3 Words

by Mike Shannon 

There is an incident in the book of Acts that gives us insight into the role of elder as it was understood by the New Testament church.  It is recounted in chapter 20, verses 13-38.  Paul is on his way to Jerusalem.  He did not know precisely what would happen to him there, but he suspected it would be difficult and perhaps even cost him his life.  Paul took time from his journey to Jerusalem to say his farewells to the elders of the church in Ephesus, a church that meant a lot to him.  This meeting ended in many tears as Paul said they would never seem him again.  In verse 17, Paul summoned the “elders,” which is probably the most common term for the office, even in our own time.  In verse 28, he called them “overseers,” and admonished them to shepherd (pastor) the flock, which is the church.  This is a passage that gives strong evidence that all three terms were applied to the same “office.”  Let’s look at these three words as a guide to critical elements in our understanding of the work of an elder. 

First, consider the word “elder.”  It means just what is sounds like it means.  It is an older or mature man.  The Bible never prescribes exactly how old an elder should be, but we can still draw some conclusions about what is behind this designation.  A leader in the church should be mature, at least emotionally, intellectually and spiritually.  These qualities would most often be found in people who were also chronologically mature. 

Secondly, consider the word “overseer.”  The English word is actually a quite accurate translation.  We instinctively know what it means.  The elders provide general oversight over the life, doctrine, and health of a church.  Although it doesn’t sound like it, the English word “bishop” is derived from this Greek word. 

Finally, the last word is “pastor.”  That word is used widely in our world today, but it is actually used rarely in the New Testament, at least when referring to an office.  It is the word “shepherd,” and in this passage it is the verb form that is used.  While the term “pastor” is often used for the minister or preacher of a church, it seems that this term originally applied to elders, and some elders were, no doubt, teaching pastors. 

My purpose is not to make a case for proper titles.  There is a place for such discussions, but my purpose is to consider that these three words describe essentials components of a church elder’s work. 

He should be mature.  Almost nothing is more destructive in a church than an immature leader.  Childish behavior will disrupt meetings and the overall building of a Christian community. 

He should be sure to take care of the overall health of the church.  While good elders delegate to deacons and other church workers, there is nothing outside of their concern.  For instance, good elders will take the time to study and understand biblical theology so they can guard the spiritual health of the community.

He should have a shepherd’s heart.  It is not just about meetings and policies, however important they may be.  Elder boards should consider how they can care for the flock: visiting the bereaved, visiting the sick, consoling the broken hearted, etc. 

I could say it like this: elders, be mature, be aware, and be compassionate.  In doing so, you will lead like Jesus – our good shepherd.

They Have Names

by Barry Cameron 

 

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

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

Ministry of an Open Door

by Rory Christensen 

I blame my parents for this one.  When I read through the 1 Timothy 3 list of ministry leadership essentials, there’s one that always hits me with an internal, assumed exclamation mark.  It’s their fault.  For as long as I can remember, my parents have used their house to welcome guests, host missionaries, house traveling musicians, and launch Bible studies.  Over the years, I’ve seen the good news shared (Jule Miller film strips anybody?), weddings conducted, meals served, even a displaced family of 8 given a home for the summer (and separate housing provided well beyond).  It all happened because my parents were committed to this particular ministry qualification.  You know what it is by now.  Read 1 Timothy 3:2 to see it spelled out.  “The overseer is to be … hospitable.”  Hospitable.  I hear that word, ministry memories come, and my conviction is sharpened all over again.

It’s my parents’ fault.  Really. 

But in the same breath that I blame them, I realize that I need to thank them too.  As I’ve processed this “hospitable” leadership requirement through the lens of their example, I’ve realized that there are at least a couple reasons why we could all do to emphasize hospitality a little more.

First, we should emphasize it because of its potential.  I like the way Alexander Strauch put it:

I don’t think most Christians understand how essential hospitality is to fanning the flames of love and strengthening the Christian family.  Hospitality fleshes out love in uniquely personal and sacrificial ways.  Through the ministry of hospitality, we share our most prized possessions.  We share our family, home, finances, food, privacy and time.  So hospitality is always costly.  Through the ministry, we provide friendship, acceptance, fellowship, refreshment, comfort and love in one of the richest and deepest ways possible for humans to understand.  Unless we open the doors of our homes to one another, the reality of the local church as a close-knit family of loving brothers and sisters is only a theory” (The Hospitality Commands, p. 17).

You hear that, and you get a feel for the power behind the “ministry of the open door” (to borrow words from Ozark Christian College President Matt Proctor).

As we lean in to hospitality, our lost, hurting world is impacted (Hebrews 13:2, anyone?), and our Christian family is uplifted.

Second, we should emphasize hospitality because of its practicality.  Go to the Bible and you find hospitality used as a natural conduit for the disciple-making way of life.  Take a scan and you see all manner of Jesus followers using it in all manner of ways:

  • Matthew, for evangelism (Matt 9:9-13)
  • Priscilla and Aquila, for …
    • welcome/care (Acts 18:3)
    • correction (Acts 18:26)
    • worship (1 Cor 16:19)
  • Paul, for evangelism (Acts 28:30-31)
  • The entire early Church, for …
    • table fellowship (Lk 24:13-32; Acts 1:4; 10:41; Gal 2:1-21)
    • instruction (Acts 5:42) 

Robert Coleman has long told us of the need for association, instruction, and demonstration in the disciple-making process (cf. The Master Plan of Evangelism, chapters 2, 4, and 5).  I see these biblical examples and note how “the ministry of an open door provides” a natural context within which all these God-honoring actions can occur.  It is a useful conduit (the best conduit?) for the disciple-making way of life.

When I read these reasons and descriptions again today, I’m inclined to reach a bit beyond definitions that limit hospitality to merely making people feel welcome.  Defining it only as “feeling welcome” strips away its deepest significance.  When we engage in the ministry of open doors we tap into something that has incredible, unlimited Kingdom potential.  Yes, it certainly is practical, but it is much, much more.  In Acts 28:31 Paul’s Kingdom work, rendered through the conduit of hospitality, was unhindered.  

Our Kingdom work can be unhindered as well.  I absolutely believe that and I’m committed to living like that.  Maybe you can join me in it.  I still blame my parents for it, by the way.

Once Bitten, Twice … Repeat

by Jared Johnson

“There are no Lone Ranger Christians.” 

“Community is messy.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

How to Shepherd

by David Roadcup 

One of the foremost elders of the church, the Apostle Peter, gives us a clear picture of our role as elders.  In 1 Peter 5:1-4, Peter he states:

Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed,  shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness;  nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.  And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 

Paul also makes clear that our main role is that of shepherd.  We are to manage, lead and cast vision.  These roles are all important to an effective elder team.  But we should be focused first and foremost on our role as shepherd

In smaller churches, the role is hands-on, up close and personal.  In our mega-churches, elders oversee webs of relationships in the church (small groups, Sunday School classes, ministry teams [i.e. Praise Team], etc.).  In larger churches, elders should manage the task of making sure that the thousands or hundreds of people who attend the church are being shepherded in an effective way. 

Whether the church is small or large, elders are to be shepherds.

What does this look like in today’s church?  Here are a few suggestions that might bring clarity to our role:

1)      We are to be visible to our flock.  In a smaller church, this is no problem.  Everyone knows who the elders are.  In churches of 300 and up, it is possible that many in the church don’t know who the shepherds of the church are.  Finding ways to make our shepherds visible to our congregation would help this problem.  Having elders introduce themselves before they lead in prayer in worship services would be good.  If your congregation uses an invitation song in worship services, why not have elders up front at invitation time to receive those who come forward?  Having elders (and maybe their wives) in the lobbies of our buildings at worship times, proactively connecting with people before and after services, would allow contact and connection with those in our flock.

2)      We are to be prayerful for our flock.  One of our main ways to shepherd our people is by offering intercessory prayer on a daily basis for our people.  We should pray daily that God’s blessing, Presence, protection from temptation and peace should be upon the lives of our people.  Our children, teens, college students, singles, married couples and senior saints all need the mantle of prayer that we provide as shepherds.  When we daily intercede for our people, we are spreading a covering of protection over our flock.  Remember, brothers, prayer makes a difference.  Let us protect our people daily by lifting them up in prayer. 

3)      We are to be involved in shepherding activities.  Today’s church growth research indicates that any person, leader or layman, can only connect with significance with approximately 60-80 people in the congregation.  If this is so, as an elder, I know I can touch at least that many people through various means.  As mentioned previously, leading a small home bible study group, teaching a Sunday School class, playing in the Praise Band, etc. are all ways (plus many others) that we can establish relationships and connect with people.  It is an absolute “must” that we are touching people at the grass roots level as shepherds.

Elders, following in the steps of our Lord Jesus, Peter and Paul, let’s shepherd well.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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. 

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.

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.

Adopted

by John Caldwell 

I was literally moved to tears when I read a front-page article in the Indianapolis Star on November 25.  It concerned a 17-year-old girl who had just been adopted after 4,057 days in foster care in 36 different placements.  That’s over 11 years since she was removed from her very abusive biological parents at six years of age.  Nearly 1,000 other kids in the system had been adopted while she waited.  Her hopes had been raised again and again only to be dashed in disappointment.  Then, while living in a group home, she met Mike and Patty at an adoption event.  When they met again she told them, “When I got back to the group home, I was hoping you guys wanted me, because I wanted you guys.” 

I was hoping you guys WANTED me…”

When she moved in with Mike and Patty on a trial basis it was hard to believe it would last since she had been hurt so many times before.  However, on November 16, it became official.  She was now their daughter, a part of their family.  Furthermore, she legally changed not just her last name but also her first name because it had been given to her by her birth parents – whom she doesn’t want to remember. She’s a new person, with a new name, a new family, and a new home.  She’s ADOPTED!  Wow!!!

One of my favorite praise choruses is Hillsong’s “I Am Who You Say I Am.”  The words to the bridge of that praise song always move me: “I am chosen, not forsaken, I am who you say I am – You are for me, not against me, I am who you say I am – You are for me, not against me, I am who you say I am – I am who you say I am.”  But one of the other things that God says to me is that, “I am an adopted child of the Most High God.”

There are many names, titles, or descriptions given in Scripture for the Christian.  Here are just a few: believer, saint, blessed, child of God, chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation, disciple, redeemed, saved, set free, reconciled, and so many others.  But after reading Scarlet’s story (her old name) “adopted” will always have a very special meaning for me.

But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent Him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that He could adopt us as his very own children. (Galatians 4:4-5 NLT, emphasis added)

God decided in advance to adopt us into His own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ.  This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. (Ephesians 1:5 NLT, emphasis added)

It is also significant that when Scarlet was adopted, she put her old life behind her and took a new identity; not unlike when we “died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.” (Romans 6:4 NLT)  

Scarlet had said to Mike and Patty, “I was hoping you guys wanted me, because I wanted you guys.”  The incredibly good news is that we never have to wonder with God.  He wanted to adopt us in advance, and both proved it and made it possible through sending His “only begotten Son.”  And that, my friends, is the GOOD NEWS that we get to share with the world!