It is Sunday afternoon and I’m facing a deadline for tomorrow’s Pastor’s Blog. To be honest, I’m not quite sure what to say when week after week we‘re asked to bear up under the pressure of negative global and national narratives. I don’t think I’m out of bounds in saying this specific moment of stress and pressure in our local church history is truly unprecedented. So, I’m just going to start typing…..
I must confess my heart is heavy more often than I would like. We’ve all navigated many long days of thinking, praying, meeting, communicating, reacting, and planning, since the onset of the pandemic. Praise God we’re in a pretty good place right now with both church and school, but we did fight some battles along the way and there is wear and tear in the fight.
To say that people remain divided as to the right path forward—both inside and outside of our church and school family—is an understatement. There is profound pressure on leaders of every stripe —whether it is rooted in the pandemic, in social justice narratives, or in the vagaries of local, state, and national politics—to make wise decisions under rapidly changing circumstances. Moreover, the reality of real and passionate division means there will inevitably be those pleased with decisions taken and those who will believe their leaders failed them.
I offer this perspective as one of your AGC church pastors not to concern you that I might shrink from the high responsibility of eldership, but more to share that we leaders really do covet your prayers. We are mere men humbly seeking God’s will, ever at the nexus of individual responsibility and being led by the Spirit of God. We know we are anything but infallible.
Yet, we do have both God’s promises and His mighty weapons to do well. We have God’s commitment to never leave us or forsake us if we’re right with him. We have God’s infallible, inerrant, and wholly sufficient Word, and we have the miracle of prayer. We also have the valued input of the body of Christ to help drive us toward Holy Spirit inspired unity regarding decisions within our board polity.
In my almost twenty year tenure as an elder, and now pastor, I can thankfully attest that as a board, we have always been able to put in the hard work toward finding unity in Christ—even within the most contentious situations—and then to act courageously in pursuit of decisions and communications. We pray that you would agree with this statement, even if you do not agree with what may have been decided. If you do agree that we strive for unity in the Spirit and that we act courageously when a decision is taken, I think it appropriate to say your elders and pastors have proved trustworthy in wielding the authority granted to us, by God, to lead.
It is not a stretch to say that all successful organizations must ultimately be built on a foundation of trust. Absent trust in those in authority over others, there will be an inevitable fall that is usually catastrophic. Christ’s church is no different. Christ-called elders must be called, qualified, accountable, and daily prove themselves worthy of trust.
One of the shortest books of the Bible, 3 John, tells of an unqualified, illegitimate leader wreaking havoc in a small church plant in or near first century Ephesus. The writer, The Apostle John, 3 John 9–10 cuts right to the heart of the problem:
9 I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. 10 So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church.
3 John is actually a marvelous treatise on authority. It narrates a power struggle between the Apostle John—who is God’s ordained leader who is to wield the authority of Christ—and a brash usurper, Diotrephes, who likes being the center of attention. Unfortunately, Diotrephes had gained enough of a platform among the church members that he was able to throw people out of the church for simply being loyal to John and his direction coming in from afar. The takeaway? Church splits are nothing new, but the root cause is almost always the same, illegitimate leadership.
In Christ’s church, God raises up leaders and holds them to an incredibly high standard which can be found in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–9:
“The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. ! Tim 3:1–7
“5This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— 6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7 For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. Titus 1:5–9
When a leader is not called, he will not really be qualified in terms of these standards. Sadly, too many gravitate to leadership in the church who are in it for selfish reasons. Please know that we AGC elders are buoyed up with affirmations that you do indeed trust us, even when we may not exactly see eye-to-eye on a topic or concern. Our board members strive to be accountable to one another and to the church members, in order to remain qualified for God’s call on our lives.
It wasn’t until I deployed off to Desert Shield/Desert Storm some thirty years ago that I truly came to understand what authority actually is, and more importantly, the vital importance of submitting to authority when that authority is indeed legitimate and God-ordained. When I pondered the sudden reality that our nation’s legitimate military leaders had the power—and even the responsibility—to subject me to life and death circumstances in wartime, I had to grow up fast. The shallow motivating Tom Cruise images of fast jets and a cool life that may have lured an immature version of me into the profession of arms, proved utterly empty when my life was actually on the line.
I realized then, even as an unbeliever, that indeed there are worse things in life than dying if indeed laying down one’s life represents a call from God Himself to do so. Cowardice, or the failure to do one’s duty for others, both qualify as those worse things. I’ve only come to greatly reinforce this fundamental understanding of calling, duty, and authority since becoming a Christian. My learning about the God of the universe and His righteous standards in the decades since makes me immensely thankful that He was pursuing me for salvation in His perfect grace in those wartime moments of stress and pressure, even when I was not consciously aware that He was.
Why am I telling you all this? Well, I’m asking that you remember to see your AGC Elders and Pastors leading in the present God-ordained crucible just as I needed to see my military commanders thirty years ago—as legitimate (called by God), as qualified (in accordance with Scripture), and as trustworthy. We are working as hard as we can to get it right, while humbly seeking God’s face for the wisdom we do not have apart from Him.
I believe that God not only wants His raised-up leaders to be unified in decisions, He wants His entire church to be unified in trust. And church unity comes down to individual heart choices. Perhaps we need to search our hearts from time to time and consider God’s design for His church. In so doing it is good to consider what Scripture says regarding doctrinally correct biblical eldership.
The Bible is always crystal clear on such matters. Pastor Jeff preached us through the Book of Hebrews, taking a couple of years to do so. Today Hebrews 13:17 is on my heart as I write:
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
The thought of giving an account for you before the eternal Sovereign of the universe is sobering, if not terrifying, but I take the obligation freely. It would be cowardly and a failure to do my duty to be tempted to fear or fall into discouragement. That said, please pray for me and for all of your leaders.
Let us pray together, let us be in unity together, let us honor Christ and Christ alone, together!