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I found this description of the biblical responsibilities of elders on a blog by a colleague here in South Africa. Since it is somewhat related to what we’ve been discussing about church leadership, I include it here. Steve Plodenic of Christ’s Seminary gets the credit for putting it together. Thanks Steve for your hard work. Take it away Steve.
This is a list of responsibilities for elders and not a definition of those responsibilities nor a description of how they are to be carried out. This list must not be considered as the only responsibilities that elders are accountable for. The obligation to “shepherd the flock of God” encompasses much more than any list can include. This starting point provides the basic direction, points of accountability and principles needed for an elder to fulfill his ministry.
Most of the NT passages dealing with the responsibilities of Elders/Overseers/Bishops:
Acts: 6:1-6; 11:28-30; 14:23; 15:1-7; 15:20-23; 15:28; 16:4; 20:17-21; 20:28-31; 20:35; 21:17-25. Romans: 12:8. 1 Corinthians: 3:1-11; 4:1-2. 1 Thessalonians: 5:12-13, 1 Timothy: 1:18-19; 3:1-7; 4:7; 4:12-5:22; 6:10-14; 6:20. 2 Timothy: 2:15; 4:1-2, Titus: 1:5-9; 2:1; 2:7; 2:15-3:2; 3:10. Hebrews: 13:7; 13:17; 13:24. James 5:14, 1 Peter 5:1-5.
Responsibilities of Elders Stated Positively
Elders are to;
1) have the authority to delegate important tasks, Acts 6:1-6
2) direct the congregation in important tasks, Acts 6:1-6
3) initiate ministries within the church, Acts 6:1-6
4) devote themselves to prayer, Acts 6:1-6
5) devote themselves to the ministry of the Word, Acts 6:1-6
6) lay their hands on individuals to commission them to ministry, Acts 6:1-6; 1 Tim. 4:14, 5:21-22
7) be involved with and responsible for finances, Acts 11:28-30
8) serve for the people in the church, Acts 14:23
9) hear-out and judge doctrinal issues in the church, Acts 15:1-7
10) check on the status and progress of other ministers, Acts 15:1-7, 21:17-19
11) examine doctrinal issues, Acts 15:1-7
12) discuss/debate doctrinal issues between themselves, Acts 15:1-7
13) inform the church of their decisions concerning doctrinal issues, Acts 15:20-23 & 28
14) involve the congregation in making some decisions, Acts 6:1-6, 15:20-23 & 28
15) make decisions that are binding upon the church, Acts 15:20-23 & 28, 16:4
16) be with the people, Acts 20:17-21, 28-31 & 35
17) serve the Lord by serving the church with humility, Acts 20:17-21, 28-31 & 35
18) declare to the church anything that is profitable for them, Acts 20:17-21, 28-31 & 35
19) teach the people in public, Acts 20:17-21, 28-31 & 35; 1 Thess. 5:12; 1 Tim. 4:12-5:2
20) teach the people in private, Acts 20:17-21, 28-31 & 35; 1 Thess. 5:12; 1 Tim. 4:12-5:2
21) declare doctrines of the gospel, Acts 20:17-21, 28-31 & 35
22) stand guard over their own life and doctrine, Acts 20:17-21, 28-31 & 35
23) stand guard over the life and doctrine of the church, Acts 20:17-21, 28-31 & 35
24) shepherd the church, Acts 20:17-21, 28-31 & 35; 1 Peter 5:1-5
25) be alert and watchful, Acts 20:17-21, 28-31 & 35
26) remember the faithfulness of past elders and imitate them, Acts 20:17-21, 28-31 & 35
27) be an example to the church, Acts 20:17-21, 28-31 & 35; 1 Tim. 4:12-5:2; Titus 2:7; 1 Peter 5:1-5
28) work hard, Acts 20:17-21, 28-31 & 35; 1 Thess. 5:12; 1 Tim. 5: 17 & 21-22
29) help the weak, Acts 20:17-21, 28-31 & 35
30) remember the words of Jesus, Acts 20:17-21, 28-31 & 35
31) give rather than receive, Acts 20:17-21, 28-31 & 35
32) resolve important issues on their own authority, Acts 21:17-25
33) lead the congregation, Rom. 12:8; Heb. 13:7 & 17
34) be careful and precise in how they go about their duties, 1 Cor. 3:1-11
35) be seen as servants of God, 1 Cor. 4:1-2
36) administrate the mysteries of God, 1 Cor. 4:1-2
37) be trustworthy, 1 Cor. 4:1-2
38) be in charge of and rule over the congregation, 1 Thess. 5:12; 1 Tim. 5:17
39) fight for the faith, 1 Tim. 1:18-19, 6:10-14
40) maintain faith and not be shaken, 1 Tim. 1:18-19
41) have a clear conscience, 1 Tim. 1:18-19
42) men who desire to serve in the office of elder, 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9
43) be blameless, above reproach, 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9<
44) be the husband of one wife, 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9
45) rule their own house well and with dignity, 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9
46) be self-controlled, temperate, sober, 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9
47) be sensible, sane, of sound mind, 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9<
48) be well behaved, orderly descent, 1 Tim. 3:1-7
49) be given to hospitality, 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9
50) be forbearing, considerate, moderate, gentle, 1 Tim. 3:1-7
51) be peaceable, 1 Tim. 3:1-7
52) be able to teach, 1 Tim. 3:1-7
53) able to keep his children under control with dignity, 1 Tim. 3:1-7
54) take care of the church, 1 Tim. 3:1-7
55) have a good reputation with those outside the church, 1 Tim. 3:1-7
56) discipline themselves with, in and for godliness, 1 Tim. 4:7
57) be an example of proper speech to all believers, 1 Tim. 4:12-5:2
58) be an example of proper conduct to all believers, 1 Tim. 4:12-5:2
59) be an example of proper love to all believers, 1 Tim. 4:12-5:2
60) be an example of proper faith to all believers, 1 Tim. 4:12-5:2
61) be an example of proper purity to all believers, 1 Tim. 4:12-5:2
62) read Scripture in public, 1 Tim. 4:12-5:2
63) exhort believers, 1 Tim. 4:12-5:2
64) take pains to be precise in living godly, 1 Tim. 4:12-5:2
65) be absorbed in living godly and their duties, 1 Tim. 4:12-5:2
66) be noticeably maturing in the faith, 1 Tim. 4:12-5:2
67) examine their own teaching carefully, 1 Tim. 4:12-5:2
68) examine their own lives carefully, 1 Tim. 4:12-5:2
69) persevere in godly living, 1 Tim. 4:12-5:2
70) treat all people properly according to their station, 1 Tim. 4:12-5:2
71) must not discriminate at all, 1 Tim. 5:21-22
72) be careful about laying on hands so they do not release an unqualified person on the church, 1 Tim. 5:21-22
73) keep themselves free from sin, 1 Tim. 5:21-22
74) flee from greed, 1 Tim. 6:10-14
75) pursue righteousness, 1 Tim. 6:10-14
76) pursue godliness, 1 Tim. 6:10-14
77) pursue faith, 1 Tim. 6:10-14
78) pursue love, 1 Tim. 6:10-14
79) pursue perseverance, 1 Tim. 6:10-14
80) pursue gentleness, 1 Tim. 6:10-14
81) keep the commandment without fault, 1 Tim. 6:10-14
82) guard the responsibilities entrusted to them, 1 Tim. 6:20
83) avoid worldly chatter, 1 Tim. 6:20
84) avoid empty chatter, 1 Tim. 6:20
85) avoid false and apparently knowledgeable arguments, 1 Tim. 6:20
86) diligently work to be approved by God, 2 Tim. 2:15
87) accurately handle the Word of Truth, 2 Tim. 2:15
88) preach the Word, 2 Tim. 4:1-2; Heb. 13:7
89) be ready at all times to fulfill your responsibilities, 2 Tim. 4:1-2
90) reprove with patience and instruction, 2 Tim. 4:1-2
91) rebuke with patience and instruction, 2 Tim. 4:1-2
92) exhort with patience and instruction, 2 Tim. 4:1-2
93) maintain order in the church, Titus 1:5-9
94) have children who believe, Titus 1:5-9
95) be God’s stewards, Titus 1:5-9
96) ove goodness and what is good, Titus 1:5-9
97) be just, fair, righteous, Titus 1:5-9
98) be holy, devout, pious, Titus 1:5-9
99) hold firmly to the faithful word and teach it, Titus 1:5-9
100) exhort the church in sound doctrine, Titus 1:5-9
101) refute those who contradict sound doctrine, Titus 1:5-9
102) speak in accordance with sound doctrine, Titus 2:1
103) maintain purity in doctrine, Titus 2:7
104) be dignified, Titus 2:7
105) exercise authority when speaking, exhorting and reproving, Titus 2:15-3:2
106) remind the congregation to be subject to their rulers, Titus 2:15-3:2
107) remind the congregation to be subject to those in authority over them, Titus 2:15-3:2
108) remind the congregation to be obedient, Titus 2:15-3:2
109) remind the congregation to be ready to do good deeds, Titus 2:15-3:2
110) remind the congregation to not speak evil of or malign anyone, Titus 2:15-3:2
111) remind the congregation to be peaceable, Titus 2:15-3:2
112) remind the congregation to be gentle, Titus 2:15-3:2
113) remind the congregation to be considerate of all people, Titus 2:15-3:2
114) cast out factious people in the church, Titus 3:10
115) keep watch over the souls of believers, Heb. 13:17
116) give an account of their ministry to God, Heb. 13:17
117) pray for those in the church, James 5:14
118) minister to those who are sick, James 5:14
119) shepherd the flock of God, 1 Peter 5:1-5
120) exercise oversight of the church, 1 Peter 5:1-5
121) serve the church voluntarily, 1 Peter 5:1-5
122) be elders according to the will of God, 1 Peter 5:1-5
123) serve with eagerness, 1 Peter 5:1-5
124) be humble, 1 Peter 5:1-5
Responsibilities of Elders Stated Negatively
Elders must not;
1) neglect the Word of God, Acts 6:1-6
2) be an innovator in the basics of the faith, 1 Cor. 3:1-11
3) be a drunkard or given to drink, 1 Tim. 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9
4) be greedy, covetous, a lover of money, or fond of sordid gain, 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Peter 5:1-5
5) be quick-tempered, inclined to anger, pugnacious, nor violent, 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9
6) be a new convert, a novice, 1 Tim. 3:1-7
7) fall into reproach, 1 Tim. 3:1-7
8) fall into the snares of the devil, 1 Tim. 3:1-7
9) be involved in worthless worldly rumors and fables, 1 Tim. 4:7
10) neglect their spiritual gifts, 1 Tim. 4:12-5:2
11) be ashamed, 2 Tim. 2:15
12) be accused of dissipation, Titus 1:5-9
13) be accused of rebellion, Titus 1:5-9
14) be arrogant or self-willed, 1 Titus 1:5-9
15) let anyone disregard them, Titus 2:15-3:2
16) serve under compulsion, 1 Peter 5:1-5
17) serve for financial reasons, 1 Peter 5:1-5
18) think they are lords of the congregation, 1 Peter 5:1-5
THOUGHTS AND QUESTIONS ABOUT CHURCH LEADERSHIP
In Acts 14:23, we read that “they” appointed elders in every church. Who were the “they” who appointed elders? Well, the “they” of verse 23 must be interpreted in the light of the “they” of verses 21 and 22. Clearly the “they” of verses 21 and 22 refers to the missionary team of Paul.
I Timothy 3:1 along with many other passages indicate that elders are overseer. What does it mean to be an overseer? Are elders to be underseers who wait for the congregation to make the decisions and then follows through with their orders? Are they to check everything out with the congregation? Where does the checking out begin and where does it stop? How much and how little do the elders have the congregation vote on? On what issues should they do this and on what issues should they not do this?
In I Timothy 3:4, 5 the Bible says that elders are responsible to manage the church of God? What does managing involve? Does this mean that the elders should put everything up for a vote and then simply orchestrate what the congregation has decided? Where does managing start and where does it stop?
Later in I Timothy 5:17 Scripture talks about the elders ruling? What does that mean? Again, should they put everything up for a vote and let the congregation decide how they and the church should function on issues not clearly spelled out in Scripture?
Chapter 5:18 – 25 gives instructions about how elders should be selected, taken care of, treated and even disciplines. Well, to whom were these instructions primarily given? Who was responsible to do these things? I think I Timothy 1:1, 2 makes it very clear that Timothy as a prototype elder/pastor was responsible to carry out these instructions. Certainly every elder will want to seek the counsel of, gather the opinion and affirmation of godly people. It would be foolish and prideful as well as unbiblical for elders not to do this.
Moving on – what did Paul mean when he said that it was the responsibility of Titus who was functioning as an elder/pastor at the church in Crete to set in order what remains and to appoint elders in every city (1:5). Was he telling Titus who again was a prototype of all elders and pastors to put these issues up to a vote? And when he told him in 1:10, 11 to silence the “rebellious, empty talkers’ was he suggesting that it was necessary for Titus to call a congregational meeting and ask the congregation for their approval before he did this?
And what did Paul mean when he wrote to the Thessalonians and told them that the elders had charge over them in the Lord? What does it mean to have charge? What was the nature of their authority? Certainly it involved faithfully preaching God’s Word and commanding people to obey it? But did their authority extend to other congregational issues such as scheduling the time of the services, choosing what hymns should be sung, choosing the days on which special services were to be held, selecting elders, selecting Bible Study materials, etc.? Did they first have to bring these items up to the congregation in terms of the decisions that were made? Having “charge” must mean something.
Why have elders at all? Why not just have congregational meetings? Why should it be necessary for the elders to be prudent and hold fast to the faithful word if what they do must first be submitted to the congregation for a vote? What is the point to having elders and calling them overseers if they are primarily followers when it comes to important issues of congregational life?
Scripture calls elders Shepherds (Acts 20:28; I Peter 5:1, 2). What does it mean to be a Shepherd? Does a shepherd have any responsibility to lead – to set the pace or should the sheep be doing the leading?
And what about Hebrews 13:7? What does verse 7 mean when it says that Christians in the congregation should imitate the faith or faithfulness of their leaders? What does Scripture mean when it speaks of the fact that the leaders are to lead Christians. What does it mean to lead? Certainly elders are to lead by teaching the Word of God, but is that all the Bible means by leading. What about issues where there is not a clear thus saith the Lord? What about issues where we can’t turn to the Word for specific direction? As mentioned previously, certainly in keeping with Proverbs 15:22 and 11:14 any godly elder will be interested in the perspectives of the people even as any godly husband who is charged with the responsibility to manage and lead his wife and family will seek the counsel of his wife. And unless he has some very good, in most cases biblical reason for not following her counsel he won’t do something which she strongly opposes. In similar fashion godly elders will avoid being authoritarian. Certainly they will consult with the people over whom they have God given leadership responsibilities when making important decisions. Certainly, as godly husbands will listen to their wives, godly elders will listen to their people and be slow to do anything with which the people in their church disagree unless it is specifically commanded by Scripture.
And what does Hebrews 13:17 mean when it says that the people of the church are to obey their leaders and submit to them? Certainly this doesn’t mean that church members are to obey and submit to their elders on issues that are contrary to Scripture? Nor, does it mean that Christians are obligated to obey and submit to their elders on issues to which the Scripture does not speak or even give guiding principles. But when it comes to matters related to the elders fulfilling their God given responsibilities such leading the church, feeding and teaching the church, caring for the church, protecting the church, motivating the church, watching over the souls of the people in the church, guiding and overseeing the church, disciplining wayward church members and rescuing people who have gone astray, the members are responsible to obey and submit to them and do their best to make their ministry a joy and a delight (I Thessalonians 5:12,13; Hebrews 13:17).
And incidentally, if you want to read more about the biblical concept of leadership in the church and what it means for Christians to obey and submit to their elders, you will find more exposition of these issues in a book that David Swavely and I wrote called Life in the Father’s House. You may order a copy of this from www.mackministries.org or http://www.audubonpress.com.
My son, the other blogger on this site asked me to answer the question: How have you normally dealt with a person who just won’t stop talking? A conversation dominator in counseling? So here goes!
One answer to that question is the one I observed Bob Newhart giving on his television program when counseling a woman who said she was panic struck by the thought of being buried in a box. When this woman told him her problem he asked her if she was ready for the answer. She said she was and then asked if she should write his answer down. Newhart said that he didn’t think she’d need to do that because his answer would be only two words and he thought that most people could remember the two words without writing them down. Then he said, “Here are the two words: Stop it.” When she tried to bring up other problems he would either say, “We don’t go there” or “Stop it.”So my advice to the counselor who has a person who won’t stop talking is that he/she should say and keep saying, “Stop it” or “We don’t go there.”
Actually I’m just joking in what I just wrote. In reality, Newhart’s solution is only a part (the last part) of what I would do. There is much that I would do prior to using the Newhart technique. Before I lovingly and yet forthrightly told this person to “stop it” I would want to investigate this persons reason for wanting to dominate the conversation. Proverbs 18:13 warns us about answering a matter before we have really investigated what is going on. There may be many reasons why a person dominates the conversation in counseling and you can be fairly sure that if that person dominates the conversation in the counseling session they are also doing that outside the counseling session. This person’s behavior in counseling then becomes a counseling issue with which the counselor must deal.
Here are some of the most common reasons why a person may dominate conversations in or out of the counseling session:
1). Pride – Romans 12:3; 3 John 9, 10; Prov. 18:2;
2). Selfishness – lack of love for God and others – 2 Tim. 3:2;
3). Fear of silence, not wanting to appear dumb – Prov. 29:25;
5). Past training – parental influence, example, neglect;
6). Poor listening habits on the part of other people or on the part of the speaker;
7). Desire to control what is discussed thereby avoid talking about unpleasant issues – avoidance technique;
8). Desire to force other person into submission, convince, overpower;
9). Ignorance of the harm it does – Prov. 17:9;
10). Frustration, anger, desire to punish the other person;
11). Most important reason why some people overtalk = impure heart – Mark 7:21-23; Luke 6:43-45.
That brings us to the issue of how to help a person overcome the problem of talking too much or, in biblical terms, the problem of being a “babbling fool” (Proverbs 10:8, 19 in or out of the counseling session. Here are several suggestions:
1). Identify that the person has a problem in this area – mention your observation and give reasons for your observation.
2). Then ask them whether or not they recognize that they are doing this.
3). Then ask them to answer the question why they think they are doing this? Help them to identify the reason for their overtalk – why do you think you practice overtalk?
4). Have them read chapter 7 in Your Family God’s Way and take the inventory about the forms of overtalk at the end of the chapter and also have them complete the inventory about the reasons for overtalk at the end of the chapter.
5). Have them study and reflect on the Scriptures that deal with overtalk such as Proverbs 10:8,19; 17:9; 15:28; Ephesians 5:3,4.
6). Have them memorize such verses as Ephesians 4:29; Proverbs 17:9; Proverbs 10:19; 12:23; 17:27, 28 and review these verses regularly.
7). For a period of time have them keep a daily journal in which at the end of the day they evaluate their communication efforts in terms of times they dominated and why they did it.
8). Remind them that overtalk that violates biblical principles is sin. .
9). Tell them that if they practice overtalk that violates biblical principles and if their reasons for overtalk are sinful, they must confess their sin to God, ask Him for forgiveness and help.
10). Instruct them to make themselves accountable to someone else who will remind them when you are guilty of overtalk.
11). Give them an assignment to memorize and regularly pray the prayer of the Psalmist – Psalm 19:14; Psalm 141:3
12). Have them memorize and regularly pray the prayer of Elizabeth Eliot.
“Lord, deliver me from the urge to open my mouth when I should shut it. Give me wisdom to keep silent when silence is wise. Remind me that not everything needs to be said and that there are very few things that need to be said by me.”
13). Explain and apply the truth of Matthew 12:34, 36, 37 and Proverbs 4:23; 27:19 to them.
“The mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart…Every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you shall be justified and by your words you shall be condemned.”
Ask them what they think these texts mean and how they apply to them. Make sure you tell them that these texts mean that our words are important; that they mean God listens to our speech and remembers what we say; they means if they are violating God’s will in this area by dominating conversations of life they should want to change. These texts mean that if we are violating His will to our attention we will be concerned about it and that if we are guilty of overtalk in any of the ways we’ve mentioned and for any of the reasons we’ve mentioned we’ll want to change because this kind of behavior is displeasing to God and because it will hinder our relationships with and our godly impact on other people.
These texts mean that if our behavior violates God’s Word the ultimate problem is not with our behavior; it is with our hearts. They mean that change must begin in the heart through recognizing the problem, confession, repentance, faith, prayer, meditation on God’s Word, getting their heart cleansed from sinful motives and filling their hearts with godly thoughts and desires and disciplining themselves to put off this unbiblical behavior and put on godly speech patterns through practice – Matthew 12:34; Proverbs 4:23; James 4:8; I Timothy 4:7.
Then after working though all of these issues in counseling if they still continue the practice of dominating the conversation in counseling you may use the Newhart technique and say with emphasis, “Stop it” and “We don’t go there” because it is displeasing to God and will hinder your effectiveness and fruitfulness for Him in this world.
What is Living and Active and Sharp? Several of the words I’m using as a title for this post are found Hebrews 4:12. They are words that are used to describe what God’s Word, the Bible, is and can do. They are accurate, of course, because they are part of God’s inspired and infallible and inerrant Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20, 21). And, for that reason alone, I believe what they say about the Bible. God cannot and will not lie and, consequently, I do not need proof or confirmation of their validity.
However, because they are true, I expect that when I rightly understand and apply God’s Word in my own life and in my ministry to others, God the Holy Spirit will make them just what He says they are – living and active (powerful – KJV) and sharper that a two- edged sword. And, again and again I have seen Him use His Word in that very way.
Recently, as my wife and I counseled a lady and her husband we saw God do this in a vivid way. This woman had been identified by a physician as a manic depressive individual (bipolar depression) and had been given medicine to treat this condition. When she and her husband evidenced some concern about taking her taking the medicine, a friend of hers encouraged her to come to see us for biblical counseling. We set up an appointment with them and had them fill out the Personal Data Inventory forms prior to the first session. During the first session we reviewed the forms and gathered a lot of information about her background and the development of what the physician called her manic depression. (Incidentally, I’m using this counseling account with her permission to do so.)
Interestingly enough, as is so often the case in my counseling experience the physician had made her diagnosis (?) purely on the basis of the woman’s description of her family background and emotional and behavioral symptoms. In other words, no physiological tests had been run to identify some chemical or hormonal or glandular malfunction. The assumption, as is often the case with some people hepers in the medical realm, was that her emotional and behavioral symptoms coupled with her family background was all that was needed to make the bipolar diagnosis.
In our initial sessions we discussed a biblical perspective on depression and also talked about some possible explanations for the upswing side of the depression. I presented some information about manic depression to them from Dr. Robert Smith’s book, The Christian Counselor’s Medical Desk Reference and also asked her to read some books I had written dealing with a biblical perspective on the definition, development, dynamics and defeat of depression.
In the course of our initial counseling sessions I also presented to them Bunyan’s description of Christian’s depression and release from depression in The Pilgrim’s Progress and spent some time explaining, illustrating and applying the relevance of I Corinthians 10:13 to out problems. As follow up assignments I asked her to read, highlight, digest and apply on a regular, daily basis the information found in the following books: Down But Not Out (subtitle – A Biblical Perspective on How To Get Up When Life Knocks You Down), Out of the Blues (subtitle – A Biblical Perspective on Overcoming the Blues of Depression and Loneliness) and A Fight to the Death (subtitle – Taking Aim at Sin Within). I also instructed her to complete the application question assignments at the end of each of the chapters she read.
She immediately began to voraciously read and gain biblical insight and help from these biblically based books. As she disciplined herself and used the resources of God’s Word, God the Holy Spirit began to immediately use His “living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword” to make some changes in her life.
That God had prepared her for understanding, believing and applying His truth is evident from this note she wrote to us shortly after we began to meet wit her. In this note she wrote: “These have been two trying weeks for me, but then I read the words from the pilgrim’s progress – that moving through the prison out of the castle, one would need to apply determination, as each door becomes more difficult to open. I realized the urgency of keeping within the thoughts of God, meditating continuously, digesting and aligning ALL thoughts accordingly. Some ungodly thoughts I have considered as very insignificant – but have found one cannot compromise or relax, as it is these little foxes that destroy the vineyard … now I see “take every thought captive”.
I Pet. 5:6 – 7 has pulled me through this week & I have witnessed God’s faithfulness that in the appropriate time He does uplift those humbled beneath His hand.
I am just giving a quick over view of my 2, now moving into 3 weeks; one thing is certain, I have never before been this excited about God’s Word – God has significantly opened my eyes into the wonderful gift He has come to give us – how, within 14 years of being a ‘born again Christian’ I have not come to this simple understanding confirms to my heart that only God can open eyes, for the truth to set me free was with me, yet I did not see.”
She then went on to write that her desire was to continue “to learn as much as possible, to see God’s Word so simplified, yet so powerful – amazing!”
That note was written about eight weeks ago. Since then we have continued to see spiritual growth and development in her and her husband. God is fulfilling through His Word and by His Spirit the desire she expressed in that note. We saw her yesterday and, though she has recently experienced a set back at work, she is handling it well and moving on as she relies on God’s promises and His sustaining “amazing” grace. She stands as testimony to the fact that God’s Word is indeed living, active, powerful and sharp enough to cut through, then cut out and also replace the unbiblical thoughts and intents of our hearts that harass us and keep us in bondage to various kinds of problems.
Joshua, the other themacks.wordpress.com blog guy, asked me to do a little report of what we’ve been doing here in South Africa the last couple of weeks. At first I hesitated because I wasn’t sure anyone would be interested. In fact, I’m still not sure, but then I remember reading Phil Johnson’s report of his time in England and decided that if Phil thought it was important enough to write about, perhaps there is some validity to this report thing. Only difference is that I’m not Phil Johnson who is one of the best and cleverest writers I know. So, with that as a background and explanation, here goes with my report.
About two weeks ago we began a series of meetings for pastors and others in various parts of South Africa that we call Shepherd’s conferences. Dr. Bill Barrick from The Master’s Seminary, Pastor Bruce Blakey from Grace Community Church, Pastor Joel James from Grace Fellowship Church in Pretoria, Pastor Mark Christopher from Living Hope Baptist Church in Capetown. Dr. Tim Cantrell from Honeyridge Baptist Church in the Joburg area and Pastor Brian Biederbach from Grace Christian Church in Primrose joined me in doing the teaching. We began with a mini Sheepfold conference on Saturday, May 20 at which three of us made presentations for people who couldn’t attend the other conferences. Sunday, May 21 found Bill, Bruce and me preaching in different churches in the Joburg, Pretoria area. Monday through Wednesday, May 22 to 24 we held our first full fledged conference at Honeyridge Baptist Church with over 240 registrants. On Thursday we began another three day conference in the Polokwane area of South Africa at Christ Baptist Church and Seminary. All of the approximately sixty students at the seminary were in attendance as well as other pastors and lay people from the area. On Saturday afternoon, May 27 the other men and their wives left Carol and me to finish up the conference and then I preached at Christ’s Baptist Church on Sunday morning in Polokwane while the rest of the speakers headed for Capetown where they preached in different churches on Sunday. Most of the registrants at the Polokwane conference were black people with a smattering of white folk in attendance. The Capetown conference began Monday morning, May 29 and ended on May 31. The number of registrants and attendees for this year’s conference was larger than any of the previous Capetown conferences with approximately 200 attending the evening meetings.
At these conferences we presented a variety of topics that were relevant to pastoral/church ministry. Some of the topics were Moses, A Model Shepherd; Preaching from the book of Leviticus; How Not to Split a Church, What’s wrong with the church today, The Leader and His family, A Purposeful Ministry, A Patient Ministry, A Humble Ministry Before A Humble Ministry Before Men, Overcoming the Number One Cause of Unhappiness and Divorce In Marriage, Marriage and Family Counseling, Theological Hills to Die On, Get Me Out of Here and The Use of the Old Testament in the New Testament.
Some comments I heard from attendees were, “This is the most helpful conference I have ever attended. Other conferences I’ve attended just preach to the pastors, but this one gives me help for improving my ministry.” “My whole ministry has been changed by the teaching I receive at this conference. Of all the conferences I’ve attended, this is the most practical one. I mark out the dates for this conference every year so that I won’t miss it.” “Thank you for calling us back to the main things in our ministries.” “Thank you for being God’s instrument in convicting me of my pride.” “I came to this conference because I heard there were going to be some messages on humility and I knew I needed to hear those messages.” “I would like to get copies of some of these messages and give them out to all the people in my church.” One person told me that she was a social worker whose training had all been from a secular perspective and that she really wanted to learn a biblical perspective on counseling. Some pastors asked if they could use the outlines to present the material to people in their churches.
The people who attended came from a variety of churches; Dutch Reformed, Reformed Baptist, Church of England, Baptist Union churches, Independent Baptist churches, Presbyterian and even a few from Charismatic churches. Along with the teaching the people were able to purchase good literature, DVD’s and CD’s provided by Word of the Cross, Grace ToYou, Grace School of Ministry and Augustine Book Services.
These conferences gave us a good opportunity to give people information about the Grace School of Ministry courses that will begin in the fall of 2006. Many came to me and Joel James to ask questions. There was so much interest that we actually ran out of application forms and had to have some extra ones made. If even half of the people enroll who have expressed an interest it looks like we will have a large class of students.
These were busy, tiring days for all of us who participated. Some of us got a good case (or perhaps it would be better to say, a bad case) of bronchitis during this time. I, for example, returned to Pretoria and immediately went to the emergency room for treatment. Initially, the doctor thought I might have pneumonia, but, after x-rays, decided it was just a severe case of bronchitis. So, now after spending a couple of hundred dollars on antibiotics and other medicines I’m hopefully on the mend and getting ready to leave for some ministry time in the USA next week.
As always, it is such a privilege to minister in His Name. We want to be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord because we know that our labor in the Lord is not in vain. (I Corinthians 15:58). We’re not, and I hope you’re not, weary in serving the Lord, but are confident that in due season we will reap if we don’t give up. (Galatians 6:10)
I don't know if you've ever looked at yourself and felt like a nothing.
Nothing is probably pretty harsh, but like even when you try your hardest that effort falls so far short of the mark.
I'm not a real big fan of whining, except when I do it of course but one of the more difficult parts of being a pastor, at least for me and believe me there are a lot of great things about being a pastor but one of the things that's hardest for me is that you end up hearing alot about problems people are having with the church.
It's not that I don't like hearing about the problems. Often they are real problems. And I want to help.
That's what I'm here for.
It's that I can take it personally. Not so much personally as in you are attacking me. More personally like, you are right and man, I have played a part. After all I'm serving as the pastor, the leader.
But you look at all the ways you are failing on a regular basis, especially the ways you are failing when you are trying hard to do your best and you can get discouraged.
I'm not sure what you say to encourage a person who is feeling like that, but I thought I'd tell you one of the things that I say to myself.
It's actually worse than I imagine.
I mean I'm worse than I imagine.
When I get discouraged I'm often looking at mistakes. The Bible when it talks about my problems overlooks all that and goes straight to the real, significant problem which is sin. Because I tend to be so superficial, it gives me all kinds of pictures to help me grasp how deep my sin problem goes.
It's like a debt.
This billion dollar debt with one hundred percent interest.
It's like slavery…like death…like a stain I can't rub out.
I think one of the best ways to understand how serious my sin problem went is to look at the consequences. I'm glad I can't do this, but if I could, if I could take you on a little field trip to hell you'd be grossed out. It would be beyond the most horrifying image you could imagine. You'd probably vomit.
I remember this scene in Hotel Rwanda.
The hotel manager is driving somewhere right before daybreak and his van keeps hitting these bumps. It gets to the point where he can't move forward. He gets out. And it's foggy and the sun is just starting to rise and he slowly sees what he's been running over.
I can't remember if he vomited, but he should have if he didn't. A horrific scene.
But hell's worse.
And hell's right. That's the thing. Sin is that bad. God is not unjust with hell. He's completely just. That's the point. You start to look at the consequences of sin, the smallest sin and you start to see that your problem, my problem goes so much deeper than we ever thought it did.
Not being the best preacher ever, not having all the gifts, that's really not much of an issue in comparison the problem of sin.
And here's the deal, this is where things start to look up.
God says in Christ, I'm forgiven. The debt has been paid. The stain has been cleaned. All that sin, I look back on a life of sin and I look forward and see that I'm going to sin even more and I look to the cross and I realize that every single sin I've ever committed and every single sin I'll ever commit, it's been taken care. In God's sight, it's gone. There's not one sin left unforgiven. Not one spot.
I've got it good.
Actually, I've got it better than good.
Because I look to Jesus and I see pure perfection. I mean, here's someone who actually is worthy. Get this, here's a guy who never thought a wrong thought. If we all followed him around for thirty years and we were somehow able to like scribble down every thought he ever thought and then like, we could pull one random thought out and look at it, not in light of our own standard but in light of the absolutely holy God's standard, that thought would be one hundred percent the right thought. He never said the wrong thing. He never got sinfully angry, never gave into sinful lust. He never woke up and thought to himself here's a day I'm going to be selfish. There was not even an hour he was selfish. Not even a minute he was selfish. Not even a moment he was selfish. More than that, what amazes me, it wasn't just like he never did the wrong thing. He always did the right thing.
I look at Jesus and I'm humbled, I'm awed.
This is what when it comes to holiness, I wish I could be.
And I look back at my Bible and I realize, this is the righteousness God has clothed me in. When he looks at me, he looks at me like I lived Jesus' life.
Or to quote Paul, "He made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."
The righteousness of God.
Don't feel sorry for me.
Trying to read your Bible with a hand right in front of your face. By right in front of your face I mean, five to six inches.
It’s far enough away that you can still see some of the words, but close enough that it’s not easy.
Plus, the hand is like, persistent too.
Every time you move, it moves. You can’t get around it.
You might sit down for thirty minutes and try to have devotions, but the hand, I guarantee it would keep you from getting much out of it.
Weird illustration I know, but stick with me.
I think many of us have a hand right in front of our face when we are reading the Scripture. Only thing is we don’t know it.
That hand is “me…”
Don’t get freaked out. Not literally me…us.
We get so focused on us that we have a hard time really seeing and understanding what’s right in front of us on the pages of God’s Word. What I’m trying to say is that if we have to always be the main point of Scripture, we’re going to have a hard time really getting it.
Because Scripture ultimately is about God.
Yeah, we’re in there. But first, God.
I was thinking about that preaching the other day because you know there’s a demand to be relevant. When I say relevant, I don’t mean really relevant, I mean people want you to talk about something that they think pertains to them. And of course they don’t always say that but you can tell sometimes by what people are interested in.
And relevant’s good. You don’t want to always listen to some guy who doesn’t ever connect what they are talking about to your life. I know I don’t. But the thing is, a whole lot of the time we’re wrong about what’s relevant. That’s the beauty of Scripture. God’s Word shows us what is relevant.
The thing is, if we’re not willing to be patient enough to like let the Scripture not be all about ‘how we can have the best life ever’ for a couple minutes, we’re probably not going to be able to see that.
Our demand for relevance is going to make us irrelevant.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that or at least a statement like that from accomplished preachers. I just recently for example read of a pastor who doesn’t meet with people from his church for counseling because those kinds of meetings “drain” him.
Now, I’d be the first to tell you that as a pastor you don’t have all the gifts and you don't have to have all the gifts. I look at myself and the reality is, I have very few gifts. I mean, I have some gifts, they are gifts so I’m not proud of them, still I know God has gifted me in a few areas but I definitely am not overflowing with giftedness.
And that’s o.k.
I don’t have to be great at everything. In fact, God has designed the church to be like that. There’s only one Jesus. And the rest of us, we need help. We’re to help each other out.
So I’m not saying that every pastor has to be equally gifted behind the pulpit and sitting down one on one. I’m guessing that there are some pastors who are more gifted behind the pulpit and others who are more gifted one on one. And I’m not even saying that every pastor has to spend equal amounts of time counseling people one on one. I’m guessing that there are situations where a pastor is serving in a team and would be wise to spread the ministry out and focus on his areas of strength.
But, I am talking about using that as an excuse for not getting involved in individual people’s lives. I’m convinced that saying that is at the very least a pretty big mistake and that probably it would be better to say that it represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the work God has called a pastor to.
To be a pastor is not simply to be a communicator.
It’s to be a pastor. A shepherd.
Coming from where I come from I’ve heard Paul’s admonition to Timothy so many times, “Preach the Word!” And I amen it. But let’s also remember Paul’s example. “You yourselves know how I lived among you … how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house…”
Obviously there’s no way one pastor can do all the work of counseling in a local church. Obviously there are going to be men who are more gifted and more equipped to do that. Obviously there’s the need to focus. I minister in a smaller church and I often feel overwhelmed. I look at what I’m doing and I see so many places I need to improve it honestly wears me out. I can’t imagine the effort it would take to lead and preach in a church much larger.
But still please, I'm begging you, don’t casually, almost flippantly shrug your shoulders and say I don’t do counseling. For one thing it sets a bad example. For another, I’m honestly not sure how that is much different than saying, I just don’t get involved with people who are hurting and I just don't have the skills to really help someone think through biblical principles and how they apply to what’s happening in their life.
And look, if that is what is being said, if I’m saying I don’t have the skills to do that, or at least if I’m saying I'm not willing to work at becoming better at doing that with individuals, then how is my preaching going to be effective?
What are you doing up there on Sunday mornings? You are trying to glorify God yes, but you are also trying to help people change. And how could I possibly think that I could help two thousand people change if I can’t really help one? Or if I am not willing to exert the energy to do that?
Doesn’t it seem like the truth is if I can’t or won’t get involved with one person and help them think through how the Scripture applies to their life that my preaching to more people most likely will just be platitudes and religious cliches?
How could it be anything other than that?
“This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you – if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers…”
Is Paul requiring that the children of elders be believers or faithful?
I’m convinced there are several reasons it is better to translate this word faithful or trustworthy rather than believe.
First, since Paul uses this particular Greek word to mean both faithful or believing in different places simply looking at the word itself won’t solve the problem. (Though see Dr. William Barrick’s comment on Paul’s usage of this word.) Context must be the final determiner and the context of this passage seems to indicate that Paul is speaking about trustworthiness or faithfulness.
For example, look at the phrase that follows where Paul is explaining what he means when he says that an elder’s children are to be faithful. He writes, ““having children who believe not accused of dissipation or rebellion.”
What do both of these terms emphasize? Behavior. Why would Paul say, elder’s children need to be believers and specifically this is what they are to look like – they are not to be drunks and they are not to be unsubmissive? Both these terms seem more fit to describe what it means to be trustworthy or reliable than they do what it means to be a believer.
Second, if you translate this word believe and not faithful you are placing a higher and more difficult requirement on the elders in Crete than Paul did on the elders in Ephesus. In 1 Timothy 3, Paul says, “The elder must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity.” Remember the readers of 1 Timothy probably would not have had Titus to read. So therefore they could have elders whose children were not believers. Paul’s directions in 1 Timothy do not say anything about having believing children – just having under control kids. Now if Paul was really saying in Titus that an elder’s children must be believers, why did he not say the same thing when he wrote 1 Timothy? Ephesus was an older and more established church than the church in
Crete so it would have made more sense for Paul to tell them that their elders must have children who believe because they had been established as a church for a longer period of time. But he didn’t. On top of that, the phrase he does use – under control – matches perfectly with the terms used in Titus – “not accused of dissipation or rebellion”, two terms that would mark an out of control child.
Third, if Paul were requiring elders to have believing children he would be requiring those elders to do something that only God can do. Can a man save his children? No, of course not. Salvation is a gift of God. Now notice that all of the other descriptions in Titus are to be true of all believers not just elders. Why then would this one requirement be unique?
Finally, how can this requirement be checked? How can one be know for absolute certain that one’s children are not hypocrites and false professors? Beyond that, at what age does this requirement begin? If an elder has three teenagers who are believers and than his wife becomes pregnant and has a baby – does he have to step down as an elder because that baby is not a believer yet?
If you want to learn what you don't know about teaching, I would suggest signing up to work at a high school for a couple of years. That's what I have had to do this past year, and wow, I'm pretty sure I'm learning more than my students.
One of the big things I've learned is the difference a class can make. I often teach the same lesson to two classes, and you know while I might be overstating the case a bit, I really believe a class can make a good lesson great or they can make a good lesson tank.
I understand, I understand, it might be me. I might have a little more energy or whatever, but I don't think it always is.
I think a class or we might say a group of people can make a teacher/preacher better or or can make a teacher/preacher worse.
I can have the same exact lesson, be the same person, I mean I feel the same, I'm in pretty much the same spot spiritually, and the way the class goes can be completely different.
I'm not sure we always realize that as church members.
What I'm trying to say is that I'm not sure we always realize that it's not just the preacher/teacher who has a responsibility when it comes to making a sermon effective – the congregation plays a major role as well. In other words, when I come to church and I look up at the preacher behind the pulpit I really believe I can help him become a better preacher or I can make it more difficult for him to preach effectively.
Now, where the rubber meets the road. How do I do that? How do we do that? How do we help our teachers/preachers be the best possible preacher/teachers they can be?
I've got some ideas. I'll give you two, then I'd like to hear yours.
1.) LET THEM KNOW YOU ARE LITERALLY DESPERATE TO HEAR THE WORD. Tell your pastor you want him to take you deep. Tell your pastor you value his study time – you see that as important. Don't let him get the idea that management or administration is more important than knowing and teaching the Word effectively.
2.) RESOLVE TO BE INTERESTED IN THE WORD NO MATTER WHAT IT TAKES. I've kind of made a commitment this year that whenever someone else preaches at our church, I'm going to try as hard as I can to put away my sermon and listen to his. I'm going to be interested even if his style is different than mine. And you know what, I'm going to try to let him know it. I want him to look out at the congregation and know that I'm trying to be with him – I'm engaged and thinking about what he says. I want to view the sermon almost like a conversation that the pastor is having with me – and I know that when I'm talking to somebody in a conversation and they are looking all around or their eyes are glazed over – well, it makes me want to end the conversation.