Category: elders

3 Elder Essentials

1) Lead the Mission of the Church. We see church leaders doing this throughout Acts. Paul deliberates with the elders about his missionary travels. Local elders make decisions through reasonable discussion and dependence upon the Holy Spirit. Deliberating an important decision on behalf of the Jerusalem Church, the elders concluded, “It seemed good to us and the Spirit” (Acts 15:22-28). It is noteworthy that these elders made a decision in unity. Elders should work through issues toward unity in the Spirit as much as possible, speaking with one pastoral voice to the church on important matters. They should be careful to not bend an ear to individuals in the church, inadvertently becoming a pawn for divisive agendas, but always seek to shepherd together in tenderness and truth.

If elders don’t seek the filling and wisdom of the Spirit, they overestimate thier own power and wisdom and fail to serve the church well. They will easily become self-protective and withdraw from people or people-pleasing and engrossed in people. The Spirit reminds us that Jesus is the Chief Shepherd, so we don’t bear the burden of changing people nor do we have to find refuge in isolation, since the Lord “prepares a table in the presence of my enemies, and leads us through (not abandons us) the valley of the shadow of death.” The elders at City Life seek the Spirit together through study, reflection, and prayer. Our bi-weekly meetings and retreats help us focus our leadership.

2) Pastor the Church. Good pastoring starts on its knees. In Psalm 23, David recongizes his ultimate Shepherd is the Lord. In staying close to the Chief Shepherd, he will not lack anything he needs for his calling. Our elders open every elder meeting with prayer, and pray for specific people in the church who are in need. In addition, we pray for five members by name. We alternate emphases of our meetings between shepherding for pastoral care and strategy to set visionary leadership.

All of our elders are engaged in counseling the sinner, sufferer, and struggling saint, in community with our church. They are remarkably faithful, self-sacrificing, compassionate men. We frequently pair up to provide support to those who need counsel with the aim of: Listening to their Story, Empathizing with their Story, and Retelling their Story around Jesus. Counsel happens very intentionally through coaching and training leaders, doing life together in City Groups, and always seeking to be a counseling & encouraging presence. This is critical. Elders must be in touch with the flock to shepherd the flock. For that reason, it is unwise for elders to have a community group all thier own. They must live in the pastures, so to speak, in order care for the sheep well.

3) Promote & Protect the Gospel. Out of our devotion to Jesus, and his greater devotion to us, we are called to shepherd with the Rod, guide with the Lamp, and point to the Treasure of this Word. The rod is God’s Word, which should be used to guide, protect, correct the flock in holiness. This happens when we preach, teach, counsel, pray. We labor to push the gospel through everything in order to avoid authoritarian or passive leadership and to rivet people’s attention to Jesus Christ as thier supreme authority and King, and thier source of endless satisfaction, love, and forgiveness as Redeemer. Elder authority is alway mediated through Jesus, and points back to Jesus as Head of the Church ruling through his Word. Spiritual authority is not residential in elders, but in the office that must maintain the utmost character to carry out the ministry of the Word among God’s people.

When Mission Gets in the Way of Counseling

Should we spend time counseling when we could be out evangelizing, building community, strategizing for mission or preaching? Isn’t counseling something missional leaders “refer,” not something we do?

Well, it depends on how we define the word counsel. If we mean specialized sessions devoted to psychological issues that can not be addressed by the gospel, then perhaps we shouldn’t counsel. However, if we mean discipling others with gospel wisdom in the full range of human thinking, feeling, and behaving, then perhaps we should reconsider our default practice of referring.

Overlooking Counseling

Mission-minded people tend to overlook or look down on counseling. We may see it as an obstacle to mission. Too often I’ve heard things like, “God called me to preach not to pastor.” “I’ll save ‘em, somebody else disciple ‘em.” Or “Counseling isn’t my gift.” But this simply doesn’t square with the Bible. Counseling might not be your gift but it is your responsibility.

Even the greatest church planter, the Apostle Paul, had time for counseling. His letters are charged with gospel-centered counsel that springs from an intimate knowledge of people’s everyday lives. Very often, his counsel is to counsel (Rom 15:14; Eph 5:25; Col 3:12-17; 3:12-13; 10:23). Peter, James, and the writer of Hebrews also counseled their churches and counseled them to counsel. If we’re biblically faithful, counseling is something that is required of all God’s people, even church planters!

Professionalizing Church Planting

Church planting has already become an industry. Just Google “church planting”(897,000 hits). A multitude of conferences and businesses have sprung up around church planting. Best practices and best venues dominate planting conversations. Church planters borrow business language and practice in order to “plant” churches. Consider this string of questions:

  • What are you running? What are your numbers like?
  • Are your groups multiplying?
  • When are you going to plant next?
  • How are you reproducing leaders?

We’re quick to talk numbers and slow to talk transformation. If we’re not careful, church planter will become another religious profession in an increasingly professionalized Church. Planters will share more in common with entrepreneurs than they do with apostles, elders, and pastors. Church planters will become disobedient to God and irrelevant to his Church. They will build buildings and launch services, not pastor people and cultivate community.

Pastoring while Planting

Missional people often reach unreached, unbelieving, and very broken people. As a result, pastoral wisdom and gospel-centered counseling quickly become important skills. For church planters, the biblical office we hold is not church planter but elder-pastor. How are you cultivating pastoral wisdom? How are you growing in your capacity to shepherd your flock with wisdom, truth, and grace?

In order to plant healthy missional churches, we must grow in gospel breadth and depth. It’s imperative we train others to think the gospel down into issues of the heart and back into the struggles of their past. This will enrich our sermons with pastoral application that grows from spending time with struggling sheep. The best application is mined not from homiletical brainstorming but from pastoral counseling.

Counseling on mission is critical. If we do not counsel while we are on mission, we will fail in planting missional churches, while succeeding in starting organizations and events. Gospel-centered counseling should be the overflow of gospel-centered church planting.

Hope for Those On the Brink

As I read On the Brink: Grace for Burned Out Pastors I felt Clay’s understanding arm wrapped around my shoulder, h9781596388987is words carrying heartfelt empathy, something that can be hard for pastors to find. As I collapsed on my bed in the mountains, I read and silently wept. My Heavenly Father was tenderly pulling the pain out.

I’ve peered over the fence of burnout a couple times. The first time was due to a mix of traveling too much, demands of ministry, and not enough intimacy with Christ. The second time I saw into the land of waylaid pastors from the vantage point of suffering. From either direction, I’ve found the Lord to be a great Comforter and Instructor. Both are necessary. If we receive only comfort, we will simply withdraw. If we only receive instruction, we with wither away on the vine.

I have organized some insights from this book under four important headings: Empathy, Idolatry, Suffering, & Hope.

EMPATHY IN THE DIFFICULTY OF MINISTRY

It doesn’t take long, after experiencing a major storm in leadership, of you to being to wonder if you need to and on ship. Whether it’s a seventy foot waves or just an extremely slow lead in the nice weather, there are times when walking way form the community to which God has called you to minister seems to be safer than staying put.

It is rare that all these things happen at once, but any pastor can attest that there are periods in ministry when one thing comes right after the next, leaving him exhausted and needing significant rest and renewal. Yet such rest is rare when a leader has to create yet another sermon for Sunday and get ready for yet another committee meeting…and still have time to be with and minister to his own family.

IDOLATRY IN OUR SUFFERING

Here is the danger of every pastor, church planter, and even church member: “The church we want becomes the enemy of the church we have.”

“If we demand, in any of our relationships, either perfection or nothing, we will get nothing.”

“He made a point that changed my life and left me in tears. He said that too often pastors only see areas of deficiency in their people and not evidences of grace, and therefore they become bitter and joyless…Maybe the church as we have it provides the very conditions and proper company congenial for growing up in Christ for becoming mature, for arrive at the measure of the stature of Christ. Maybe God knows what he is doing, giving us church, this church.”

HOW TO SUFFER WELL

Werner freely admits that the joy that should come from knowing Christ and being saved by him, trusting in his good promises in the midst of trials, doesnt require a cheerfulness “as to remove all feeling of bitterness and pain.”

It is necessary and essential for patient endurance in ministry, that the “bitterness of the cross be tempered by spiritual joy.”

“Patience is not about waiting for the doctor or for the cars to move in the drive-through so I can finally gey my long-awaited double cheeseburger. Patience is perseverance under provocation.”

“With whatever you have gone through or are going through, is your heart filled with compassion, humility, and meekness?”

“Are your interactions with fellow sinners marked by kindness, patience, and forgiveness? If we let these questions penetrate deep enough, we’ll find that stew need grace just as much as, if not more than, the people we are pointing our fingers at.”

HOPE FOR THE PASTOR (and everyone else)

“A vital walk with Christ is the first priority.”

Don’t just prepare meals for others; feast for yourself.

“When I couldn’t or didn’t want to pray anymore, I took a measure of comfort in the biblical claim that if all this was really true, the Spirit was interceding within me and for me with groans too deep for words.”

The resurrection, then, is good news for pastors who are exhausted and crushed by life, ministry, and their own sins. It means the resurrected Shepherd of the sheep will find you to strengthen you once again with his resurrection power (Isa. 40:11, 27-31). The King of life will breathe life into you once again by the Spirit and grant you new repentance, strengthened faith, and a refreshed heart.”

“It is the repentant heart that has the most room for the rivers of living water flowing from the heart of our King.”

“There is a deeper joy that can’t be touched by circumstances.

“If God can raise Jesus from the dead, he is powerful enough to pour life back into a hardened and cold heart.”

 

Clay’s book is just $7 at WTS Books right now.