Cultural Hostility Toward God

“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a  lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the creator, who is blessed forever! Amen…They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless…those who practice such things…not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” (Romans 1:21-24, 29-32)

At the heart of people’s sinful rebellion is their failure to acknowledge God or honor him as God. This is evident today as American culture grows increasingly more hostile to the idea of God’s existence. Once commonly accepted as a social norm in America, Christianity is now on the fringe of unprecedented persecution. At the heart of this cultural shift is not merely a rejection of Christian values and morals, but rather it is a rejection and denial of God himself.The mere idea of God is a perceived threat to society. The existence of God is increasingly controversial in our culture as his existence and authority stand in direct opposition to the plans and desires of man. The more mankind desires to live unrestrained lives without guilt, the more violently they will oppose the existence of God and eventually the people of God. This shouldn’t be a surprise to us. Jesus says “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” – John 15:18.

This hostility toward God isn’t a new thing. In fact, it began in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve failed to trust in the sufficiency and goodness of their creator. Their rebellion against the goodness of God was in essence a rejection of God himself, setting the stage for mankind’s recurring attempts to dethrone their creator. In the midst of the Garden of Eden we see the first man and woman revolt against God’s authority and take upon themselves the duty of determining right from wrong. The consequences were disastrous. God’s version of the world where he was the ultimate authority brought peace and security, whereas Adam and Eve’s version of the world where they became their own authority brought corruption, murder, envy, strife, and deceit. This is the historical precursor to the 21st Century giving us insight into why we live in a corrupt and broken world that hates the very notion of the existence of God. The world will exchange the Glory of God for a lie, denying God and at the same time worshiping God’s creation. Paul says they claim to be wise but are in fact fools, and the Psalmist reminds us “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God'” (Ps 14:1).

This world will continue to be hostile to God, its the nature of the corruption of sin. Paul reminds us not to be conformed to the world, but rather transformed by the renewal of our minds (Rom 12:2). Yet our track record isn’t very good. Thirty years ago Francis Schaeffer wrote a book entitled The Great Evangelical Disaster, expressing his concern over the Christian response to the moral cultural crisis in his day:

“The last sixty years have given birth to a moral disaster, and what have we done? Sadly we must say that the evangelical world has been part of the disaster. More than this, the evangelical response itself has been a disaster. Where is the clear voice speaking to the crucial issues of the day with distinctively biblical, Christian answers? With tears we must say it is not there and that a large segment of the evangelical world has become seduced by the world spirit of this present age. And more than this, we can expect the future to be a further disaster if the evangelical world does not take a stand for biblical truth and morality in the full spectrum of life.”

Thirty years later we find ourselves living in the wake of the great evangelical disaster. While the Christian response should have been a steadfast and immovable zeal for the truth, history reveals the real response was quiet indignation and silent conformity. Our generation must not maintain the status quo.

May we be a generation who rises up with an unwavering zeal for the glory of God and a burning, passionate concern for others salvation. May we be a people who are zealous for good deeds, driven by the transforming work of Christ who gave Himself for us to redeem us and purify us. May we be a generation who makes the most of every opportunity, always abounding in the work of the Lord, doing all things for the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.



Advice For Christians Using Social Media

“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”Colossians 3:17 

Millions of people around the world are using some type of social media ( i.e., Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest, Google+, tumblr, Instagram). It is a quick and easy form of communication and if used properly can be a positive and productive mode of socialization. For believers it can also be an excellent platform for sharing the gospel! Christians are encouraged to be like Jesus, living a life consistent with their new life in Christ. Paul says we are to do everything, whether in word or deed, in the name of the Lord Jesus. Our Christian identity changes things and that should be reflected in everything we do and say. This should give us a different perspective on life. If we are living for the glory of God, passionate about knowing him and making him known, then everything in our lives should reflect that passion, even something as simple as how we use social media. Through my experience using and posting on various social media platforms and blogs over the past thirteen years I want to share with you some advice for Christians using social media.

Be Intentional: Think through why you want to use social media. Will you be using it as a means of networking with new people you wouldn’t normally connect with or to keep in touch with friends, acquaintances and family? Are you going to use it for staying informed about real-world events or as a platform for learning new things? Will you use it to market yourself or your business, or to keep others informed about your life? As a believer do you use it as a witnessing tool or a means of encouraging and building up one another? Are you using it to do all of the above? Thinking through your reason for using social media is the first step in becoming more successful at communicating and connecting with others. With your goals in mind you will be more likely to think about what you are posting (content), to whom you are posting (audience) and why you are posting (purpose). This not only improves the quality of your posts or status updates, it also benefits your audience thereby giving meaning to your posts. Regardless of your goal, the fact that you are using social media indicates that you are looking to connect with people in some way, yet if your posts are causing people to hit the ‘unfollow’ button the chances are you haven’t been intentional about reaching your audience.

Being intentional will mean you have to do more work. You may have to tag and group your friends to be more effective at posting different things for different audiences. You may have to spend a couple hours going through your privacy, posting, and notification settings to tweak your social media to be used the way you want. You may have to spend more time with your posts and status updates. You may have to use third party software to post to multiple social media sites at once or schedule future postings to be sent out at more convenient times. To that end, how often you post and when you post is just as important as what you post. Timing is everything. Post multiple times a day in rapid succession, machine gun style, and you annoy the people you are trying to reach. Post at the wrong time of the day and you miss the people you are trying to reach. Using a program like buffer or hootsuite allows you to pre-schedule posting times. This can help you become more consistent in posting to multiple social media platforms, and more effective by posting at the right times. If you are using social media, have a goal in mind and be intentional about reaching that goal.

Be Relational: Remember the main point of social media is to be social; it’s all about communication. You’ve heard it said “communication is a two-way street”, keep that in mind if you are the one doing all the talking. So don’t be the silent assassin sneaking in a couple times a day to drop an announcement or status update on your peeps, rather be relational: ask questions, like posts, tag friends, share links, and comment on status updates or other content people post. Engage with your audience and they will be more likely to engage with you. The reality is if you are using a persnickety social media program like Facebook you need to understand it favors activity. Facebook uses an algorithm that takes into account how social you are and this determines what you see on your news feed and how many other people see your status update on their newsfeed. If you are not relational on Facebook chances are when you finally get around to posting something very few people actually see it.

Be Careful: Regardless of your privacy settings you must always assume that anything you post on social media could be read, copied, downloaded, or reposted by anyone at any time. Rick Warren says “Social media is instant, global, and permanent.” When you click ‘post’ you cannot take it back. Don’t assume that your ability to delete a post or a comment will make it go away completely. Regardless of how fast you are, before you can delete it someone has already seen it. In addition, many social media users have their social media set up to send text notifications or e-mails when a comment has been made; once that e-mail notification with your comment has been sent, it doesn’t matter how many times you click the delete button they are still going to see it and have a permanent copy of it in their e-mail. Part of being intentional is being careful. Think about what you are posting and its implications or consequences before you hit the post button. Ask yourself “could this easily be misinterpreted or taken out of context” or “will this be offensive?” If you are not intending to offend or confuse your audience then consider revising it, posting something different, or not posting at all.

Along the same lines don’t be naive, not everyone using social media has pure motives. Use caution and common sense when posting personal information and photographs (unless of course you are ok with someone absconding with your flat screen TV while you are three hundred miles away posting status updates on vacation). The truth is we ought to use caution when posting, not only for our safety but also to guard our character. Christians can easily damage their witness, reputation, friendships and integrity with a single click of a button by posting the wrong things on social media. This leads me to my next point…be real.

Be Real: If you are going to mark “Christian” in your public profile then you should realize the implication is that you know Christ and because you know Christ you are choosing to be like Christ in your life. This relationship with Jesus should shape who you are. Contrary to the way some see themselves on the internet, social media is not your alter ego. If the title ‘Christian’ has no meaning and does not have any bearing on your life choices, stop using the title. In other words, be real. In the same way, if you are a Christian and you do wish to live intentionally for Christ, don’t use social media to pretend to be something you are not. Don’t use social media to create your ‘ideal’ life or the life you wish you had. You don’t have to look like you have a perfect life void of problems in order to be a good Christian.

In addition, don’t hide behind the keyboard. Some have this uncanny ability to speak with reckless abandon when they are on the internet. This is another form of duplicity that makes you out to be something you are not. In other words, don’t say anything on social media that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face.

Be Sensible: After becoming president in 1949, Harry S. Truman would warn his staff about the pressure of the job and the criticism they might receive saying, “If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.” In other words, don’t take on the job if you are unwilling to face the pressure. This is good advice for the social media arena as well. There is no doubt that social media has it’s pitfalls and at some point there could be a considerable amount of criticism, disagreement, or conflict concerning something you’ve posted or said. It is important that you are mature enough to handle this kind of pressure or stress. Keep this in mind, if you are going to put your voice out there you need to be able to take criticism and respond appropriately, even if it means not responding at all (mishandling conflict is often much worse than simply not responding to it). If there is a need to respond you must be frank and humble. If you cannot handle this kind of pressure you should seriously consider avoiding social media all together, or at the very least be intentional about what you post to avoid posting things that will inevitably lead to pressure you know you cannot handle.

Another social media faux pas that needs to be addressed, especially for Christians, is using social media to whine or complain. While it may be ok to post on a bad experience you’ve had or to elicit discussion on something you are frustrated with, it is not always ok to vent about all of your personal problems for the whole world to know. Not only will it damage your character, a constant stream of whining or complaining will result in your friends hitting the ‘unfollow’ button faster than you can say, “Jack Robinson.”

Be Affirming: Johnny Mercer tells us in his 1944 hit song, “you got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative, but don’t mess with mister inbetween.” Obviously we cannot always eliminate the negative and sometimes we shouldn’t, yet a good rule of thumb is to avoid harsh criticism, frequent complaints, and passive aggressive, sarcastic statements that focus on the negative. Don’t get me wrong, I am not touting the popularized teaching of “positive thinking” or saying that it is wrong to ever be negative or critical; what I am saying is this should not become your modus operandi. We must use discernment.

Social media allows people to get a glimpse into your thought life and as Christians even our thoughts should be brought into submission to Christ (2 Cor 10:5, Phil 4:8). When using social media people tend to lose their boundaries, which means what you post can be quite revealing. What is going on in your head is most likely what is being lived out in your life. Jonathan Edwards says, “The ideas and images in men’s minds are the invisible powers that constantly govern them”. So Paul tells us not to conform to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom 12:2). A renewed mind will be able to do what Paul says in Philippians 4:8; it will think about whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise. These Godly qualities should characterize the children of God, both in their thoughts and actions. The author of Hebrews says we ought to think about ways to stir one another up in love and good works and encourage one another; we need to seriously consider how to do this (Heb 10:24). Even something as ordinary as posting on social media can serve in some way to encourage and build others up or at the very least affirm our faith.

Remember, the world is watching!  In our words and deeds I pray that we will be “…blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life…” (Phillipians 2:15-16). If you use social media, use it for the glory of God; let your light shine.

Recovering Redemption

51BB36r4PuL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I just finished reading the book Recovering Redemption by Matt Chandler and Michael Snetzer. This book sets forth an insightful, fundamental perspective on the Gospel, illustrating how it transforms the most complex areas of our lives. It is not a new earth shattering, mind blowing concept that promises to completely revolutionize your life. It wasn’t intended to be a self-help guide with 12 simple steps to get your best life now. Rather it is a simple presentation of the heart changing power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with some thoughtful perspective on how the Gospel engages the realties of life itself. The message of Recovering Redemption is a needed reminder of a truth that so often gets lost in plain sight in the conglomeration that is American Christianity.

I particularly enjoyed the quick-witted humor of the authors because it grabbed my attention and kept me focused, making the book more enjoyable to read. I also love the way the book interrelated real life testimonies to give substance to the concepts the authors were trying to get across.

This book would be a great read for new believers or immature believers who are struggling with the particulars of the Gospel in action. I would also recommend it for mature believers as a reminder of the importance of the redemption story that transforms us and makes us more like Jesus. It may even be a good tool to give to an unbeliever to help them understand the basics of the Gospel message.

As with any book of this nature it does leave you with a sense of wanting more application, or at least more instruction on how to apply these principles to life. While Chandler and Snetzer did an excellent job at weaving real life examples in with the message, it still feels like it’s heavy on principles and light on practicality. Having reflected on this for awhile I have come to the conclusion that the reason I feel this way has less to do with how much practical advice is in the book and more to do with how much is being applied to my life. The authors admit in the Epilogue, “There’s no guidebook that tells you exactly what this needs to look like or what it needs to involve.” Once again, this isn’t the 12 steps to a better life book, rather it is a “gospel-saturated” perspective on the transforming power of Christ as we move from being broken, lost, helpless enemies of God to being redeemed, justified, and adopted children of God. The practical advice Recovering Redemption offers is a better understanding of the Gospel and more discernment when it comes to searching ourselves and identifying the things that get us off track in the process of sanctification (being freed from sin and becoming more like Christ); whether it be our attempts at trying to redeem ourselves, guilt and shame, fear and anxiety, or just the struggles of everyday life as a recovering sinner.

Overall I thought the message was excellent and I appreciated the reminder of the redemption story that is continually transforming my life.

Religious Syncretism

Religious Syncretism is the fusion of diverse religious beliefs and practices, however subtle it may be. An epitome of Religious Syncretism in America is to assume that all religious beliefs, especially those with similarities, lead to the same God. In a post-Christian culture it is dangerous to assume that when others refer to God they are referring to the God of the Bible. Which God is being addressed, for instance, when one touts the phrase, “God bless America?” Not all who speak of God know God, thus we should be careful of the many voices in the world that might proclaim a form of religion and focus only on the true Word that God has given us in his sacred scripture.

The Front Door

What do people experience when they walk through the front door of your church?  What are the first impressions they get?  These are questions that I would say the average church member probably doesn’t spend much time thinking about.  If you are not in the position of visiting a church for the first then you don’t really have to think about first impressions.  Believe me when I say, however, that the first impression could be the last impression if we are not leaving a good impression.  I’ve been reading a few articles lately on how the church can better seek to engage visitors. Thom Rainer wrote a very interesting article entitled “What they see when they come to your church Part 2“.

In my opinion there are a lot of churches that have a long way to grow in this area.  Sadly we all have missed opportunities to share the Gospel, to show Christian love, to experience Christian fellowship, and to show others how we love Jesus.  Those opportunities are long gone because some folks couldn’t get past the front door of our church.  I’m not saying they couldn’t get into the building.  They just couldn’t get through the front door of the actual church, its membership.  Just because we unlock the glass doors and ring the bell on a Sunday morning doesn’t make us an inviting and loving church.  Some structural things are important.  We should probably keep the bathrooms clean, have somewhere for people to park, have enough seating for people, have a well structured and safe children’s program for the young families, and we should throw up some signage to help people know where to go.  But there is more to it than that.  People may be glad you have clean restrooms, but if they are treated poorly during their visit and feel unwelcome, then the cleanest and nicest bathrooms in the world are not going to be enough to get them to come back.

Rainer mentions four areas of concern for first time attenders.  The first and most obvious is the general friendliness of the church members.  When you and your family walk into a new place on a Sunday morning it is quite obvious that the stress level is elevated.  You are in a new church, you don’t know any of the people, you have no clue where you are supposed to go, you don’t know where to drop your kids off, you don’t know how things work because you are experiencing it all for the first time.  What you don’t need is to be ignored with nothing more than a superficial greeting.  If members in the church are not watching for people who need help, if they are not speaking to guests as they walk in, if they are not offering directions, and if they are not introducing themselves to these new folks then we are not meeting one of the most basic needs that all first time vistors have.

I would also add to that the need to acknowledge people we don’t know.  When someone comes into the service and sits down prior to the service starting, we have a prime opportunity to reach out to them.  Sitting in the same pew, around the same people, and never talking to anyone else is not only unhelpful in reaching out to new people, it is also uninviting and makes people feel like they are an inconvenience.  Contrary to popular opinion, this is not the pastors job either.  While the visitor will take note of the friendliness of the leadership, they also have a keen eye on everyone around them.  When you walk into a church and it feels like you just accidentally walked into someone else’s family reunion, it can be a little awkward.  People don’t come to church to feel awkward.

Something else that tends to make for an awkward experience is when a church is fake.  Visitors have an uncanny ability to discern whether or not we are just going through the motions.  Rainer says that true worship is another essential for first time visitors.  It’s not as much about their worship experience on the first visit, its more about the experience and expression of those around them.  Visitors will notice whether or not the people in the church are engaged in the music and the preaching of the Word.  Are the members of our church really worshiping the one true God?  Is the experience we have together on a Sunday morning vibrant, alive, and genuine?  If there is more joy in watching grass grow than there is in the services on a Sunday morning visitors will take notice.  So should we for that matter.

Maybe in some ways church folks feel a sense of entitlement.  When we have the attitude that says this is my pew, my service, my friends, and my class, we are in essence saying to visitors “you don’t belong here, its my church.”  Isn’t it amazing that we dare run up to God, take what belongs to him, and run off to claim it for ourselves?  My kids do that and I can tell you that it’s annoying.  They grab something that I have laid down on the table and claim it for themselves.  And I’ve seen how those boys treat the toys they have, I don’t want them touching stuff that I would like to keep nice, or in working order.  If they claim it for themselves there is no telling what they would do with it and I have to remind them, hey you are playing with something that doesn’t belong to you and so maybe you ought to put it back before you break it.

What if we started to realize that this stuff isn’t ours?  The days we say “my church” are the days that someone needs to come along and say to us, “hey you are claiming something that doesn’t belong to you and maybe you ought to put it back before you break it.”  What if we started to view things in life as God’s things.  If our perspective was God’s church, God’s Sunday School Class, God’s people, God’s things, how much more open would we be?  We may lose that sense of entitlement and actually encourage others to be a part of what God is doing.

When people walk through our doors, do we let them in?  Do we welcome them?  Do we show them how we love Jesus?  Do we show them that we care about them and want them to love Jesus too?  Take a little more time this Sunday to open your eyes and your heart to the people around you who you don’t know and take the initiative to reach out to them.


The Elephant In The Room

Lets face it, there are some difficult passages in the Bible. More often than not I think it is easy for us to develop an idea of who we think God is and how we think God behaves and when we stumble across tough Scripture that counters the way we see God we either pass over it with the thought that we must not understand it properly or we simply attempt to make it fit the way we already view God. I’ve got to tell you that the more I study Scripture the harder it gets for me to make God fit into my finite view of him. The truth is God will never fit into my limited understanding of Him and the more I try to make him fit the more I create for myself an idol that serves my purpose. A God who has boundaries that are limited by human understanding is no God at all.

Therefore, when I come to a passage that is difficult to accept or hard to understand I recognize that the problem is me. The problem isn’t that the passage is too difficult, the problem is that I don’t see or think of God rightly and because of my limited understanding of God I cannot fully grasp or embrace the truth being taught in the Scriptures. Thus I find myself longing for a greater and fuller understanding of God so that I can accept those passages that seem difficult to me.

One of the more difficult truths found in scripture that is hard for people to understand and accept is the doctrine of election. It may be the opinion of some that we should not talk about it, treating it as if it is some obscure thought that shouldn’t be given the light of day in church. The problem is that scripture talks about election and predestination as a reality in well over twenty five different passages. It isn’t something you can ignore without ignoring a lengthy and significant portion of God’s Word.

I understand the difficulty that people have with this particular doctrine, but at the same time I think it is foolish on our part to ignore it all together. To take an element of Christ’s redemptive work on the cross that God has intentionally revealed to us in Scripture and make it something that we fear, ignore, or reject all together just seems wrong to me. Isn’t that wrong? Should we not embrace that which God has revealed to us in his word? We should at least talk about it. Regardless of what our final conclusion is concerning its meaning, we need to at the very least have the conversation. In the end we may not agree on exactly every point of the doctrine of election, but at least by having the conversation we are able to admit that it is real, it does exist, and it is important enough to be included in God’s Word.

At the same time we must be careful not to make this an issue that divides us. The existence of election and predestination is undeniable and cannot be debated. The interpretive issues involving exactly how election and predestination affect salvific history is not quite as concrete. Whether or not God’s election is universal or restricted (corporate or individual) is what continues to be the dividing line among believers. Are we chosen in Christ corporately so that all those who are “in Christ” belong to the nation of Israel and thus are the elect or has God chosen before the foundation of the world individuals who would be brought into eternal salvation? While I believe we can have a healthy conversation about the principles of each of these views I don’t believe that this is an issue that should be allowed to bring disunity among believers.

Regardless of your final interpretive stance on the doctrine of election the realities of life, death, and spirituality do not change. It is still a reality that not everyone will go to heaven. Hell exists and there will be people who go there to spend an eternity separated from God. The Bible speaks of this fact as a concrete truth and our interpretive view of specific doctrines will not change this reality.

There will be some people that go to heaven. Jesus Christ came in the flesh, died on the cross, and physically rose again from the grave in order to save lost sinners. There will be a remnant of people that will enter the kingdom of God. Salvation is by faith alone, in Christ alone and only those with faith in Christ will enter his kingdom. Regardless of our interpretive position on election and predestination, these realities remain unchanged.

There is still a need for salvation. People are still saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Faith comes from hearing the gospel and hearing the gospel happens through people proclaiming it. Christians must still proclaim Christ, care for widows and orphans, look after the poor and disenfranchised, and live on mission for Christ in the world. None of that changes with one’s view of election and predestination. 

Regeneration, conversion, faith, justification, sanctification; these are all still necessary elements of salvation. Human individuals still make a decision to follow Christ, some will follow and some wont, and each individual will be held accountable for the decisions that they make regardless of how one views election and predestination. There will never be anyone that truly has faith in Jesus Christ and desires his salvation who is denied it, nor will there be anyone who is given salvation that doesn’t want it.

One’s theological stance on the doctrines of predestination and election should never bring about dissension and division among believers so far as it remains Biblically sound and gospel centered. And honestly, that is the key. The reason there is apprehension when it comes to this topic is because there has been so much abuse from those who take such extreme stances on election and predestination that their theology is no longer Biblically sound or gospel centered. Because of the negativity and division that has surrounded the Christian community regarding election and predestination, these doctrines have been sadly neglected in the church. Pastors, leaders, and Sunday school teachers will often avoid the topic like the plague. I believe, however, that it is important for us to stop treating election as if it is the elephant in the room lest we be in danger of rejecting parts of Scripture that make us uncomfortable.

We have to remember that God isn’t going to fit into our box. There will be things that we don’t fully understand. But the more we study God’s word, all of it, the greater and fuller our understanding of God will be. And who better to teach us about those things we don’t understand than God himself? May the spirit enlighten your hearts and minds as you diligent seek his truth in all you do!

Biblical Leadership

What is Biblical leadership?  How should leadership function in the church?  How should authority be delegated? This is an important issue that should be considered carefully because we cannot afford to be careless about matters of leadership in the church.  Believing that the Word of God is the first and final authority on all matters of faith and practice, I believe we have a solid foundation for church leadership clearly conveyed in Scripture.  It is important that we get this right.  D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, “We have somehow got hold of the idea that error is only that which is outrageously wrong; and we do not seem to understand that the most dangerous person of all is the one who does not emphasize the right things.” 

To begin the process of understanding how leadership in the church should function we need a proper understanding of what it really means to be a congregational church. If churches desire to conform as much as possible to the teachings of the New Testament then they should pay careful attention to the structure of leadership in the early church. From Scripture we clearly see only two offices in the church; Elders (also known as: bishops, overseers, pastors, shepherds) and Deacons.  Understanding the early church is quite simple; the people were led, organized, and governed by a plurality of leaders who fit into one of these two categories.

The Bible is quite clear that Jesus Christ is head of the church (Eph. 1:22).  Ultimately Jesus is in charge, ruling over the church as its Spiritual head and ultimately its chief Shepherd. And yet Christ has appointed gifted leaders to equip the saints for the work of ministry to build up the Body of Christ (Eph 4:11-12).  In other words, Christ as the head Shepherd has delegated the duties of shepherding to men whom he has gifted with the ability to lead the church.  Peter expresses this concept very well in 1 Peter 5:1-4 where he tells the elders to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight” and then goes on to say “and when the chief Shepherd appears you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”  Notice that Peter makes an undeniable connection between elders who are shepherds of the church and Christ who is the chief Shepherd of the church.  To put it simply, the elders shepherd the church, tend to the sheep, and exercise oversight in the church all under the leadership, guidance, and example of the chief Shepherd.  It is not a coincidence, then, that Peter refers to Jesus as the “Shepherd and Overseer” of our souls (1 Peter 2:25), using the same titles and terminology used throughout Scripture to describe the elders in the church (Acts 20:28; Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3:1-3; Titus 1:7; 1 Peter 5:2) and the same imagery found in the Book of Hebrews when it claims that we should obey our leaders for they are “keeping watch over your souls” (Hebrews 13:17).  The parallel between Christ as head of the church and elders as overseers is unmistakable.  Elders were recognized as a group of men, set apart, and addressed as ones having authority in the matters of the church.

This is why pluralities of elders were appointed to rule in every church in every town (Acts 14:23, 1 Titus 1:5, 1Tim 5:17).  These were men who had spiritual and governing authority as seen by the many verses referring to their rule, care, and charge of the church.  This is also implied in the other names for an elder: overseer or shepherd.  Today we call them Pastors.  These were men set apart and qualified to lead the church, teach and preach sound doctrine, guard against false teachers, and care for the people.  They protect, nourish, comfort, educate, and shepherd the flock.  The Bible itself gives definition to the idea of shepherding as it refers to those who rule or govern (2 Sam. 5:2; Ps 78:71,72; Matt 2:6; 1 Peter 5:2).  Our understanding of Scripture leads us to grasp the principle that elders had ruling or governing functions in the early church.  These men were appointed, having been called by God, to be overseers of the church.  Paul understood this when he exhorted the elders in the Ephesian church to pay careful attention to the flock “in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God” (Acts 20:28).

Paul and Barnabas affirm the authority of the elders when they bring the debate over circumcision to the apostles and the elders.  Once the debate was settled, Paul traveled throughout the cities reporting the decisions made by the Apostles and elders to the churches (Acts 16:4).  Clearly, the elders had the authority to make such decisions.  Paul even reiterated the same ruling authority of the elders when writing to Timothy.  He says, “let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor” (1 Tim 5:17).   Peter understood eldership the same way.  In 1 Peter 5 he says, “I exhort the elders among you…shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.”  Peter goes on further to encourage those who are younger to “be subject to the elders” (1 Peter 5:5).  In Hebrews 13:17 we see clear indication that submission to leaders is directly commanded and seen as a benefit that brings joy rather than something to be feared.  In Titus 1:5 Paul indicates that things are not in order in the church until Titus appoints elders.  In Titus 1:7 Paul gives us yet another indication of the governing of elders when he addresses the overseer as “God’s steward”.   A steward is one who supervises or manages something, generally finances and property.

The elders were called and appointed to exercise authority and manage the church as the shepherds and overseers.  For this reason, one could not be an elder unless he met certain qualifications (1 Tim 3:1-7).  Due to the nature of the authority given to elders in the early church, one could only be an elder if he was found to be trustworthy, above reproach, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, gentle, humble, dignified, mature, a lover of good, upright, disciplined, and with the ability to teach and preach.

To me it only makes sense that a church would desire to have men who meet these qualifications to be a part of the leadership and governing authority of the church.  What does not make sense is having a church with a governing body with no elders.  This idea is not Biblical and it puts the church at risk.  It is quite clear in Scripture that appointed elders were not advisors who simply provided input hoping the people in charge of governing the church would make the right decisions.  The elders were the people in charge of governing the church and therefore they were the ones making certain decisions.

Though it was the norm at one time in our history, many Baptist churches today do not currently have a plurality of elders that lead the church.  If we are honest, we must admit we’ve stepped outside the bounds of the model of church organization in the early church and created a whole new system.  Many churches now use a Deacon Board or a Board of Directors to govern the church.  These boards replace the elder board and take on the governing role and duty of elders.  What is strange is that many of these boards do not allow the elders (pastors) of the church to be a part of the board. Does this make sense?  Should churches have a Board of Directors or Board of Deacons that perform the Biblical duties of elders and then not allow those who meet the Biblical qualifications of elders to be part of that board?  What is even more confusing is that churches allow deacons to be on these governing boards but not the elders.  In the Bible, the elders were the only officers with clear governing and ruling authority in the church.  Clearly we are confused about Biblical leadership and how it should function.

If we we desire to establish the practices and doctrines of our churches on the teachings of the Bible, then I believe it to be unbiblical and unwise for us to deny church appointed pastors the ability to be active participants in the decision-making processes of the church.  The language of the New Testament should not be ignored.  If a church is going to have a board that governs and makes decisions on behalf of the church, that board should include men who meet the qualifications of eldership and are called by the Holy Spirit to lead and govern the church under the headship of Christ.

Churches should not fear this type of leadership. We should embrace that which God has given to his church for the building up of the body of Christ (Eph 4:11-12).  If indeed our leaders are trustworthy and capable of serving, then we should let them serve.  If they are untrustworthy and incapable of serving the church, they should no longer be our leaders.

Churches should take some time to consider how they are structured and governed.  Dust off the old governing documents of the church and consider whether or not they conform to the pattern we see in the New Testament.