Advice to a New Elder: The Political Church, Part 1

shepherd3This is not about the church-state issues. It’s about internal church politics. By “politics” I mean doing things to please a constituency rather than because it’s what you think God wants.

Now, nearly all churches are political in that nearly all church leaders sometimes make decisions to do or not do something because of congregational attitudes rather than because it’s what the leaders consider best.

For example, an eldership may decide that they don’t want to appoint deacons any more. The church will freak out if they appoint women — although the early church clearly did and even though Restoration leaders have supported ordaining women consistently for two centuries. Appointing men, the elders fear, will offend women who often have greater responsibilities than some of the deacons have, not to mention offending single and childless men. But is it really worth the fight — and loss of members — to announce the end of the deacon program? Continue reading

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Advice to a New Elder: Generational Input; The “rule of do”

shepherd3Here’s the rule: You don’t know your flock at all if you only get information reactively — that is, in response to complaints. To know your flock, you have to proactively solicit input from a representative sample. Nothing else works — even when you’re sure that something else works.

It takes hard work and discipline to know your flock.

  1. Delegate! The more you involve your members, the more representative of the church the leadership will be.
  2. Don’t limit your input-seeking to the staff. They are very important. They are not enough. Also talk to your members.
  3. Make a point to talk to the small groups — of all ages. Spend time with young and old, male and female, black and white, old and new, leaders and followers. Don’t wait for people to grab you and complain. Seek members out and talk to them.
  4. Don’t ask about musical taste but about spiritual formation. Did the song service draw you closer to Jesus? Do you feel encouraged to live for Jesus for the upcoming week? Would you invite your friends to the service next week if you knew it would be just like this week? Ask the questions that matter — not the consumerist, indulgent question like “Did I pick songs that you like?”
  5. Check the numbers. Is the church growing? Is it attracting new members? Are baptisms up? Is the children’s ministry growing? Are the small groups for young couples and singles growing? If not, you’d better change something — because if those signs are going badly, your church is dying. And pleasing us old people isn’t going to make it better if the old people are mainly worried about the old people.

You see, there is nothing more unhealthy than an old person complaining because you aren’t making the old people happy. Continue reading

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Advice to a New Elder: Recruiting

shepherd3The greatest talent that God can give a church may well be the ability to recruit volunteers. If a church has a skilled recruiter, find him or her, take them to lunch, and pepper them with questions. Take notes. Learn from the experts.

I’ve done this. Here is what I learned —

  1. Recruit in person or by phone — not by emails, announcements, or sign up lists. Recruitment is, at its heart, a personal thing. People need the chance to ask questions, to have their fears assuaged, to feel recognized and appreciated, to be sold.
  2. Sell. In person or by phone. Explain why this is something the recruiter is passionate about so the potential volunteer can be passionate, too. What’s fun about this? Why is this really needed?

Continue reading

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The Afterlife, Lesson 8, The Rapture and Intro to Revelation

heavenhellToday’s lesson is on the Rapture and the briefest of introductions to the Revelation.

Download here. Lesson 8: “July 31, 2016“.

Right click and select “Save Link As” to download. (If you left click, it will stream.)

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Advice to a New Elder: Evangelism

shepherd3For a while now, there’s been in the back of my mind a feeling that I’d overlooked something really important in this series. Finally, it occurred to me that I’d not directly addressed evangelism. And there’s a reason.

I’m not much of an evangelist. I have some gifts that are useful in church work, but evangelism is very difficult for me.

First, I’m an introvert. INTJ according to Briggs-Myers.

Second, I’m a third-generation Church of Christ member. I live and work in the middle of the Bible Belt. I went to a Christian college. My friends are all Christians.

And I’ve got several more very persuasive excuses. My situation is also pretty typical of church elders. For a man to have the exposure and experience in church leadership to be an elder, he likely is deeply embedded in church life — and so he likely has few friends who aren’t Christians. In fact, most of his friends will be members of his congregation.

Now, this is not wrong — but it’s a problem. It’s especially a problem when an elder advocates for greater emphasis on evangelism. Someone (typically a minister) will say, “I don’t think we can be an evangelistic church unless the elders lead by example.” At that point, the elders change the subject. Continue reading

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Advice to a New Elder: Small Groups, Part 2

shepherd3In response to yesterday’s post, reader John asks,

What’s up with the failure of multiplying groups? Isn’t the point to keep them small so folks can keep up with each other (or isn’t that what the literature says)?

I’m totally open to new ideas: is the point that small groups can be any size as long as they are meeting a specific need or needs?

Thanks for the question. The short answer is: “Yes.” Let the size be determined by the gifts of the hosts and leaders and group — not theory. Let the groups grow and possibly (but not necessarily) multiply organically. That is, if they want to divide, help them work through the process. But the leadership of the small groups ministry should not impose this from on high.

I base this on my 20 years of experience leading small groups as a group leader, part of the small groups team, or an elder — and because Saddleback agrees and has more people in small groups than they have members.

First, in the business world, management experts tell us that the goal isn’t to make a profit. Except, of course, it is. But if we run our business just to be about profit, we’ll fail because profit doesn’t come from trying to make a profit. It comes from doing something profitable very well. Continue reading

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Advice to a New Elder: Small Groups, Part 1

shepherd3Churches of Christ, on the whole, have been slow to adopt small groups, although many have done so.

The objections go along these lines:

  1. The best time to meet is Sunday night, but we can’t give up Sunday night church.
    (Yes, you can. Or you can give small groups permission to skip Sunday night church to meet. The time for two-worship services on Sunday are past — and that model only appeals to Church of Christ members age 70 or older.)
  2. They might teach something unauthorized. (I suggest a camera in each meeting as well as a couple of spies. And maybe some wire taps. Get over your paranoia and learn to trust your fellow Christians.)
  3. They aren’t authorized by scripture. (In Acts 2 a single congregation split up into separate houses to study and eat together — while also meeting as one in the Temple courts. Maybe this is a binding example? I can make a better argument that it’s mandated than you can make that it’s prohibited.)

Continue reading

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Advice to a New Elder: Deacons

shepherd3I once attended a class taught to a group of 50 or so elders from across the Southeast. It was an open-forum kind of class, and the teacher asked what we’d like to talk about.

One elder mentioned “Deacons!” — and the room resounded with amens. Nearly to a man, the elders struggled with what to do with the deacons. Really.

You see, the Church of Christ traditional perspective on deacons has these inherent difficulties: Continue reading

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The Afterlife, Lesson 7, The Rich Man, Lazarus, and Going to Prepare a Room for Us

heavenhellToday’s lesson is on the meaning of “eternity” and “eternal” in the New Testament — and how these words don’t necessarily mean “everlasting.”

Download here. Lesson 7: “July 24, 2016“.

Right click and select “Save Link As” to download. (If you left click, it will stream.)

Or stream here:

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Advice to a New Elder: Apologizing

shepherd3You’re a married man. Married to your first and only wife. Therefore, at home, you’ve mastered the fine art of apologizing. (Don’t even try to deny it.) Husbands who’ve managed to stay married to the same woman for 20 or more years know how to apologize.

But I’ve been astonished at the elders and elderships that find this next to impossible. Somehow, some men get the impression that the refusal to apologize is a sign of strength. It’s not. It’s a sign of denial. Self-delusion. I mean, when you mess up — and even the very best elders mess up regularly — apologize. It’s amazing how far a simple apology goes to heal a fractured relationship — and it’s just as amazing at how much damage a refusal to apologize leaves unrepaired. Continue reading

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