You Can Improve your Prayer Life

by Mark Taylor 

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

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

“Yeah, yeah.  Prayer is important.”

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

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

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

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

The Problem with Prayer

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

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

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

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

Anyone Can Do Better

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

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

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

Preaching, People, Ministry

by John Caldwell 

As I write this, I’ve been in the ministry for 55 years, and have been retired for nine years from the local church where I served most of that time. I love to preach, but preaching is only a small part of ministry. I’ve been asked literally hundreds of times what I miss most about located ministry. I have a standard answer which is partly tongue-in-cheek, partly serious: “I miss the paycheck, having an administrative assistant, the office equipment … and some of the people.” The truth is that I miss most of the people, people Jan and I came to know and love while serving in the same church for 36 years.

The first year in “retirement” I preached in 48 different churches. Several times, I’ve done interim ministries that lasted as much as several months. After preaching five Sundays in a row at the same church in northern Indiana, something happened that caught me by surprise. As we were leaving the parking lot, I got a lump in my throat, my eyes misted over, and I said to Jan, “I didn’t realize how much I missed it!” By “missed it” I wasn’t referring to the preaching, for I’ve gotten to do plenty of that. I was referring to the relationships. In just five weeks I had come to know each of the elders and many of the regular worshipers. I looked forward to our weekly visits. I had occasion to pray with, laugh with, and sometimes weep with a number of people before and after the services. My preaching also had added meaning as I was taking them on a spiritual journey week after week.

Yes, ministry is first and foremost about Jesus, but it is also about people: connecting people to Jesus, reconnecting people with Jesus, and caring for people in Jesus’ name. The older I get the more I find myself touched by the hurts and heartaches of people. I didn’t get into ministry to build a big church. I got into ministry because of God’s call upon my life and because I cared about people. But there was a time when I was so busy “building the church” that I’m not really sure I noticed all the hunger, illness, fractured lives, insecurities, failure and grief that are all around.

Now, I’m sometimes overwhelmed by it.

As the church grew and grew, the reality is that I had less and less time for people. Some of my mega-church buddies used to tease me about the fact that I still took a day a week to visit people in the hospitals and nursing homes. But that was my favorite day of the week because I dealt with people. And nothing ever gave me more pleasure or satisfaction than personally presenting the Gospel to a seeker and seeing the truth about Jesus bring conviction and conversion to their heart. To be candid, I have no idea how anyone can preach effectively, truly connecting with the people, if they are not personally invested and involved with the people.

Yes, of course every Christian is to be an evangelist, a care-giver, a servant. No, a pastor and staff cannot and should not try to do all the ministry in a congregation. But those involved in vocational ministry must both teach and model those responsibilities. As a matter of fact, we teach far more effectively by what we do than what we say. One of my favorite lines came from an aged preacher named Jake: “It doesn’t cost much to be a preacher. Anyone with reasonable intelligence and a fairly decent voice can prepare a sermon and deliver it. But … if you want to be a good pastor, it will cost you your life.”

Some time ago I got a text message from my son, Shan, an executive pastor at a huge megachurch. It came at 2:30AM as he sat at the bedside of a dying woman from his congregation. And I thanked God that my son gets it. In a day of celebrity and CEO preachers where communication ability is seen as the primary qualification for ministry, I pray that a lot of other ministers get it too.

Drill Your Way to Christlikeness

by Rod Nielsen 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elders’ #1 Job

by Jeff Metzger 

Here are three truths that should guide our elder leadership.

  • Jesus is our Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4).
  • Jesus commanded a disciple-making mission (Matthew 28:18-20).
  • The Holy Spirit created a disciple making culture (Acts 6:7).

What happens when we combine these realities?  We see Jesus is our only leader and he sets our very specific elder agenda. What does Jesus consider Job #1 for elders?  Disciple making!  Jesus clearly wants disciple making to live foremost in the heart of every one of us who are called elders in the Lord’s church.  Making disciples is the goal, the purpose, the reason, the why, the Job #1 of our stewardship as elders.  While we may do many things, everything we do should contribute to this primary thing. What happens when we prioritize disciple making as job #1?

  • Our priorities shift toward helping people find and follow Jesus.
  • We work on building a disciple making culture in our community.
  • A focus on weekend attendance shifts toward a focus on everyday obedience.
  • We invest more time in intentional relationships with people.
  • We equip and unleash other disciple makers.
  • We work hard to build a clear, simple, reproducible disciple-making system for our context.
  • Spiritual parenting becomes more important than people-pleasing.
  • Growing disciples becomes more important than growing attendance.
  • Allocation of energy and resources shifts toward changed lives.
  • Real disciple-making activity and results becomes the primary metric.
  • Growing disciples who make disciples that make disiciples becomes the consuming goal.

The understanding of our job as an elder in God’s church changes!  Suddenly God’s kingdom mission of making disciples and presenting everyone fully mature in Christ takes priority in your life and on your team. But we have a problem.  Too often we don’t see ourselves as disciple makers or spiritual parents.  Disciple Maker is not our primary self-identity or even a secondary self-image.  For too many of us who are called “elder,” being a disciple maker or spiritual parent is not even on the list of who we are!  If we are serious about pleasing Jesus that has to change.  Disciple making is Job #1!  Being a reproducing spiritual parent (2 Timothy 2:2) is God’s call for us. What do we do with this?

  1. Start with self.   Let Jesus define your identity.  You are his student, his disciple.  Your goal is to belong to Jesus, believe like Jesus, and behave like Jesus so you can be like Jesus while helping others do the same.  Look in the mirror and see a disciple who makes disciples that make disciples.  See a spiritual parent who has spiritual children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.  This is who you really are in Jesus; it is who every Christian is in Jesus.
  2. Engage with others.  Challenge your fellow elders to join you on the disciple making pathway.  Decide together to make this a priority in your congregation.  Explore and engage with a growing national and international community of disciple makers like the one at www.discipleship.org.  The discipleship.org internet community, and others like it, is a portal to a great variety of resources and encouragement.
  3. Reset the agenda.  “Find out what pleases the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10).  Make disciple making/spiritual parenting the primary agenda of your life.  Get trained.  You can do this!  And make disciple making the primary agenda item at every elder meeting.  Get trained.  You can do this!
  4. Invite the Holy Spirit.  Acts 1:8 makes it clear the Spirit is here with us to lift up and encourage witness for Jesus.  Ask Him to fill you and empower you every day to be a disciple who makes disciples that make disciples.  It really is Job #1!

As elders, we are the primary spiritual leaders of “our” congregations.  And in the way of Jesus, we lead by example (John 13:15).  When the church sees us spiritually parenting and not people-pleasing, they will notice.  When they watch us spending time with people to make disciples, they will do likewise.  When they see us in the baptistery, they will soon follow us into that water with their own friends and family.

Eternally Important Leadership

by Kevin Ingram 

September 11, 2001 is a day that, if we are old enough to remember its events, we will likely never forget. I remember it vividly. I was at work at Manhattan Christian College when my wife called and told me I needed to find a TV because a plane had just hit one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York.

I immediately went to our Campus Center and turned on a TV – just in time to witness the second plane hitting the second tower. I knew at that point it wasn’t an accident, it was intentional. America was under attack.

The saga continued to quickly unfold as a third flight targeted and struck the south side of the Pentagon and shortly thereafter, a fourth plane crashed in Pennsylvania after the passengers attacked that plane’s hijackers. The twin towers eventually collapsed and thousands of innocent lives were taken that day.

Although deeply shaken by the events, I continued through my day. While checking my email later in the morning I received a reminder about our elders’ meeting that night at church; I was scheduled to provide the devotion to begin our meeting.

I kept up to date on the breaking news. Reports on President Bush’s activity that day followed him from the elementary school in Sarasota, Florida where he was informed about the attacks, to military bases in Louisiana and Nebraska, and later returning to Washington DC. The news reported the President’s day would end in a meeting with the National Security Council. That meeting happened to coincide with our elders’ meeting in Manhattan, KS.

With the magnitude of the days’ events swirling through my mind, I thought about our elders’ meeting that night and how thankful I was to be in that meeting, and not in any of the weighty meetings happening in DC. I couldn’t imagine the depth of decisions that had been and were about to be made in response to such a terrible tragedy in America’s history.

As my mind shifted back and forth between the two settings, mindful of the kinds of agendas each group of leaders had before them, it hit me. The meetings in DC were very important; the National Security Council was discussing our nation’s security and the physical safety of the citizens of the United States and their decisions that night would have implications many years into the future. But the agenda for our elders’ meeting involved discussing the mission of our church and the spiritual safety of people’s souls. It sunk in quickly. Meetings in DC were important to protect physical lives. Our meeting in Manhattan, KS involved eternity.

As our elders’ meeting began, I shared the magnitude of our purpose that night. As shepherds of God’s flock among us in Manhattan, Kansas, we had decisions to make that involved people’s souls. Decisions made then and there didn’t just affect lives for days or years, but for all eternity. I reminded my fellow elders of the importance of our role as servants to the congregation. While we might not want to be a part of any meeting like those held in DC, the meeting we were in was, ultimately, more important.

The bottom-line reminder for me was the role of an elder is eternally important and must be taken seriously. Every elder must serve remembering the charge Paul gave to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:28, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” People’s souls are worthy of Jesus’ sacrifice, and ours as well!

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! 

Leadership Backbone

by Ken Idleman

Do you remember the scene at the beginning of Acts 23?  Paul had just been taken into Roman custody after the riot in Jerusalem in chapter 22.  The morning after the riot (Acts 22:30), the commander delivered Paul to the Sanhedrin to get a sense of what all the drama was about.  The high priest Ananias ordered one of his henchmen to strike the apostle Paul on the mouth for saying something politically unpopular to the ears of the self-important rulers.  Paul might have turned the other cheek, but he also said, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall!  You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!”  When a bystander pointed out Paul had insulted the high priest, Paul retorted with what I can only imagine was biting sarcasm: “I wasn’t aware, brothers, that he was the high priest; for it is written ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler…’” 

Whoa Paul!  That is ‘leadership backbone!’ 

But that wasn’t new for him.  It was a character trait he used and developed throughout his life.  In Acts 13, he looked a sorcerer squarely in the eye, interrupting his conversation with the governor of Paphos: “You who are full of all deceit and fraud, you son of the devil!…”  The sorcerer was struck blind on the spot.  Only a few lines later, in Acts 14, Paul was stoned by a crowd!  But that wasn’t enough for him.  Thinking him dead, some number of believers gathered around his body, at which point he revived – and went back into the city (verses 19-20)! 

Occasionally, we see similar courage displayed by political or business leaders, though not often.  One example that immediately comes to mind is Ronald Reagan.  He demanded, on the world’s stage, that Soviet Secretary Gorbachev “tear down this wall” as he stood mere feet away from the Berlin Wall.  He called the bluff of air traffic controllers when they threatened a labor strike.  He declared 1983 “the Year of the Bible” at the National Prayer Breakfast in February of that year. 

As Christ-followers, we extend grace toward the socially and politically anti-Christian, toward the incarcerated and convicted, even toward the totalitarian and inhumane.  At the same time, John 1:17 reminds us “grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.”  I am taking the position today that we need at least as much truth as grace in our culture. 

Pray with me … Father, the Psalmist declared that “strength and beauty are in your sanctuary.”  We want to reflect both your strength and your beauty in our character because we, your people, are your sanctuary.  So, give us wisdom about when we should bow our heads in quiet submission and humility, and when we should lift our heads to shout with conviction what is right and true.  Jesus is our model as we aspire to “speak the truth in love.”  Give us your mind to know when we need to show your heart and when we need to stand firm with a backbone.  In the Name of Jesus we pray, amen.

Keep Standing

by Jared Johnson 

Numbers 16 is sometimes remembered by Bible students as the “Korah’s Rebellion chapter.”  It’s a bit long as Bible chapters go – 50 verses, about 1,300 words in English.  And indeed, the majority of the chapter covers the drama among Moses, Aaron, Korah, Dathan and so on. 

But these are not the only events covered in Numbers 16.  The final few words seem to give a bit of an epilogue.  The main events conclude in verse 40.  In English, we then see a paragraph break, and this phrase right after the superscripted 41 indicating the new verse: “But the very next morning…” 

O my.  Here it goes again.  That all-too-familiar pattern of Israel’s interminable griping reared itself again – the very next morning!  Leadership, so often, can be a thankless task.  And that is precisely what happens in Numbers 16.  

Moses and Aaron faced the very public complaints of Korah, Dathan, Abiram, On, and 250 additional “community leaders” over the course of a couple very stressful days.  “The elders of Israel” are mentioned on one occasion with Moses (verse 25), but there is no mention of Joshua nor anyone else – the chapter has the feel of being very lonely for Moses and Aaron. 

Over 250 highly respected men voiced very public criticisms and complaints about these two.  God very obviously reaffirmed His choice of Moses and Aaron, who simply “left it at that.”  Moses and Aaron let the Divine punishments speak for themselves.  They didn’t punish anyone else in any additional way – what God said and did was the final word on the matter. 

Then verse 41: “…the very next morning the whole community of Israel began muttering…” 

Thankfully, Moses and Aaron set a great example here.  In the face of fresh rancor, how many of us given a similar situation – I know I’d be tempted! – would wearily cry out to God and take Him up on His “do over” offer as He made in verse 21?  “Get away from all these people so that I may instantly destroy them!” 

Not Moses’ nor Aaron’s MO.  They shielded the people in verse 22 (prayer), and again (prayer and action) here at the end of the chapter.  Verses 46-47 record that “Moses said to Aaron, ‘Quick, take an incense burner … purify them and make them right with the Lord…’  Aaron did as Moses told him and ran out among the people.” 
 
Moses and Aaron intervened on behalf of the people they led in situation after situation, just because it was the right thing to do.  Pastor Appreciation Month was far in the future.  No Starbucks gift cards would be showing up in their Tabernacle Office mailboxes the next morning. 

But here’s the verse that really hits me, verse 48: 

He stood between the dead and the living, and the plague stopped. 

I cannot imagine. 

It was a plague.  Death came quickly.  In today’s terms, think Ebola or some other severe hemorrhagic fever or an extreme, rapidly progressing bacterial infection.  A plague, in only minutes or hours, had come into the camp of Israel and the leaders intervened. 

He stood between the dead and the living, and the plague stopped. 

Aaron ran to where he was needed to intervene – he went immediately to the front line between the living and dead.  He undoubtedly saw people expiring before his eyes.  He probably heard people gasp their last – the “death rattle” when fluid fills the throat and bronchial tubes, then the lungs, suffocating the victim.  Whatever this plague was, it’s not unreasonable to think it involved massive bleeding, flesh that looked like it should not, flesh doing what it should not. 
 
And all Aaron had – literally! – was an incense burner and prayer. 

But He stood between the dead and the living, and the plague stopped.  God worked in and through Aaron’s servant-leadership. 

Keep standing, pastor.  Keep standing, elder.  It will often be thankless.  It will be spiritually, relationally, emotionally messy.  It might even be physically messy; modern medicine is a wonder, but that doesn’t mean hospital visits are for the faint of heart. 

Keep standing, shepherd.  Someone will live eternally because you will have chosen to stand with – and in defense of – the living.

“I” Problems

by Rod Nielsen 

My dad, a long-time elder in the Church of Christ in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, sometimes talked with me about situations where one could see “I” problems.  He meant that some people have a problem with their ego.  They make decisions about the church and what the church is doing based on their personal preferences rather than on the Word of God.
 
In my years of being a preaching minister, I have witnessed this again and again.  Well-meaning church members are sometimes critical of the church, what we did or how we did it simply because they did not like it, or we did not do it the way they would have preferred.  While I appreciate that they care about what the church does and how we do it, “because I don’t like it” is not a very good point of reference.
 
M.C. Escher, the artist known for fascinating and bizarre drawings of impossible things, created one drawing he titled “Relativity.”  The drawing depicts a building with stairs going every which way: up, down, left, right, sideways, upside down.  There are people walking on the stairs as if gravity has no effect.  Of course, as a viewer you know this is impossible.  The drawing shows what the world would be like if there were no absolute point of reference.  Turn the page around and around and you cannot find a single point of reference to know which way is up.
 
It is a statement about the impossibility of life without a single point of reference, an absolute up and down or absolute right and wrong.  Our culture has rejected any sense of absolute right and wrong and it has disturbed a sense of moral compass in America.  There are many examples of that which is good being called evil and that which is evil being called good.  It does not work for a people to exist without a consistent moral compass.
 
In our churches we must have a clear and absolute point of reference of what is right and what is wrong.  This is true for individuals and for the congregation.  The Bible does not spell out everything the church must do or how we must do them.  We are free to be creative as we live out our commission to make disciples.
 
So how do we determine what is good and what is bad for the church to do and how the church does it?  That requires careful and prayerful trust in the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  What we must not do is try to accommodate every member’s preference.  This is especially important for the men, Elders, who make portentous decisions for the church.  It is necessary that we do not allow our own “I” problems to become our point of reference.
 
Whenever we are tempted to say, “I like this” or “I don’t like that” we should stop and remove the first-person pronoun and insert “God.”  If we are still at peace when saying, “God likes this” or “God doesn’t like that,” then we are focused on the true point of reference.
 
Our creator God offers us an almost unlimited variety of things to do and methods of doing them.  We are limited by our creativity and the true measure of right and wrong, the Word of God.  Overcome our “I” problems to truly be a Holy Spirit led church.

The “Authority” of Elders Makes me Nervous

by Mark Scott 

Founding Academic Dean of Ozark Christian College, Seth Wilson, said, “If Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18), then how much is left over for you?”  The answer is in the question.  I suppose that is why I get nervous when I hear church folk talk about the “authority” of the elders (or the preacher or the church secretary for that matter).  What is implied in how that word “authority” is used? 
 
The Greek word translated authority is “exousia.”  It occurs 102 times in the New Testament and means “the right to command or the power to act.”  Interestingly enough, it never appears in conjunction with any discussion of the elders (their 17 qualifications or 12 duties).  In fact, the word does not appear at all in 1 or 2 Timothy.  Most people know that the word “office” is not really in the Greek text of 1 Timothy 3:1.  It is supplied (sometimes) by translators.  But the word for “work” is in the Greek of 1 Timothy 3:1.  Maybe that is what an elder has – not an authoritative office but a “good work.”
 
Don’t misunderstand me.  To oversee the church does imply some kind of empowerment by someone.  But elders should use caution when they desire the work of an elder so that they can command and boss people.  Again quoting Brother Seth Wilson, “All of our efforts to control people shows our failure to convert them.”  Some might argue that since the church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20), didn’t the apostles pass the baton of authoritative leadership to the elders?  I do believe in a certain level of plural apostolic succession.  The farther one reads in Acts the more evident it is that the apostles started fading into the background and the local church elders took on the leadership of the church.  Note Acts 21:17-26 for a classic example where the local Jerusalem elders tell the Apostle Paul what to do – and he obeys them. 
 
But, at best, any authority that the elders have is first delegated (see Matthew 10:1 for an example of what Jesus did with the apostles) and is secondly through teaching and persuasion (1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Corinthians 5:11).  Loving the people (the latest strong emphasis on eldership coming from Alexander Strauch), equipping the saints, watching their souls, protecting the church from savage wolves, teaching the Bible, and pleading with the people to not be idle, etc. all gain the elders’ spiritual clout with the people so that they will follow the elders (John 21:15-19; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:14). 
 
Some might ask about church discipline, and in those instances it may seem that the elders have to use authority.  But I would ask elders to carefully examine the grammar of Matthew 18:18.  The original NASB had it right, “Whatever you shall bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven…”  In other words, whatever elders (they may be the two or three witnesses referred to in Matthew 18:16, 19-20; see Kurt Aland’s Synopsis Quattuor Evangeliorum, 253 and the quote from Ignatius) exercise in terms of discipline has already been decided by heaven.  They are simply declaring heaven’s will – not their own. 
 
Some years ago someone asked then-President of Ozark Christian College, Don Earl Boatman, where the lines of authority were between his ministry and Brother Seth Wilson’s ministry.  President Boatman’s response was, “We don’t worry about authority, we just emphasize responsibility.”  Elders have leadership, influence, clout, sway, and persuasion.  But perhaps the only authority they have is the authority of their own obedience in following Jesus.