The Future of the Progressive Churches of Christ: Part 5, Leaving the Conservatives Behind

cooperation.jpg* The progressives have largely turned our backs on the conservatives, not creating the literature or institutions necessary to bring more conservatives into the progressive fold.

Let’s suppose that a group of progressive thought leaders got together to develop a strategy for helping as many conservatives escape legalism as possible. What would they do?

Well, wouldn’t they invite thought leaders among the conservatives to debate us? I don’t mean old style, Foy Wallace Jr.-type hateful debates. I mean a civil discussion. Maybe like the opposing editorials you often see in USA Today. Wouldn’t it be helpful if the Christian Chronicle gave half a page to each side each month to work through the issues?

You see, the goal is to persuade the members who are desperately looking for a better understanding. They don’t so much need motivation as teaching — how can they enjoy grace and freedom and yet be true to God’s word?

And our universities might have forums where both sides are presented, much as FHU has been doing with the instrumental music issue.

And our publishing houses might publish books where both sides are presented. It’s a common format for other disputes. I’m reading a book right now where 5 views of election are being debated. It’s attitude is civil and generous, and I’ve found my views greatly clarified.

Or the publishing houses might just publish books that teach a true doctrine of grace in terms that will speak to the concerns of the conservatives. (Does anyone think that the Jesus Proposal is written in terms that will persuade even a conservative who wants to be persuaded? It wouldn’t have persuaded me. It’s too light on actual scripture, and it doesn’t begin to address the conservatives’ arguments.)

And the universities might design two-year Bible programs and open extension locations that offer a better, truer Bible education than that offered by the dysfunctional, cancerous schools of preaching. Or distance learning via the Internet. The UA law school offers a masters in taxation via the Internet. Why can’t we train preachers and missionaries this way?

But, you see, we just aren’t thinking in these terms. Rather, some of the conservative preachers (Zealots, as Joe Beam uses the term) are so hateful that it’s hard to work up much compassion for them. But why not be concerned for the members of their churches? If we care about the pew sitters, then we’ll think about how to get the truth in their hands.

And maybe we just might found a decent theologically directed periodical. This is just critically important. You see, right now, if a preacher in California has a great idea — a powerful argument for how we should interpret Romans 8 or how to confront a false doctrine or how to oversee a mission program — there’s little way for him to share the word with the rest of the Churches.

He can ask to be on a lectureship and maybe be heard by 50 or 60 people. He can write a book and almost certainly be rejected (we only publish proven authors). He can post it on his blog. But a periodical could reach thousands and offer others the opportunity to respond. A periodical is a way for the Churches to talk among themselves. We need one.

* In fact, many churches that are very sympathetic to the progressive point of view are legalistic churches — just not as legalistic as where they came from.

Why would this be? Why have some of the progressive churches found salvation by grace, through faith, while others have merely loosened the reins of legalism. Why the divide?

The leadership of a local church is inundated with ideas from lots of sources and members with varying agendas. Many realize the need for change. Some focus on worship. Some focus on evangelism. Only some focus on grace.

And we’ve hardly made it easy for them. We publish books and put on lectureships that address hundreds of topics. Only a few focus on grace. None focus on the dangers of staying in a works-based religion.

Meanwhile, we’re expecting M.Div.’s and D.Min.’s from our preachers, while our elders are left to sort all this out with whatever’s on sale at the local Bible bookstore. Somehow or other, we just have to encourage the notion that elders should be trained, and we need institutions that focus on elder training.

ACU operates ElderLink, which is a one-day annual seminar for elders held at various places across the country — and it’s great stuff. It’s just not enough. I mean,  you can’t equip an elder to bring his congregation from legalism into grace in one or two hours. You can’t equip an elder regarding the role of women or divorce and remarriage in a one-day seminar.

I’m a lawyer. We’re required to get 12 hours of continuing education a year — which is woefully inadequate. I usually get far more. CPAs are required to have 40 hours a year of continuing education.

Being an elder is the most important job in the world! At least that’s what we tell new elders when they’re ordained. I think it’s true. And if it’s true, then we should train for the job at least as intensively as we train for less important jobs.

Law requires 90 hours of post-graduate education. Accounting is now a 5-year degree. The apostles spent 3 years with Jesus. Paul spent 3 years in preparation for his ministry (Gal. 1:15-17).  Surely becoming a skilled elder should merit a half-week seminar a year! But we can’t even muster that.

Which tells me that we really just aren’t all that serious about the Kingdom. I mean, if we really believe elders are that important, and if we really want Christ’s church to become more effective at serving God’s mission, surely we’d find many, many ways to equip our elders.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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7 Responses to The Future of the Progressive Churches of Christ: Part 5, Leaving the Conservatives Behind

  1. Your idea about training elders is great! How many times has a situation arisen that has caught elders completely off guard? I'm not an elder, but even as a Bible class teacher, I have been approached with very difficult personal problems and theological issues that I had never thought about before. But since I teach the Bible, some of my students think that I have good insights into everything. I would imagine that elders face the same thing to a much greater degree. Being prepared for the difficult issues facing Christians and churches would be much better than winging it the best we can. Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

  2. Alan says:

    Excellent topic.

    Here's one perspective on the problem. In contrast to ministers, our elders usually hold full time secular jobs at least into their 60's. Churches don't put the same priority on having full time elders, much less trained elders, and so there is a deficiency in elder training and equipping, and very little in uplifting spiritual fellowship between elders of different congregations. We could learn so much from each other, if we could find time. But we give the best hours of the week to our secular jobs. Then we do our best to ration the remaining hours to the most important things, but often end up doing a few urgent things instead. We do need to rethink our priorities.

    I'll be at Elderlink Atlanta next weekend. I'm sure it will be a helpful program, as it always is.

  3. I watched ABC's special on prostitutes last week — at least I watched part of it. I was struck by how much these women needs a message of salvation.

    But I'm also struck by how much of that message we have lost, ourselves. Do we really appreciate "what we have been saved from"?

    I fear that we have such "cushy" lives that we think focus our spiritual energies on the endless debates of spiritual issues, rather than, as Jesus did, admonish the crowd, "Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone."

    We spend too much time casting stones, dogging stones, or trying to talk someone out of even picking up the stones.

    I wish, as a whole, we could spend more time with people who desparately need our time, money and compassion.

    After all, what is true religion?

    One thing for sure, it's not endless debates.

  4. Maria Dladla says:

    Alan, you areright most elders work to support their families they don't have time to deal with church issues on sundays. I wonder why churches of christ don't unite in a coomuunity, so can share put their resources together. I thought maybe this recession was going to unite churches of christ in our community. Will we ever unite and worship together; I mean all races. We have so much sthrength to share. In our community we meet once in a while and everytime I enjoy it so much, I wish it could last forever.

  5. Wayne F. Payne says:

    I feel so unqualified to be an elder in the church of Christ. I have been an elder in a small to medium sized church for 6 years. We want to grow and believe we are teaching Truth but the future is scary with challenges from our young ladies and non Church of Christ new members. My other 2 elders feel the same. We need continuing education to govern the most important aspect of ones life.

  6. mark says:

    I am not an elder, but may I ask what those two groups are wanting.

  7. Jay Guin says:


    Unfortunately, ElderLink is presently conducted only in Texas and Atlanta. gives times and places.

    I would also strongly encourage you and your fellow elders to attend the lectureships held at Pepperdine, ACU, Tulsa, or Lipscomb (I’m sure there are other excellent lectureships, but these are the ones I’m personally familiar with). Your church would be wise to help pay the cost, if the cost of travel and hotel is an issue. Attendance at these events is free and no reservations are required. The time and money will be very well invested. I’ve come away blessed for every one of these that I’ve attended.

    One of the best ones I ever attended was at ACU — and I didn’t go to a single scheduled event. I just hung around the exhibit hall and met with people involved with various ministries that somehow touched my congregation. Having coffee with the good people at MRN, Kairos, and preachers and elders of other congregations was a richly rewarding time, filled with wisdom and encouragement.

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