Power, Authority

By Rick Justice

Recently, I twice taught a course on servant leadership for TCM International Institute.  They were held at two locations in Asia.  During the course, we came upon the concepts of “power” and “authority.”  I paused for my translator to translate, and in both sessions, they stopped, looked at me and asked: “Can you describe the concepts to us?  We don’t have a word for that in our language.  We don’t have words that differentiate ‘power’ from ‘authority’ in our culture.”

Scripture does differentiate power from authority.  Remember Paul told the church at Colossae: “For in Christ all the fullness of the deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority” (Col. 2:9-10, emphasis added).  So I had the students look up the reference in their Bibles.  Now, either their respective translations simply transliterated* the Greek terms, or the translators used such an arcane word that the concepts of power and authority were foreign thoughts to them.  You see, their cultures think of leadership only as the exercising of power.  Sadly, that aspect of culture has leaked into their expression of church leadership as well.

That experience caused me to pause to consider two questions.

First: How often do we, as Western church leaders, also confuse these two concepts?  James Hunter (The World’s Most Powerful Leadership Principle: How to Become a Servant Leader, WaterBrook Press, 2004) tells us that ‘power’ is the ability to force others to do what we want because of our position or strength; ‘authority’ is the skill to get others to willingly do what we want because of our personal influence.  Power works but it always damages relationships.  Power works when it is present and strong.  When the power is absent or weak, behaviors are not changed for long.

The second question: How often do we resort to power when we could accomplish the same thing using authority?  Sometimes church leaders need to use power (e.g., when defending the flock from harm), but Hunter reminds us: “ … whenever I am called upon to exercise power, that is usually a bad day for me as the leader.  Why?  Because my authority has broken down and I had to resort to my power.”

So, how about our leadership?  Do we rely on power or authority?  Do we limit the use of power to rare instances when it is truly necessary?

As we continue to shepherd the congregation for which we are responsible, let’s encourage each other with the words we find in Jude 24 and 25: “To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy – to the only God our savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore!  Amen.”  (NIV, 1983) 

*transliteration: the representation of one language’s word in the script/characters of another (i.e. “baptism;” Baptizo was an ancient Greek term that became our English word “baptism” over time.)

Character Still Matters

by gary weedman

If your congregation is like the one where I grew up, the preacher preaches a sermon or two on the qualifications of an elder before it’s time to choose these leaders each year.  The sermon usually focuses on the 16 requirements for elders mentioned in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.  The discussions that follow often include exactly what some of those qualifications mean.  Does “the husband of one wife” disqualify an otherwise godly and faithful widower?  Does “hav[ing] faithful children” eliminate a man who demonstrates the other 15 characteristics but who never had children?  Should the title be “bishop” (as in Timothy) or “elder” (Titus uses both terms)? 

Furthermore, while the two separate lists have overlapping requirements, they are not quite identical.  Why does Timothy include three not mentioned in Titus, which has one not mentioned in Timothy?
These are interesting questions, but if we understand the passages to be some sort of check list, which, when “ticked off,” qualify someone to be an elder, we have missed Paul’s point.  These lists are examples – important but not exhaustive – of the core principle of character expected of those who lead.
Should character be a prerequisite for leadership?  The question has become one of popular discussion in our current political atmosphere.  Can we overlook the character of potential leaders if they can produce some desired result regardless of character?  What long-term, unintended consequences follow such a choice?  Some believe that even evangelical Christians have accepted that character can be ignored in leaders if they can bring about an otherwise desired outcome.
Yet, important voices cry out that character still matters.  Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has spoken extensively about the importance of character as it relates to leadership.  In his article, “Character in Leadership – Does it Still Matter?” he reminds readers that in 1976 Jimmy Carter (as candidate) created a scandal by agreeing to be interviewed by Playboymagazine, a move criticized by many Christian leaders in spite of the fact that Carter strongly affirmed biblical principles for personal morality.  Mohler contrasts that scene to one 40 years later when a prominent evangelical leader (the first among many) chose to endorse a presidential candidate with his framed picture on the cover of Playboy proudly displayed in his office.  What difference four decades can make! 

[Link to Dr Mohler’s character piece: https://albertmohler.com
Indeed, some concern about the ultimate importance of character still exists.  Journalist David Brooks recently published a book, Road to Character, much of it the core of his popular ethics course at Yale University.  In the work he affirms the importance of what he calls the “eulogy self” as opposed to the “résumé self.”   What is more important in our lives: character traits for which we would like to be remembered at our memorial service, or check lists of accomplishments that bring temporary acclaim and applause from the culture?  The “eulogy self” is our true character.
Not to be outdone by Yale, Harvard professor Michael Sandel has taught, for over two decades, the most popular course in Harvard’s history – “Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?” Nearly one thousand students crowd Sanders Hall each year to participate in Socratic dialogue about how to make ethical choices that transcend utilitarian purposes – proof that many still search for truth grounded in something beyond the mere useful and temporary.
Yes, character still matters.  It matters in leadership in any enterprise, and it matters most of all in the Church.  Yes, those 16 listed characteristics are important, supremely so because they point to something larger than any individual item listed.  They illustrate the incredible character needed to lead well – being “above reproach,” “blameless,” “an example” – as Paul and Peter described (1 Tim. 3:2, Titus 1:6, 1 Pet. 5:3).  They describe a “eulogy self” rather than “résumé self.”  May our congregations demonstrate that character still matters as they choose elders who first of all value the “eulogy self.”

Praying Elders

by Rory Christensen

This week, I thought I might start with a riddle.  Here it goes.  What flows from the desperate, is practiced by the persistent, entrusted to the believing, and central to divine communication?  (Hint: It is difficult but essential, learned but never mastered, innate but needs explanation, seems insignificant but interrupts heaven.)  What is it? …drumroll please… prayer, of course!  (If you guessed it, you get two gold stars and a brownie.)

Prayer is that well-worn word we use to talk about communicating with God through talking or listening.  It’s also a subject we’re well-versed in.  We all know, for instance, that it’s one of the central ways we connect with God and through which are changed by God (John 15:5).  We know it’s our primary means of “doing life” with God, motivated and empowered by Him.  We know that Jesus taught his disciples to do it (Luke 11), and the early church was faithful in it.  We know more biblical teaching about it as well: that prayer rises from the believing (Romans 11:36; 1 Timothy 6:15-16), is motivated by salvation (1 Timothy 1;13-14; Ephesians 5:20), essential to service (Ephesians 6:19-20; Colossians 4:3-4), and pivotal to perseverance (Ephesians 6:18; 2 Corinthians 13:5, 7).

But my reason for bringing it up today is to encourage us to continue to be faithful in it, not just because it’s on every elder’s job description (Acts 6:1-7; James 5:13-18), but because prayer makes a real difference.  As Corrie ten Boom said, “Prayer is powerful.  The devil smiles when we make plans.  He laughs when we get busy.  But he trembles when we pray – especially when we pray together.”

I love our Acts 12 reminder of that.  You know the context: the early church is being persecuted – James has been executed by Herod Agrippa I; Peter has been thrown in prison and is awaiting his own execution.  It’s a dark situation.  But verse 5 gives a ray of hope: “Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.”  Mark Moore tells us that this verse has an “on the one hand … but on the other hand” sort of vibe to it.  Our summary: “On the one hand, Peter is in prison and the mission of God looks to be in jeopardy.  But on the other hand, the church is praying to God.”  In other words, the verse provokes us to expect, to anticipate, the difference prayer will make.

What gets me the most about this account, though, is the disciples’ absolute conviction that their prayer would make a difference.  Dallas Williard said it this way: “The idea that everything would happen exactly as it does regardless of whether we pray or not is a specter that haunts the minds of many who sincerely profess belief in God.  It makes prayer psychologically impossible, replacing it with dead ritual at best.”  For these disciples, this was not the case.  They went to God, believing that he loved them and would care for them; believing that he would act on their behalf.  And, because of their fervent prayer and the belief that motivated it, they experienced God’s salvation.

Brothers, may the same be true of us.  As we push into the back part of 2018, we can’t forget to pray.  Pray because spiritual opposition is great.  Pray because our families, fellow elders, and church staff need it.  Pray because people are lost and God’s mission is essential.  Pray because it changes, fuels, and directs us for the Lord’s work.  Pray.  We know why.  It makes a real difference.

Preventing Conflict

by Shawn McMullen 

Conflict occurs all around us.  And perhaps nowhere is its presence more quickly noticed and keenly felt than in a local church.  As shepherds of God’s flock, elders are often drawn into conflicts among believers.  Just as often, we should be agents of conflict resolution.

While it’s vital to resolve conflict in the church, it is possible to prevent it.  That’s what Alexander Campbell had in mind when he wrote about church discipline in 1839, “Offences must come; and, if possible, they must be healed.  To cut off an offender, is good; to cure him, is better; but to prevent him falling, is best of all” (emphasis added).

So what can elders in the local church do to help prevent at least some of the conflict that might occur among members?  Here are a few thoughts.

Be a Constant Encourager:  Paul advised, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Thess. 5:11), and “encourage one another daily” (Heb. 3:13).

Author Stephen Covey popularized a concept he referred to as “the emotional bank account.”  He pointed out that we can’t make withdrawals from a financial institution without first making deposits, and that a similar principle holds true in our personal relationships.  When we’ve faithfully made deposits into the emotional bank accounts of those around us (by sincerely and continually expressing our appreciation and encouragement to them), we’ll have resources to withdraw from when we need to confront or correct them.  This allows us to address problems before they escalate into conflict.

Say It with Tears: To the Ephesians, Paul offered this helpful insight: “Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ” (4:15).  He twice reminded the elders of the same congregation that he’d served among them with “tears” (Acts 20:19, 31).  Shepherds of God’s flock are not duplicitous.  They can’t simply say what they think others want to hear.  They must be able to speak the hard truth, but when they do, they must say it with tears and in a spirit of love.  Most people will accept anything you have to say if they’re convinced you have their best interest at heart.

Set an Example of Humility: Even if we’re not directly involved in a conflict, we can often prevent it from developing or escalating, and we can encourage others to do the same, by keeping our pride in check.  Proverbs addresses the theme frequently:


  • A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a wise man overlooks an insult.  (12:16)
  • A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.  (15:1)
  • God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.  (3:34 as quoted in James 4:6)

And we certainly can’t forget Jesus’ example, laid out by Paul, in Philippians 2:1-11 (“…he humbled himself…” v. 8).

Make Unity a Daily Priority: Knowing God is displeased when Christians remain at odds with one another, shepherds of God’s flock will do everything in their power to keep peace in God’s family.  Jesus spoke to this urgent need in Matthew 5:23-24: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar.  First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”  Paul also stressed the importance of this goal: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).  If the elders of the local church, by word and example, show the congregation that unity is a priority – among church leaders and members – their example can have a profound impact on the congregation.

While conflict is inevitable, even in the church, much of it is preventable.  Let’s do all we can to prevent any strife that we can, to the glory of God. 

Elders’ Job Description

by Roger Storms 

For 42 years of active ministry and 36 of them as a Lead Pastor, I’ve come to love and appreciate my Elders.  For some of those years, though, I feared my Elders.  Please allow me to explain. 

For much of my ministry, the Elders regarded me as a fellow team member in the church’s leadership.  In fact, I recently retired from serving my last church for 29 years as the Lead Pastor, also serving as an Elder.  Early in this ministry, a man would occasionally come on board with a personal agenda contrary – not complimentary – to the vision shared by the Lead Pastor and current Elders.  Some even viewed the Lead Pastor as an “employee” of the church’s leadership.  In those times, we walked through difficult seasons of leadership.  

If you find yourself in such a scenario, be encouraged; there were several ways we overcame those challenges.  

First, we determined that Elders were recognized and recruited by the existing Elders, not selected by popular vote from the congregation (Titus 1:5). 

Second, we term-limited lay Elders.  They could serve two three-year terms, with a mandatory one-year leave between.  To come back on for a second term, they had to go through the same extensive scrutiny that all prospective Elder candidates face – an extensive application process, questionnaire, written statement of vision and personal interviews.  No one was assured a position.  After that in-depth process, the new candidates were appointed by the existing Eldership. 

Third, the Elders participated in a spiritual and leadership self-assessment and subjected themselves to an annual written review by all the currently-serving Elders. 

Fourth, the Elders set the vision and direction of the church, delegating to the Lead Pastor the responsibility of administering the staff.  The Elders support this effort by enacting policies that protect the spiritual, biblical and legal integrity of the Church. 

Finally, we described our Elders’ role ultimately as LeadFeed and Weed.  Let me break that down: 

Lead: The Elders work with the Lead Pastor to develop, examine, review and support the vision and direction of the church, which will be something along the lines of “to lead people to find and follow Jesus.”  Jesus’ mission while He was here was “to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10).  The Elders lead with the Pastor in expressing and pursuing that vision. 

Feed: The Elders lead the congregation by example into continued, deepening discipleship.  They examine the teaching, preaching and doctrine of the church, making sure that what is presented is theologically sound and in keeping with the best tenets of Biblical hermeneutic and Restoration principles. 

Weed: The Elders protect the church from division and impurity, (and, overlapping with Feed, from false teaching). 

By clearly determining the scope and function of Elders, we create fertile ground for continued unity in the leadership and congregation.  We will also successfully keep our church on mission with the Church in our community and across the world. 

People Power

by J. Michael Shannon 

Linus once told Charlie Brown, “I love mankind; it’s people I can’t stand.” 

Sometimes, we all need a break from people.  That may especially be true after coming off an intensive week as many of us just have at the NACC.  But if we “can’t stand people,” we’re in trouble in church work.  Churches are full of people.  The world is, for that matter.  Nearly everything we do in life is dependent on us being able to manage relationships with each other.  No great thing is ever accomplished without cooperation.  No one person can perform all the tasks that need to get done – especially in the church.  When a congregation succeeds, it’s always the result of the labor of many.  

Some of the qualities that define a leader are the ability to motivate people, utilize their gifts, and marshal their resources.  Nehemiah illustrates this for us.  Even though the needs of Jerusalem – rebuilding the wall especially – were heavy on his heart, he knew there was no way he could do all that needed done by himself. 

Nehemiah first got permission from his king to go about the task God had laid upon his heart.  No doubt, Nehemiah’s faithful service gave the king a good reason to grant his request.  Nehemiah found favor in the eyes of Artaxerxes.  The king even seemed to take a genuine interest in what Nehemiah wanted to accomplish.  Not only did he give Nehemiah permission, but significant resources as well.  Our cultivation of good manners and courtesy will allow some people, even some outside the church, to help us with our task.  Nehemiah marshaled resources. 

Nehemiah also knew he had to motivate God’s people.  He did this by having a plan and challenging people.  People can be expected to react or respond to a plan, but they don’t craft one without the guidance of a leader.  It is the leader’s job to set the agenda and the goals; the people’s job is to amend and adopt them.  The vision Nehemiah cast for the people of Jerusalem was a great challenge – it seemed nearly impossible.  But the people responded and rose to the challenge, perhaps because of Nehemiah’s careful planning, and perhaps because of his enthusiasm. 

Notice his willingness to work side by side with the people.  Sometimes leaders do not receive respect because they insulate and separate themselves from the hard work and labor.  Nehemiah was, in today’s terms, a player/coach.  That is not a bad model for a minister, elder, or deacon. 

The satisfaction of seeing the walls built was not motivation enough, and Nehemiah knew this.  He helped motivate the people by allowing them to work near their own homes.  Each man was vitally interested in his own home being protected.  That personal buy-in kept the people going when the labor got discouraging. 

Finally, Nehemiah knew the ultimate reward for volunteer laborers – words of thanks and commendation.  Too seldom do we give words of commendation in the church.  Maybe this is because we have been erroneously taught that to work unselfishly means to work without thanks.  They are not the same thing.  Very few people in the church are paid anything for the labor they give.  The least they can expect are words like “well done,” “thank you,” and “we couldn’t do this without you” from their leaders.  Many people are convinced, but would never admit it out loud, that they are inept, have failed, and are not making any difference.  Our words of encouragement can keep them going and build them up for future service as well. 

We must cultivate our people power because we desperately need people.  The old saying is true: “It is never too heavy when we all lift together.” 

4 Ways

by Mark Taylor 

If church problems keep you awake at night, you’re in good company.  Even Paul wrote that “I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28, NIV). 

Let’s be candid: sometimes we cause our own worst problems.  It’s true that selfishness or sin among church members brings untold grief and uncounted setbacks for the cause of Christ.  We can’t control that.  But we can control our actions, decisions, and relationships.   I remember four commitments we, elders and church leaders, can make to minimize stress and maximize effectiveness with the simple acronym DISC.
Display loyalty. 
We cannot marry someone to change them, and it’s unwise, even unethical, for a person to become an elder to “straighten out” the church.  If you have a problem with your minister, talk with him.  If you don’t agree with elders’ decisions, tell them.  But we can’t join the leadership unless we can display heartfelt loyalty for the minister and elders.  We’re on one team, fighting one enemy – and it’s not the music minister.
Insist on confidentiality.
When I served on a church staff, I sometimes learned unfortunate facts about people in the church.  My wife knew very little, or nothing at all.  I did not want her to be disheartened, especially when we on staff were giving the offender time to repent.  There is nothing to be gained by spreading bad news widely.  Elders do well to adopt a similar position.  Leaders will always know information that should be kept private.  If a staff member is being disciplined, if a minister is getting a raise, if a complainer’s demands are being denied, the church is not well served by everyone’s gossiping about it.  Start by not telling your spouse, and it will be easier to keep quiet with everyone else too.
Seek accountability.
We are human, of course, and make mistakes.  Accountability helps blunt the effects of those mistakes, and we should be held accountable when we mess up.  I’m thinking of times a leader violates a principle mentioned here, or if an elder takes it on himself to speak for the whole eldership without their permission, or when someone agrees in a meeting but sows doubt afterward in the parking lot –a so-called “meeting after the meeting.”  When an elder acts or speaks contrary to the will of the whole group, the rest of the elders must hold him accountable.  Good leaders do not avoid difficult conversations.  God has not called us to be nice.  Rogue behavior cannot be tolerated.  Undermining is not good for the eldership, not good for the individual elder, and it will be devastating to the church.
Commit to unity.
Some church members, perhaps without realizing it, will seek to divide the eldership.  They will complain to one elder about another.  They will criticize a minister or object to a change with the elder they think they can get to agree.  Be on guard against allowing them to recruit you for their cause.  Otherwise we become party to wrangling and restlessness that can fester till it divides the whole congregation.  Our pastor at Christ’s Church Mason, Trevor DeVage, has written a great piece addressing similar ideas.  I am not saying criticism isn’t allowed or everyone must blindly agree.  I’m saying we should establish two principles for discussions with unhappy church members: 

  1. Critics should go to the right person with their questions or concerns.  Jesus Himself directed us to our aggrieved brother or sister in Matthew 18:15.  Trevor’s practice: “When someone complains to me about a decision some other leader made, my first question is, ‘Did you talk to him (or her) about this?” 
  2. Nothing should take the place of the church’s primary mission: seeking and saving the lost.  That was Jesus’ self-described mission in Luke 19:10, and we are following Him alone.  “If we don’t fight for putting lost people first,” Trevor says, “our tendency to prefer personal pleasure will always get in the way.”  

When we put aside personal preference to support the Church’s mission, we will better handle the stress of serving.  We’ll be more effective.  And we will set an example and create an atmosphere that will help the whole congregation flourish.

“Asymptote” – Forward

by Jim Estep

“Asymptote” is a geometry term, but in a general, non-geometry sense, it can mean “always advancing, pursuing, but never achieving.”  Consider: if someone stands 10 feet from a doorway, I can tell them to close the distance by half, then stop.  If we repeat the exercise several times, they will be 10 feet, then 5 feet, then 2.5 feet, then 1.25 feet, then 7.5 inches away, and so on – but will never actually step through the door.  

Our pursuit of God’s mission is like an asymptote exercise!  We will always be in pursuit, endeavoring to move closer and closer to achieving its ultimate ends, never, this side of eternity, fully satisfied the with results; we’re committed to continuous improvement in our ministries.  With my role at e2 and 25 years as a practical ministries professor, God has given me the opportunity to visit, teach, and coach a large number of congregations throughout North America.  While visiting these congregations, those that were vibrant, growing, evangelizing and disciple-making had one factor that kept surfacing:  their relentless quest to fulfill God’s mission in the church.  They never settled for what they had already accomplished in the past, they wanted to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14, ESV). 
We will never “arrive,” but we also don’t stop pursuing.  Ministry will never be 100% perfect, 100% effective, 100% inclusive.  Take risks, make changes, be innovative, seek to improve on how far you’ve traveled so far.  Ask “what’s next?”  The only time we’ll actually reach our ultimate goal is when Christ returns and we experience for ourselves the fullness of His Kingdom.  Until then, we continue to move closer and closer to His prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Mathew 6:10, ESV).  
Asymptote churches are led by asymptote leaders; elders who are on a habitual quest for improving ministry effectiveness, guarding the mission by never compromising it – and advancing it through any iteration.  This will make our congregations both biblically sound and practically relevant.  And our congregations will keep moving perpetually toward God’s calling.

Excellent Work

by Ken Idleman

I like the way the Good News Bible translates 1 Timothy 3:1:

If a man is eager to be a church leader [elder], he desires an excellent work.
A companion verse that also applies and has always impressed me as a lifelong church leader is Romans 12:11 (NIV):  
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
The New Living Translation is a little more common and confrontational in the way it translates this Romans text: Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. 
As a church leader, I am both motivated and a little convicted by these verses.
I am grateful for the work ethic instilled in me by my parents.  They set the example with their post-Depression era “early to bed and early to rise” approach to daily life.  As a rule, my little brother and I were not allowed to stay up late, even on Friday nights.  We had chores to do the next day.  (That’s a word you don’t hear much anymore!)  We were not permitted to sleep in, even on Saturday mornings. When the basement flooded, which was basically every time it rained more than an inch, Dave and I were the “drop and mop” brigade.  When the green beans and strawberries were ripe, we were the two-man picking, snapping and stemming crew.  In the summers I could play Little League baseball … in the evenings … as long as I had worked during the day cutting corn out of the beans, and/or weeding the corn for a farmer in our church. 
But I have to say, as a result of the diligence and persistence of my parents, I got it.  Some might say I got it a little too well.  My problem has more often been achieving balance from the other direction.  I used to feel guilty for taking a day off.  I used to think I was a “shirker” when I would go on a vacation.  Through the years I have mellowed.  I now have no problem taking a Sabbath day at least once a week and a Sabbath week at least once a quarter every year. 
On the other hand, for me, serving the Lord has never felt arduous – not like “work.”  There is something that is regenerating in the process of working hard for God’s purposes.  And I am thankful that there is no mandatory retirement age for doing ministry.  I can do it voluntarily even after I have ceased to do it vocationally.  My 99-year old mother, Lois, is in a retirement facility, but daily she carries on a prayer ministry, a teaching ministry, a reading-to-the-visually-impaired ministry and an encouragement ministry that she discharges for the benefit of her neighbors.  I am still, to this day, challenged by her example of tireless, selfless service. 
And through the years, I have become a huge admirer of local church elders for their work ethic.  They typically volunteer many hours of their time for monthly elder team meetings, planning retreats, hospital visits, pastoral searches, crisis management and problem solving.  Of course this does not even count the scriptural priorities of a church leader – the prayer and teaching ministry of God’s Word.  We all get 168 hours in a week, which, in the light of such leadership demands, evaporate pretty quickly. For this reason, Hebrews 13:17 admonishes us to Obey them [our spiritual leaders] so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.

A Good Reputation

by Ken Idleman 

Paul’s first letter to Timothy details the character requirements of a local church elder.  1 Timothy 3:7 declares, “An elder must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.”

AshleyMadison.com launched as a web site in 2001 as a place for people, in ostensibly committed relationships, to go if they wanted to cheat on their spouse or significant other.  Their marketing slogan: “Life is short.  Have an affair.”  The additional allure was the promise of anonymity/secrecy.  But alas, once again the things done in secret were shouted from the housetops!  The Ashley Madison database was hacked.  Their records were distributed in the public domain.  

But this time the national expose of secret sin did not result in the shaming of anyone who was particularly well known.  Rather, this time the dark shroud concealing immorality was stripped away exposing the sad lies and secret lives of a staggering 30,000,000 individuals, mostly regular folks.  The population of the United States is only 325,000,000!  This means almost one in ten people in our country were implicated in this scandal.  It means that no matter who you are, you probably know someone who has pursued this quest to experience marital or relational unfaithfulness.  For some it is just a fantasy you say?  They would never act on their fantasy you say?  Listen … if you shop, there is no guarantee you won’t buy.  If you flirt, there is no guarantee you won’t seduce or be seduced.  If you chase a fantasy, you will probably capture it – sooner or later.  And for many, their secret life of shame became common knowledge.  

Their good reputation with outsiders was at least temporarily damaged.

During the same week as the Ashley Madison hack, an Old Dominion University fraternity made the news by welcoming new female students and their fathers to the campus with garish black letters scrawled on white bed sheets hanging from frat house balconies: “Freshman daughter drop off!” and “Drop off mom too!”

It was an ominous harbinger of the very real danger faced by college girls, 25% of whom, according to a survey of graduating senior girls done by the University of Iowa, were subjected to sexual molestation, sexual abuse or date rape during their four years of college.  So, dads – entrusted with the protection of your daughters – what do you think of these odds?

I remember the late 60’s and the ‘free love’ movement in the culture.  It was dubbed the ‘sexual revolution.’  And Ed Stetzer is right: “A revolution means that a war is being fought.  In revolutions, bombs are dropped, attacks are launched and there are thousands of casualties.  Sadly, today the war is being waged against the way of Jesus … that marriage is between a man and a woman, becoming one flesh, in one marriage, in one sexual relationship, for one lifetime.”  And for those who have failed to follow the Jesus way, His cross stands in time and space as a tangible reminder that regardless of anything else, a way of rescue from sin and shame, guilt and judgment, still exists.

The Psalms gave us an infinitely better slogan than Ashley Madison’s to preserve a good reputation with outsiders: Psalm 90:12, “Teach us how short our life is, so that we may become wise.”