Advice to a New Elder: They Smell Like Sheep, Part 5 (What is “administration”?)

shepherd3But doesn’t the Bible say that elders should be shepherds rather than administrators?

No, it most certainly does not. In fact, administration is listed as a gift of the Spirit in 1 Cor 12, and leadership is a gift of the Spirit in Rom 12.

Ancient kings were referred to as shepherds of the people — and they also had very real administrative duties. The two are not inconsistent in biblical thought.

Consider such passages as —

(Heb. 13:17 ESV) 17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

(1 Thess. 5:12 ESV)  We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you,

“Are over you in the Lord and admonish you” and “obey … and submit” clearly imply very real positional authority (even if you prefer to translate “obey” as “lead”). Continue reading

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The Mission of the Church: Creation Care, Part 1 (The Old Testament)

Eucharist-Mission1If the mission of the church is to get people to heaven when they die, then the church has no reason to care for the Creation or human flourishing or abundant living (John 10:10) in general.

The scriptures don’t emphasize environmental concerns as much as you might expect, but then humans had much less ability to injure the environment in biblical times than they have now. It’s now very much within our power to completely destroy the planet, should we be so foolish. That wasn’t true 2,000 years ago.

But the doctrine of Creation Care is plainly revealed nonetheless. Continue reading

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The Mission of the Church: Justice, Part 7 (Conclusions)

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Christian mission through the government

So we no longer live in the Constantinian world in which government works with the church to direct society, and no matter how many books you buy and read arguing that the US is a “Christian nation,” this is not going to change anytime soon. But we do live in a democracy in which the church and Christians have considerable influence.

I believe part of the church’s mission is to speak up for the weak and vulnerable of society, and the more voiceless the person, the more important it is that the church speak for them. This makes abortion a particularly important issue for the church, as the unborn have no voice at all. But orphans, widows, the poor, immigrants, and many others marginalized by society should expect the church to speak up for their legitimate needs.

This must alway be done (1) in the name of Jesus and (2) for the sake of others. This is not at all about making the United States a nicer place for Christians to live — an entirely selfish motivation. It’s about speaking up for others — who may be Christians or not.

Part of it is Jesus’ call for his followers to be perfect as his Father is perfect. Part of it is love. Continue reading

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The Afterlife: Lesson 3, focused on Isa 65-66 and 2 Cor 5:17 (June 26, 2016)

heavenhellI was out last week under the weather, and so this is class 3. We started in Isaiah and went from there to 2 Cor 5:17 and a few other passages.

Here’s the downloadable mp3:

June 26, 2016 Class 3 on the Afterlife

Here’s the streaming version:

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Advice to a New Elder: They Smell Like Sheep, Part 4

shepherd3I keep promising myself that I’m going to get to the They Smell Like Sheep part of the series — that is, pastoral care by elders. But not quite yet.

It remains true that most elders have far more work than they can manage, and so the pastoral part of the job gets postponed while countless personnel and other administrative emergencies get dealt with first.

I’ve presented one approach — the Ministries Team — that works in some settings — but not all. We need to consider a few alternatives.

Rule 1: Great churches are great because they tap into the giftedness they receive from the Spirit, not because of their glorious organizational charts. However, a bad organizational structure can frustrate the work of the Spirit in your church. Continue reading

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The Mission of the Church: Justice, Part 6 (Rom 13; John Howard Yoder)

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Romans 13

(Rom. 13:1-6 ESV)  Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.  2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.  3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval,  4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.  5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.  6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.

Paul declares that the government has been instituted by God to punish bad or wrong conduct. Indeed, the government’s punishment of these behaviors is a form of “God’s wrath” (vv. 4-5), which takes us back to chapter 1. Interestingly, Paul sees the pagan Roman government as an instrument of God’s wrath against sin — revealing the will of God to even pagans without special revelation (the Bible, prophecy, etc.)

Now, in Rom 1, God’s goal was to show the dehumanizing result of worshiping idols rather than God. God’s wrath is shown through the self-destructive behavior of godless people. But in Rom 13, God’s wrath is revealed by the punishment meted out against such behaviors by the government. That is, the fact that even a pagan government finds these behaviors criminal should point the world back toward God. Continue reading

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Advice to a New Elder: They Smell Like Sheep, Part 3

shepherd3We set up a Ministries Team a long time ago. We quickly learned several critical lessons the hard way.

1. The elders had trouble coordinating their work with the team’s. The elders were used to directly overseeing the church’s ministries. If they wanted to start a new adult class, they just did so.

The team had to meet with the elders to work things out. The elders decided they would not go around the team. The elders did not have to follow the team’s suggestions, but they had to hear the team’s thoughts before making a decision within the team’s charge. Otherwise, the team could not do its job.

2. The team struggled to do its job in the time allotted. One of the profound pleasures of the meetings was hearing from each member the victories God was giving their ministries. But the reports could take all afternoon, there was so much going on and people were so eager to learn what was going on. We had to set strict time limits.

3. Our eagerness to hear these reports told us that the rest of congregation was also starved for information about the work of the church’s ministries. We made a point of publishing very detailed minutes of the reports to the entire congregation so all could share in these celebrations. Continue reading

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The Mission of the Church: Justice, Part 5 (1 Cor 5:9-13 and Rom 1:18-26)

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1 Cor 5:9-13

To my way of thinking, this passage is at the heart of the question, and I’m thankful to the readers for keeping me on my toes as I’ve tried to apply it to public policy questions in earlier posts.

(1 Cor. 5:9-13 ESV)  9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people —  10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.  11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler — not even to eat with such a one.  12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?  13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

The quotation in v. 13 is from several passages in Deuteronomy dealing with sentencing someone for a crime — generally dealing with death or “cutting off” — meaning either death or expulsion from the Israelite camp — which meant likely death in the desert (Deu 13:5, 17:7, 17:12, 19:19, 22:21, 22:22, 22:24, 24:7). Paul is quite severe in requiring the church to “judge” one of its members for incest (likely with his step-mother) and expel that person until he repents. Paul is using what we’d think of as courtroom language. Continue reading

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Advice to a New Elder: They Smell Like Sheep, Part 2

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  1. Make a list of every single congregational ministry — even washing baptismal garments and hiring the janitorial service. I mean: every  single thing that is being done or ought to be done at your church. It could easily reach 100 ministries if you’re a good observer — especially if you talk to the women. (You’ll be astonished at the huge number of unofficial, off-book ministries the women are running all on their own. They will fear becoming “on book” because they really don’t need to be told how to do their jobs.)
  2. Eliminate the ones you don’t need to be doing.
  3. Take the rest and aggregate them into 12 or fewer “departments.” These don’t need to be be equal in size or budget. It’s more about the dynamics of how your church really operates. Any job big enough to have a full-time, paid minister needs its own department.
  4. Do not go over 12.
  5. Do not go over 12.
  6. Do not go over 12 — because 13 people can’t engage in a conversation. It’s too many.
  7. Eight would be better.
  8. For many churches, it would look something like:
    1. Worship (chaired by the preacher or, if you have one, the worship minister)
    2. Adult education
    3. Teens
    4. Children
    5. Finances (church treasurer)
    6. Building and equipment
    7. Church plants/foreign missions
    8. Benevolence for members and non-members
    9. Pulpit (if you have a separate worship leader on staff)
    10. Involvement of new members/Lost Sheep/small groups
    11. Ladies Bible class (food for bereaved and sick, countless other ministries)
    12. One of the elders sits in to (a) make clear that the team is not usurping authority, (b) the elders are kept informed of what’s going on, and (c) make certain the elders and team don’t work at cross-purposes by accident.

Continue reading

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The Mission of the Church: Justice, Part 4 (Examples)

Eucharist-Mission1Examples

Murder

So let’s take an example or two. We start with murder. Is it okay for Christians to advocate for laws making murder criminal? Well, it seems obvious. After all, everyone but a few psychopaths believe murder to be immoral, and no one wishes to be murdered. Banning murder is an act of power coercing a certain behavior from others, but it’s power exercised in love for our neighbors. In fact, it’s even loving for potential murderers who might be prevented from committing murder by fear of governmental reprisal. Murder is worse for the victim, of course, but it’s also bad for the murderer — not just because it’s illegal.

Abortion

Well, then, what about abortion? For nearly all of Christian history, abortion has been considered sinful. It’s not always been thought of as being as sinful as murder, but it’s never been approved or morally neutral. And for centuries, abortion was criminalized. That is, you could be arrested for performing the abortion or, as a mother, requesting an abortion. But the US Supreme Court has severely limited the power of the states and Congress to criminalize or even regulate abortions. Should the church seek to reverse Roe v. Wade and then seek to pass laws making abortion criminal?

Well, this is not quite as easy as murder because there is no societal consensus on the issue. Many Americans consider abortion a right and symbolic of sexual freedom of women. If the church insists on abortion legislation, many women will seek abortions from illegal sources and so suffer sub-standard medical care, and abortions will not be covered by insurance and so unaffordable to the poor. All true. Continue reading

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