Results tagged “Elders” from Reformation21 Blog

When Everything is a Gender Question

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Recently, I was having a discussion with a friend (who happens to be in pastoral ministry) about the gender debates that are raging in our culture and in our churches. In the course of our conversation, my friend said, "I think that part of the difficulty with this discussion is that far too many reduce everything down to a matter of gender, whereas --more often than not--Scripture speaks in terms of social rather than biological constructs." Not fully grasping what my friend was getting at, I asked him for further explanation. He said, "Scripture speaks of fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, friends, politicians, pastors, teachers, elders and deacons, rather than simply answering the questions, "What can a man do?" and "What can a woman do?'" Since that discussion, I've been ruminating over my friend's observations. I believe that he's onto something important. 

So many of the conversations about leadership in the church seems to be framed around the following questions: "What can a man do?" and "What can a woman do?" Instead, we should be asking, "What social constructs has God established in the home, the world and the church," "To what authoritative standards should we look to understand who is to fill the social roles that God has established," and "How are those who are called and qualified by God to carry out these roles once they are given the office?" When we fail to ask the later questions--and we substitute them with the former questions--we do a great disservice to ourselves and to the church. In many respects, both conservative Christians and progressive Christians have erred in replacing the later questions with the former, thereby making almost all leadership questions about gender, rather than about understanding the nature of God-ordained social constructs. Let me explain. 

In socially conservative churches, male only ordination is prized, defended and promoted. The problem? Many of the men who are placed in the office of either elder or deacon are not biblically qualified. How did they manage to get into these offices? It may have had to do with their bank accounts, or their successful business practices, or their heritage as a member of a particularly important family in the church. Whatever the reasons that lay behind biblically unqualified men holding these offices, of this much we can be sure--the church and its leadership put them forward largely because they were men. Gender is the leading qualification for quite a considerable number of conservative churches. To be sure, such men must appear to have their lives together. They obviously couldn't be notorious womanizers, drug addicts or scandalous; but, they also don't have to meet the qualifications set out in Scripture (which is often apparent based on their lack of teaching gifts or spiritual mindedness). The Bible does not teach that just any "good ol' boy" may hold the office of elder or deacon because he happens to be a man. It teaches that only those men whom God has called, gifted and set apart for the work may hold office--which means that there will be plenty of men who are not qualified or gifted to hold office and should not, therefore, hold office. 

Clearly, gender differentiation occurs in the process of identifying and electing church officials according to God's revelation. However, when progressive churches give women the functional role of elders (i.e. shepherds), they too are leading with the assumption that leadership in the church is primarily a gender issue rather than a God-ordained and God-defined social construct. When challenged as to why they allow women to teach men in various parts of the worship service, many pastors now commonly respond by saying, "A woman can do anything that a non-ordained man can do." Therein lies our problem. When conservative churches start to give "non-ordained" men the functional leadership roles that God has reserved for ordained officers of the church, they have made leadership a gender issue rather than a God-defined social construct. When progressive churches put non-ordained women into functional leadership roles that God has reserved for ordained officers, they defend their action on the idea that all of this is simply a gender issue. 

Perhaps what the church needs more than anything today is a reassessment of the doctrine of church offices--a revisiting of the great works of ecclesiology that the church has in its historico-theological repository. We need a reconsideration of what arguments we are employing--in order to know whether or not we are asking the right questions. As we go to Scripture (e.g., 1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Tim. 2:12) and to the great ecclesiastical works of church history in order to understand why the stalwarts of the faith believed that God had uniquely entrusted the Keys of the Kingdom to ordained elders--and that they, and only they, are called by God to exercise a faithful and diligent use of them--we might free ourselves of the reductionistic notion that gender equality means equal outcomes in the Church's God-ordained social constitution. 

The Cost of Leadership

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In the business world, there's regular talk of building the right team and how to woo the right people in order to steer the ship when current commitments seem to be hindering production. With the right relationships and the right amount of money, business gurus tell us that it's possible to put together a team of leaders that is equivalent to the five starters for the Golden State Warriors and their entire bench! Sadly, the same logic is applied by many local churches. Though it may not be evident at first, the fall out of such an approach is detrimental to the life of the church. People will overlook a man's angry rants in the boardroom or vitriolic attacks on co-workers because of what he offers in a fortune 500 company (after all, isn't that what makes him successful?); however, God will not allow the church to thrive in a spiritually healthy way if its members overlook a lack of biblical qualifications because a man possesses some other seemingly valuable gift set.

The Bible gives exceptionally clear guidelines as to what qualifies a man to hold the office of elder or deacon in a local church. In his letters to both Timothy (1 Timothy 3:1-13) and Titus (Titus 1:5-9), the Apostle Paul set out very clear character and leadership qualities that mark a man off as being fit to be set apart to fill the office of elder (pastor) or deacon.

Although the biblical qualifications are quite straightforward, there are two ways that many churches have abandoned what God has said about biblical order and leadership and have inserted worldly qualifications into the equation.

Show Me the Money

There is a pastor of a very large church that has a monthly meeting with the church's top 50 financial contributors. In those meetings, the pastor asks them to comment on the current trajectory of the church, solicits their opinions on future plans, and reminds them how important their continued financial commitment is to building their brand. Regardless of who the church has put into formal leadership, this group of men and women are ipso facto elders. Their qualification is that they have money and they have been faithful to give it. While generosity is always commendable, holding places of influence and privilege in the church on account of wealth cuts across the clear teaching of James 2. 

Money buys access; and, access often provides far more influence than holding the office itself. We see this in politics in a fallen world. We assume that those with a financial platform will use it in the shrewdest way in order to meet their own wants and needs. The entire Political Action Committee (PAC) system is built on this premise. The church, however, must not be concerned with what people want. It has been tasked by God to identify the needs of God's people--spiritual needs that can't be remedied by worldly or financial means. 

If You Like It, It's Yours

About ten years ago, I sat in on a church growth seminar. Everyone in attendance was enamored with the main presenter. In the course of his presentation, this man recounted a story about how he had wanted a certain man on his ministry team, but the man was serving at another church on the other side of the country. He continued conversations with the man, gathering information about his family and hobbies, and eventually boarded a plane for a visit. Learning that the man he was pursuing loved baseball, this church growth expert brought that man a ball signed by his favorite player, along with gifts for the wife and kids. "This," said the presenter, "was the thing that sealed the deal." The take away? You can purchase church leaders if you are willing to fly across the country and deliver a well-researched gift.

Most local churches aren't flying their pastor(s) around the country to build a dream-team; but, the principle is no less applicable in less extravagant contexts. Pastors often "sheep steal" from other local churches by telling the potential new member, "You know, we really need some deacons right now. Is that something you have any interest in..." or, "I really can't understand why your church hasn't made you an elder or deacon yet. We would love to have someone like you with us." Proverbs 17:8 says, "A bribe is like a magic stone in the eyes of the one who gives it; wherever he turns he prospers." For some, buying church officers is as easy as offering the office to someone who has been deemed to be unqualified by another congregation. The subtlety of this approach can also occur after a man joins a local church. In order to keep him, his family and his financial commitments in the church, the current leadership places him in office. Such an approach appeals to the flesh by telling a biblically unqualified individual that he is important and capable. Stroked egos are easily purchased. 

Bribery is a wicked and deceptive tactic. The Preacher tells us, "A bribe corrupts the heart" (Ecclesiastes 7:7). The pastors/elders who will essentially bribe men with an office in the church are the same men who will operate on worldly principles in other aspects of ministry. The church that approaches God's offices in a worldly fashion will functionally operate by asking, "How can we get what we want" rather than "How can we do what God wants?" Every church is working to build one of two kingdoms. The important question is, "Which kingdom are we building?" The way in which the local church identifies, calls, and installs officers goes a long way in answering this extremely important question.

TimWitmer.jpg
TheShepherdLeader.org, the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals newest web site, is the result of Alliance members who see the need to build up leadership teams that truly shepherd their churches. Be sure to bookmark the website and come back often. Pastor-scholar Tim Witmer will provide regular insight and on-going coaching material for church leaders. His system contextualizes biblical principles for the specific ministry roles and needs found in today's Church.

Dr. Witmer's book, also titled The Shepherd Leader, has been tremendously helpful to pastors and church leaders around the world. Expounding on his leadership-themed books, Tim's blog will provide further instruction and furnish ministry materials to impact those in leadership and to encourage and equip pastors. You will also find a speaking schedule and free resources that will greatly benefit your ministry.

The fundamental responsibility of church leaders is to shepherd God's flock. The aim of TheShepherdLeader.org is to provide a practical guide to shepherding in your church. Subscribe to TheShepherdLeader.org today 

The Shepherd Leader give away is now closed. You may purchase a copy at ReformedResources.org.

Winners of The Shepherd Leader

1. Thomas H, Colorado Springs, CO
2. Matthew P, Blandon, PA
3. Alex S, Apex, NC
4. Scott H, Vermillion, SD
5. James P, Globe, AZ
6. James R, Winona Lake, IN
7. Doug N, Brunswick, GA
8. Mark H, Bentonville, AR

Text links
http://www.theshepherdleader.org/
http://www.alliancenet.org/
http://www.alliancenet.org/join-the-alliance
http://www.reformedresources.org/books/the-shepherd-leader/
http://www.theshepherdleader.org/blog-subscribe


Review: "Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons"

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Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons
Thabiti M. Anyabwile
Crossway (IX Marks), 2012, 176pp., paperback, $10.99
ISBN 978-1-4335-2992-4

Although the lion's share of this book is devoted to the eldership, the valuable space afforded to the diaconate is much appreciated, if only because helpful treatments of this office are much rarer. Anyabwile offers an antidote to the deacon as ornamental or obstructive, providing a template for a robust and meaningful contribution to the life of the church. The office of the elder is developed at greater length (although the language of "senior pastor" is employed, the underlying assumption seems to be that elders and pastors are one and the same). The author considers both the Scriptural qualifications and duties of the two offices in language that is simple, clear and warm. Those seeking a fairly full but accessible outline for officebearers in the church will appreciate the solid, Scriptural common sense of this volume, making it helpful as a checklist not only for churches seeking officers but also for men assessing themselves in or for office, whether already holding it or being considered for it. Evidently a horse out of the 9 Marks stable, this book is worthy of broad reach and careful consideration, especially as a fairly thorough introduction to the topic.