So how do we get there? I’m not sure. But I know where it starts. This is from a comment I posted a few weeks ago:
Does meeting with my earthly family at home provide something better than an assembly of the saints? In some cases, listening to a podcast in my car would be better. My father-in-law once took me fishing and explained how he felt so much closer to God in the woods and water than at church. He doubtlessly spoke the truth.
But I don’t go to church to be fed, served, or make friends. I go to church to feed, serve, and be a friend. And I can’t do that in the woods, in my car, or at home with just my family. Continue reading
I am a fan of the work of Lynn Anderson, the author of They Smell Like Sheep. And I’ve been blessed to have had a couple of phone calls and meetings with Lynn in which the elders of my church sought his advice. He was very generous with his time and wisdom.
And I’m a fan of his book They Smell Like Sheep. I just wish more people would read it rather than assuming that it says what they wish it would say. (I do disagree with his studies regarding the supposed lack of authority of elders for reasons previously stated.)
Availability, commitment, and trust
Church leaders who shepherd well will foster congregational infrastructures that leave them plenty of time and opportunity for flock-building. A good deal of their leadership will be hands-on and personal — for this is how flocks are formed. The shepherd and flock relationship eloquently implies at least three qualities of spiritual leadership: availability, commitment, and trust. This is how spiritual flocks are formed today.
Anderson, Dr. Lynn. They Smell Like Sheep (p. 23). Howard Books. Kindle Edition.
Amen. Notice that Lynn realizes the need for “congregational infrastructures” that free the elders to be more pastoral and relational. And this where we almost always fail. Rather, most elderships decide that they need to be more pastoral and so they add pastoring to their already overwhelming list of duties. Doesn’t work. Continue reading
I’m the first one in line to die
When the cavalry comes
Yeah it feels like the great divide
Has already come
Yeah I’m wasting my way through days
losing youth along the way
Oh if God is on my side
Oh if God is on my side
Yeah if God is on my side
Then who can be against me Continue reading
So what am I meant to be? What is it about the ordinary life of an ordinary American Christian that misses the point? Wolves gotta hunt. What do Christians gotta do?
Well, love one another. We were designed from the Creation to be creatures who, like God, love all that God has made. We were made to love — with a fierce, self-giving, self-denying passion. We were made to love so much that we voluntarily wake up each morning and lift up whatever cross it takes to do so.
Of course, we teach this in church. But not really. Because our goal is to get people to heaven when they die rather than to form our members into people who love as Jesus love, and as we see church membership and attendance as the pathway to heaven, we are far more focused on attendance and membership than on personal transformation. And the result has been to create churches as purveyors of spiritual goods and services rather than communities of personal transformation.
Doubt me? Here are some quick and easy tests: Continue reading
Now, if we ignore the context of Eze 34, it’s easy to conclude that elders ought to be shepherds (true) and that their primary job is to heal the weak and injured, that is, care for their social and emotional needs (not remotely the point of Eze 34).
I’m not saying that elders shouldn’t undertake pastoral duties. They should. I just protest our abuse of Eze 34 — which is far more about social justice and the impact of Jesus’ reign on the poor than about counseling and comforting.
Now, obviously, the weak and needy of Eze 34 are not merely the poor. It’s everyone who is being exploited and abused by those in power. And this has very little to do with visiting the sick in the hospital or comforting the mourning at the funeral home. Nor does it involve counseling our members on having stronger marriages and being better parents. Elders should do that, too — but God wasn’t angry with the king of Judah because of his poor marriage counseling skills.
And when we misapply Eze 34, we don’t see the lessons that really are there — lessons important enough that Jesus repeatedly refers to this passage in his ministry, not just in John 10. Continue reading
I’ve told this story before, but it bears repeating.
I’m a lawyer. I represent lots of churches. And several years ago — at least a decade ago — I met with the church leadership for a congregation in another town about to embark on a $20 million construction project. It would easily be $30 million if they built it today.
In the course of our discussions, I needed to ask them about their benevolence program. And the leaders looked at each other rather sheepishly. One spoke up, saying, “We don’t have one.” They looked a bit ashamed, staring at their feet. Then one’s face brightened. “Actually, some years, when we have money left over at the end of the year, sometimes we give some that money to a charity. Does that count?” Continue reading
In the last 20 years or so, the “Good Shepherd” passages in Eze 34 and John 10 have been highly influential in our thinking regarding what an elder/shepherd/overseer should do. Some find here evidence that pastoral duties (shepherding) are the exclusive duties of elders, who should spend no time on administration (defined as anything not shepherding) at all.
This is, of course, absurd. The scriptures plainly charge the elders with teaching and refuting false doctrine. And management or administration is not only part of the job of a First Century village elder or overseer, but essential to good shepherding. As Lynn Anderson points out in his They Smell Like Sheep, one reason so many elderships fail to shepherd as they should is their failure to organize and administer as they should.
My life has been blessed by having been personally counseled by Lynn on some of these very issues. My fellow elders and I have twice set up conferences with Lynn to help us sort through some issues, and in the more recent conference, Lynn particularly warned us against abdicating congregational administration and leaving the church without leadership. Shepherding cannot be reduced merely to comforting and counseling. In the ancient world, shepherds led the sheep.
(Many churches have tried having the elders do nothing but shepherding, and the experiment has generally failed. I’ve discussed this with elders who tried and really wanted entire out of administration. But hired staff members and 30-year old deacons are no substitute for the wisdom of decades in the same congregation.) Continue reading
Christopher Wright quotes,
(Col. 1:15-23 ESV) 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him.
17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.
19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.
Wright comments, Continue reading
So how does a too-busy eldership include the congregation in decision making? Well, it depends on the size of the church and the decision being made.
We know from Acts 15 (doctrinal decision) and 1 Cor 5 (decision to withdraw fellowship) that these kinds of decisions were made with congregational participation by both small and large churches. The Jerusalem church likely had more than 20,000 members! And I sure wish the scriptures told us how the apostles managed such a huge congregation, but the scriptures are silent on process.
Let me suggest some approaches (and I’ve participated in all of these at one time or another) — Continue reading
Lesson 4, focusing on where the saved are between their deaths and the return of Jesus.
Download from Lesson 4. Right click and select “Save Link As” to download. (If you left click, it will stream.)