temporarily, if not permanently.  

Jesus and His mission for us – to lead all people everywhere to know His salvation and His loving Lordship – will suffer eternal loss if a leader fails to guard his heart and value his moral authority as the indispensable Christian leadership core. 

A Praying Elder’s Wife

by Dana Spence 

What does it look like to be an “Elder’s Wife”?

I used to think being an elder of a church just meant you were recognized for your faithfulness and your opinion and that your insight mattered to help steer the church.  Not to say that that is a wrong statement, but there is so much more to the role.  It requires a lot of time and energy.  It’s not always fun and rarely easy.  I learned that pretty quickly once my husband became an elder eight years ago.  We share and discuss everything with one another in our marriage.  Once he accepted the role to be an elder at our church, he explained to me there were going to be times he wouldn’t be able to share things with me.  So much is discussed and brought to the elders that is private, personal, and confidential.  I had to accept and become comfortable with the fact I wasn’t going to know everything that was going on behind those closed doors.  He wasn’t going to be able to share everything with me. 

It’s difficult to see him carry heavy burdens, have his mind be preoccupied with issues he can’t share and talk about with me.  This was new territory for us.  I was so used to asking how things went, or telling him I could tell something was bothering him, and then converse about it.  There are certain issues he can’t openly talk about with me.  I’ve learned to turn to prayer.  When I see him burdened, I pray for God to give him wisdom and discernment.  I pray for him to have peace and unity with the other elders.  Not only do I pray for my husband, but I pray and ask God to help me to be the wife and partner he needs.  

There are also times where he needs to talk through something and it’s important to be a confidant while not allowing the struggle or conflict to overtake my own emotions.  Trust plays a big role in being an elder’s wife.  The company I work for is named after Proverbs 31, so I’ve read through it many times.  Proverbs 31:11 says “Her husband can trust her, and she will greatly enrich his life.”  If he opens up to you about concerns he has, you need to listen in confidence.  Proverbs 31:12 continues: “She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.”  It’s natural as wives and women to sympathize with our husbands, but it’s important to not react in a way that might make things worse.  It’s important to support, love, honor and trust your husband always.   

Praying for our husbands and our marriage is something we should always be doing, but turning to prayer has especially helped me be an elder’s wife.

A Land Between

by Leah Johnson

Yesterday, a song lyric stuck with me: “Joy still comes in the morning / hope still walks with the hurting” (by Matt Maher in the song Alive and Breathing).  Because it was such a pleasant tune it stayed with me over the next several hours.  I found it expectant, upbeat, on the edge of the next … something; it made me wonder how God will resolve the next situation. 

In this season of life, I’m not hurting, though I do find I’m “in between.”  Theoretically, we are coming out of COVID quarantine.  Schools are back in session, so I will be back to volunteering at an after school program for hurting children.  We must re-tool and change our approach completely.  The Lord is taking me out of my rut and I’m feeling it.  What’s next?  Our congregation’s programing for kids has not resumed, so that’s another volunteer opportunity on hold.  I don’t feel useful, productive.  I know about Jeff Manion’s book, The Land Between.  Maybe I should read it now.  He focuses on the uniqueness of Israel’s journey from their liberation to their final destination of the Promised Land.  At times of uncertainty, they wanted to return to sitting around pots of meat in their proverbial “good old days” (Numbers 11:5).  Did they actually have plenty to eat as they said, or was that how they chose to remember their slavery?  Is this my attitude?  Do I long for what used to be, meanwhile missing the lesson God has in front of me right now?

How about you?  Are you at loose ends?  Unsure of the future?  As an elder’s wife, do you feel like you’re in a “land between?”  Are some of your areas of volunteer ministry on hold right now?  It feels strange doesn’t it?  Do these days make you feel tense, uncertain about tomorrow?  Why would “normal” be behind us, “back there,” before COVID?  What if “normal” is tomorrow, where God is lovingly leading us?

Let’s go back to the song lyric, “joy [still] comes in the morning.”  We get that phrase from Psalm 30.  David wrote Psalm 30, but he wrote it for the occasion of the Temple’s dedication, which happened years after his death.  David was looking ahead, to the future, expectantly watching God at work and waiting on His deliverance.  Rather than blame God for the stressful times while he ran away from Saul’s murderous intentions, David understood it as an opportunity for growth.  God wasn’t out to “get him,” rather in a Father’s love, He was giving David a chance to repent, be stronger, grow closer to his heavenly Father.  David didn’t perceive trials as God picking on him but rather that he was being shaped and refined for future service.

How about us today?  Do I moan, “Why is God making it so hard for me?” or even “Why is God allowing this?”, do I ask instead, “What am I supposed to learn from this situation?”  I can find joy when I know that God is working in my life.  There is hope when I am hurting because God is walking with me through this “land between.”

I am not alone.  We are not alone.

Just Like Proverbs 31

by Stephanie Wright

Here’s a question…

In our world today, how can you help your husband in his work as an elder?

Many will say they can’t, that they are already doing as much as they can, struggling just to come up for air, feeling burned out, stretched to their limit.  I, for one, would place myself in that category. I am crazy busy all the time; well, most of the time, hmmm … some of the time, at least. Dang, I am not that busy at all!  But why does it seem that I can never get all my work accomplished, I’m always behind and playing catch up, and that being stretched to the limit seems an understatement? 

I tried for many years to work like the woman of noble character, the gal in Proverbs 31. I am sure you have read it at one time or another.  No?  Stop reading this moment and go open your Bible to this passage, starting in verse 10. You will find a wonder woman, one who works vigorously with eager hands, is clothed with strength and dignity, and doesn’t seem to need sleep.  She rises before the sun comes up, and burns the late night oil.  Her children call her blessed, and her husband praises her!  What is her secret?  I want to know, because trying to be like her didn’t work for me.  I was grumpy all the time, because I was tired all the time!  I was not able to help my husband because I couldn’t help myself get off the crazy merry-go-round!

Now, mind you, that portion of Proverbs 31 is all I had read, and I completely missed the gem of the whole chapter. Don’t miss the last phrase of verse 30: a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised.  It’s so quiet, yet it speaks volumes.  She has a holy respect for God, a relationship with Him, and God grants her the blessing of being able to accomplish all things, because she is doing them for Him.  The Lord wants that same relationship with you – not you and your husband, not you and the kids, not you and your job – just with you.  Imagine just you and God being together, without distractions, and with your Bible open so He may speak to you.  Doesn’t it sound delightful?  It is so sweet, so soft, so intimate.  And it’s yours for the taking.  He is calling you to that peace.  He leads us individually beside the still waters (Psalm 23:2).

I know it will take a few moments to clear some of your busyness to find time, but when you do, you will discover you never want to be without that precious time together, and will make sure nothing comes between you and your special relationship with your Savior!

Now let’s get back to the original question, how can you help your husband in his work as an elder?  Remember, there is no better teacher than that of an example.  When we display God’s ways to another, He is able to use this example to glorify Him.  And also 21remember, it takes no words.  Words only get in God’s way.  There is no reason to tell someone what God wants.  Instead, show them what God wants.  Be the woman God wants you to be.   From your husband to your kids, from co-workers to cashiers, everyone will see within you an example of how a true woman of noble character looks and acts.

Who knows, you may even end up not needing any sleep! (I still haven’t figured that one out!)

Unnamed but not Anonymous: Manoah’s Wife

by Paulette Stamper 

What comes to mind when you hear the biblical name of Samson? Chances are you recall the stories of his long hair and supernatural strength. Or maybe you think of his less-than-ideal relationship with Delilah and his ultimate tragic demise. While these stories may be familiar to us, I wonder how many of us are familiar with his parents’ background – specifically his mother? Before you read any further, I want to encourage you to pause and read Judges 13. It will take about five minutes, and it might be the best five minutes of your day.
 
The Book of Judges recounts the ongoing saga of Israel ending up in one hot mess after another as a result of their rebellion against God. In this chapter, they were under the harsh oppression of the Philistines for forty years (and we think four or eight years of a President we may or may not like is a long time!). Circumstances were increasingly difficult for those who remained faithful to God in an increasingly anti-God culture. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
 
I would summarize the chapter like this…
 
Israel was in BIG trouble, and they needed a BIG solution, and God revealed his BIG plan to a wife who displayed BIG faith.
 
If we dig our way through Judges 13, we will discover some pretty big chunks of gold. Let’s look at a few of those gold nuggets together.
 
Gold nugget #1 
 
Dire circumstances make ideal settings to hear God speak.
 
In this instance, Manoah and his wife lived in a hostile culture, and they also faced the personal hardship of being unable to have children. Just when things looked like they couldn’t get any worse, God sent his angel to Manoah’s wife to deliver the news that not only would she have a son, he would eventually be the one to rescue Israel. Undoubtedly, this answered two prayers – one for a child, and one for Israel to be rescued from her enemies.
 
Gold nugget #2
 
God chose to reveal his plan to Manoah’s wife – even though His plan included them both.
 
Let me pause and clarify something – this isn’t a commentary on the roles of women and men in the church. Not even close. Instead, this is simply a beautiful reminder that God esteems women, and in this particular instance, He chose to reveal His plan to Manoah’s wife. Her faith in God’s Word would play a huge role in her husband’s response – which we will see in the next nugget.
 
Gold nugget #3
 
A faith-filled response can bring peace and reassurance in a fearful situation.
 
That’s a nice way of saying that sometimes we freak out and we need a calming word from our husbands, and sometimes our husbands freak out, and Lord knows, we need a strong, confident, and faith-filled response that ushers in the peace and strength required for the task at hand. That’s precisely what Manoah’s wife did. When Manoah panicked and thought they would die because they’d seen the angel of the Lord, she said, “If the Lord had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and grain offering from our hands, nor shown us all these things or now told us this” (Judges 13:23, NIV).
 
We also live in an increasingly anti-God culture, but make no mistake, it can serve as an ideal setting to hear God speak. If we position ourselves to hear God by staying in His Word and communing with Him in prayer, our voice can and will carry significant weight – especially in our marriage, so let’s use it wisely.
 
Listen to God, then faithfully and confidently use your voice to encourage and strengthen your husband. Remember, God can and will do BIG things through both of you

When All My Plans are Ground to Dust

by Jon Weatherly 

Leaders plan. Leaders write and revise and execute and evaluate plans. Leaders plan planning retreats.

Elders are leaders; therefore, elders plan.

Today, all of humanity, including the church, is about a half year into the COVID-19 pandemic. All our plans have been ground to dust by a microscopic strand of RNA.

The Letter of James says some pointed things about planning:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that” (James 4:13–15).

There was a time when I read those words and thought, “That has to do with selfish planning about getting rich. It has nothing to do with other kinds of planning, not church planning, not my planning.” Well, amid COVID-19, I’m revising that understanding.

James cautions us about our plans because we humans are terrible knowers of the future. With hindsight we love to take credit for knowing things in advance, but the truth is, we’re just educated guessers who sometimes guess right and conveniently forget our wrong guesses.

God, on the other hand, is a perfect knower of the future. And God is a perfect promise-keeper about the future. That’s why James says we should say, “If it is the Lord’s will,” not as a pious formula but as a confession of our weakness and our utter reliance on the Lord. James was simply applying Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:31–34:

So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Our ignorance of the future should not paralyze us. It should direct us to trust the God who knows the future and cares for us so much that he sent his Son to die for us.

This tells us something about our planning, something more constructive than “stop planning.” We cannot project the future accurately, though we can make reasonable guesses about parts of it. But we can not only trust God but work to enhance the capacities of the Lord’s church to trust God under any circumstances. James begins his letter by telling suffering Christians to count their suffering as joy because it produces perseverance and maturity (James 1:2–3). Moments when hardship grinds our plans to dust remind us that the Christian life and Christian leadership are about not being the best planner but becoming a persistently faithful, trusting follower and helping others become the same.

So at that next planning retreat, on the other side of the pandemic, let’s talk about the future, in full humility and as best we can. But let’s place ourselves in the Lord’s almighty hands and ask ourselves what we can do to grow up to persistent, mature faith and guide others to the same destination. It has a promising outcome: “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).

Laugh Again

by Gary Johnson 

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

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

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!