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Archives for July, 2020

Humanism and Holy Spirit are antithetical to each other. If you don’t believe in the operation of the Spirit today, you are left to do things on your own. You are left to do things by your own power, your own ability.

Many of us have come to accept that the Spirit never stopped working. That is a BIG change for some of us. We believe the Spirit is operating. That is a step up from deism (that God is uninvolved in the world today) or humanism (that we have to do things on our own). But does that go far enough? Is it enough to teach on the Holy Spirit, preach on the Holy Spirit, be open to mention the Spirit in our prayers on Sunday…but not actually rely on the Spirit?

I don’t think so…and neither (probably) do you. The Holy Spirit is not a topic. The Holy Spirit is not academic any more than your wife or husband are academic. The Holy Spirit is a Person.

How much does the Holy Spirit affect the leadership of God’s people? Are we seeking the Spirit’s guidance? Or is the Spirit’s involvement only hypothetical and more philosophical than it is practical? What would it look like as Christians first and as Christian leaders second to actually lean into the Spirit’s help, power and guidance in our day to day live and in the way we lead and minister to people? It would radically change the way we operate.

We would lose control.

And that would be the best thing that could ever happen to God’s people because we never really were in control. To operate as if we are is to operate on a false premise and it is a dead end.

There is a big difference between talking more about the Holy Spirit and actually relying on the guidance of the Spirit. I believe our churches, by and large, are more open to talk about the Holy Spirit. But what, in reality, is the actual impact of our view on the Spirit? Is it purely academic? Or is it practical?

Let’s make it practical. Read. Everyday.

I am so glad we made the move to more openness to the Spirit. Let us press that to the next level – to rely on the Spirit in our lives and in our decisions. When we do that our conviction level about what we are doing will elevate to a higher level of importance because our plans and ideas will no longer just be out of our own thinking but out of God’s help and guidance.

1 – How are you raising up the next generation of leaders?

2 – How are you reaching the fastest growing group of non-Christians (the no religious affiliation people)?

3 – How are you making discipleship normal for the next generation (our kids)?

4 – How can you be more inclusive of women without violating your interpretation of scripture?

5 – What kind of vision is God giving your congregation specific to your circumstances (location, people, resources, giftedness, history, etc)

6 – Does your church want to get well of any unhealthy patterns, behaviors or culture you have embraced? (John 5:6)

7 – Who is God calling you to be Jesus to in your community?

8 – How is God currently working in your community that you need to partner with him on?

9 – What is one thing you are not allowed to talk about in your church? Why?

10 – What would it take to develop a culture of openness, play, and inquisitiveness?

By Chris Jones

In discussions of the roles of the elders and the ministry staff of churches, many turn to models of shepherding, equipping, and building up of the body as viable paradigms for church leadership. It is pointed out from passages such as Ephesians 4:11-12, 1 Corinthians 12:27-31, and Romans 12:3-8 that God has gifted the church with differing abilities and functions that serve to equip the local church and build up the body of Christ. These paradigms and models are biblical, relevant, and beneficial ways in which to see ministry, but there is one model that is oft-neglected or not even mentioned at all. Through all the literature and interaction with the text of Scripture on issues of church polity rarely does one see the concept of the ministerial priesthood as a viable model of gospel ministry. One exception could be found in Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Anglican apologetic material. The reason I find this omission as odd is because Paul alludes to his ‘priestly duty’ in proclaiming the gospel in Romans 15:16. My question is the following: “is this metaphor of priesthood for gospel proclamation of ministry neglected out of pure oversight or is it from an overreaction to the sacramental priesthood and clerical system of Roman Catholicism?” In this article, I will try to accomplish the following: examine Paul’s use of the metaphor of priesthood in Romans 15:16, discuss possible objections to the use of the priesthood metaphor, and provide possible contributions this model could make to ministry in the churches of Christ. 

When one turns to Paul’s discussion of his evangelistic mission in Romans 15:16, it is very noticeable that Paul uses two terms that are directly connected to the concept of priestly Temple duties. In Romans 15:15–16 Paul states, “But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister (leitourgos) of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service (hierougeō) of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit (ESV).” Interestingly, Paul combines the terms leitourgos and hierougeōin the same passage. Both terms are connected to the concept of priestly Temple ministry. I agree with Michael Bird in his assertion that Isaiah 61 is in Paul’s mind as he writes this section.[1] The reason this is an important insight by Bird is that Isaiah 61 tells us that the Servant is anointed to proclaim the good news and Isaiah tells us in verse 6, “but you shall be called the priests (hierais) of the Lord; they shall speak of you as ministers (leitourgoi) of God; you shall eat the wealth of the nations, and in their glory, you shall boast (ESV).” It is possible that Paul understands his mission as being a fulfillment of what Isaiah envisions. Isaiah is connecting the proclamation of the gospel among the Gentiles as a priestly type of venture. 

Also, Paul uses cultic language to describe his preaching mission, and he views the Gentile Christians as “an offering acceptable to God sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” What is telling about this passage in Romans is that Paul pulls together two terms that were commonly used in the LXX[2] to refer specifically to the Old Testament cultic services of the Temple and Tabernacle. When one combines the real possibility that Isaiah 61 is a possible echo that Paul is pulling into his thought-world as well as his overt Temple, cultic, priestly language in this passage, one starts to see the importance of priestly categories for understanding Paul’s view of ministry. Paul’s priestly image fits nicely with his very robust view of the church in Temple language that he has already displayed in places such as Ephesians 2:19-22. In summing up what we find in Romans 15:16, we can conclude the following:

  • The grace that Paul has received is that he is a leitourgos (priestly service language) for Jesus, the Messiah to the Gentiles.
  • Paul specifically describes his ministry as a “priestly service” using a word (hierourgeō), which means the services a priest performed in the Temple cult of Israel.
  • Paul is more than likely pulling from Isaiah 61, which is a passage that likens the gospel proclamation to the Gentiles as a priestly duty.
  • Paul views the Gentiles as an offering to the Lord in which they become an “offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”

Some may bristle at the idea of explaining ministry in terms of the priesthood due to an automatic aversion to Roman Catholic clericalism that many may attach to the notion of the ministerial priesthood. I understand that reaction, and that is not what is being proposed here. Paul is not advocating for the minister of the gospel as being a mediator of graces and sacraments, but he is advocating for some form of priestly ministry.

Another possible objection is that Paul is simply using a metaphor to describe ministry in this passage, and metaphors should not be stretched too far. That is true, but one could also say that Scripture uses the metaphor of shepherding to describe the office of an elder, and that metaphor could be stretched too far. We understand that an elder is not going out in the pasture to tend sheep. We also understand that the metaphor is still informative and is didactic in how we see pastoral leadership from our elders. Just as we have no problem with applying shepherding concepts to the pastoring of elders, we should have no problem with seeing ministry through the lens of priestly categories.

One of the more powerful objections stems from the very important doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. We are reminded in 1 Peter 2:4–5, “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Peter makes it clear that all Christians are priests of God and that we all offer spiritual sacrifices. I wholeheartedly agree with Peter’s assertion but that still does not negate what Paul says in Romans 15:16. Just as God calls some to be shepherds in a special sense, that does not mean that every Christian does not have the responsibility of feeding one another spiritually and acting in ‘shepherding types of ways.’ In the same way we are all priests of God but according to Paul, those that preach the gospel are acting in a special priestly type of way that is in line with redemptive history and the Hebrew Bible. 

You may wonder, why waste all this space for this topic? I believe a priestly understanding of ministry can add layers of understanding and meaning to the life of a gospel minister in the churches of Christ. The other more obvious answer is that the Apostle Paul believes it is important enough to view his ministry in sacrificial and priestly categories. The ancient preacher John Chrysostom said it best in one of his sermons on Romans 15:16 when he said, “For me, the priesthood means to preach and to proclaim; this is the sacrifice I offer.”[3] In Romans 15:16, I find something sacred and moving. It transforms how I see my gospel work and proclamation. When I look at the congregation God has called me to minister to I now see a group of people that are precious in the sight of God and my calling is to consecrate them to the Lord through the gospel. This work of consecration of the gospel preacher is part of God’s redemptive plan that traces all the way back to the Levitical priesthood but finds its telos in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is humbling to realize that this is all the work of Jesus Christ from first to last and I get to participate in that work. As ministers of the gospel, our priestly task is to encourage, instruct, and model to our congregants so that they will prove to be blameless on the Day of the Lord as a fragrant and acceptable offering to the Lord. Yes, I will say with confidence that ministers of the gospel are priests in the fullest and biblical sense.


[1] Michael Bird, The Story of God Bible Commentary: Romans, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 505.

[2] The Septuagint (LXX) is the Greek translation of the Old Testament that was in common use in the time of Paul and it is quoted many times by Paul when he makes references to the OT.

[3] J. Patout Burns Jr. Romans: Interpreted by Early Christian Commentators (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012) 372.

By Jim Woodell

How a congregation is governed will have a direct impact on growth. Conversion, biological, and transfer growth are all affected by how a congregation is governed. From the beginning of the church there was governance. “God gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…” (Eph. 4:11-12).

In the simplest terms, the more people that get involved in the life of a congregation the more that Church will grow.  Years ago, I saw on the door facing of a church building in Skagit Valley, Washington, “It takes more genius to get 10 people to work than to do the work of 10 people.” When you look at the landscape of our society, you will notice that those companies that have expanded through enlisting people of talent and turning them loose have prospered.

In years past many, maybe even most, Churches of Christ have followed the philosophy of Elder Rule.  In this system, the Elders are bosses that give orders and are the final decision maker.  As one person described it: “It’s like a Sargent in the Army, when they give an order you are expected to obey it.” Alternatively, others have described Elders as a Board of Directors. Nothing is to be done under this model that the Elders do not have their finger on.  Delegation is rare unless it is delegation to another elder.  Many times those who serve in this model see it as a burden. This model inhibits conversion growth because it is hard to break into this tight circle.  Often congregations governed in this way are mostly family and small in number.  Also, with this model it is common for the elders to appoint others to serve in the eldership thus perpetuating the model to future generations.

In the last couple of decades, there has been a move away from the elders/bosses model to more of a shepherding model.  The 1 Peter 5:1-4 text speaks to this:

[1] To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: [2] Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; [3] not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. [4] And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

In this model the emphasis is on overseeing/shepherding rather than ruling.  Those who serve with this group will see it as a privilege rather than a duty, “not because they must, but because they are willing.”  Those who oversee are willing to delegate ministries to members of their congregational body, not just fellow elders. Dr. Flavil Yeakley found in his research and wrote, “The more involved a person becomes in the work of the congregation, the more important the congregation becomes in his life.” (Why Churches Grow, P 40)  “The higher the involvement level the higher the conversion rate, the lower the drop-out rate, and thus the higher the net growth rate.” (P 41)  With this model future elders are chosen in a way that the congregation participates, choosing from among themselves men that are already shepherding. Several congregations have used the following process to select elders.  You can find it attached or below.

When I left the U.S. Navy in 1967 I joined a congregation as their Preacher that did not have elders.  After little more than a year two elders were appointed. I suggested in a meeting with these two elders that we needed to send out a letter to the congregation.  I wrote the letter and had them read it for their approval which they granted, so I produced the letter and signed it with my name and noted “for the elders.”  Soon I had a visit from the elders chastising me for signing for the elders. Such is the guardianship of some elders. Control.  These elders were bosses rather than Shepherds.

There have been many experiences over the years with elderships that were mixed with both types of elders (controllers and permission grantors) which creates a balance.  I highly recommend the book “The Tale of Three Kings” by Gene Edwards (1980 Tyndale Publishers) as an example of three different leadership styles.

Thank you for letting me share!

Here is an example from the Downtown Church of Christ in Searcy, AR you may find helpful.

INTRODUCTION

Every three years the Downtown church family conducts a shepherd affirmation/reaffirmation process to select new shepherds  and reaffirm current shepherds that desire to continue serving.   The shepherds selection process will begin Sunday, August 22,  with the nomination of men to serve as Downtown shepherds. The selection process allows for all of our church family to be involved in the selection of their shepherds.  It also prompts deep introspection by shepherd nominees and presently serving shepherds that seek to be reaffirmed.  The congregation is encouraged to spend time in prayer during this process asking God to be with those men being called out to serve our church family.   An overview of the selection process follows. 

AFFIRMATION/REAFFIRMATION COMMITTEE

Please call upon any of these men regarding any phase of the selection process:

NOMINATION PHASE (August 22 – August 29)

The purpose of the Nomination Phase is to encourage the congregation to personallyseek out spiritual leaders at Downtown. Therefore, onAugust 22 through August 29, shepherd nomination forms will be distributed to our members.   We should seek men who have the goal to fill the following examples, characteristics and responsibilities of a shepherd:

He is relational – Acts 20:28

He is willing and eager to be an example – 1 Peter 5:1-4

He is a servant – Matthew 20:25-28

He will guard the Flock – Acts 20:28

He will watch over the Flock – Acts 20:28

He will feed the Flock – Acts 20:28

He will equip the Flock for ministry – Ephesians 4:10-12

He will care for the Flock – 1 Timothy 3:5

He will direct the affairs of the Flock – 1 Timothy 3:5

He will preach the Word to the Flock – 1 Timothy 3:5

He will teach the Word to the Flock – 1Timothy 3:5

He will encourage the Flock – Titus 1:9-10

He will refute falsehood – Titus 1:9-10

He will pray for the Flock – James 5:14

He will anoint the sick – James 5:14

He will serve the Flock – 1 Peter 5:1-5

He will lead the Flock – 1 Peter 5:1-5

He will be an example to the Flock – 1 Peter 5:1-5

He will keep watch over the Flock – Hebrews 13:17

You may nominate as many individuals as you wish for shepherds. The deadline for returning these forms will be 6:00 p.m., August 29. You may give your shepherd nomination forms to any member of the Committee at any time during this phase, or leave them in a designated box in the hallway near the church office. Nominations can also be made by e-mail:  shepherdselection@downtownchurch.org.Unsigned nomination forms will not be processed by the committee.  It will not be necessary to re-nominate men currently serving as shepherds.

A minimum of 40 nominations must be received for someone to be considered further as a shepherd candidate. Thus, it is very important that you nominate every person you wish to be considered – even if you know that others will be nominating a particular individual. Also, please do not assume that even if someone has previously declined a nomination, he would do so again. As a help to those who may not know the names of our current shepherds, a list follows:

INTROSPECTION PHASE (August 30 – September 8)

During this time, all qualified individuals are notified of their nomination, furnished with an introspective information sheet and asked whether they will accept the nomination.  The current shepherds will also provide an introspection information sheet.  The deadline for the committee to receive all acceptances of nomination, acceptance of current shepherds that wish to be reaffirmed as shepherds, all introspective information sheets and a family photograph will be Thursday, September 8.Sheets and photos may be returned to any committee member.   Names of all nominees will be announced on Sunday, September 19.Introspective information sheets will be available for review.

OBJECTION/RESOLUTION PHASE(September 19 – September 26)

On Sunday, September 19, the committee will provide the congregation with a list of men who have accepted the nomination. Anyone who has a significant scriptural or personal objection to a nominee serving as a shepherd must talk directly with that man. This is a time of tremendous vulnerability on the part of everyone, but also a time of great potential benefit.  Those who have any non-resolved scriptural objections will be asked to prayerfully submit a completed and signed objection form by6:00 p.m. on Sunday, September 26.   Unsigned objections will not be processed by the committee. Objections should be scriptural (rather than personal) and as objective and absolute in nature as possible. Valid scriptural objections could be found, for example, with those not in harmony with the principles found in 1Timothy 3:1-7:  “Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.”

All objections will be held in strict confidence. The names of those objecting will be known only by members of the committee, and, at the discretion of the committee, one or two shepherds who can assist in resolving the objection. The remaining shepherds will not be consulted about an objection unless further assistance is needed.

If the committee believes that an objection is not scripturally absolute (i.e., a matter of relative compliance with a quality or personal opinion), they will notify the objector of their judgment regarding his/her objection, and encourage them to vote “No” for that candidate in the final evaluation.

However, if either the objector or the shepherd-candidate about whom the objection is made is dissatisfied with the outcome, the committee will then ask two current shepherds to become involved, examine the issue and try to resolve the problem. If these two shepherds cannot resolve the problem, then the candidate will be requested to withdraw his name from consideration, or else agree that the issue involved be made public to the congregation (prior to the Confirmation Phase) in order to allow the church to decide.

All objections should be delivered to one of the Committee members. The deadline for receiving objections will be 6:00 p.m. on Sunday, September 26.

CONFIRMATION PHASE (October 3 – October 17)

October 3 – October 17, the final evaluation of all nominees will be given by the congregation. In order to ensure participation by all members, final evaluation forms will be accepted by the Committee until 6:00 p.m. on Sunday, October 17. You will be directed to place the final evaluation forms in a sealed envelope.  You will be asked to place your name on the outside of the envelope and it can be given to any member of the committee or left in the designated boxes. Only forms submitted by Downtown members will be processed. 

Any member who will be out of town during this time may secure final evaluation forms ahead of time by contacting one of the committee members, or Lowell Myers in the church office. Your confirmation response must be in writing. It is important that every member of the congregation participate in this portion of the process.

On Sunday, October 24, the committee will present the shepherds that the church has selected with at least 70% confirmation.   

On Sunday, October 31, a special conformation service will take place to confirm all selected men as shepherds of the Downtown congregation.  This will complete the Confirmation Phase, and will end the process from the congregation’s standpoint.

CONCLUSION

Feel free to address all questions or concerns about the process to any of the committee members. The next scheduled affirmation/reaffirmation process will be 2011. We earnestly solicit you to a season of prayer to ask God’s blessings on us all, especially that we will lead this congregation in His way for His glory.

Downtown’s Shepherd Affirmation Schedule

Downtown’s Introspection form

With the rise of the pandemic, much of what we knew and practiced as church leaders became either altered or obsolete. Corporate worship assemblies, educational curricula, small group ministries, youth and children programs, patterns of ministerial care, and more were suspended, overhauled, or even abandoned. Add to that upheaval the increased social unrest and past-due attention to the injustices against persons of color.

All in all, most church leaders recognize that we are now in what Tod Bolsinger would call “uncharted territory.” We are no longer “on the map;” we are traversing a rapidly changing terrain that requires prayer, courage, hope, and ministerial imagination to navigate!

As the pandemic began to settle upon the land, my team in the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry adopted the posture of attending closely to the changing environment. We listened actively through a series of focus groups with ministers and elders throughout the country, and we are actively seeking to respond to the challenges and opportunities these leaders have voiced.

To that end, we will host a webinar titled“Faithful and Flexible: Flourishing Congregations in Times of Transition.” This offering is a modified continuation of our annual Summer Seminar, which has always focused on learning and growing church leaders – including small group leaders, deacons, elders, and ministers. Our commitment remains unchanged this year as we adapt the delivery method to his new context.

I invite you to join us on July 30. Although easy answers are not always forthcoming, I believe this webinar will provide you with wisdom and insight as you chart your journey.

We have invited various thought leaders to respond to critical questions we’re facing in this uncharted landscape. For example, what does it mean to be church? How do your form and mature disciples when the church is scattered? How do we navigate the increasing tensions in the relationship of faith and politics? What does it mean to be a minister in this time? How do we manage conflict in our congregations?

Throughout the webinar, you’ll get the chance to learn from practitioners, scholars, and ministers, including:

  • Dr. Andrew Root, author of The Pastor in a Secular Age and The End of Youth Ministry? (Theology for the Life of the World) and professor at Luther Seminary
  • Randy Harris, recognized speaker and spiritual director for the Siburt Institute
  • Dr. Suzie Macaluso, sociology professor at ACU
  • Dr. Vic McCracken, ethics and theology professor at ACU
  • Dave Clayton, lead church planter at Ethos Church in Nashville, Tennessee
  • Lawrence Rodgers, senior minister at Westside Church of Christ in Baltimore, Maryland
  • Lori Anne Shaw, executive director of Duncum Center Solutions at ACU
  • Renee Paul, events coordinator for the Siburt Institute
  • Dr. Royce Money, chancellor of ACU

You can find more details here. I hope you will join us July 30 for a morning of learning and conversation. I believe you’ll find indispensable resources as you practice prayer, courage, hope, and ministerial imagination in your journey through uncharted territory.

When it comes to elders the topic that always comes up is qualifications. We talk qualifications because we do Bible things Bible ways and call Bible things by Bible names…so you need biblical authorization for picking the right kind of people. So we go to Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3 for qualifications.
We obsess over how an elder gets in and who gets but we are missing two very important things:

First, we miss who it is who actually appoints elders, in the Bible. It wasn’t other elders, it was the minister or apostle. In Acts 14:23 it is Paul and Barnabas (apostles) who appointed elders. In Titus 1:5, Paul instructed Titus to appoint elders. Although not elders, we see deacons appointed in Acts 6 by the recommendation of the congregation, not the apostles. The congregation recommended and the apostles appointed them to serve.

There aren’t any instances of elders selecting other elders. If it is in there, I missed it. And yet, that is the process that we use in our churches. We obsess over the qualification but we don’t obsess over their actual process.

Second, I don’t find much conversations or study on the passages that talk about elders AFTER they get the position rather than before.

We get the idea that they should be teachers (1 Tim 5:17).

Elders can be reproved before the congregation for sinning (1 Tim 5:20)

They are to help the sick (James 5:14).

In one of the most important passages, 1 Peter 5:1-4, we learn this,
“To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.”

Elders follow the example of the Chief Elder, Jesus. The church is under their care. They must serve willingly, don’t keep doing it if you are worn out…instead, eager to serve. Not lording it over the congregation. They are to be an example to the congregation. They receive special honor when Jesus returns.

I have seen far more concern that the qualifications are followed than that the characteristics are followed. How about you?

If you are looking for elders, don’t try to find people successful in the world but people successful in kingdom business. Worldly success won’t work in shepherding. It will backfire.

If we just followed the Bible more thoroughly in these matters, churches would be a lot healthier. Instead we have a model where there is BOTH no honor for elders and no reproof. And no one can operate healthily in such a system for more than a short while before things get out of balance.

Is our model of church governance biblical? Like so many things there are biblical principles in the way Churches of Christ lead the congregation but we also find some areas lacking.

In my experience we focus almost exclusively on what it takes to get in (the checklists in the pastorals) but pay little attention to the character and qualities of those who are elders/shepherds.

If we want a biblical model for leadership we have to pay attention to the whole of scripture on the subject of church leadership. We will be exploring church governance in July. I believe it is one of the areas that is really holding us back as a movement and the way forward involves taking into account more scripture, not less.