Sunday, July 27, 2008

No Lonely Leadership

Titus: Paul, how could you leave me here in Crete, to pastor this church all alone?
Paul’s response: no, Titus – there is to be no lonely leadership

“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—” (Titus 1:5 ESV)

Titus is to set things in order. Why? Because everything tends toward disorder, whether your garage, your closet, or your heart and life. But notice the difference. When you come to the back door, disorder in the mud room is obvious. What you don’t see is that the disorder in my soul, and your soul, is insidious. We can read the remainder of this little letter as Paul’s ordering instruction for a disorderly church.

Now I understand that, while there is great satisfaction to bringing order to segments of life – a desk, or a drawer – I understand that it is intimidating and threatening for someone else to say that they are going to restore order to something that touches your world. That seems invasive and intrusive.

But remember, we are talking about the ordering of a household of faith; our household; our community of believers. And some people are anxious for some order to take place. Others are saying, “what’s wrong with things the way they are?” But we must admit, that if the household is going to work properly, and help bring about the well-being of its members, then order is helpful; it’s healthy.

Paul wrote to Timothy in a similar vein in 1 Tim 3:15 – he talks of “how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and foundation of the truth.” So as the church is properly ordered, the truth is properly honored. And the truth works, so long as the truth is applied to our lives. It brings about change and growth in our spiritual lives, change and growth that we desperately need. But when there is lack of order, the truth lies unattended, out of place, and change and growth are lacking.

But you might argue that Baptist don’t do elders. Well, that’s an uncomfortable question. If the role of elders is Biblically mandated, why haven’t we done it? I think there are at least four reasons.

The first arises out of how we use our Bibles. We have favorite texts, and we ignore others. Everybody does. The Bible is a big book, and we can’t hold the whole thing in our heads all at once. And our key text for church leadership has been 1 Timothy 3, in which it talks about bishops, or overseers; and deacons. Not elders. Now in other texts, like Titus 1:5,7, the words “overseer” and “elder” are used interchangeably so that we conclude that they refer to the same office.

The other reason I think that Baptists have tended toward the pastor/deacon model is because of our historical emergence. Baptist churches proliferated in the U.S. in frontier and backwoods communities. There was rarely a ready pool of leadership from which to choose elders. In fact, not only would there be one leader, but a single, itinerant pastor might exercise a primary leadership role over several congregations.

But having had time to absorb the Biblical teaching, and to grow and mature beyond our historical roots, why have we still avoided this term “elder?” And I think the hard answer is “tradition.” Tradition trains our eyes and our minds so that we see what we are used to seeing, and we gloss over what does not fit. Tradition coaxes us to rationalize, saying that our deacons act like elders, or to compromise, saying that the specific offices do not matter. This leads to the fourth reason: sin – that is, an unwillingness to change in accordance with the Bible’s teaching.

So we aren’t taking a vote – we are trying to follow the Bible. And here is what Paul says: “Titus, I need you to restore order to this church, and you are to begin with the leadership. Appoint elders to the congregation.” Why? Because there is to be No Lonely Leadership.

The Old Testament gives a great foundation for this theme. In three passages: Exodus 18; Numbers 11; and Deuteronomy 1, we are given a backdrop for our thinking about elders.

Exodus 18:5-27
In Exodus 18:18, Jethro says to Moses in the face of his responsibilities with the people, “You are not able to do it alone.” It reminds us of what God says, recorded in Gen 2:18, “It is not good for man to be alone,” or of Elijah’s dejected words in 1 Kgs 18:22, “I alone am left.” And Jethro, a brand new believer, can clearly see that this is not a desirable situation.

What’s so bad about “lone leadership?” As Jethro said, “It’s bad for you, and it’s bad for the people.” No one person has the breadth of person and experience and resources to serve the needs of the people well.

So Exodus 18 teaches that capable men are to be chosen to come alongside Moses. In connection with what we will find in Numbers 11, these are men who are made capable by God’s Spirit. They are spiritual men. Their capability is not primarily in their reliance upon natural or physical resources, but in spiritual. They have specifically forsaken foolish “valiancies,” like “holding their liquor” (Is 5:22); or hitting home runs. Further, our understanding of this capability is enhanced by the next phrase: “men who fear God.” This could be a study on its own. But suffice it to say at this point that they are more intent on pleasing God than pleasing men.

Another couplet is used in Exodus 18 to describe the men who would be chosen as assisting elders: they are reliable men who hate unjust gain. They are “amen” men; men of whom you can say, “and it was so.” What you see is what you get. And these men have strong passions. They fear God. They hate unjust gain. I love these verses from Psalm 119: “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.” (Psalms 119:36-37 ESV) They don’t seek to find their meaning for life – what makes life worth living – in stupid things.

Numbers 11:10-17, 24-30
In Numbers 11, the Spirit who has been given to Moses is given to seventy elders (vv. 25,29). It reminds us of Jesus sharing the Spirit with the disciples after the resurrection, by breathing on them (Jn 20:22). The point I want to make from this passage is in the prophecy of v.29: “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!”
(Numbers 11:29 ESV). This prophecy was further detailed in Joel 2, where it says that both young and old, sons and daughters would prophecy. This has been fulfilled at Pentecost, and, in Christ, we are indeed all prophets, and priests, and kings.

That is why, when I see how the Bible talks about elder ministry in the church, I do not conclude that it is elder rule, or elder government. I still believe that there is a biblical basis for congregational involvement in the decision-making of the church. And one of the key reasons is that the Spirit of God is not possessed by the pastor alone, or by elders alone, but by all believers.

Deuteronomy 1:9-18
In Deuteronomy 1, the story is told once more. “Choose for your tribes wise, understanding, and experienced men, and I will appoint them as your heads.’” (Deuteronomy 1:13 ESV). The wisdom mentioned should be that of a heavenly perspective on practical issues. Understanding means the ability to exercise discernment, to sort out difficult issues. Experienced means knowledgable, that is, knowledge gained from a life experience of walking with God. These terms are enhanced by another qualification: “no partiality.” Favoritism is not to be shown to insiders over outsiders, nor to the great over the small. “You shall not fear man” (v.17). I think Jesus’ words to the Pharisees in John 7 get at what is needed: “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:24 ESV)

We need to understand that the appointing of a council of elders is Biblical, even while we recognize that it is a bit counter-cultural. All around the country today, churches are being formed that are reflecting a very different trend. On the one hand, there is a great priority being placed on youthful leadership. The church seems convinced today that, in order to catch our culture, we have to be cool. And one thing is clear: old men are not cool.

Another pattern is that of staff leadership – not the men of the church, but a staff of men brought in to design and lead the pre-planned organization.

In all of this, there is still the constant pandering to the magnetic personality of the single leader – the one who, when he speaks, we will heed his words, and follow his lead. The Bible identifies that person as Jesus.

So in summary, what is the case for a multiple leadership of elders, properly qualified?

More sets of eyes to see beneath the surface of things, to avoid reactions based on deception and lies

A pool of wisdom, discernment and experience, since no one person can embody these in fullness, save Christ (and we are not claiming that even a group of elders measures up to Christ)

A representation of God’s Spirit – though neither the pastor alone, nor the elders together, have a monopoly on the Spirit. The Spirit has been given to all believers, and we remain thus firmly committed to congregational government, though with elder direction (group) as opposed to pastor (individual) direction.

These should be capable men who fear God; and reliable men who hate unjust gain – who serve together to avoid the perils of lonely leadership, so that the household of faith might prosper spiritually and grow.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Small, Hard Things

from the chapter “Small Hard Things,” in the book Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations, by Alex and Brett Harris.

Once again, I am impressed by the practical value of the material assembled and written by these young writers.

Key Quote: “The truth is that your life (both now and later) will require you to invest a lot of time and energy in things that aren’t big and that don’t seem to make much of an impact” (p. 134)

Five Excuses for Failing to do Small Hard Things:
1. Procrastination
2. Inconsistency
3. Compromise
4. Begrudging
5. Cheating

One of the “smallest,” hardest things in my life is prayer. And I think I can apply each one of the points above.
1. Persistence - I many times put prayer off until a better time, but there rarely is.
2. Inconsistency - So some days, I fit in prayer, and some days I don’t.
3. Compromise - One area of compromise is praying on the run. Instead of getting into position to wrestle with God in prayer, I think that I can as effectively pray on the fly. But this kind of prayer lacks seriousness and reverence.
4. Begrudging – this shows up especially when it is time to pray with others. These times can be precious and powerful, but letting go of the time that I selfishly call “mine” is difficult.
5. Cheating – when I spend some time thinking about someone, and call it “prayer,” it is cheating. Thinking and a problem and praying for a person are not the same thing.

Here are some habits for doing Small, Hard Things:
1. work hard
2. maintain a postive attitude
3. live with self-discipline and integrity
4. serve others

Again, all these can be applied to prayer.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Hard Drudgery

"Hard Drudgery," from the chapter “Raising the Bar,” in the book Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations, by Alex and Brett Harris.

The authors inroduce the phrase “hard drudgery” in an illustration about Teddy Roosevelt. He “did more than survive. In a way that few men have matched, he thrived” (p.104).

Teddy’s father introduced him to routines of “hard drudgery,” daily disciplines that pushed him and stretched him. I think that these exercises probably provided benefit in at least a couple of ways.

On the one hand, they helped him overcome some built-in weaknesses with which he was born. If I have a weakness, I need to work hard to overcome it. Also, the routines of “hard drudgery” accustomed Teddy to discomfort. It is my addiction to the comfortable that builds up a resistance toward stretching and strengthening.

The authors make this statement on p. 103: “A commitment to growth kills complacency.” So now we have two devastating “c” words: comfort and complacency.

When I perfect the practices of comfort and complacency, I show myself to be firmly committed to the status quo. I’m resistant to change, and I am setting myself against growth.

The authors introduce yet another pentrating thought early in the chapter – claiming that to “do your best” is usually an excuse. If we claim to have done our best, then we exempt ourselves from doing more. Steps that go above and beyond will be precluded. What, exactly, is “my best?”

The authors don’t press doctrine at this point, but I feel that I must. To think that Jesus did “his best” at every step and turn throughout his earthly life is absolutely astonishing. He lived perfectly. He never misused an opportunity. He never cut a corner. He always fulfilled the will of the Father on every level, whether externally in behavior, or internally in motivation. He did the little things, the acts of “hard drudgery.” He never opted for the comfortable or the complacent. He always did his best. I’m amazed.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Why Not Change Now?

from the chapter “A Better Way: Reclaiming the Teen Years as the Launching Pad of Life,” in the book Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations, by Alex and Brett Harris.

This chapter, “A Better Way,” sets up the next section of the book with five challenges for doing hard things. We’ll be looking at those one at a time. So specifically, the question, “Why not change now?” is pointing toward that section.

But who understands exactly how we change? We all talk about it. Most of us desire it. But the most valuable change comes from the inside out. And this seems to surpass our capabilities. I am suspicious that our authors, young as they are, may think that deep life change is merely a matter of making up one’s mind to do so. For example, I’ve made up my mind many times to lose a few pounds. A few times, I’ve actually done it. But I can’t for the life of me tell the difference at the beginning of the process between the few successful diets and the many fairy tale diets.

Here’s just a couple of “change” verses in the Bible: “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.” (Jeremiah 13:23 ESV) – it makes “deep” change sound pretty difficult. “For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.” (Matthew 21:32 ESV) – what would it take for them to change?

But my skepticism aside, how about a better, more powerful word? Not just changed, but transformed. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord,are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2Corinthians 3:18 ESV)

And here, we have to confess that we do not change ourselves, but we are changed by Another, by the One who Comes Alongside, the One with whom we are to keep in step.