2 Questions

by Billy Strother 

I love elders – always have and always will.  These dedicated spiritual servants put their hearts, souls, and finances on the line for local congregations.  In some congregations, new elders are recruited with no training or mentoring.  There is a last-second nomination scramble, with only a few days to affirm or not affirm one’s willingness to accept the nomination.  

Sometimes, new elders have no idea into what they are being launched into.  They simply said “yes” out of a servant’s heart … then comes the whirlwind.  

The congregation I was serving most recently provides rotational and intentional leadership training, mentoring, and personal spiritual care before one is invited to serve as an elder, and active mentoring continues in the first term of eldership.  

With or without training, even in the best of healthy circumstances, surprises in the burdens and joys of eldership happen to us all.  

In a recent elders’ meeting, I asked our multi-generational group of nine elders two questions.  (Our eldership is a larger number because we have been actively passing the elder leadership baton to the next generation of church leaders – half of our elders are in their early thirties or early forties, six of the nine are in their first term serving as an elder).  My explanation for the two questions posed to our elders was that I would record and share their answers on this blog, in the hope that their answers would help other newly-serving elders or those contemplating serving for the first time in eldership.  Our elders were vigorous and eager in their sharing of answers. I’m still not sure if they were talking to you or simply over-eager to educate me!  

Perhaps you have or have had that “deer in the headlights” look after your first elders’ meeting.  (My elders conceded such was unanimously their experience.)  Or, it could be that you have been asked annually to serve for years; but annually you have declined nomination – from the outside, serving in eldership looks severely mystical, or  too much like a monthly city council meeting, possessing all of the excitement of a root canal.  

I share our collective answers to two simple questions in the hope you will find encouragement in your own journey as an elder or to eldership.  

Question 1: “What do you wish someone had told you before you became an elder?”

  1. Serving would include more than a “one hour a month” meeting.  (Some elders had been recruited with the promise that eldership only consisted of one meeting for “one hour a month.”)  We corrected that inaccuracy in approaching candidates.
  2. Muting cell phones.  If you are not retired, and still work full-time, mute your cell phone!  (Texts, emails, phone calls, prayer requests, and Facebook posts will come in at all times.)  The advice?  Take control of your cell phone; do not let it control you.  Don’t just put it on vibrate mode, use the Do Not Disturb setting.
  3. Learning there is only one important voice to which to listen and follow: Jesus.  Eldership is not like politics – you represent no group in the church; you only represent Jesus, and what is best in Jesus’ eyes.
  4. Understanding the church is not like a secular, “normal” business, especially if you are from a professional business background.  (There is at times no clear “chain of command” and sometimes no “best practice” to lean on.) 
  5. Sitting in an elders’ meeting is different than sitting in a secular management meeting or fiscal court.  It is more of a burden to serve as an elder than to be a small business owner.
  6. Deferring church business out of our meetings and into staff hands as much as possible, so we could be active Shepherds to real hurting people. 
  7. Keeping necessary confidential secrets (even from your spouse) and prayer requests you become privy to as an elder, until/unless the elder team is ready to disclose them for a Kingdom benefit.
  8. Committing to be supportive when the elder team makes a decision, even if I personally (or church friends close to me) disagree.  Unless I am willing to resign, I must commit to be supportive for the sake of elder unity.  Sometimes, it is hard to admit that I might just be wrong, and that I will need to trust the rest of the elder team.
  9. Abandoning the naïveté to believe that if I reached out to every disgruntled church member who disagreed with an elder team decision, that, since they knew me, they would trust me.
  10. Finding it difficult to carve out time for prayer and Bible study because of the tyranny of the church-urgent. 

Question 2: “What Unexpected Blessing Have You Experienced by Serving as an Elder?”

  1. Watching a new idea for ministry delivery get tossed into elder meeting discussion, and then seeing it come to fruition
  2. Possessing an inside look at God’s faithfulness: knowing things kept in leadership confidence, which are best not shared outside the elders, and then watching God make bold moves to resolve or complete those things
  3. Watching people spiritually grow, including my fellow elders.
  4. Experiencing deep fellowship with elders who are spiritual heroes.
  5. Mentoring from older, experienced elders; being challenged in healthy ways by younger new elders
  6. Becoming more Christ-centered by being with seasoned elders who are already Christ-centered.
  7. Becoming a more effective leader in one’s small group, by spending time in team with effective elders
  8. Experiencing unity develop as a group of Christian men. (There was an associated quote: “There is no way I could have predicted the friendships, the connections, and my own spiritual growth with these men.”)
  9. Discovering even seemingly small leadership decisions can lead to positive, amplified Kingdom fruit
  10. Experiencing deep spiritual refreshing in elder meetings, often unexpected, and always when it was needed the most
  11. Participating in something that will bear spiritual fruit long after the second date is carved on one’s headstone

All agreed, the blessings of serving as an elder far exceeded the burdens. (That is why there are 11 answers to question 2, but only 10 answers for question 1.)  At its worst, none of us had ever experienced an elders’ meeting as bad as a root canal or a raucous city council meeting.

Never the Same River

by Rick Lowry 

In the sixth century B.C., the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “No man ever steps into the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

Every church elder in America today understands this metaphor. From decade to decade, from year to year, maybe even from elders meeting to elders meeting, the river of progress keeps rolling, causing us as leaders to constantly adjust. I’ve been a church leader for over forty years, and I’ve seen the questions in the forefront move from doctrinal (“How often should communion be served?”) to the methodological (“What style of worship services should we have?”) to the current challenges, like “How would Christ have us regard the gay couples who are visiting our services?”

How can elders stay ahead of the endless adjustments? Here are three practices and attitudes that may help:

  1. Stay grounded in the Bible and Prayer.  In a time that can be disorienting and confusing, Christ stays the same. Keeping our focus on Him is the place to start when things are rushing past us. As leaders, we can keep a priority on meaningful interaction with Scripture on a daily basis, and serious prayer that involves personal worship, confession and intercession for our church. If we lead by trusting our own power and intellect, we will do nothing of lasting spiritual value. If we stayed tuned in to Him, He promises He will guide us: “In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:6)
  2. Go the distance.  We all have seasons of fatigue when we it would be easier to just rest and not feel the constant pressure to keep pushing ahead. As spiritual leaders in the 21st century, we do not get that privilege. There have been times and places in the history of the church when the job of leaders was to be the keepers of tradition and make sure things did not We do not live in one of those times, so our leadership has to remain dynamic. We lay a solid foundation through the Word of God and prayer, but from there we resolve to never close our minds to what God might be doing. We see examples around us of church leaders who stopped somewhere along the way, and the effectiveness of their church waned. Some landed on insisting that church members wearing clothing styles of a past century. Some insisted that a certain version of the Bible must be protected, burdening church members with a translation that is difficult for modern readers. As hard as it is, we church leaders have to live that daily, difficult balance between the truth and the times. We are here today because someone before us found that balance and persevered it. The stakes are high: will we lead faithfully on our watch?
  3. We cannot control the transforming world in which we live.  In a day of change, our church is going to change, no matter what we do. Because the people in our church are changing and the world around us is changing. To be an effective church leader in most of the U.S. means to be in the hot seat. If we are doing our job right, there will always be people within our church who don’t like our decisions, and there will always be people outside the church who don’t like our decisions. In fact, if we aren’t addressing difficult concerns regularly, we probably aren’t leading aggressively enough. Most things are beyond our control, but we can resolve to trust Christ for our leadership, and jump into the deep.

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?

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).

Staying Mentally Sharp

by David Roadcup 

I have a small collection of pocketknives.  One of the things about using a knife for any purpose is the need to keep the blade sharp.  Whether a hunting knife, kitchen knife, or even a chain saw, the tool is effective only if it is sharp.
 
As elders serve at their posts, one issue to keep in mind is the need to grow and flourish in mental development.  Staying fresh in this area will provide new ideas and quality information to make us as effective as possible at our posts as church leaders.
 
Staying sharp mentally can be accomplished in the following ways:

  1. Stay in the Word of God on a regular basis. 

Filling our minds and hearts with Scripture on a daily basis feeds us spiritually.  It will also keep us continually focused on the right things.  Being in the Word will remind us about who we are and what our task is.

  1. Read good content. 

Reading valuable books, newsletters and articles on leadership, spiritual development, church growth, cultural trends and other important topics is vital to an elder staying sharp.  There are now more good books on church leadership generally and eldership specifically than ever before.  Information on growing healthy churches is available by the proverbial truckload.  Online articles, e-books, blogs, podcasts and other helpful sources of information are available to leaders in amazing abundance.  As leaders, “keeping our wells full” when it comes to reading is critical.  We grow when we read.  I have served with elders who did not like to read.  This is understandable.  I would encourage those who do not find reading enjoyable to consider various audio books as an alternative – books on media (tapes, CD) or purely virtually (such as Amazon’s subsidiary Audible).  Even though some leaders may not find reading pleasurable, I would encourage them to read anyway.  It is such a great way to stay sharp, find encouragement and stay on the leading edge when it comes to leadership.

  1. Attend helpful conventions and conferences.

There are several excellent meetings that would benefit someone who is leading as an elder.  Here are just a few:

  • Exponential (March 2020 in Orlando)
  • The Global Leadership Summit (August 2020, virtually)
  • Spire (October 2019, Orlando)
  • Catalyst (October 2019, Atlanta)
  • International Conference on Missions / “ICOM” (November 2019, Kansas City)
  1. Annual Elders’ or Elder-and-Staff Retreats 

Retreats are valuable and can produce excellent results!  Getting away from our normal environment, taking time from our routine and having the chance to plan, focus on critical issues and discuss solutions are some of the positive outcomes when Christian leaders gather in a retreat setting.
 
Jim, Gary and I all lead elder retreats as part of our ministry through e2.  In these retreats, the spirit and enthusiasm is high as brothers meet to fellowship, learn and to pray together.  We discuss topics such as “The Growing Spiritual Life of the Elder,” “Leading Effective Change” and “How to Handle Conflict in the Church.”  We facilitate exercises for leaders that strengthen relationships between elders and staff.  We make time for intercessory prayer together and fellowship around the table as we share meals and conversation.  It is an excellent experience together as the Lord meets us there with His blessing.
 
Keeping our edge sharp and staying informed through involving ourselves in the above ways will make us more effective in serving our Chief Shepherd.  God bless you as you continue to grow and serve! 

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? 

Road Trip

by Jeff Stone 

Do you remember when, as a child, your school would load up the students onto buses and go visit a museum or some other destination of educational value?  The location change from the familiar classroom setting seemed to stir excitement and generate fresh learning.  Just as that experience energized your class, a road trip can accomplish the same synergy for your elders.
 
Periodically, our team of elders leaves our familiar conference room and takes our meeting time together on the road.  We’ve gone to conferences, men’s events, visited Bible colleges, supported area revivals, and have concluded that different surroundings stimulate new perspectives.  Often while en route, we enjoy a meal together and the conversation riding together while in the vehicles is most productive.  Perhaps the greatest value we’ve discovered from taking a road trip is simply the value of spending time together as a team.
 
The elders at my previous church in Dublin, Ohio received a prayer request from a new Christian man, deeply concerned about his sister’s diagnosis of an aggressive cancer.  Not content simply to add her to the prayer list, we piled into two cars after a work day, drove 2 ½ hours to where she lived, and prayed fervently with her and her husband.  Twelve years later, Tracy is still living and she, her husband, and her brother remain eternally grateful to those elders who went on a prayer road trip.
 
The Bright elders had learned of a faithful minister who was abruptly let go from the church he served in a far-away state.  We prayed for him in our elders’ meeting and collected a love offering of $300 to provide some assistance to his family.  We continued to pray for God to provide him a new place to do ministry.  We rejoiced when God relocated him to our state, to a church within an hour from where our epicenter of intercessory prayer had occurred.  After he settled into his new role, we went on an elders’ road trip to attend on a Sunday morning where he was leading worship, after which he was able to meet and personally express his thanks to some brothers who had helped to “hold his arms up” (Exodus 17:9-13).
 
More recently, the elders at Bright went on a road trip to attend Gary Johnson’s final service as the Lead Minister at Indian Creek.  Gary has been an e2 coach to our church and we wanted to be there to support and encourage him as he completed thirty years at the Creek and would begin the next day to pour his total efforts into the global impact of e2.  We were blessed by worshiping together as a team and were nourished by the entire service.  Spending those hours traveling and worshiping together with each other was enriching to all of us.
 
Do you see the solid benefits that await your team of elders when you begin to add this dimension to your meetings and experience the advantages of periodically taking road trips together?  Let me challenge you to try to incorporate a road trip into your team’s plan in the very near future.  The variety will break the mundane “Meeting Merry Go Round” and unleash God’s Spirit to work through your elders via some new opportunities.
 
I’d love to hear about a road trip that your elders have taken!  Happy Highways!

They Have Names

by Barry Cameron 

 

Someone once said, “The church is not a HOTEL for saints, but a HOSPITAL for sinners.”  Unfortunately, even those who work in a hospital often forget why they’re there.
 
In the movie Patch Adams, (which is based on a true story), Robin Williams played a medical student (Patch) who cares more about people than procedures and protocol.  He heads out on a number of experiments to prove his point that people want to be cared for; and when they are, they’ll get better.
 
In one of the more moving scenes, a group of medical students is following a medical professor on his rounds.  They walk up on a woman in a hospital gown lying on a gurney in the hallway.  The professor looks at his clipboard and says, “Here we have a juvenile onset diabetic with poor circulation and diabetic neuropathy. As you can see, these are diabetic ulcers with lymphedema and evidence of gangrene.  Questions?”
 
One of the students asks, “Any osteomyelitis?”
 
“None apparent,” the professor says, “although not definitive treatment.  To stabilize the blood sugar, consider antibiotics, possibly amputation.”
 
The woman lies there, obviously embarrassed and confused as this group of future doctors stares and openly discusses her problems in front of everyone.
 
All of a sudden someone asks, “What’s her name?”  There’s an uncomfortable pause as if something is happening that shouldn’t be happening.  The group of third-year medical students back away to reveal the questioner. “I was just wondering the patient’s name,” Patch (Robin Williams) says.
 
Caught completely off guard, the professor hurriedly struggles to find the patient’s name on his clipboard.  Finally he finds it, and with obvious embarrassment says, “Marjorie.” 

“Hi, Marjorie,” Patch says, with a warm smile.
 
“Hi,” Marjorie replies, lifting her head, revealing her own smile of unconcealed surprise and appreciation.
 
The flustered professor tries to regroup and says, “Yes, thank you.  Let’s move on,” and the group walks on down the hall.
 
Patch Adams was trying to get the faculty and his fellow students to see that people matter and the difference it would make if people were treated with kindness, respect and yes, even love.
 
We need to see that in the church, too! People matter to God, and they need to matter to us.  Have you ever stopped to consider the thousands of names in the Bible, many of which we can’t even pronounce?  Ever wonder why they’re there?  Because people matter to God.  They have names.
 
Everyone who attends church has a name, too, and we need to care enough about them to find out what it is.  I’m not suggesting that any of us know everyone’s name.  In many congregations, that would be virtually impossible.  What I am saying is everyone needs to be known by someone, and that is easily attainable.
 
Name tags help, and we should use more of them in as many settings as we can.  But the most effective method is simply to ask, “What’s your name?”  Every person who attends a church service or activity ought to have the privilege of hearing someone say their name … every time they come.  It’s true, “People won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  And it begins with caring enough to know their name.
 
We need to commit ourselves to making sure our church is a place where people matter more than programs, procedures or protocol.  After all, what could be worse than lying in a hospital gown on a gurney in a hallway somewhere with people talking about you and your problems?  How about being in a church where no one knows your name and no one really cares?
 
Let’s make it our goal to be a church where people know they matter. Let’s communicate loud and clear to everyone who comes: You matter to God and you matter to us!
 
When we do, like Patch Adams, we’ll make ’em smile.

Once Bitten, Twice … Repeat

by Jared Johnson

“There are no Lone Ranger Christians.” 

“Community is messy.” 

Yes.  We know.  But don’t we all, at least sometimes, hole up and avoid others?  Don’t we, even as church leaders, sometimes choose isolation?   We’re in the people business! 

I’m sympathetic.  Just temperamentally, it’s easy for me to clam up verbally and withdraw emotionally.  And even if you’re an extrovert, who, in today’s cultural climate, could be blamed for withdrawing or avoiding at least a little bit?  

I just finished a book titled So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed (author Jon Ronson).  Really – just the fact such a book exists shows our dysfunction.  It’s a worthwhile read, and similarly, if you haven’t looked up Dr Brene Brown’s sociological work on shame please do so.  She has interviews and TED Talks on YouTube and has written several books. 

In our default climate of outrage (real or fake) and divisiveness and fault-finding, might it be wise to just not engage?  Perhaps.  But at least within the Body/Bride of Jesus, as Paul told us in 1 Cor. 12.31, “there is a better way;” in fact, multiple translations express that verse as “the most excellent way.”  And I expect we all know how thoroughly Paul then goes on to explain love in 1 Corinthians 13.  

I heard many times over the years from multiple preachers and teachers that “there are 59 ‘one-anothers’ in the New Testament.”  I asked a couple times where they got that factoid, and the answer was “a commentary by … oh, I don’t remember.”  So I looked.  

One of the more well-known is in John 13: “Here’s a new command: Love each other.  Just as I have loved you, you love each other” (vs 34, more or less).  The Greek word usually translated “each other” and “one another” is ah-lay-lown.  There are fully 100 uses of it in the New Testament.  A number of those are irrelevant to living in a faith community, or even negative.  (Matthew 24.10 and John 4.33 are a couple good examples.)  Click here for our list of 55 community-related uses

Still: one hundred times.  It’s quite a theme.  “If it’s repeated, it’s important.” 

No doubt many of you have heard sermons on many of these commands (many are commands), or even preached them yourselves: 

  • Love each other; delight in honoring each other.  (Rom. 12.10)
  • Owe nothing to anyone – except the debt to keep loving one another.  (Rom. 13.8)
  • Make allowance for each other’s faults.  (Col. 3.13)
  • Think of ways to motivate one another to love and good work.  (Heb. 10.24)

All the individual statements and commands are challenging enough.  But taken as a whole, the message can’t be clearer: be with people!  As a quite comfortable introvert who would rather people-watch than people-engage, that confronts me.  There are no Lone Ranger Christians.  Sigh.  Ok.  

Living in community gets messy, even painful.  Who wants that?

  • Fool me once – shame on you.  Fool me twice – shame on me.
  • Once bitten, twice shy. 

The world’s way is withdrawal, protecting ourselves, separating from and walling off those who “rub us the wrong way;” we “get out of Dodge.” 

But… “God’s way is perfect.”  (Both 2 Sam. 22.31 and Ps. 18.30 in part.)  

“Share each other’s burdens and in this way fulfill the law of [Jesus],” (Gal. 6.2).  We can’t get “shy” after taking a blow.  “’How often should I forgive someone – seven times?’  ‘Nope.  77 times.’”  (Matt. 18.21-22) 

“If you forgive those who sin against you, your Heavenly Father will forgive you.  But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.  …you will be treated as you treat others.  The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.”  (Matthew 6.14-15, 7.2 NLT)  

It will hurt.  So be it.  If Paul could persevere through the litany he enumerates in 2 Corinthians 11 for the sake of people – even difficult people – I can stick it out through the trivialities people throw at me.  

Rather than “once bitten, twice shy,” let’s remember a phrase we sometimes see posted by a sink.  God expects us to stay with people.  He would tell us: “lather, rinse, repeat.”

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.