The job descriptions in the titles
Next, some of the most helpful instructions for what an elder should look like are found in the titles given the position: elder, overseer, and shepherd.
An “elder” was the ancient world’s equivalent of a city councilman and city court judge. They governed villages and cities, and even held special authority under the Law of Moses. In Numbers 11, God had Moses appoint 70 men as elders, and he gave them the Spirit to help them in their work.
An “overseer” is someone in middle management. That is, an elder must understand that this is God’s church and that he works on God’s behalf to fulfill God’s purposes. The elder owns nothing.
And “shepherd” is a title reserved in the Old Testament for God and the king — except in Ezekiel 34, where it refers to the king and others in power over Israel. Continue reading
When I mention “elders” in a Church of Christ forum, I immediately receive a negative reaction, as though all elders in the Churches of Christ are just awful. There’s a desperate unhappiness within many of our congregations regarding whom we’ve chosen to be our elders.
And yet our elders don’t ordain themselves. Every church I’m familiar with requires the members to nominate candidates and to comment on the scriptural qualifications of the elders — and yet we keep ordaining unqualified men.
I think the primary reason that we often do such a poor job of selecting elders is that we ignore their spiritual qualifications, that is, the working of the Holy Spirit within the men we choose. You see, the standard sermon series on the qualification of elders is usually so focused on Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3 that the several verses addressing the Spirit’s role in elder ordination are completely ignored — when they should be paramount.
Part of this, of course, is the traditional Church of Christ bias against an active, personal indwelling of the Spirit, but even in Churches that believe in a personal indwelling, we struggle to escape our traditional mindset. And so traditionally, we ordain any man who is (a) nominated and (b) doesn’t badly fail the tests of Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3 — even if he’s among the least spiritual of our members. Continue reading
When I was in college, I attended a Sunday School class for young adults, and the usual teacher was out of town. The fill-in teacher passed out a survey that asked our views on several controversial questions.
We anonymously circled “True” or “False” for each question and then he took them up. Then, just like in high school, he passed the surveys out for us to “grade,” making sure no one got to grade his own paper. Continue reading
So what are the next steps?
- Teach grace sufficient to allow us to treat other denominations of Christians as saved.
- Teach a faith certain enough that we don’t treat non-Christians as Christians. Jews and Muslims aren’t part of this. Faith in Jesus is required — without apology. We preach Jesus just the way Peter and Paul preached Jesus in Acts. Unity without Jesus is impossible and pointless. We’d may as well re-attempt atheism a la the French Revolution (which went very badly, by the way — as has every single society built on atheism).
- Insist that our preachers participate in any local association of Christian pastors and preachers — even to the point of providing their fair share of leadership. Continue reading
Continuing to reflect on the NT example of one congregation per city.
We’re so divided today, how could we ever achieve such a thing today?
A couple of thoughts.
First, we need to stop thinking of unity as something for humans to achieve. God has united us already. We just need to recognize and honor what is already true.
(Eph. 4:1-3 ESV) I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Our job is to “maintain” the unity of the Spirit, not to create this unity. And just as soon as our thinking shifts, our division will start to dissipate. We are only separate from our fellow believers because we think we’re separate.
If we recognize our God-given unity in our minds, then we’ll start acting more like a united people. And the Spirit will reform our hearts so that we see other believers as part of the same church as our own. Continue reading
It occurred to me the other day that we may have missed an important element underlying Paul’s theology. I doubt I’m the first to have noticed this, but I don’t think I’ve seen this hermeneutical thought anywhere else.
We know that Paul, in his epistles, is doing theology. Quite naturally, we read with a theological mindset. This is not a bad thing. But perhaps we should add that Paul was also thinking in national/ethnic terms.
For example, Paul plainly says in 1 Cor 7:39 that Christian widows must remarry only a fellow Christian —
(1 Cor. 7:39 ESV) 39 A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.
— and there’s a passage in 2 Cor that likely makes the rule apply to all Christians — Continue reading
Don’t listen unless you loved the Blues Brothers. Anderson East channels 1960s soul music like no one else today that I know of.
I’m quickly becoming a fan of the writings of Carey Nieuwhof on church leadership. He writes very much in the manner of Thom Rainer, but he writes as the pastor of a megachurch (Connexus Church, north of Toronto Canada).
He recently explained why so many churches have trouble growing beyond 200 members:
The pastoral care model most seminaries teach and most congregations embrace creates false and unsustainable expectations.
Consequently, almost everyone gets hurt in the process.
The pastor is frustrated that he or she can’t keep up. And the congregation is frustrated over the same thing.
Eventually the pastor burns out or leaves and the church shrinks back to a smaller number. If a new pastor arrives who also happens to be good at pastoral care, the pattern simply repeats itself: growth, frustration, burnout, exit.
It’s ironic. They very thing you’re great at (pastoral care) eventually causes your exit when you can no longer keep up. Continue reading