Preach the Word

by Barry Cameron 

I heard of an old church in England with a sign on the front of their building that said, “We preach Christ crucified.”  Over time, ivy grew up and obscured the last word.  The sign now said, “We preach Christ.”  As the ivy continued to grow it covered even more of the sign until it said, “We preach.”  It wasn’t long until ivy covered so much of the sign you could only see the word, “We,” and it wasn’t long before the church died.
 
John Wesley, said, “Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen, such alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the Kingdom of God upon the earth.”
 
The Bible tells us God chose “the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21).  But honestly, a lot of what is being preached today would be considered mere foolishness.  Much of the current preaching in our world doesn’t honor God, reach the lost or come close to shaking the gates of Hell.
 
Instead, in our misguided efforts not to offend those who are lost and Hell-bound, much of today’s preaching has become so ostentatious the only person it could possibly offend is God Himself, and the only kind of people it could possibly reach are those with hearing problems (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
 
Years ago a preacher named Peter Cartwright was getting ready to preach.  Before he went to the pulpit, he was informed President Andrew Jackson was in the audience.  Church leaders told him to be careful about what he said in his sermon so as not to offend the President.  When Cartwright took the pulpit, it’s reported he said, “I understand that Andrew Jackson is here.  I have been requested to be guarded in my remarks.  Andrew Jackson will go to Hell if he doesn’t repent.”  The congregation was stunned and wondered how President Jackson would respond.  Following the service, the President shook hands with Cartwright and said, “Sir, if I had a regiment of men like you, I could whip the world.” 

Our passion isn’t to whip the world.  Rather it’s to win it.  But if we ever hope to win the world, we’re going to have to preach the Word, in season and out of season, and we’re going to need preachers like John Wesley and Peter Cartwright.
 
Steven Lawson said, “The reality is that not all preaching is the same.  There is the kind of preaching that God blesses, and there is that which he abandons.  There is the kind of preaching that has the favor of Heaven upon it, and there is that which is a mere exercise in rhetoric.  There is a world of difference between the two.”
 
We dare not “shrink from declaring the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), but “preach Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23), and the Gospel, “not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Corinthians 1:17), and preach the Word “in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2), “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
 
Charles Spurgeon said, “The preaching of Christ is the whip that flogs the devil.  The preaching of Christ is the thunderbolt, the sound of which makes all hell shake.”
 
Let’s pray our preaching will shake the very gates of Hell and touch the souls of men for eternity. 

Saying “No”

by Ken Idleman

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

Here we go:

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

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

“Time to go to bed.”  “No!”

“Brush your teeth.”  “No!”

“Eat your carrots.”  “No!”

“Clean up your toys.”  “No!”

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

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

We all need more practice at saying “no.”

How to Enact Elder Governance

by Jared Johnson

We received numerous requests for “next steps” following Pastor Hennig’s comments on shepherding two weeks ago.  We have helped numerous churches make the change from an “elected office” leadership paradigm to what we call “elder governance.”  You may also download this paper from our site explaining the foundations of elder governance further, all from the pages of Acts.  Both linked resources above are free. 

Here are the few steps we would suggest if your congregation wants to pursue elder governance. 

1. Acknowledge appropriate limits.  
Recognize that this process will require time.  Depending on your congregation’s leadership history, it could range from weeks to years.  Don’t get discouraged as you take one step at a time.  Your current elders, servants (i.e. “deacons”), etc., should continue filling their roles of servant-leadership.  Making a switch in the leadership paradigm of your church does not automatically require anyone be “fired!”
 
2. Ensure bylaw compliance and build agreement.
You may need to take some specific action(s) according to your current bylaws.  If they outright prevent the congregation from using an elder governance paradigm, you may even need to amend your bylaws – thus a possible years-long process.  Begin teaching and talking about this among the leadership and congregation to build buy-in.  But also be aware that, especially in congregations with a very long-time “democratic” paradigm, there are bound to be some individuals opposed, even stridently.  Walk with them, talk with them.
 
3. Identify and Recruit  
As your elders continue doing what they’re doing, identify those tasks that need to be delegated, then recruit capable volunteers to whom the elders will hand off the non-elder-governance tasks.  A very common example is the church’s budget.  Elders set the spiritual tone of the congregation; nowhere in Acts (nor the full NT) do we see elders managing the minutiae of a congregation’s assets.  If the elders are scrutinizing every line item from the checkbook at each meeting, recruit an office manager, accountant, etc., to help the church administer its budget.  This does not mean the elders have abdicated financial oversight.  It means they’re devoted, primarily, to spiritual matters.  They shouldn’t spend any time debating whether the $17.99 snow shovel was over-spending versus $13.99.  Prayer > payments.
 
Other arenas can be given to volunteers; budgeting simply seems to be the most frequent.  Other duties to delegate could be building use / rental inquiries, benevolence / food pantry (see Acts 6!), following-up with visitors, filling communion cups, etc.
 
Recruit capable volunteers for the tasks your elders are planning to give away.
 
4. Communication: Write & Teach.  
A written plan diminishes opportunity for complaints and fault-finding in the future.  Put everyone on a literal same page.  A step-by-step plan can be simple and direct, i.e.:

  1. By April 30, recruit:
    1. qualified volunteer to oversee budget.  
    2. an elder to meet with new Finance Servant monthly.
  2. By May 15, update bank with Finance Servant’s name:
    1. signature authorities 
    2. online login 
    3. debit/credit cards that need to be issued and/or shredded
  3. By May 15, inform Offering Counting/Deposit team of new role and person filling it.
  4. June 1 and ongoing: continue operations with new Finance Servant overseeing rather than elders.

Make time to teach about elder governance as well.  Create an information packet.  Hold Q&A sessions.  Engage the people, showing why this model better-follows the pattern established in Acts, rather than mimicking branches of government. 
 
5. Monitor boundaries.
As you create and enact your new governance paradigm in the congregation, opportunities will arise to default to old habits.  Resist them.  Lovingly remind all involved – an elder who falls back on an established pattern, a new volunteer who may think they’ve been given more leeway than intended – that there’s a new way of doing things.  Assume the best unless evidence shows otherwise!  It’s easy to assume we have the right motives; we should extend that grace to others who lead alongside us.
 
Monitor the change your congregation just made; go into it expecting that periodic recalibrations will be needed.
 
Above all: soak the whole endeavor in prayer.  

Elder governance can provide the structure that will unleash the people of a congregation to use their gifts for the glory of God, expanding His Kingdom.

Shepherds in Training

by David Hennig

In the fall of each year, the people of the church in which I was raised were asked to submit names of men to be considered to serve as elders and deacons.  Following a vetting process, candidates were put before the congregation for a vote.  I was in high school when my father’s name appeared on such a ballot and he was elected an elder.  My father was a mechanical engineer in a white-collar position for an aircraft engine manufacturer.  To the best of my knowledge he never received any training to serve as an elder, but he faithfully attended monthly board meetings.  It sounded to me like people elected to civil government – you vote people in and you hope they do a good job.  If not, you don’t re-elect them.  Over the years, I have been a part of other churches in which this form of polity was practiced.
 
Fast-forward to 2010 when I began a preaching ministry at a very small, struggling church.  There was a Steering Team in place and David Roadcup came alongside us to help.  He encouraged us to be patient in making the transition to becoming an elder-led church.  During this time I was taking seminary classes at Cincinnati Christian University and was introduced to the book “They Smell Like Sheep” by Dr. Lynn Anderson.  We used this book (and its sequel) to train our Steering Team to become elders.  We were captivated by this alternative name for elders that evoked a beautiful description of the work: SHEPHERD!  Paul used this term in his farewell to the elders of Ephesus in Acts 20:28, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.  Be shepherds of the church of God…”
 
In 2015, we dedicated four shepherds for our flock!  Because our church family was growing, we began to talk about the need to establish a leadership pipeline.  The men we approached about serving were hesitant because they didn’t really understand what elders were supposed to do.  So, we decided to implement an apprenticeship approach.  We recruited four men of humility and character to be our Shepherds-In-Training.  In addition to taking them through Lynn Anderson’s books, we met weekly to pray for the church together; we made shepherding calls and hospital visits together; we taught Bible classes and led Life Groups together; you get the idea!  And I almost forgot – we also did our administrative meetings together.  We demonstrated to our Shepherds-In-Training that being a shepherd is about far more than attending business meetings – the real work is “out there” with, and among, the sheep!  Shepherds smell like sheep because they are with the sheep!
 
We work with our Shepherds-In-Training for about a year.  During that time we have the chance to model to them the work, coach them in the work, and evaluate their aptitude for the work.  At the same time, they learn what shepherding the church family is all about and whether it is something that God is calling them to do.  At the end of the training period, we may extend the invitation for these men to come on board as shepherds, and each trainee has the ability to decline.  During the training period we do not announce the trainees to the church family so that no one feels pressured or is put in an awkward position if they later decline.
 
We have conducted three rounds of training so far and have nine solid shepherds serving on our team.  We currently have four Shepherds-In-Training in the pipeline who may be dedicated later this year.  This apprenticeship approach is bearing leadership fruit that is making our shepherding team strong.  
 
And just in case you hadn’t noticed:  this apprenticeship approach looks an awful lot like “discipleship!”

Lead with Integrity

by LD Campbell 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Change Agents

by Mark Taylor 

How do you feel about change? 

It is the universal experience of seeing things today that are so much different than they were just a year or maybe even a week ago.

Some people love change.  They redecorate their living rooms, trade in their cars, or cycle their wardrobe regularly.  They’re never satisfied with the way things are, always looking for something better.

Some people avoid change.  They don’t want to spend the money to buy new.  They don’t want to learn how to use something different.  They’re comfortable with the way things are.

Where do you fall on the continuum between resisting and craving change?  Your answer may say a lot about how you approach your ministry as an elder.

Embracing Change
We live in an era of unprecedented change.  By the time we understand one sociological trend, another has taken its place.  By the time we figure out how to use our smartphone or web-enabled TV or self-parking car, a different version is on the market.  And sometimes older folks like me yearn to retreat from the pace of change and just resign ourselves to the fact that the world is passing us by.

Of course, that’s not the attitude for a leader.  Leaders anticipate, embrace, and initiate change.  Leaders know you can’t build a house without digging up a foundation.  You can’t grow a crop without breaking up the dirt.  You can’t rear a child without constantly buying him larger shoes and shirts.

We can’t reach our communities for Christ with the same programs, building, church staff, or strategies created ten, twenty, or thirty years ago.

Do you talk about change in your elders’ meetings?  Who suggests them – the elders or minister?  How do you cope with suggestions for rearranging or rethinking how you do ministry?

Every group of elders must face the fact that leading and supporting change is part of their responsibility.

Leading Change
Five years ago, Jon Walker, minister with Willowbrook Christian Church in Victor, New York, shared a formula for coping with change.  It had been offered by an elder in his congregation.

R = A/T ± S

The formula reads this way: Resistance to change equals the Amount of change, divided by the Time before the change, plus or minus Salesmanship; A and T should, if possible, cancel out.

If your church is changing what brand of coffee it serves at the welcome center, you’ll probably not encounter much resistance.  The Amount of change is small.  But if your church is moving from one side of town to another, you may experience major resistance, because this is a huge change.  In this case you need to allow plenty of Time between when you announce the change and when it happens.

You’ll use that time to carefully explain the rationale, patiently listen to objections, and thoroughly answer questions. People need time to absorb all the good reasons for making the change.  Leaders will wisely allow for all this interaction and not demand that the church follow them just because they’re called “leaders.”

During that period, the elders’ role is crucial.  That’s when they’ll use their Salesmanship skills and encourage church members to agree with the proposal.

If you don’t like the connotation of “salesmanship,” then let the S stand for Shepherding.  Your role in leading change is to keep the flock together, go after strays who want to wander off in a different direction, and counsel and correct members who willfully resist their leaders.

Facing Change
Some facts about change:

  1. It’s almost always difficult.  By nature, people like things to remain comfortable and familiar.
  2. It almost always brings conflict.  The most vocal among the resisters will challenge, campaign, or complain.
  3. It is absolutely necessary if a congregation is to grow.  The seedling in your hand today cannot become a mighty tree if it remains forever in the same small pot.

To make these changes possible, a congregation needs elders who are not afraid of change, leaders who will prayerfully seek God’s guidance about which changes to make now.  Your role as an elder is carefully and lovingly to lead your congregation to welcome the changes that will advance the Gospel in your community. 

No Rungs

by Stuart Jones 

The American Dream continues to challenge and inspire people of all ages and backgrounds.  Motivated by the ascending rungs of the corporate ladder, employees seek to rise to the next level of success, while supervisors seek to rise to the next level of recognition.  The beauty of the system is the seemingly limitless opportunity for achievement and advancement.  In some parallels, these same motivators challenge the Church to fulfill the mission laid before us by Christ himself.  Battling complacency and constantly pursuing excellence promotes God-honoring advancement of His Kingdom on Earth.

However, within the church leadership structure adopted by most congregations, ladder rungs that mimic the American Dream have the potential to bring about a “holy nightmare.”  As we read Scripture, we discover key positions and roles that should structure the local church.  Searching the text, we can find the role of deacon defined as those who are called to action with spiritually-enlarged hearts for service.  Elders – shepherds – are defined as the pastors or overseers that God calls to lead a congregation.  And sprinkled throughout Scripture, we find the roles of staff or ministers who professionally direct and lead areas of ministry.  These Scriptural definitions hold throughout time and governance.  But their placement, interaction and value have suffered unfortunate alterations through the lens of the American Dream.  

The American Church has embraced a corporate ladder mentality of leadership that typically flows in ascending order from volunteers to deacons to elders and staff.  Those seeking to find success and advancement within the church, and within the Kingdom of God, are encouraged to strive for the next rung of the ladder.  For example, great volunteers are challenged to become deacons, while deacons are simply waiting to become elders.  This hierarchical structure for leadership does not exist in the New Testament!  Did some deacons become elders?  That seems probable.  Did some elders become staff?  That most likely defines the “elder of double-honor.”  Yet, churches falsely assume that the expectation for achievement and advancement through the leadership roles is implied in the New Testament leadership structure.  It is not. 

Instead, the New Testament highly values those who accept the roles they are gifted and called to perform.  Deacons are men who implement and complete the ever-growing tasks and needs of the church.  The role of deacon or high calling of servant leader is not a steppingstone to pastoring or overseeing a congregation.  Those who bring action to the ministry of the church and those who bring wisdom to the ministry of the church are often two very different groups made up of very differently gifted individuals.  Church leadership structures often create a progression of roles and titles that may very well inhibit the God-given gifts of individuals within the church.

Will many deacons become strong elders in a church?  That transition does often happen.  However, we cannot assume these are the next steps in the American Faith Dream.  Many who are gifted in implementing and accomplishing tasks and projects are needed as servants and doers for the duration of their time on this earth.  The time that deacons serve does provide an opportunity for the church to gain trust and confidence in their leadership potential.  However, the value of servant leadership must not be perceived as an inferior rung to shepherding leadership.

Paul said, “If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be?  If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?” (1 Cor. 12:17). We apply these exaggerated questions to the congregation as we seek out volunteers.  However, we seem reluctant to equally value the multiple leadership layers of the church.  If all elders became deacons, who would spiritually guide the church?  If all deacons became elders, how would anything ever get done?  “But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” (1 Cor. 12:18).  Leave the corporate ladder on the ground and celebrate the leaders God has placed in your church, exactly as He wanted them to be.

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.