Able to Teach

1 Timothy, Church, Leadership, Titus No Comments »

This “quality” for a church elder is found in the list in 1 Timothy 3 right after the words “respectable, hospitable” and before the words “not given to drunkenness, not violent.” Because we’re Campbellites and we’re conditioned wrongly to read the Scriptures like the constitution or a list of laws, we’ve sometimes taken this short phrase and disqualified a candidate for elder because he doesn’t teach a Bible class or he’s not a polished speaker.

Well, I’d rather SEE a sermon than HEAR one any day. Yes? What’s the deal with teaching? How necessary is it?

We get a fuller description of what Paul’s talking about when we look at his list of elder qualities in Titus.

“He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” ~Titus 1:9

The idea in Scripture isn’t so much the ability to teach a Sunday School class as it is the ability to pass the truth of the Gospel on to members of the flock. You know, you can teach a Bible class and still not have a good grasp of the Gospel. I’ve been in classes like that and you have, too. An elder needs to know and pass on that we are saved by faith in Christ Jesus, not be any good works of our own. That’s the Gospel. Sound doctrine. The truth.

Elders must uphold that truth, they must defend that truth, they must rebuke those who oppose that truth in order to keep the whole church in that truth.

And when Paul writes “truthful message” or “sound doctrine,” he’s not talking about how to organize a congregation or how to conduct a proper worship service. He’s talking about salvation from God in Christ. In Titus, he’s specifically correcting the errors of the circumcision group and the “sound doctrine” he uses to refute that group and to encourage the others is — are you ready? — more faith, more sacrifice, more reliance on the Spirit, more love. He’s talking to them about expressing more fully the truth of Jesus.

The classroom is just one way, but there are many ways to teach and model and pass on the truth of the Gospel.

I would hate for us to read the Bible passages on church leadership through a legal lens that bogs us down on two or three points and distracts us from the heart of a shepherd that’s actually being described. My recommendation would be to put more focus on words like “respectable,” “hospitable,” “gentle,” “not overbearing,” “not conceited,” “not quarrelsome.” Those words describe our Lord. Those words are characteristic of a Christ-like leader.

Peace,

Allan

Husband of One Wife

1 Timothy, Leadership, Marriage, Titus 2 Comments »

For a church elder, WHO he is is much more important than WHAT he is. We respond to our shepherds because of their great Christian character, not because their names are on the back of the bulletin or because they lead the prayers at the end. The New Testament never instructs God’s people to follow a leader because he holds an office or a title. It has everything to do with his character and his life.

That’s what we have in those two lists in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. These are the marks of Christian maturity. These are the distinguishing traits of someone who has grown in Christ and experienced the life-changing power of the Lord. Their character, their consistency, is above reproach. Not perfect — that’s not what this means. If elders had to be perfect, we wouldn’t have any elders. Blameless, above reproach, means that nobody can legitimately accuse them of any conduct which is not fitting a mature disciple of Christ. It means these qualities should exist in a man’s life to such a degree that they should stand out as the kind of man he really is. It’s clear. He’s a model of Christian maturity.

Now, we have a tendency to view these lists as narrow, legalistic qualifications. We use these lists sometimes like a grid, holding it up to each elder candidate to see if he fits, to see if he checks all the boxes. Even then, we’re generally more concerned with two or three of the character traits than we are the others. And I want to specifically address two of these today and tomorrow and attempt to put them in their proper perspectives.

“Husband of one wife.” You find this exact same phrase in both of the lists, both times immediately after the general descriptive term “blameless” and “above reproach.”

The original Greek text in both lists is mias gunaikos aner. Literally translated it’s “of one woman/wife, man/husband.” Yeah, this is weird for us English speakers because gunaikos can mean woman or wife, depending on the context, and aner can mean either man or husband, again, depending on the context. It’s like the German herr can mean man or husband or sir or lord, depending on the situation. Frau can mean wife or woman, depending on when and where and about whom it’s being said. You’re not sure until you understand the context. The only thing I can point to in English that might be close is when we pronounce somebody “man and wife” at a wedding; you know that “man” means “husband” because we’re at a wedding.

For me, “husband of one wife” is the best English translation. But it’s just as possible and just as correct to translate it “man of one woman” or “man with one woman” or “a one-woman man” or just “faithful to his wife.”

See, the verb is present tense. It matches the present tense verbs in both of the passages. They’re all present tense. He is currently right now the man of one woman. He is presently faithful to his wife. The emphasis is on the man’s character, not his marital history. Maybe he’s had a previous divorce. Maybe he’s got sin in his marital past. The concern in these passages is what’s going on with him right now? Is he loyal? Is he sexually pure? Is he faithful to his wife in all things? Is there any indication he might not be faithful to his present wife?

That’s the way many English translations render this:

NIV – “faithful to his wife”
ESV – “husband of one wife” and a footnote: or “man of one woman”
NIRV – “faithful to his wife”
CEV – “faithful in marriage”
NLT – “faithful to his wife”
MSG – “committed to his wife”

For the Central church, this is our understanding and this is how we apply it: is he currently faithful to his present wife? This fits with the Scriptures and with the function of an elder much better. And it fits much more faithfully to the grace and forgiveness of the Gospel of Jesus than saying any divorce, no matter how long ago and no matter the reason, disqualifies a man from being considered as an elder. Divorce is not an unforgiveable sin — it never has been — no more than if a man at one point in his past had an issue with violence or greed. It doesn’t disqualify him from being an elder today.

Now, this doesn’t mean that the circumstances of a man’s past divorce are irrelevant. If he sinned in his marriage, he might fail some other qualities like blameless, loves what is good, self-controlled, holy, disciplined. Maybe. It needs to be vetted. Is the divorce a past sin that’s been confessed, repented of, and forgiven? Are those sins evident in the man’s life today or is he known as living proof of the Holy Spirit’s transforming power? Is his life an evidence and an example of faithfulness, of a heart saved and changed by God in Christ? Those are the concerns.

Marital faithfulness is a virtue. It has little to do with going through a divorce a long time ago. It has nothing to do with being married twice due to divorce or death. Those things do not reflect on the current Christian character of a candidate.

Peace,

Allan

Genuine Authority

Church, Leadership, Mark No Comments »

“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” ~Mark 10:43

We’re in the last stages of the nomination process here at Central as we select additional shepherds to lead our church family. In preparing for this Sunday’s sermon I’ve been reacquainted with some important words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together:

“Jesus made authority in the fellowship dependent upon brotherly service. Genuine spiritual authority is to be found only where the ministry of hearing, helping, bearing, and proclaiming is carried out. The desire we so often hear expressed today for ‘authoritative personalities’ springs frequently from a spiritually sick need for the admiration of men, for the establishment of visible human authority, because the genuine authority of service appears to be so unimpressive.

The bishop is the simple, faithful man, sound in faith and life, who rightly discharges his duties to the church. His authority lies in the exercise of his ministry. In the man himself there is nothing to admire.

Genuine authority recognizes that it can exist only in the service of Him who alone has authority. Genuine authority knows that it is bound in the strictest sense by the saying of Jesus: ‘You have only one Master and you are all brothers’ (Matthew 23:8). The Church does not need brilliant personalities but faithful servants of Jesus and the brethren. Not in the former, but in the latter is the lack. The Church will place its confidence only in the simple servant of the Word of Jesus Christ because it knows then it will be guided, not according to human wisdom and human conceit, but by the Word of the Good Shepherd.

Genuine authority is determined by the faithfulness with which a man serves Jesus Christ, never by the extraordinary talents which he possesses. Pastoral authority can be attained only by the servant of Jesus who seeks no power of his own, who himself is a brother among brothers submitted to the authority of the Word.”

Peace,

Allan

Leadership: Love

1 Thessalonians, Leadership, Love No Comments »

“We were gentle among you , like a mother caring for her little children.” ~ 1 Thessalonians 2:7

Is it weird that Paul describes himself as a mother? What does a mother know about leadership? Well, dads, have you ever watched your wife with your kids? Generally speaking, they’ve got a gentleness and a sensitivity that we just don’t. I think children find the most comfort and security with their moms. I remember with our girls — I could play with them for hours, do fun things for them and with them all day long. But when they got hurt, where did they run? Straight to mom. Every time.

Actually, that word “caring” is more correctly translated “nursing.” “Nursing her children” gives us an image of Christian leaders actually feeding and giving nourishment to the congregation.

“We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the Gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.” ~1 Thessalonians 2:8

A mother teaches her children how to cross the street, how to eat at the table, and how to match pony tail holders with shirts. But she also pours her heart and her soul into her kids. Because she loves them so much. To lead with love is a lot more than just teaching. It means being intimately involved in people’s lives. And it takes time and effort and it leads to disappointment. But, like Paul, our love compels us to do it.

We’re in each other’s homes, we’re praying together, rejoicing and mourning together, genuinely and actively interested and involved in each other’s lives. That kind of love is sacrificial.

Bill Hybels says, “Tell me how to show love without spending time, money, or energy, and I’ll gladly sign up. Tell me that love means sacrifice, however, and I’m reluctant to commit.”

It’s basically following the model of Jesus who did it first and best. Christ’s priority was in giving, not getting; on serving, not being served; on loving, not necessarily being loved.

Peace,

Allan

Leadership: Integrity

1 Thessalonians, Leadership No Comments »

“…does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you… We never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed.” ~1 Thess. 2:3-5

With Paul, Silas, and Timothy, what you see is what you get. Nobody had to try to figure them out. They hid nothing. They held nothing back. You always knew where Paul stood and you always knew where you stood with Paul (just ask Barnabas).

Integrity. Character. Living right. Doing right. Even when you know nobody’s watching. It’s what’s inside a person that causes her to act the way she does, and the things she does reveal what’s inside.

The manager of a Target store would never shop at Wal-Mart. No way. He doesn’t step inside a Wal-Mart no matter who’s watching — not if he believes in his company and he’s committed to doing everything in his power to help his company and grow his company and make his company better.

When we go to a restaurant, I’ll order a Dr Pepper. If they don’t carry Dr Pepper, I’ll ask for water. I want that waitress to know that if they carried Dr Pepper, I’d pay the $2.89 for it and probably pay more for refills. But since they don’t carry Dr Pepper, she can bring me water. For free. See, I think that’s going to make a difference. I figure if I consistently do that in every restaurant for twenty or thirty years, the restaurants will eventually see the light and change their purchasing strategies. Carrie-Anne will sometimes settle for a Mr. Pibb in those situations. I tell her that’s a lack of integrity.

We all know there’s an integrity void in our society. A character crisis. A lack of integrity causes people to tell lies, to say one thing and mean another, to break commitments to a spouse. Without integrity, you can’t believe what a person’s saying or if they’ll do what they say. Their word begins to mean nothing.

Jesus taught the law that our “yes” should be “yes” and our “no” should be “no.” We tell the truth even when it’ll cost us. We do the right thing even when it’s not the easy thing.

“You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous, and blameless we were.” ~1 Thess. 2:10

Blameless has to do with their public reputation. Righteous is about their relationship with the people. Holy refers to their relationship with God. Paul, Silas, and Timothy deliberately avoided behavior and actions that might lead people to doubt the integrity of the message or to suspect the sincerity of their preaching. Their own personal integrity is so important because you can’t separate the message from the messenger. In many ways, the medium is the message.

You’ve heard this before: What you’re doing is so loud I can’t hear what you’re saying.

You can’t raise money to stamp out the exploitation of women by hosting a car wash at Hooter’s. A dentist can’t publish a brochure about dental health and hygiene with a Snicker’s ad in the back. And we can’t spread the good news of the Kingdom of God if we’re not living lives of integrity.

Peace,

Allan

Leadership: Pleasing God First

1 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, Acts, Church, Galatians, Leadership No Comments »

“We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.” ~1 Thessalonians 2:4

“We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else.” ~1 Thess. 2:6

Paul and Silas and Timothy tell the church in Thessalonica that they all ought to follow their model of Christian leadership: We “make ourselves a model for you to follow (2 Thess. 3:7, 9). A critical component of their leadership style is their commitment to pleasing God instead of people. Paul’s ministry — his whole life! — is characterized by this attitude.

“Am I trying to win the approval of people, or of God? Am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” ~Galatians 1:10

Paul is not one to take a vote or check the opinion polls before doing what he knows needs to be done in his capacity as a Christian leader. President Harry Truman had a similar disdain toward catering to the whims of the people:

“I wonder how far Moses would have gone if he’d taken a poll in Egypt? What would Jesus Christ have preached if he’d taken a poll in Israel? Where would the Reformation have gone if Martin Luther had taken a poll? It isn’t the polls or public opinion of the moment that counts. It’s right and wrong and leadership, men and women with fortitude, honesty, and a belief in what’s right that makes epochs in the history of the world.”

We’ve been entrusted with the Gospel (1 Thess. 2:4) as stewards of God’s Good News. So we are responsible to God, not people. We seek to please God first, not people. This was Peter’s leadership style, too. In Acts 5, Peter tells the Sanhedrin in the face of Jewish persecution, “We must obey God rather than people!”

But there’s such a strong temptation to please people. It’s human nature. We want to please people, not just to be popular, but because we don’t want to make anybody mad. We don’t want to make enemies. We don’t want to come across as mean. We want to keep the peace. Elders want to keep their members. Preachers want to keep their jobs.

Well, hold on. We don’t want to offend or upset our weaker brother. We’re responsible for our weaker brother.

You know, that passage in 1 Corinthians 8 is one of the most grossly misapplied passages in all of Scripture. The weaker brother Paul’s talking about is a brand new Christian. He’s just been baptized. He’s still wet behind the ears, figuratively and literally. He’s from a pagan, idol-worshiping, bacon-loving background. He doesn’t know anything. He hasn’t had time. He’s just a baby. That’s the weaker brother of the Bible. But I’m afraid sometimes it’s the men and women who were born and raised in the faith, baptized 20, 30, or 40 years ago, who are using weaker brother arguments to thwart Christian leadership.

When I was interviewing here at Central almost six years ago, the leadership told me, “We’re a Church of Christ. We’re always going to be a Church of Christ. We’re proud of our Church of Christ heritage and we uphold our Church of Christ traditions. But when those traditions come into conflict with the Gospel, we’re going to go with the Gospel every time.”

Sold! I love that!

Strong Christian leaders keep their eyes on the goal, they’re focused on the big picture. They lead with courage in the will of God, to please him. What’s going to challenge us and mature us? What’s going to lead to Christ-likeness? What’s going to move us toward more sacrifice and service? What’s going to make us more accountable to God and one another?

Well, that makes me uncomfortable. I’m not comfortable with that.

Who said anything about comfortable? That’s why they put crosses up in church buildings, to give you a clue that this is not about being comfortable!

Leaders worth following don’t pay much attention to the polls or public opinion. Pleasing God, not people. Remember, Jesus was OK with letting the rich young ruler walk away.

Peace,

Allan