Posts Tagged American Church

Mending Fences

Barbed Wire Fence

Howie Homestead Fence Line.

Following the past election cycle, (2012) I saw something in myself which concerned me. No doubt, many of my gracious friends and family have known this about me for a long time but I am sometimes (believe it or not based on my body profile) a little slow at coming to the table. Prayerfully, I decided to break away from my typical outspoken, opinionated, arrogant self to remain (almost) silent over the past few years about political ‘things’ while interacting on social media. My ‘absence’ was unannounced (funny how silence works that way) and is not significant enough to have made any difference, truly I am not so arrogant as to think it was even noticed by anyone, but I have been quiet on social media so I can just observe. For now, I will break the silence long enough to share (for what it’s worth) my observations but I will do my best not to tread on things of a specific political view. So, from the ‘for what it’s worth’ corner of my square brain, I offer the following observations.

I’ve noticed there are a lot of people who have not honed the skill of critical reading. (I have theories as to why this is the case but I won’t share them so as not to bore the two or three who may read this post in entirety.)

Many people sift through ‘information’ to find a tid-bit or nugget to prop up their preconceived theory or position while ignoring the greater context.

Intellectual integrity, in my opinion, is greatly shown in the measure of graciousness one affords for a differing view.

Absolute truth is cast away, with absolute certainty, by some for the oft touted ‘sophisticated’ idea of truth as fluid and changing.

The thoroughbred of genuine, intellectual discourse and debate, is almost lost in modern society and has been traded for something of far lesser pedigree.

For some folks, feelings are everything.

Social media is an interesting experiment. It is my observation, a lot of people (myself included) have become far less ‘social’ over the past decade. Restaurants used to have an ambiance about them which allowed social interaction and conversation with folks as they enjoyed a meal together. Not so much anymore. Many restaurants blare music in order to ease patrons from the burden of conversation and even offer wifi to allow people to stare at their phones and ignore the persons with whom they are seated so they can post a picture of toast online.

One more observation. Our great nation suffers from a serious division which must be healed if our Republic is to survive. I’m not speaking about political division… American politics wield division as a sword to leverage a particular agenda. The division of which I speak goes far deeper than political party affiliation and carries a longevity of impact far greater than election cycles. Our nation suffers division because the only bastion of genuine hope in this world has, in large measure, faulted in its purpose.

Christians (in general) have missed the mark of our calling and the signs are all around us. Over the past 8 years it has become clearer to me than ever… people are seeking hope and are tired of their circumstances. Many cannot articulate why they are driven by this pursuit for hope and, sadly, the Church has allowed the carpetbaggers and drummers of the political arena to sell ‘hope’, something they know precious little about. Lots of folks misplaced their trust, and lest you think I am speaking of ‘them’, let me be clear… a whole lot within the Church are guilty of this as well. While lots of Christians have been preoccupied with things of no eternal value, the hurt of people around us has been compounded by those who know nothing about binding up wounds or genuine healing. It breaks my heart to see some Christians further compound the hurt of others by employing behavior & speech which creates deeper wounds and then celebrate it as a victory while the wounded limp away from them.

During the American Civil War our nation suffered a very similar divide and, likewise, faced a similar moral & spiritual dilemma. Nearly all of the major denominations of Christianity suffered division during this period because Christians lost clarity of their spiritual calling. The Restoration Movement suffered almost no division during this era simply because they were driven by truth and remained focused on their eternal purpose.

Christians… for healing and restoration to occur we must wake up! With this in mind, and based on my above mentioned observations, I humbly suggest the following for consideration.

If ‘your’ candidate won, don’t gloat. From a purely non-spiritual perspective, we are all Americans whether we agree on all things or not. Be the gracious person and reach out with genuine friendship to others whenever possible. Keep in mind, for some of you this will require taking off your hat and extending a sincere apology for acting in an ungracious and unbecoming manner. We are still required by Christ to be humble, aren’t we?

Focus on the ‘main thing’. People need Christ because genuine, sustaining hope is only found in Him. Political promises are worthless but the promises of Christ are reliable beyond measure. Share the hope of Christ and act as if you know what you’re talking about.

Allow your speech (or social media posts) to be seasoned with the grace of Christ and use words with caution. Sensationalistic and brash behavior may win a few high fives but in the broader audience they tear at credibility and seldom show the true spirit of Christ.

Mending fences is a tiring and unending task for the rancher… but it is necessary. Mending fences is humbling because you feel the pull of the line and realize you aren’t as big as you think you are. Sometimes the wire is beyond repair and needing replacement in sections and most of the time it is a tangled up mess at best. At the end of the day, as you look down the row and see a nice, taught and straight wire, you have a sense of accomplishment couched by the perspective of only a small staple or wire tie holding the integrity of your labor in check. Fence mending is tough work but it makes for much better neighbors. It’s time to do the hard thing, the humble thing, the necessary thing… and mend the fences which have been long ignored.

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The Impact of Democracy on the American Church

Recently, discussion arose during a men’s Bible study, here at UCCC, surrounding the topic of the selection of elders in the Church.

Let me preface this post by saying that our men’s Bible study group has been meeting for some time now to study Paul’s writings to Timothy & Titus. This discussion on the mechanism of democracy stemmed from passages which provide the qualities sought in a man referred to as “blameless”… the single ‘qualification’ for a man as elder.

Arising from the discussion came the question of the common method of selecting elders. I have always thought it strange that the American Church is so strongly tied to American political methods, having adopted it’s methods in the selection (or election) of leaders. The evidence cannot be denied… most Churches ‘elect’ their leaders, deacons, elders & ministry staff. As a general rule, these ‘elections’ occur during November, as do most American elections. Churches use a nomination method, employ ballots, require membership (akin to registration) for voting eligibility and even refer to eldership as an ‘office’ and prospective leaders as ‘candidates’. Following the ‘election’ there is an elaborate process of ‘swearing in’ which is often referred to as ordination, yet bears little spiritual influence or impact because, often there is little effort in creating a serious spiritual emphasis… merely a recitation of response by the congregation followed by a generic reading from another leader.

I have always thought it strange that the American Church is so strongly tied to American political methods, having adopted it’s methods in the selection (or election) of leaders.

Please do not misunderstand me… I firmly believe in Biblical eldership and in ordination, or the setting apart for specific ministry. I also would not condone non-members from selecting staff or placing elders/deacons into service to their respective positions. However, I am terribly burdened by the fact that most American Churches seem far closer to fitting the model of the American Political system than the model of New Testament structure found in Scripture. The plea of the Restoration Movement is the inspiration & sufficiency of Scripture… that God has revealed His will through His word and that this model of faith & practice cannot be improved upon, and need not be changed. Having said that, I have to wonder why so many Christian Churches & Churches of Christ are so tied to a flawed method for the selection & ordination of their leadership & ministry staff.

From the pages of Acts, chapter 6, we read a clarification of the ministry of elders in the apostolic plea for help. The Apostles state that “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:2b-4, NASB’95)

This passage identifies the primary calling of an overseer (elder) as that of “prayer and the ministry of the Word”. Elders are called as the spiritual leaders and shepherds of the congregation, providing pastoral care and direction to their flock. Deacons, commonly thought to be the seven men identified in this passage, are selected from the congregation and set apart for service. Although there is no election or nomination process described, there is an explicit mention of these men being brought before the Apostles who prayed over and laid their hands on the men. Certainly, doubtlessly, this was for the imparting of a spiritual gift to these servants.

“It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:2b-4, NASB’95)

The Apostolic age has passed, however, the spiritual significance of men serving as elders or deacons is as important today as it was in the days of this account. Although I do believe that most Churches place an emphasis upon the significance and serious nature of ordination, I am ashamed to say that I have witnessed very few ordinations which approach this level of spirituality. More often than not, I have witnessed ordination services which smack of little preparation or advanced planning, rehearsal or spiritual emphasis and whose presentations are stale, lacking impact. Why? I’m convinced that it is partly due to the reality that the Church is seldom invested in the effort. Adding to this is the fact that Evangelists (Ministers) are not involved in the selection & appointing of elders within the Church as Paul established with Timothy & Titus.

When I read Acts 6, I see the unmistakable marks of a spiritual effort by the congregation. No small town politics, or selfish motives… the congregation sought godly men & selected suitable servants. And, I will add, the Apostles blessed the selection which confirms that their selection was correct. By contrast, most Churches today suffer under the ‘good-ol-guy’ method of biological selection, by having the present leadership nominate men for positions, who are often inheriting the post from their kin. Am I the only one who has the foul taste of nepotism in my mouth as I consider this present method?

As a result, selection of men for ministry or leadership has often been reduced to a popularity contest. Congregations are not invested in the selection, so we really cannot hold them as seriously accountable for the words they regurgitate at the ordination. If an emphasis of prayer has not been created from the beginning (something significant enough that the Apostles did it) how can we ever expect God’s blessing in the result? Elders, selected by nepotism, circumvent the accountability of an evangelist, thus creating the hierarchy which destroys effective ministry. Deacons, similarly, are chosen from a limited pool apart from congregational input until the token vote.

If an emphasis of prayer has not been created from the beginning (something significant enough that the Apostles did it) how can we ever expect God’s blessing in the result?

Fortunately, I serve in partnership with men who are committed to the New Testament model, and are not swayed by political agenda. These men, and those who served before them have taken courageous steps toward fully restoring the New Testament model of leadership. Our deacons are accountable for areas of ministry, including the oversight of a budget, and they report monthly to our eldership regarding ministry activities & needs. Our elders are each active in pastoral ministry and are given to prayer & the ministry of the Word. Although there is almost always room for growth in any leadership, I am blessed to truly enjoy a partnership with these men… yet, I sadly recognize that such elderships are a minority among our Churches.

Without killing the subject by remaining negative, I’d like to make a few points about God’s model.

1. God’s model for leadership is sufficient. What positive outcome can be produced by messing with God’s model?
2. The congregation must be invested in the selection of their deacons. The nomination method commonly used in most Christian Churches / Churches of Christ is flawed by reason of special interest.
3. Elders must be accountable to an evangelist. True partnership can only occur when there is co-accountability and not an employment of hierarchy.
4. Evangelists must be accountable to an eldership in the local congregation. “Pastor” (as applied to the modern preaching minister) is not Biblical and employs the fallen methods of denominationalism. Evangelists / ministers are not to be ‘Lone Rangers’… the elder is the pastor in the local congregation, not the paid staff minister.
5. Election methods may be employed in certain settings, but are not found to be used in the New Testament for selection of elders. Such methods circumvent prayer, reduce spiritual focus and dedication and lower confidence & involvement by the congregation.

Certainly, autonomy allows for a local eldership to determine methods best suited toward meeting the needs of the congregation so long as they honor the model established by God. I would not suggest that voting should never be employed, however, it must be in proper context. From the New Testament, we find men ‘desiring the ministry of overseer’, not nominated for such. We find a list of qualities identified by the single qualification of ‘blameless’ from Paul’s writing concerning elders. I submit that a man who displays these life qualities, and is qualified as blameless, should be allowed to make known his desire to serve as an elder, apart from a nomination process. The congregation, eldership & evangelist should prayerfully examine such a man to see if his life truly possesses such qualities, and following such examination, they are required to voice concern over areas in question. Should such an individual be found fit, according to Scripture, he should be set apart for service as an elder by the evangelist in cooperation with the elders through a public, spiritual ceremony of ordination. Deacons should be selected from the congregation & similarly reviewed to determine their qualities in light of Scripture. Voting is unnecessary in this process if the leadership & congregation have prayerfully considered & reviewed the man’s life qualities. In the event of concern, issues should be voiced in person by the party raising the question before the leadership (elders & ministers) and accusations should be raised before the man being considered to determine if they have merit. At this point, anyone in the congregation with concerns has the obligation to present them before the proper group, in the proper manner… in person. This raises the spiritual bar, so to speak, be expecting involvement of the congregation in the process through prayer & review of the man’s life qualities. The end result is a higher degree of confidence in the men serving in these capacities. In my opinion, voting should be reserved for matters of lesser concern, and leaders should take the reigns of leadership.

Certainly, autonomy allows for a local eldership to determine methods best suited toward meeting the needs of the congregation so long as they honor the model established by God.

So, what must we do? As evangelists, we must step out of the comfort zone of submission to a flawed method for sake of stomach or shelter and begin providing Spiritual instruction on the Biblical model. As members, we must hold leaders accountable for their ministry and commit to prayer on their behalf. As elders there must be a surrendering of pride for the sake of restoring the sufficient, inspired model of God as revealed in His word. Shed the weight of added fetters by fully restoring the New Testament model for leader/servant selection.

What can we expect by such effort? The blessings of our Lord for obediently following His word. We can also expect greater involvement of interest & participation in ministry by the congregation. We can expect men to rise to the challenge of the ministry with which they have been entrusted, and the removal of the chaff of those who refuse to take it serious.

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