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Posts Tagged ‘Elders’

We Southern Baptists say that the Bible is without error, that it is God’s authority over our lives, and that it is sufficient for leading us to God and rightly ordering our lives. I wonder, though, if we really believe what we say we believe.

It seems that we have our belief system that we profess and we have our “but’s” that we live. We say we believe that God created all things, but it looks really dumb to believe he did it in six twenty-four-hour days. We say we believe that men should lovingly lead their wives and that wives should lovingly follow that lead, but we engage in the best (worst?) of the battle of the sexes when our partner is not treating us according to our satisfaction. We say we believe in the church government taught in the Scriptures but many of our churches have deacons acting as though they were elders or, even worse, a church council acting as an elder board. We claim that church membership is to be taken seriously, but Southern Baptist Convention churches have millions of members who rarely, if ever, attend corporate worship in the church where their name persists in being on the roll.

We say we believe a lot of things, but our actions reveal what we really believe. Maybe that’s the reason denominational leaders are constantly trying to devise new means to renew our churches. Perhaps a more effective strategy would be to repent of our sin of violating our professed beliefs with our unbiblical actions and really become submissive to the teaching of the Word of God.

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There is really no easy way to say this, but the state of far too many of our Southern Baptist Churches is poor. One has to look no further than the deacons who serve as de facto elders in many churches.

Those coming from other denominations may be unaware of the leadership model commonly found in Baptist churches. In these churches, the deacons function as ruling elders. They are the authority in the church, superseded only by congregational vote. Instead of a plurality of elders having oversight of the church in teaching and administration, most SBC churches (and most other Baptist denominations as well) have deacons functioning in that role. (Even more egregious than this model is the one that has a church council operating as ruling elders, but that is for another discussion.)

Usually these deacons are nominated and voted upon by the congregation. Business sense and popularity are often the criteria for getting elected. Spiritual requirements found in 1 Timothy 3:8-13 are seldom acknowledged. These deacons typically have little awareness of the Scriptures, no knowledge of church history, no understanding of why they are Baptists other than immersion as the mode of baptism, and yet have authority over the church. When someone in the church has a complaint about the pastor, these deacons confront the pastor to change in order to keep peace in the church. Heaven forbid that a disgruntled church member offended because his sin is confronted through the preaching of the Word should leave and take his money with him. At all costs, the budget must be met!

But why do we have this situation? The blame cannot help but be placed upon pastors who have been more concerned with keeping their positions than being faithful to the Scriptures. Pastors have before remarked about some particular doctrine with this: “I believe that, but I can’t preach it in my church. They won’t stand for it.” Didn’t the apostle Paul warn us of this very thing?

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:1-4, ESV)

So now we have church after church led by deacons who possess little understanding of the Scriptures and yet determine whether the church’s pastor stays or goes. Too often they are more concerned about the budget and attendance than with sound doctrine and godly living. Have our churches ever been in a more deplorable condition? I doubt it. May God have mercy on the pastor who seeks to be faithful to the Scriptures in such churches. Unless God intervenes, he will find himself either without employment or with a drastically-reduced congregation (as well as reduced compensation). And often his antagonist will be some curmudgeon retired pastor who has remained as a member of the congregation, the very cause for the congregation’s wretched spiritual condition! (I have in mind a church in which this has recently occurred.)

May God be pleased to change the hearts of our people to be submissive to his Scriptures, to seek to glorify him in all things, and to rejoice in having pastors who preach the whole counsel of God.

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Timothy Geithner and Tom Daschle have been in the news lately because they failed to pay sizable sums in federal income taxes. They failed to pay, that is, until they were nominated to prestigious positions in President Obama’s cabinet.

President Obama has promised an ethical and transparent administration, yet he continued to affirm his nomination of Geithner as Secretary of the Treasury and Daschle as Secretary of Health and Human Services after each was discovered to have been derelict in paying his taxes.

Now, of course, the men have ‘fessed up and paid up and are “embarrassed” at their “oversights.” Geithner was approved by the Democrat-controlled Senate and Daschle, according to press reports, will be. We have been told that these men are too valuable, given the current set of crises facing our nation, to have their nominations derailed by something evidently as trite as a pattern of failure to pay all their income taxes.

Little reveals the hypocrisy of leaders as when they promise one thing and then renege on basic promises. President Obama has pledged to lead an ethical administration, but nominating men who have failed to pay their income taxes reveals that ethics are really not that important. The pledge was great for votes but evidently worthless for governing. It is little wonder that Americans share a pervasive cynicism about their federal government.

Though few would dare say it, Geithner and Daschle have revealed themselves as either white-collar crooks or irresponsible ninnies. Either way, neither has displayed the personal character needed to lead these vital departments of the President’s administration.

That said, think about our churches. We place in positions of leadership elders and deacons who fail to display the character needed to lead and serve their congregations. A fellow pastor told me of a situation in his small church in which a deacon was known to have left his wife and was living with another woman. This deacon continued to serve in his office, continued to attend worship services, and remained unrepentant about his sin. In addition, the pastor was warned not to do anything about the situation. The deacon was too valuable for the church to lose him. That’s the same “logic” we heard about the need to confirm Geithner despite his tax woes.

As poorly as Geither and Daschle reflect upon President Obama’s administration and upon the President’s judgment, an even greater evil exists when churches ordain and continue to support men who have shown themselves to be unfit for their sacred office. Pastors who fail to pay their bills, deacons who fail to honor their wives, elders who put their children’s soccer practice above the appointed meetings of their churches–these and countless other offenses are much more troubling than the affirmation of degenerates such as Secretary Geithner and soon-to-be Secretary Daschle. The purity and honor of God’s church is at stake.

It is not without good reason that elders and deacons are to be men who are “blameless” (1 Timothy 3:2, 10). That doesn’t mean they never sin, but it does there is no valid accusation of a pattern of wrongdoing that can be held against them. Perhaps the reason our churches are viewed cynically is that we continue to be led by men of disrepute and no one raises a voice of concern.

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Opinions are like noses—everybody has one and usually they are different! When it comes to what the ministry is to be in the twenty-first century, many are the opinions people give. Most folks in our day, it seems, have a view of the ministry which likens the pastor to being the chief executive officer of a religious corporation. Pastors are judged by how large their congregations are, how many baptisms they produce, and how much their churches’ budgets have grown.

Rick Warren is doubtlessly one of the best-known pastors in America today. His Saddleback Church is viewed as a model of what twenty-first century churches should be, and his Purpose-Driven Church explains how Saddleback was begun and is organized. Numberless churches advertise that they are “purpose-driven” churches, following the model of Saddleback.

Warren’s model provides direct implications for how churches view the min­istry. In “Structuring to grow, not plateau”, Warren writes: “How do you structure a church so it just keeps on growing and doesn’t plateau? I believe there are 10 essentials you must focus on as you structure your church.” Among those ten essentials, one which directly impacts the view of the gospel ministry is particularly enlightening: “You must change the primary role of the pastor from minister to leader.” He explains: “You can grow a church to 300 with pastoral skills or ministry skills, but for it to grow beyond 300 will require leadership skills. As a leader, you must learn to communicate your vision in very personal and practical ways. You must also learn to motivate your church through your messages, and understand that it’s easier to motivate a group than it is to motivate individuals.” He goes on to assert that “a leader also equips others for ministry. Otherwise, you’ll burn out and the church won’t grow. An expanding ministry also demands you learn how to raise money. Those who write the agenda must underwrite the agenda. And you must learn to manage your time. Effective leaders know where their time goes.” For Warren, the pastor who wants his church to grow beyond three hundred in attendance is to see himself no longer as a minister but as a leader. In essence, he becomes the church’s chief executive officer, not its watcher over souls.

The question has to be asked whether Warren’s model for the ministry is the biblical model. Has God called pastors to be CEOs of religious organizations, or has he called men to be spiritual leaders over the churches of Christ? Doubtlessly, Warren does not see the pastor as merely a CEO, and, to be fair, there are aspects of his Purpose-Driven Church, particularly the idea of restoring accountability to membership, which are good. Nevertheless, one of the problems with Warren’s view is that men who would be pastors of larger, growing churches must become visionary leaders, not spiritual guides.

Contrast Warren’s business view of the ministry with the more biblical one provided by eighteenth-century British pastor Samuel Pearce. Encouraging church members not only to submit to the biblical teaching of their pastor but also with gratitude to realize that the pastor’s duty is not to placate his hearers but to propagate truth, Pearce wrote what should be the cry of each member of Christ’s churches: “Give me the preacher who opens the folds of my heart; who accuses me, convicts me, and con­demns me before God; who loves my soul too well to suffer me to go on in sin, unreproved, through fear of giving me offence; who draws the line with accuracy, between the delusions of fancy, and the impressions of grace; who pursues me from one hiding place to another, until I am driven from every refuge of lies; who gives me no rest until he sees me, with unfeigned penitence, trembling at the feet of Jesus; and then, and not till then, sooths my anguish, wipes away my tears, and comforts me with the cordials of grace. Give me the preacher ‘who constantly affirms that they who have believed, be careful to maintain good works;’ who in­sists, that a life of peace and communion with God, is utterly abhorrent to the practice of iniquity; and faith­fully reminds me, that ‘if I sin, that grace may abound, my damnation is just.’ Give me the preacher who pants not for my safety only, but also for my increase in grace; who cautions me, ‘reproves me, rebukes me, exhorts me with all long-suffering and doctrine;’ who charges me ‘to give all diligence to add to my faith, virtue; and to virtue, knowledge; and to knowledge, temperance; and to temperance, patience; and to pa­tience, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly-kindness; and to brotherly-kindness, charity.’”

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