Thanks

by Jared Johnson 

“I mean, what’s with the Christmas cups; it’s barely Halloween?”

I wouldn’t say it any differently myself. I teach Bible at a faith-based high school nearby during 1st hour and on Monday after Halloween a couple weeks ago, one of the students was commenting on his coffee cup, decorated with wintry/Christmas-y motifs. It seems to be our cultural default anymore to “skip” directly from the fright, decay and blackness of Halloween straight to a “gimme stuff” mode around Christmas – at least, culturally.

In between, of course, we’ll probably do something to deliberately celebrate Thanksgiving. AAA has been projecting 50+ million Americans travel around the Thanksgiving holiday in each of the past few years; it’s not as if we ignore Thanksgiving completely, but on the other hand, I don’t think it’s inaccurate to surmise that we mentally jump ahead to Christmas and give little thought to Thanksgiving, besides how we’re going to tolerate an obligatory visit to the relatives.

I have always enjoyed Thanksgiving. In our family, we have deliberately celebrated with my mom’s family for the vast majority of the past 30 or so years. I consider myself fortunate and blessed that we, a family comprised 50% of preachers, would often meet in a church’s fellowship hall space and utilize their kitchen. And if it wasn’t a preacher hosting that year, we would meet at my grandparents’ house, and they were always deficient – at least in the world’s eyes – in the TV department, so watching the Macy’s parade or a football game just never became part of our pattern. Even now, the 4th generation – my kids – automatically associate Thanksgiving with travel, games, good food, laughter, cousins and second cousins.

I’m glad I live in a place with a long history of giving thanks on a holiday, both culturally and through official laws of the land. When we see a “Festival of Shelters” or “Festival of Booths” in Scripture, it’s functionally what we think of as Thanksgiving – a society-wide celebration of God’s blessing in light of harvest at the end of a growing season. Like our Thanksgiving, the ancient Hebrews didn’t completely ignore it, but it isn’t exactly preeminent in the biblical story either. It was established in Leviticus 23, revisited in Numbers 29 and Deuteronomy 16 and 31, and we see it celebrated during the reign of Solomon (1 Kings 8, 2 Chronicles 5, 7, 8), along with a deliberate corruption of it under Israel’s first king Jeroboam (1 Kings 12). We next see it overtly celebrated only after the exile period, under Ezra/Nehemiah, in the mid-400s BC (Ezra 3 and Nehemiah 8).

Giving thanks, as a culture-wide celebration in some fashion, has a very long history.

“Thank” and its various forms is used, depending on your translation of choice, about 150 times throughout the Bible.

At e2, we give thanks often – daily – for leaders of God’s Church. Thank you, elders, for faithfully shepherding God’s people that He has entrusted to your care. Thank you, staff, for equipping the saints who gather every week to worship the One to whom we all give our collective thanks.

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.

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!

Cool Guys Don’t Say “Good Morning”

by Dick Wamsley 

I was taking my early morning ride on the way to a bike trail in central Illinois.  It was a beautiful, though typically humid, summer morning.  As I approached the trail, bordered on both sides by trees and brush, I did not see the young woman walking on the trail.  As soon as I turned from the road onto the trail, I had to swerve left to miss her.  As I passed, I said, “Sorry.  Good morning.”  She replied, “That’s okay.  Good morning.”  

Later during my ride, I saw a biker approaching me in the distance.  In a few seconds, I could see the rider was a young, good-sized athletic guy with sunglasses.  His t-shirt and shorts looked like they had been painted onto his muscular frame.  When he came close enough to hear me, I said, “Good morning” and gave a brief hand wave, as I always do when I meet someone on the trail.  He did not flinch, nor say anything.  He looked straight ahead and kept up his pedaling cadence.   I said to myself, “I guess cool guys don’t say ‘good morning.'”  

Later that morning I sat down at my computer and found the daily “Focus on the Family” newsletter.  One of the stories they linked was headlined, “Why lawmakers are cursing more now than ever,” from The Hill.  The article said in part that “Profanity — once considered a major no-no among those seeking public office — is no longer an earth-shattering political snafu.  And according to new research, this year could be on track to see members of Congress swearing up a storm more than ever before.  The research … shows a stark uptick in the overall usage of curse words by legislators on Twitter.”  (Link to The Hill story)  

These experiences remind me how social civility and common courtesy are waning in our culture and in some churches as well.  There is a growing lack of respect for elected officials, police officers, teachers, political candidates, those with differing opinions on social issues, pastors, parents … and the list goes on.  Instead of sitting down at a table and debating our differences, some choose to shout down and even physically attack those with whom they disagree.  

As Christians, and especially as Christian leaders, we are commanded in Scripture to: “live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18); to “Pay … respect to whom respect is owed” (Romans 13:7); and to always be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do[ing] it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).   

A recent blog by Thom Rainer was entitled, “Ten Common Responses from Fired Pastors.”  After listening to hundreds of fired pastors, here are three of the ten responses he commonly hears from them:

  • No one gave me a reason for my firing.  Rainer adds, “Though this comment may seem unfathomable, it is commonly true.  Pastors are often dismissed without any reasons.  They are then told not to say a word if they want a severance.”
  • No one asked for my perspective.  Rainer says, “Countless personnel committees and similar groups fire someone because of comments they hear from others.  They have no desire to hear the other side of the story.”
  • A power group pushed me out.  Rainer comments, “This reason often explains the [previous] response. The perspective of the power group or the bully is the only one they hear.”

(Link to Thom Rainer blog)  

Is it any wonder that a large percentage of those who enter vocational ministry leave it during their first seven years?  The apparent lack of civility and common courtesy is a “black eye” for the church as a whole and contradicts the command given at least 22 times in the New Testament to Christians, “love one another.”  

If the tide of social civility and common courtesy is ever to rise in our culture, people will need to see those traits in the church and especially in its leaders.  As Jesus said to his disciples and future church leaders, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

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.