Elders Encourage Church Staff

by Rick Lowry 

The relationship between a church’s senior minister and her elders is a frequent topic of discussion in leadership circles.  But what about the connection between the elders and the associate ministers? 

Elder-associate interaction is often determined by the size of the church or the church’s philosophy of ministry.  But here are some general principles that apply in most leadership situations. 

Develop a personal relationship.  Most associates feel supported when an elder takes time to show a loving interest in them and in their ministry area.  An elder can be an ally, not just an authority.  Some eldership teams annually assign individual elders to specific ministry leaders, who then get together with them regularly and offer encouragement.   

Make sure elders and staff are like-minded about the direction of the church.  The church leadership team should have a handful of forward-thinking values and visions they have agreed on, and every leader should support those ideals.  If the leadership has agreed about the philosophy of any given ministry in the church, individual leaders can confuse associate ministers if they promote their own agenda privately with a staff member.

Get involved in their ministry.  Elders are a great benefit to their staff members when they get involved in their ministry.  Not to check up on them, but to intentionally take a sincere interest.  And of course, the best way to get involved is to volunteer for needed ministry roles in their area.

Appropriate Financial Compensation.  If they are full-time, make sure their family can thrive.  It’s hard for a guy or gal to completely focus on their ministry if they are always worried about the financial health of their family.  And in these days of staff looking more like a team and less like one main figure in charge, compensating an associate on the level of a senior minister is often appropriate.  If the associate minister is part-time, expect them to work only the number of hours they are being paid for.  Many conscientious associates quietly work full-time hours for part-time pay.  Elders can and should play a key role in protecting them in this regard.

Allow their voice to be heard.  Associate staff members often feel powerless.  Decisions that affect their ministry are sometimes made without consulting them.  In many settings, it is not possible for associates to be a part of the key leadership team, but creative ways can be introduced to get their input.  Invite them to key leadership meetings a few times a year.  Or have their team leader on staff brainstorm with them and then take their ideas to leadership meetings.  It may also be beneficial to have a trusted elder talk with an associate minister before a decision that has the potential to alter something in their ministry area.

Confront Privately, Support Publicly.  Wise elders handle complaints about associate staff members in an appropriate way.  Confronting a member of the staff in the presence of church members, or even in a meeting, can be harmful. Concerns should initially be expressed in a private setting.  Associates need to be perfectly clear about who their supervisor is, and that person (or persons, in a team setting) should be the final job performance authority for them.  A staff member who receives conflicting input from a variety of individual elders and staff members, especially when it is negative in nature and aired publicly, can be left confused about who they really need to listen to and what they really need to do.  Confronting an issue one-on-one will help the person to hear and understand the substance of the critique with better clarity, and without being defensive or dismissive.

The way elders relate to associate ministers and staff can be one of the most powerful ways they lead the flock – by serving the flock.

How Not to “Elder”

by Brad Dupray

First Timothy chapter 3 is the usual, “go-to” passage for elder qualifications.  It begins, “It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of an overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.”  Then Paul goes on to give a fairly specific list of what many would call the “musts” of being an elder.
For some reason, Titus 1 has become sort of the backup list.  Once we have exhausted I Timothy 3 it’s almost as if we say, “Oh yeah, Paul had something to say to Titus about this, too; guess we should take a look.”
Personally, I have a greater appreciation for Paul’s exhortation to Titus.  Certainly there are some things that are redundant between the two passages (“above reproach,” “husband of one wife,” “not addicted to wine”) and there are many things that are similar but the wording is slightly different (e.g., “free from the love of money” in Timothy, “not fond of sordid gain” in Titus). 
Paul’s words to Titus are less of a “list” and more of a teaching moment.  Paul uses his letter to Titus to ascertain some things that not only come as “requirements” for an elder, but what it takes to be a good elder – or not so much.
For example, an elder must be a good man.  As Paul begins his teaching to Titus he indicates two times that an elder must be “above reproach” (verses 6 and 7), and as he comes toward his conclusion in the second verse of chapter 2 he concludes with the same theme: “temperate, dignified, sensible, sound in faith, in love, in perseverance.”
Where Paul diverts from his teaching to Timothy is when he talks about what an elder should not be.  Verses 10-16 of Titus 1 tell us how not to be an elder in the church of God:

  • Be a false teacher – “empty talkers and deceivers…” (v 10) “who turn away from the truth” (v 14).  He calls these teachers “defiled and unbelieving” (v 15), which tells me I don’t want to be a man like that!
  • Be racist – Paul is astonished in verse 12 that one who calls himself a leader in the church would make evil assertions about Cretans.  When he writes “this testimony is true” in verse 13 he is not endorsing the ugly statements about Cretans; he is making reference that it is beyond belief that an elder would say such thing about people of another race.  The “testimony is true” that “empty talkers and deceivers” must be rebuked.
  • Create havoc in the church – He warns in verse 11 against elders in the church who “teach for the sake of sordid gain.”  There were men who were “upsetting whole families” by the things they were teaching.  An elder has to remember James’ admonition: “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment (James 3:1).”  Paul had told Timothy an elder should be “able to teach;” he here elaborates on that to Titus.

 As chapter one comes to a close Paul says that men like this “profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him.”  He says they are “detestable,” “disobedient,” “worthless!”  Paul doesn’t simply wag his finger at these men who divide the church, he says in verse 13 to “reprove them severely.”
Opinions vary on whether the lists provided by Paul should be understood as checklists versus guidelines.  But I think there’s one thing we can all agree upon and that is an elder is a role model to the church and when he deviates from being above reproach he not only offends the bride of Christ, he offends the savior Himself.

Tale of 2 Ministries

by Dave Thurman 

Charles Dickens penned one of the most memorable lines of English literature in the opening of his A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…”  He was describing two metropolitan areas – London and Paris – separated by a little over 200 miles.  Ministry often tends to be that way for those who serve.  But as I look back at my first two full-time ministries, one filled with difficulty and frustration, the other full of joy and fruit, it is easy to see that the elders made the greatest difference.  As a baby-faced preacher who desperately wanted to reach the lost and disciple people, it truly was “A Tale of Two Ministries.”

In my first ministry I served a small congregation in Northern Kentucky.  I was twenty-two and my bride just twenty, still a student at Cincinnati Christian University.  For the sake of transparency, I didn’t really know what I was doing.  I prepared sermons and preached with passion, tried to comfort the afflicted and call members to a higher level of commitment.  But along the way I received little to no encouragement from the elders, who saw it as their job to keep young bucks from creating too much chaos.  The preacher before me had been fired, and there were days I thought I was right behind him.  It wasn’t that the elders were bad men – a couple of them became friends – but together they saw themselves only as supervisors, not shepherds, and as I tried to be innovative and make some needed changes, they beat me down.  It impacted my marriage, as a beautiful young woman saw her husband under attack.  Being stubborn and inexperienced, I tended to fight back, which of course, only made things worse.  Thanks to a sweet elderly couple who lived next door and took us under their wing, we survived and the church grew.  But it was a rough introduction to located ministry. 

Three years later, I accepted a call to Marengo Christian Church (Indiana), just 24-years-old, and only slightly less wet behind the ears.  Immediately I found that the elders were my biggest supporters, wanting me to succeed.  They held me accountable, but more than anything, we prayed together, envisioned what the church could become, and in the next 8 years the congregation doubled, reaching more than a quarter of the town’s population.  Two men in particular, each with unusual names, Novy Andry and Revis Crecilius, coached me up, showering me with love.  Many elders’ meetings ended with all of our leaders on our knees for in extended prayer.  They valued me, my wife and our kids, and it was, in many ways, the best 8 ½ years of my life.

So, what made the difference?  Sure I was a little older and more seasoned.  I walked in the first day with a better plan and a bit of wisdom.  But most of the difference was in the MO of the elders I served with.  In one congregation, I was a partner in ministry; in the other, just a hireling. 

Elders: never underestimate the impact of your leadership.  You set the tone for the entire church – preacher included – and the most talented preacher in the world will only succeed if you come alongside him, build him up, and lovingly guide and correct him. 

Earlier this year I returned to Marengo, 32+ years after that first call, to conduct the funeral for Novy’s wife, Colleen.  It was a beautiful day, and I had the opportunity to tell Novy what a gift he’d given me as a young preacher.  He shepherded our family.  The Andry house was always open to us.  Novy came in person to have hard conversations one-on-one.  He loved me like a son.  That simple man, who worked on a line at Ford, did more to make me a successful preacher than he will ever know. 

Lead well, brothers.

Leading with Style

by Rick Chromey 

Every elder leads with style. 

Some elders are active leaders.  They like to be in command and want to get work done.  Some elders are passive leaders.  They prefer working from the shadows, watching and waiting until the time is right.  

Some elders lead emotively.  They work from their hearts, leading “randomly” with a focus on people.  Some elders lead cognitively.  They manage from their heads, operating more sequentially and focus upon tasks.  

Consequently, four different leadership personalities emerge (and you are one of them).

 Active / Emotive:  The Game Show Host

Game Show Host elders are inspirational leaders.  They are delightful, gregarious, daring and charismatic.  Their active nature creates energy and their emotive connections spark attention and affection.  They make decisions through hunches and measure success by applause.

But Game Show Hosts also carry liabilities.  By default, they are not planners and are often undisciplined.  They dislike details, schedules, lists, and deadlines.  Their randomness frustrates sequential leaders (Chefs and Stage Managers) and this disconnect creates conflict related to their spontaneity, riskiness, tardiness and messiness.

Active / Cognitive:  The Chef  

Chef elders are confident leaders.  They enjoy taking the lead and cooking up flavor.  They are decisive, reliable, organized and practical.  Their active nature puts legs underneath dreams and their cognitive nature creates recipes for success.  Many chefs are master communicators and visionary leaders.  They make decisions through highly-developed intuition and measure success by completing the mission.

But Chefs aren’t perfect.  They can easily become rogue or lone ranger leaders.  They can thrive in conflict and heat, which irritates the other styles.  They don’t always care about hurt feelings or disgruntled people.  Their high expectations – for others and themselves can create an environment of perfectionism and workaholism. 

Passive / Cognitive:  The Stage Manager

Integrity is the heart of a Stage Manager elders.  They don’t need the stage or spotlight to influence change.  Rather, these elders operate to the side with well-designed scripts to ensure the work is a success.  They are thoughtful, disciplined, cautious and efficient, economical leaders.  Their passive nature naturally brakes for change, especially with abruptly-conceived visions (frustrating Game Show Hosts) and disagreeable ideas (angering Chefs).  Stage Managers want every decision to be measured and reasonable.  Consequently, they make decisions on the facts and gauge success by security and rationality. 

Stage Managers are not without flaws, however.  They can stall good plans, resist positive change and by stymied by “analysis paralysis.”

Passive / Emotive:  The Counselor

The Counselor personality is an elder who leads with compassion.  These sensitive, people-focused, tender leaders are always seeking compromise, resolution and interaction.  Their passive nature makes them bristle at conflict and their emotive sensibility drives them to nurture relationships.  They are dependable, diplomatic, relaxed and patient to a fault.  They make decisions based upon consensus and measure success by general feelings of goodness, forgiveness and positivity. 

This idealism, however, can create issues for Counselors.  They can crack under pressure, avoid risks, disengage, disappear without notice, and grow frustrated with conflict.  Counselors don’t want to leave anyone out, behind, or down.

Every great and working eldership will include each of these personalities. 

We need Game Show Hosts to lighten the mood, inspire change and motivate people.  We need Chefs to craft vision, challenge assumptions and move the church forward.  We need Stage Managers to monitor change, calculate risks and create concrete plans. We need Counselors to resolve conflicts, show compassion and generate interaction. 

No one style is better than another and like the parts of the human body, every personality contributes something to the cause.  One final thought: an eldership that’s top-heavy in one style will prove dysfunctional. 

Too many Chefs spoil the broth (as every chef prefers their own agenda).  With too many Game Show Hosts, nothing will get done (since detailed plans and deadlines are necessary for success).  Too many Stage Managers will stall the organization (because every stage manager wants everything “perfectly perfect”).  Too many Counselors and there will be chaos (as consensus rule is naturally messy). 

The best eldership will feature all four styles. 

And that’s a winning combination.

10 Commandments for a Pastor Search

by Daniel Overdorf 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worst Communion Devotion Ever? (Pt. 2)

by Billy Strother

I am often asked by leaders, “How does one lead an effective communion devotion?” 

Just as there is no one way to take communion (glass or plastic communion cups are both good options; before or after the sermon are equally optional; there is no company biblically-mandated from which to order communion bread or juice), there is no one biblical way to offer a communion devotion.

But, since it is the weekly practice for most of us, I offer a few suggestions which may help someone asking you that question.

  1. Open with the mechanics of taking communion in your service. 
    Many will end their devotion talking about how to take communion, or never mention the mechanics at all.  Even mature church visitors may come from a church which does it differently.  Opening with “here is how we take communion” puts visitors at ease.  It also implicitly communicates “we want and expect visitors to be here” to the congregation.  Sharing the mechanics after the devotion breaks the dynamic spiritual flow of the devotion into prayer.  Share the mechanics first – holding elements or taking them when passed, walking forward to tables, etc.
  1. Prepare hearts, not heads, for communion. 
    The purpose of the devotion is to orient the hearts of those in attendance to a focus on partaking of communion.  The devotion should simply arrest the attention of those in corporate worship and then point their hearts to the elements on the Lord’s table, symbols of Jesus’ body and blood, the sweet and terrible sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross.  One cannot worthily examine themselves unless they take a fresh look at the cross.
  1. Retell a brief story or anecdote that’s personal or biblical. 
    People love stories.  I have noticed through the years that anytime I say, “that reminds me of a story,” that no matter how boring my sermon has been, people will give it another chance.  Two minutes is enough time to tell a brief personal story well.  It is enough time to retell a biblical story.  It is enough time to tell someone else’s story.  Anyone can ramble on forever.  It takes real work to hone a story down to the memorable.  Let’s face it, there is only so much shared time for a worship service in our culture.  Like it or not, that is the reality.  The two-fold purpose of the communion devotion is:  1) to arrest audience attention; and 2) to put Jesus’ work on the Cross in the spotlight.
  1. Anchor your story to the Bible. 
    Sincerely, your communion devotion need not be tethered to the preacher’s sermon text for the day.  But your communion devotion is well-served connected to a verse or two of Scripture (and not a long text—well, because of the time restraint we are under in our culture, if we desire to have a sincere influence for Jesus).
  1. Take it all to The Cross. 
    I have heard communion devotions which never mentioned Jesus or the cross or the elements.  That might be a devotion, but it is not a communion devotion.  An effective communion devotion takes our hearts directly to the symbols of the cross.
  1. Remember to pray for the elements and the hearts taking them. 
    More than once I have heard someone say, “I got so nervous, I forgot to pray!”  The small prayer at the end of the Communion devotion builds a significant bridge between people’s hearts and the symbols on the Lord’s table. 

Are you intentionally leading communion devotions as a church leader?  Speaking for myself, without a specific and deliberate plan, my next communion devotion is capable of becoming “The Worst Communion Devotion Ever.”

Worst Communion Devotion Ever? (Pt 1)

by Billy Strother

As a professor and preacher for over three decades, I have heard a great many devotions around the Lord’s Table.  I have given a few myself.  Mostly though, when preaching, I am a Sunday spiritual consumer when it comes to the devotion at the table, listening to other leaders. 
I have heard all kinds of communion devotions:  some so long they rivaled the length of the sermon; some which brought a tear to my eye; some spoken in a language foreign to me, but which still moved my heart; some which never mentioned Jesus or the cross, and some which really opened my heart to the moment of participating in table fellowship with the Lord in the moment. 
I do not remember the exact words of the best communion devotions I have heard over the years; simply that they opened my heart for the moment of table fellowship. 
But I do remember the worst communion devotion I ever heard.
In the fall of 1988, just minutes before my sermon, the leader selected to lead the communion devotion stood up at the microphone and cleared his throat.  The transcript of that devotion has been forever seared into my mind:
“Folks, communion is like that new number one song I just heard on popular radio by Bobby McFerrin.  When it comes to communion, like Bobby sings, ‘Don’t worry, be happy!’  That is what communion is all about.  The Lord does not want us to worry and he wants us to be happy.  Let’s pray!” 
And he did … pray.  I just do not remember the prayer at all; everyone was a little shell-shocked!  While the song, “Don’t Worry Be Happy” won three Grammy Awards in 1989 (Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance), it really is about as antithetical to self-examination as one can get. 

Paul told us explicitly in 1 Corinthians 11:23-32 how we ought to approach the Table, and in verses 28 and 31, he specifically tells us to “examine ourselves.” 
That Sunday, I discovered that not all communion devotions are created equal.  The humble communion devotion is a big spiritual event.
I am often asked by leaders, “How does one lead an effective communion devotion?” 

We’ll explore that in depth next week.

Elders Cast Vision

by David Roadcup 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do I know if my church is healthy?

by David Roadcup

A doctor examining a patient looks immediately for signs of vitality and health.  When the signs are present, the doctor knows the patient is doing well.  When the signs are not there, this is telling the doctor that the patient needs attention.  A diagnosis is made, medication or treatment is prescribed, and the patient finds restoration of health. 

The same is true for a congregation.  Certain characteristics in the life of a church tell us that the church is healthy and thriving.  A lack of these characteristics would tell us that the church needs attention and treatment.  A church’s “vital signs” can be broken down in many ways, but for today, let’s examine three of the most important church health measures:  

The Unity of the Congregation 
The unity of a church is critical to the health of that church.  Disunity within the body brings division, strife, and jeopardizes the church’s ability to fulfill her mission.  If there are points of disunity and they are growing and getting more intense, the primary leaders (senior minister and elders) must face the causes of the disunity, pray for guidance and move into the issues, carefully handling them with wisdom and discernment.  Elders must proactively handle and manage whatever is causing the disunity.  Jesus Himself said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand” (Mark 3:25).  Satan has used disunity for two thousand years to slow down or destroy the effectiveness of the church.  This must be a continual focus of leadership.  As leaders, we carefully guard the unity of our church body.  

The Evangelism of the Congregation
The winning of the lost to Christ is the first and foremost purpose of the body of Christ (Matt. 28:18-20).  We must evaluate on a regular basis what we are doing to reach lost people. 

In the Christian Church, we have many congregations that are very invested in winning first time believers to Christ.  Churches in our brotherhood report baptism services of 50, 60 or more people baptized on one day in a celebration of salvation!  How pleased the Lord is with this!  An acquaintance of mine immersed over 700 new believers in one Sunday afternoon.  This is the heart of the church. 

We must take a hard look at our evangelism results, friends.  Are we really looking for, encountering and leading to faith in Christ those who are outside the kingdom?  We simply need to look at our numbers.  How many first-time believers do we baptize on a monthly basis?  On an annual basis?  This number will tell us about the evangelism “temperature” in our congregation.  Remember, leading first time believers to faith is the beating heart of the body of Christ.  

The Discipling/Assimilation of the Congregation
As we evangelize non-believers and lead them to Christ, we need to also be devoted to the spiritual growth and maturation of these believers.  Exposing them to great Bible teaching on a regular basis is at the heart of their spiritual health.  We teach our people to feed themselves when we teach them about the classic spiritual disciplines and how to incorporate them into their lives.  We need to involve them in significant ministry and service.  And they must be connected to other believers in fellowship and community.  Each of these aspects are necessary to help our members become healthy and “heart deep” in the life of our congregation.  

Each of these three areas need to be regularly monitored.  As leaders, we look at our numbers and the effectiveness of our ministries.  These will tell us how healthy our church is as we continue on the journey to developing, through the Lord’s guidance and will, a healthy and productive church. 

Do the Right Thing

by Dick Alexander 

Elder work can be hard work, involving gut-wrenching decisions.  On the one hand there is great joy in seeing lives changed and God honored.  It’s an undeserved privilege to be used by the Lord to facilitate His kingdom work.  On the other hand, there can be late-night meetings and lost sleep.  But in times of crisis in a church, it is essential that the overseers of a church do the right thing – not the expedient thing.

The world has been shocked over the last couple of decades by the still-unfolding stories of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests.  It was one thing to hear the cascading stories of priests abusing children and youth.  But it is an order of magnitude worse to learn how repeated abuses were covered up by church authorities.  It was not only an issue of individual sin, but of systemic corruption.

That happens other places as well.  This year an influential evangelical church was found to have covered up reported inappropriate sexual conduct by its lead minister.  Numerous reports had been given by responsible people.  Staff members who were aware of the allegations were reportedly required to sign non-disclosure agreements at penalty of their jobs, while the leader continued in his role.

In counseling, secrecy in a family is a sign of major dysfunction.  Appropriate confidentiality is a mark of good character; enforced secrecy is a sign of sickness.

It’s a normal reflex for leaders to not want bad news about their organizations to hit the streets.  But what is the impact on victims to not only be abused, but then have the abuser protected by fellow leaders?  And what is the impact on the reputation of God when the story later becomes pubic (increasingly common in a social media world), and it’s not only the sin of an individual, but a cover-up by a whole organization?

Churches are afraid to lose people.  Most are stretched thin financially, regardless of size.  It becomes a matter of institutional survival.  In a small church, losing a few “key families” (read “meaningful givers”) can push it over the brink.  In a large church this issue is the same – there are simply more zeros in the budget.  A badly managed crisis or unpopular leadership decision can cost a few hundred or few thousand members, resulting in staff layoffs, missed building payments, etc.

But at what price do we maintain our institutions?  Is it more important to God that we keep the seats filled than that we live in truth, justice, and integrity?  Can we not admit when there is sin, and as the body of Christ model repentance, restoration and reconciliation to the world?  Isn’t this our birthright – a distinctive and biblical community?

Most long-time church members are weary of spin.  They read between the lines of our carefully-crafted letters on leadership decisions.  The church isn’t a reality TV show or a long-running soap opera.  There is a place for diplomacy.  But can there also be a greater place for clear, honest communication from leaders?  We will take hits no matter what, so should we take hits for being transparent, repentant, and restorative?  Or should we take those hits for being spin doctors? 

We counsel our teenagers about healthy sexual conduct well before they begin dating.  We want them to decide on a right path before they’re in the thick of temptation.  Hopefully your church is not in a crisis now.  That makes this an excellent time as a group of elders to decide to always do the right thing – even when it’s costly.