Book Review – Church Elders

Church_Elders_large9Marks has always provided rock solid resources for the local church – but what makes them so helpful is that they are so accessible.  They have a knack, that reminds me a lot of Bob Kauflin and Sovereign Grace, to be unassuming, and “entry level” and then be able to go deep quickly and not shy away from the meat.  For this I’m very thankful.

Church Elders by Jeramie Rinne is that kind of book.

I can relate to the title of the Intro – “I’m an elder.  Now what?”  – as I’m fairly certain I said those exact words when I became a lay elder almost 10 years ago.  Now on the “other side” as a “vocational” elder, I can see the look of bewilderment on the faces of men as they step into the office.  Again, this is where a book like this is very helpful.  It will become required reading for all new elders for sure.

I believe this is the first book I’ve read by Jeramie Rinne and I found his writing to be clear, informed, and mixed with just the right amount of light-heartedness.  He writes “this book is intended to provide a concise, biblical job description for elders.” [15] and he accomplishes that well, not only for elders, but for church members as well.  Pastorally, the more that we can highlight the biblical perspective of elders, the better our people will understand the purpose and calling of an elder.  He provides practical, yet grounded points that should serve the church well.

  1. Don’t Assume.  Just because someone “looks” like elder material, or [worse] says they ‘should be’ an elder, doesn’t mean they are Scripturally qualified. [See 1 Tim 3 and Titus 1] Do you have a true inner hunger to shepherd the local church?  Do you exemplify Godly character? Can you teach the Bible? Do you lead your family well? Are you male? Are you an established believer?
  2. Smell Like Sheep.  Rinne summarizes the elder’s job as “shepherd the flock…to be more precise, elders are under-shepherds who serve the Good Shepherd by leading his sheep.”[35] This means we have to know them…be in relationships with them.  One sentence I highlighted and underlined was this – “Eldering is more about people than programs.” Yes and AMEN.  We aren’t a board of directors…we are shepherds. Rinne, rightfully so, pushes on the mega-church = corporation model.  The pastor isn’t a CEO, he is a shepherd of people.
  3. Serve Up the Word. The words Pastor and Teacher go together. [46]. Elders need to be actually teaching the Word of God in some capacity.  Preaching, leading Bible studies, small group discussion, one on one discipleship.  We also need to be protecting all teaching from false doctrine.
  4. Track Down the Strays. We keep watch.  We count sheep.  Who is missing?  Where did they go? Did they fall thru the cracks? Specifically, we watch over the members of the church and encourage the attenders to commit to membership so they can be better cared for. There are different varieties of straying sheep:  sinning sheep, wandering sheep, limping sheep, fighting sheep, and biting sheep.  Elders take notice of the flock and get involved.
  5. Lead Without Lording. Elders have clear Biblical authority to direct the affairs of the local church [74], BUT that doesn’t mean we are dictators. No power trips allowed.  He gives some practical thoughts:  chose humble elders, delegate to deacons, remain accountable, honor the Word, replicate yourself, and trust the congregation.  The great paradox to keep in mind is that an elder is simultaneously a shepherd and a sheep, a leader of the flock and a follower of Jesus, an overseer of the body, yet a dependent part.  [83]
  6. Shepherd Together. Eldering is a “team sport.” We are called to a team of elders, it’s not a solo mission.  We share the load, have many gifts, we sharpen each other, and we love and enjoy each other.
  7. Model Maturity.  When a church appoints a man to be an overseer, it is formally saying “Here is an official church-recognized example of a mature follower of Jesus.” [101]  This makes me gulp in fear when I read it.  Rinne provides some more context “…he isn’t the only example, he isn’t the perfect example, not the best example for every virtue…but he is a duly designated model nonetheless.”   Thus, elders, we need to watch our lives closely and make gospel progress.
  8. Plead for the Flock. Straight up – elders are called to prayer. In a techy example that resonated with the nerd that I am, Rinne writes “Try not to think of prayer and an extra activity tossed into your already overloaded schedule. Rather, think of it as the operating system on which all the of the elders apps run.”  #GOALS. We are called to pray publicly, privately, as a team of elders, and personally with the sheep.

I found this to be an excellent resource for both aspiring and established elders alike.  Let us commit ourselves to the work of shepherding the flock of God that he purchased with the blood of His Son, Jesus.

“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”

(Acts 20:28 ESV)

 

 

 

 

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Book Review – Don’t Fire Your Church Members

Let’s get this straight up front – I’m a fan of 9Marks.  I think they are incredibly helpful for restoring a Biblical ecclesiology of the local church.  I’m a local church Pastor, I love the local church…it’s “God’s Plan A” for the proclamation and ministry of the gospel.

I’m also a fan of Jonathan Leeman.  Despite the fact that he is my doppleganger, he is a unique voice crying out for the elevation of importance of the local church in an ocean of gospel-light pragmatism.

Leeman is also smart.  Really smart.  Like PhD smart.  But he is also very approachable and funny.  I had the privilege of sharing a meal with him while at a recent 9Marks event.  When he is writing, he is in his element.  When he is writing about ecclesiology and church history, he is pressing the boundaries of a joyous nerd fest.  He is in his lane.  So that made this book for me, particularly the first part, a little dense.  It was like I was saying “OK, Dr. Leeman.  I know you are excited about this…but…”  BUT, the thing is he has reason to be.  The church should be something of very high priority because it is the very authority of God in the world, and it’s time we start acting like it.

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So, that brings us to “Don’t Fire Your Church Members.”  Which I’ll admit, I really didn’t understand the title until I got a few pages into this book, then I had the “Ohhhh.  I see”  moment.  Church congregations have been Biblically given a huge responsibility, and we should be enabling that responsibility, not taking it away.

As the subtitle gives away, Leeman is firmly in the congregationalist camp. Specifically, an elder-led, congregationally ruled camp, as opposed to an elder-ruled camp where the members [if there is actual biblical membership] have little to no say.

As you may have figured out, I’m pretty passionate about this too.  How we “do” church is extremely important and the Bible has lots to say about it.  I have seen first hand the carnage that is left in the wake of non-biblical ecclesiology, and as hard as it may be to overcome our pre-conceived notions of what a church should look like, it’s a whole lot better than dealing with the aftermath, immature believers, and weak theology that will hinder a church for years to come.  As Leeman writes “the question for a Christian, always comes back to, What is Biblical?” [9]

Leeman’s thesis is that congregationalism isn’t just a conclusion drawn from a few proof-texts, it’s the culmination of the Bible’s covenantal trajectory that began with Adam.  “Jesus, the last Adam and federal head of God’s new covenant people, fulfilled the office perfectly both for his own sake and on behalf of his people. These people have now been hired and deputized to fulfill the same Adamic office of priest-king. This involves representing Christ, seeking to expand the reach of Christ’s kingdom and guarding the people of God in holiness, which includes watching over both the what of the knowledge of God in the gospel and the who of the knowledge of God in the gospel.” [59]

This theme of “what” and “who” of the gospel will permeate through the book in a very helpful and accessible way.   The church should be crystal clear on what the gospel is, and how that impacts and informs everything we do, and it should be crystal clear on who makes up the biblical membership of the church itself.

The church represents God in the world and it’s palpable and public presence depends on it’s order, or polity. [71]  Get it wrong, and people get the wrong idea about God the gospel.  THIS is why how we “do” church is a really, really big deal.

Leeman is fairly well known for his position on the “keys” in Matthew 16:13-20.  This is where Peter confesses that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” [16:16]  and Jesus replies that Peter is right and “on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” [16:18]  Roman Catholic theology inaccurately uses this to justify that Peter has been granted the status of the first Pope and hence all other Catholic Popes have their authority tracked back to this lineage.

What this fails to grasp is that it’s not Peter that Jesus will be his church on, it’s Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah.  Jesus goes on to give Peter the “keys” to bind and loose things.  Leeman writes “the keys are the authority to judge an declare on what as well as who.  They deputize their holder to pronounce a judgement concerning the who and what of the gospel: what is the right confession and practice of the gospel, and who is a right confessor.” [77]  Who holds the keys?  Fast forward to Matthew 18 and Jesus is giving binding and loosing instructions on how to wield the keys of church discipline to the members of the church [in the Greek, all of the “you”/῾υμιν῾ references are plural!] – AKA “wherever 2 or 3 are gathered in my name.”  [Matthew 18:15-20]

So what then?  So…are our churches biblically reflecting this model?  Are they being lead by biblical elders? [1 Timothy 3; Titus 1] Is the church set up in order to facilitate this model?  Leeman is bold, but not surprising if you know 9Marks  – “To put this another way, a gathering is an essential part of a church being a church. By definition there is no such thing as a multi-site or multi-service “church”…” [100]

Yet, what do we see dotting the landscape of American churches?  Over the years, I’ve become firmly convinced in the dangers of the multi-site model…I’m still working through the multi-service aspect.  Yes, I would agree that is preferred, but there are a host of logistical questions/challenges that go along with that…

How is this most practically done?  Biblical preaching through pastors/elders, Biblical membership and the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Table.  “A particular church is a gathering of two or three witnesses who together testify to the name of Jesus and their shared membership in him. They do this by preaching the gospel and by employing the keys of the kingdom through the ordinances.” [103]

Church members are given direct responsibility in encouraging one another’s growth and correcting when necessary [Matt 18:15-20; Gal 6:1].  Every church member should be able to distinguish between the true gospel and a false gospel.  [Gal 1:6-9]  Therefore, every church member has an awful lot of responsibility in the what and who of the gospel-centered running of the local church.  They should not be fired from such an important responsibility by having it taken off their plate.

To do this, an understanding of how the Holy Spirit establishes elders and their role in leading this model is necessary.  Leeman helpfully points out that Ephesians 4 clearly teaches that pastors and elders have been “given” for the “equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry and the building up of the body of Christ.” [Eph 4:11-12]

How then do we go forward?  In working with other congregations, we should care how they are doing, how they are structured.  Working with them in partnership of the gospel and lovingly speaking truth.  Some will not agree and our partnerships can therefore be limited.

Within our own churches, this is where 9Marks shines.  They have many helpful resources to help churches think through how to establish what Leeman calls a “new covenant culture – a gospel culture.” [172]  The author provides a good summary in the final chapter, but definitely check out the foundational book “Nine Marks of a Healthy Church” to get started.

I’m very thankful for this book and glad I stuck with it.  It’s only by reading things that challenge our thinking will we grow.  May it be in the knowledge of the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

 

Book Review – What is a Healthy Church Member?

I’m a church guy.

I know, you are probably thinking “Duh.  You are a Pastor.”  But what I mean is that I believe in the primary and critical importance of the church in two things- (1) the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and (2) the growth in spiritual maturity of the Christian.   Boiling it down – therefore, I believe every Christian should be a committed member of a local [very important word, more on that soon…], Bible-preaching, gospel-centered Christian church.

Yet, I’m concerned to see this is not a conviction held in the majority.  So many Christians consider church almost “optional.”  Like – “We’ll get there if we can…unless something else more funner comes along.”  [I know…grammar…]  Sports.  Family days.  Sleeping in.  Whatever.  None of those things are bad in themselves, but what is that saying about our commitment to the local church.

Note I also said “local” church.  [Thought I forgot, didn’t you?]  I am also concerned with the trend of driving a long distance to get to your church of choice, or just participating in an “internet church.”  Why?  It completely cuts out your contact with YOUR community.  The people you see in the grocery store, Starbucks, kids sports games, etc.  Now, of course there may be issues with not having access strong local church – but to that end, I’d say that’s why we need church planters and church revitalizers – not just solutions that cut out community.

Get the impression that I’ve thought about this a lot? I have.  Which is why I’m a church planter in my own town.  I feel that strongly about it.  The church is God’s “Plan A” for salvation [as someone once put] and we are called to participate in it and grow in maturity.

I’m glad that Thabiti AnyabwileWhat_Is_a_Healthy_Church_Member_by_Thabiti_Anyabwile_large feels the same way and he wrote “What Is a Healthy Church Member?

In light of my opening monologue, I feel there is a real need for this book – and more like it.  We need a return to the commitment to the local church, and less of a consumer mindset.   This is on us, folks.

Keeping things linear and straightforward [the way I like ’em], Thabiti gives us 10 marks of a healthy church member. [I hope Dever approved of going past 9 marks?!]

Mark 1:  An expositional listener.  Ah.  To be an expositional lister, the pre-requisite is an expositional sermon.  Such a sermon makes the main point of the passage, the main point of their sermon.  Needless to say, this is not always the norm.  I’m not hating on topical sermons, they have their place for sure, but it’s God’s word…God’s thoughts that we should be hearing, interpreting, and applying.  NOT some dude’s man-centered, pragmatic points on “5 Ways to Live Your Best Life Now.”  An expositional listener stresses [to the family if applicable] the importance of hearing and applying God’s word – not just on Sunday’s either.  In the family, in life Monday-Saturday, in prayer and in submission to it.

Mark 2: A biblical theologian.  Yes.  Theology.  It’s not just for eggheads.  Anytime anyone says anything about God they are a theologian.  The actual question is – are they a good [accurate = biblical] theologian or not?  Thabiti writes “too many Christians have neglected their first great calling: to know their God. Every Christian is meant to be a theologian in the best and most intimate sense of the word.” [27]  We know God thru God’s word!  This means knowing the Bible, but knowing the bigger picture of the Bible, and how the passage fits into the character and redemptive plan of God. [Yes…even Leviticus…]

Mark 3:  Gospel saturated.   “The greatest need in the world […and the] church is the gospel.” [39]  The gospel is the center of the Bible and it has to be the center of the church. We desire to hear the gospel and preach the gospel to ourselves by walking in it every day.  As Thabiti writes “order your life around the gospel.”and let it “animate every area of our lives.”[42]  This means intentionally living our lives with gospel purpose – even the restaurants we frequent and the conversations with our friends and neighbors.

Mark 4: Genuinely converted.  This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s really not.  I don’t pretend to think everyone sitting in church is a converted follower of Jesus.  But especially when we are talking about membership – we need to be certain a conversation has actually happened.  This means a change – a radical reordering of a life trajectory based on faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Mark 5: A biblical evangelist.  The “e” word.  [See my other recent book review for help on this] Healthy church members look to spread the good news of the hope of the gospel to those they come in contact with.  This includes a biblical understand of evangelism…and before that…a biblical understanding, period.  We must have also of course experienced the transforming work of the gospel in our own lives and have a compassion for others to see the same.

Mark 6: A committed member.  I know that there are scores of people out there that have been burned by a church.  I get that.  It hurts.  BUT, that can’t mean that we divorce ourselves from the primary way God designed to spread the hope of the gospel and grow in maturity.  There aren’t any perfect churches, but membership is super important and if you are a member – be committed.  Thabiti gives a great list of what that looks like: attend regularly, seek peace, edify others, warn/admonish others, pursue reconciliation, bear with others, prepare for the ordinances, and support the work of ministry thru financial giving and working hard.  [68-70]  Anyabwile doesn’t pull any punches here “to fail to associate ourselves in a lasting and committed way with the Head of the church by joining his body is surely a sign of ingratitude, whether from an uninformed or a dull heart.” [70] #ouch.

Mark 7: Seeks discipline.  As in not punishment, but correction. Aren’t we all endeavoring to live lives that are worthy of the name Christian here? Isn’t that a thing still? This isn’t easy, but it is necessary.  Thabiti breaks this up into two categories based on 2 Timothy 3:16 – formative discipline [teaching, training] and corrective [rebuke, correction] [75]

Mark 8:  A growing disciple.  The author writes “this is speculation on my part, but it may be the case that the most chronic problem facing churches and Christians is the lack of consistent spiritual growth and progress in discipleship.” [83]  Ephesians 4:15 instructs us to ‘grow up in every way…’ In many other places we are instructed to be mature.  Folks, the best way to do this is within the local church!

Mark 9: A humble follower.  God is a God of order.  Pastors/Elders lead the congregation and the congregation follows. Not like mindless sheep, but as committed participants.  And Pastors and Elders:  This falls on US.  “A healthy church member patterns his or her life after the godly lifestyle of the elders of the church.”  [101]

Mark 10: A prayer warrior.  Pray for everything – the effectiveness of the church’s gospel work, the Pastor’s sermons, the Elders leading, the needs of the body.  We show our dependance on God thru prayer.

Even if you aren’t a reader – [which you NEED to be] you can get thru this little book.  Then take these ideas and dig in to a solid local church and see what God does!