A few observations about the scriptures in support of Nugent’s position:
- As James W. Thompson argues in his The Church according to Paul: Rediscovering the Community Conformed to Christ, there are surprisingly few admonitions in the NT urging church members to share the gospel with their friends and neighbors. It’s not that the idea is absent, but it’s not central. Rather, both Jesus and Paul spend far, far more of their teaching on how to live together in community as fellow Christians, and they make hardly any effort to urge personal evangelism.
- In fact, if you look at the passages that clearly stand out as central teachings, such as the Sermon on the Mount and 1 Cor 13, they are plainly about living in community with other believers, not how we deal with the surrounding lost world.
- Paul’s most theological epistles, Rom, Gal, and Eph, all deal with the relationships of Jews and Gentiles within the community of the saved.
- The NT’s most prominent work of prophecy, the Revelation, is about how the church endures against opposing forces. Evangelism and benevolence aimed at the lost world are minor themes at best. Faithfulness in community is the emphasis.
- In Acts, Luke frequently describes the internal life of the newly formed church. Evangelism is a major theme of Acts, as we see the apostles and other missionaries spreading the gospel through gospel proclamation and miracles. But we don’t see the apostles urging the members to invite friends and neighbors. However, it’s clear that they did.
- In Acts, we do see the early church developing works of internal benevolence: the care of widows, the support for the Jerusalem congregation by other congregations. But we don’t see acts of benevolence targeted to unbelievers, other than miracles performed by apostles and other church leaders to encourage belief in the gospel.
- In fact, it’s hard to find any NT example of charitable work done by the church for the benefit of unbelievers — other than miracles performed in the service of gospel preaching. The works of charity that are most prominent are internal — especially the care of Christian widows and support for the poor in the Jerusalem church.
- When the NT writers make lists of Christian virtues, they heavily emphasize the virtues that relate to getting along with each other in Christian community. These lists do not include the virtues of proclaiming the gospel to the lost or doing service for the lost. In fact, when Paul describes the requirements for widows to be supported by the church in 1 Tim 5, he expects widows who will be supported by the church to have washed the feet of the saints — to have done acts of charity for fellow Christians.
- Jesus’ seminal command for us to “love one another” speaks, of course, of internal care. In fact, Paul explicitly interprets “love your neighbor” to mean “love one another” in Rom 13:8-10. He certainly doesn’t deny that we should love the lost as well, but he plainly puts the emphasis on love for fellow Christians.
John Nugent is professor of Old Testament at Great Lakes Christian College. I would consider him a neo-Anabaptist following in the footsteps of John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas.
His new book, Endangered Gospel: How Fixing the World is Killing the Church argues for a view of the Kingdom similar to that taken by Scot McKnight in Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church and James Davison Hunter’s
It’s a an easy read and very persuasive. Nugent makes some arguments I made in the Mission of the Church series, but also adds some new ones — which I mostly agree with. I think in a few places he over-argues his case, but his overall premise is sound. And it happens to be a question I’ve been wrestling with and looking for some additional guidance on, and I find Nugent very helpful, especially in his presentation of the purposes of the “powers” (which we’ll get to, Lord willing).
I’m not going to follow Nugent’s book very closely. But I do want to pass along his thinking, but I’m going to try to translate into Church of Christ terms. Continue reading
In theory, all ministries of a church are important and all have the same issues as those ministries headed by a minister. But you wouldn’t have hired a full-time, salaried person to run the worship service or the teen program unless you’d decided that these are extremely important ministries.
The easy mistake to make is to assume that all other ministries are therefore less important. Some are. Some aren’t.
In a given church, adult education, small groups, spiritual formation, children’s ministry, campus ministry, or singles ministry may be just as important — or more so — despite being led by volunteers. And that’s okay — so long as you remember that these ministries are important and require the same attention as the minister-led programs.
That is, there’s a natural tendency to try to oversee the church’s ministries by overseeing the church’s ministers, but the ministers may only direct three or four out of literally dozens of mission-critical ministries. And as a result, the elders get caught up in coaching and dealing with the ministers while other equally important programs languish. Continue reading
To me, the other ministers — the youth minister, worship minister, education minister, etc. — are critically important but not as important as the preacher. The way American churches do church, you can’t get around a bad fit in the pulpit.
But the other ministers will rarely be ideal, will often be very young, and will always need coaching.
You need to have a concrete, specific, written plan for who coaches whom. My preference is that the preacher serves as the coach for the other ministers (except in a very large church, where you might have an executive minister hired to do this). I mean, the preacher is there every day, most of the day. He’s in a position to truly mentor and coach the other guys. And because he’s in the elders’ meetings, he can see that the elders policies are known and followed. Continue reading
I think of the church in terms of concentric circles. (Sorry: I majored in mathematics and Venn diagrams are hard-wired into me.)
The inner circle is the elders — together with the preacher. I think in just about any church, the preacher has to be treated much the same as an elder because the elders’ and preacher’s jobs overlap so much — and because both have responsibility for the entirety of the church.
You can’t have the preacher and the elders rowing in two different directions. CAN NOT. Therefore, either the preacher is a mere hireling, and must do exactly as he’s told, or else he’s part of the shepherding team. And I’ve seen churches try both models — and all models in between — and the closer the elders and the preacher are, the better things work. The congregation thus hears one message, sees one vision, and is being led in but one direction. (And wise preachers greatly prefer this arrangement. It’ll help you hire a good’un.) Continue reading
Today’s lesson is on destruction of the earth by fire described in 2 Pet 3 and Jesus’ promises of treasures in heaven.
Download here. Lesson 9: “August 7, 2016“.
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Having now spent a few weeks thinking about being an elder, while also posting a series on mission (which should be thought of as part of the eldering series), some things have kind of become clear.
First, churches can be successful for lots of reasons. Great preaching. A great teen program. Or just a really good location where lots of people are moving and looking for a church home. But being a healthy church only happens one way. Lots of successful churches are, at the core, unhealthy — and it catches up with them. So you need to start by deciding that you’re going to work to make your church healthy — even if it’s incredibly successful. Even if it’s already healthy. Because just like people, you can lose your health — and it’s much harder to get it back than it was to lose it.
Second, healthy churches have healthy elderships. The relationships among the elders are of critical importance — and if they’re messed up, the church suffers — and often will not know why. Continue reading
There are circumstances where the elders should not lead a church to exercise the freedom that the church has in Christ. When there’s a choice between love and freedom, love wins.
Most good elders get this. Where we elders tend to err is in forgetting that this is not a permanent solution. Eventually, freedom should triumph in love. That is, while there are times that freedom and love conflict, the conflict should ultimately resolve. I mean, it should be the nature of love that we don’t want to take away someone else’s freedom and so we’ll make the effort needed to resolve the tension. Continue reading
So let’s try a thought experiment. (Einstein made up the phrase to explain relativity. But this is not relativity. It’s church. Which is much more complicated.)
Elders are called by God as shepherds, leaders, guides, teachers, and instructors in God’s word. Their first task is very likely to protect the church against false teaching, especially legalism.
(Tit. 1:9-11 ESV) 9 [An overseer] must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. 10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.
Now, most of my readers are Americans. Many of the rest live in other democracies. And for people raised in a democracy, it’s next to impossible to avoid thinking in political terms. We see the members, not as sheep or as students, but as constituents. They are not so much to be taught as made happy. And that’s our great sin as a people. We seek to please men rather than God. And nearly all who’ve ever been an elder are guilty. It’s hard-wired into our American, democratic, capitalist minds. Continue reading
So if your church is moderate (political), how do you best shepherd the church?
Well, I really don’t know. I’m not sure anyone does. These things usually wind up pretty ugly — and I’ve seen good elders try all sorts of things.
But I’ve learned a few things from my observations.
The first one is: You can’t make everyone happy — whether you change or don’t change or pretend not to have heard the question.
But you can reduce the pain. You can help the members through a difficult transition. Continue reading