Thursday, December 31, 2009

Elders and pastors

The post that follows started life as an email I was drafting last summer. I never finished it, so I never got around to sending it. The thoughts here are rough, but I submit them for your comment anyway.

I've been thinking about the whole subject of elders that we were talking about the other day, and I came up with a few random thoughts.

  • There's nothing inherent in the NT about the elders of a church being the church staff. By analogy, the U.S. government does not put ultimate power into the hands of any one man, or even any one branch of government. A church may be free to implement that, but it is a questionable choice, since a staff might become insulated from the members it's supposed to be leading. Which means …
  • Having "lay elders" in addition to the ones on the pastoral staff might be a good idea. (Scripturally, this is a position I am not qualified for, BTW.)
  • Traditionally, Baptists have taken one of two equally wrong tacks:
    • Pastor as the only elder
    • Deacons as defacto elders
  • Not having the organizational structure written and knowingly agreed to means some people will become disgruntled. This used to be done via a church covenant and bylaws members understood and agreed to abide by. If there are bylaws they should be published to the members. If the bylaws don't express the way things are done, one or the other should be changed. I.e., yes, leaders are accountable to God, but they are also accountable to the congregation.
  • Baptists have always been congregational in their government. As one pastor put it, all churches that are not cults are ultimately congregational: When they aren't given a vote otherwise, people will still vote with their feet and their checkbooks. I think we have seen the truth of that.
  • Regardless of elder structures, there is a great danger in leading people spiritually the way Jennie's dad used to lead Jennie and her mom through airports. His attitude was, "I'm going, and God help anyone who can't keep up." That's NOT leadership. So …
  • Before great changes are made, the congregation needs to be convinced of the change, not merely told where the church is going, the people being expected to follow. That is, the pastor is a shepard, not a commander. This is because …
  • There is a priesthood of all believers (not a priesthood of the individual, BTW).
  • The senior pastor is not just another elder, he is the chief among equals, setting the direction for the staff and persuading the people to follow. After all, if where the elders lead is scriptural, old, ingrained patterns may need to be overcome. This takes time. You persuade a friend by showing him the truth from Scripture, not by clonking him with a 2x4. (The 2x4 is for people who are in wilfull sin. But I digress.) But …
  • The senior pastor and the other elders, in order to be able to lead, must first learn to listen, learn, and love.

Got any thoughts?

Friday, November 13, 2009

The search for a new pastor

I have some trepidation in posting this. I am an outsider, i.e., though I am a church member, I'm not in the leadership structure anywhere. As such, I have no real credibility. But this is what I'm thinking.

When my pastor resigned to start a new church in another city, one of the obligations the church inherited was that of finding a new pastor. A search committee has been constituted, and to get a feeling for how to find a pastor the church will embrace, the committee has distributed a survey. While I am slightly unnerved by survey as a method, I guess it maximizes efficiency so the committee can get to work sooner.

The survey starts with some standard questions about who's answering it (church membership, gender, age, household composition, etc.), then starts in on the questions about our preferences for the new pastor:

  • Minimum education level
  • Prior ministry experience
  • Acceptable age range
  • Acceptable family situation
  • Ministry priorities

This little essay is about the last one. The survey asks us to select the top five priorities for a new pastor, ranking from 1 (most important) to 5 (least important of the top five). The selections follow; I have numbered them for easy reference later.

  1. A gifted teacher who enables persons to learn and understand deep spiritual truths
  2. An administrator of the church office, giving attention to bulletins, correspondence, newsletter, etc.
  3. A person active in associational, state-convention [sic], and denominational life
  4. A community volunteer who cooperates in community and denominational activities/programs
  5. An effective communicator of well-prepared sermons
  6. A skilled counselor available to assist with personal and spiritual problems
  7. A person who emphasizes evangelism and the importance of lifestyle witnessing
  8. A person who emphasizes discipleship and spiritual growth
  9. A person with leadership vision and a wll-developed vision for the the future of the church
  10. A person who uses praise songs and/or drama in worship (contemporary worship)
  11. A person who prefers to feature hymns, gospel songs, prayers, and preaching in worship (traditional worship)
  12. A nurturing leader who grows personally and helps others grow
  13. A person who communicates well with youth
  14. A person who communicates well with preschoolers and children
  15. A person who understands and communicates well with senior adults
  16. A person who understands and communicates well with single adults
  17. A person who emphasizes the importance of strong families

Looking at this list, nothing here is bad. I have a few preferences among them, but only a few.

But, with due respect, this is the wrong list.

Here are my personal top priorities for the new pastor. I will list the priorities as such and offer a few comments as I go. The order is flexible as long as #1 is #1.

  1. A person who preaches Christ as Savior from the whole Bible. Does not preach about himself or this year's fad.

    Christ as Savior is the Bible's primary “deep spiritual truth” (from survey item 1), and it is therefore God's primary deep spiritual truth. I have a list of fads, but I'm certain you would be mad at me for naming at least one of them. (To be fair, I'd probably get mad about something on your list, too.)

  2. A person who leads by communication, persuasion and example, not by command or slogan.

    This includes items 3, 4, 5, but goes beyond them. When the leadership has simply announced a new direction, most folks didn't “buy in”. The new thing was just announced with the expectation that everyone would follow. Examples: Community groups, the auditorium upgrade, dissolution of Sunday night worship. None of these things was bad as such, but the congregation didn't unite behind them. I believe the congregation's not following has been a source of frustration to the leadership.

  3. A person who will change and publicize the church's bylaws to reflect the way things are actually done.

    Even elders are under authority, and are not a law unto themselves. I believe the congregation will unite behind a leader (or leaders). But we need to know what limitations are in place. I'm not sure this touches any of the survey items.

    To be a little provocative, leadership by fiat can be used in a work setting where the participants are employees. However, a church is inherently congregational, regardless of how the organization is nominally structured: If all else fails, people vote with their checkbooks and their feet. (HT: Mark Dever)

  4. A person who knows content is more important than style in worship.

    This touches items 10 and 11, obviously. I admit I have preferences about style, but my preferences are not important. I can participate wherever the Jesus revealed in Scripture is being worshiped as Lord and Christ. I'm not being critical of how things are done now, but elevating style over substance would be a mistake.

  5. A person who understands that “You can do better” is not the Gospel.

    “You were forgiven at the cross and you are now free” is the message of the Bible for Christians. Binding people under the bondage of “go do better” will burn them out.

    Someplace I recently heard about someone going through the New Testament letters finding out what the responses are to all the problems in the early church. In every case, the apostle (whether Paul, Peter, or John) said that the reason the church was having problems was because they failed to believe the Gospel.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A sinner

Every minister is a sinner also, and every minister needs to know what it is like to preach to himself as well as to others. But regardless of whether the minister is also in the congregation, the message he preaches is to be found in the text, and not in his own panicked fear or sense of envy.

— Doug Wilson

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Reviewing The Greatest Show On Earth by Richard Dawkins, Tim Challies wrote this:

A scientist can conjure up in his mind ways of describing the world without God, but he has a lot more trouble explaining it. Design seems to scream for a designer, elegance for agency.

— Tim Challies

Monday, October 12, 2009


If we're Baptists, why do we treat the invitation (which isn't even found in the Bible anything like the way we practice it) as more of a sacrament than the Lord's Supper?

If we don't have a liturgical year, why do we sing Christmas songs every December?

Why do we talk about “listening to God” when we aren't writing a new book of the Bible?

Sunday, October 4, 2009


Our effort to create our own happiness is just about as successful as our effort to create our own righteousness: It's pretty much a “crash and burn.”

— R. Albert Mohler

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Old Testament

Over the years, [the trend among Christian scholars] has been toward a study of the Old Testament in and of itself. This is not a Christian approach to the matter. Christians in increasing numbers have written books on the Old Testament which hardly even mention the fact that the New Testament exists. […] As Christians, we must return to the priciples of Old Testament interpretation dictated by the New Testament.

— Graeme Goldsworthy

I believe this is true. But I wonder how much we have it backward. As a couple of examples:

  • Do we expect the culture we live in to conform to the Old Testament law, i.e., to encode and enforce it as law?
  • Have we grown to believe that the promises made in the Old Testament to national Israel continue to the present day nation-state of Israel? Then what's the meaning of Acts 2:30–31, Acts 13:16–33, Galatians 3:15–29, Ephesians 2:14?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Secret

“The Christian's secret of a happy life is to know about the hope, not merely something subjective, not merely something that happens in the realm of my own feelings or states or moods.”

— D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Monday, January 26, 2009

More about The Shack

Here's 45 minutes or so about The Shack. This is a radio program, and there is an announcement (45 seconds) at the beginning and a couple of breaks (2 minutes each) in the middle.