February 22, 2017

The Long Way

When I go home from just about anywhere in my city there are two ways to get there. Two roads lead to my neighborhood. From just about any location, one of those two roads feels and seems to be the shortest route. As the crow flies there's no doubt. That said, I'm no crow and I can't fly. What tends to almost always be the case is that what seems to be the short way winds up being the long way.

The seemingly short route is currently plagued with construction. If you drive down that road at the wrong time of the morning you will get backed up in traffic and sit for 20 minutes. If you’re lucky. This road is well trafficked because it's more well-known. Nathan always wants to debate with me that it's shorter. So every once in a while – against my better judgment – we will give it a shot. And we always regret it. What seems to be the short route very often winds up being the long road.

If I could just once and for all learn this lesson as a leader. Almost every time I get anxious, impatient, or forget that why and how are just as important as what, it seems to always come back to haunt me. You and I both know that the journey is just as important (if not more) than the destination. But we get so in a hurry to arrive that we're not even sure what happened in the wake of getting there.

Very often, the short way winds up being the long way. But in all honesty, short and long aren't nearly as important as right and wrong. Often there's a right way. It's usually also the hard way. And my estimation is…it's highly likely to be the long way as well.

What takes more time now: Doing it myself...or building a team? The answer to that question – especially if I'm more concerned with right now and getting it done – is to build a team. It takes more time to cultivate people. It takes more time to invest and build. But in the long run…it's worth the investment. The short way winds up being the long way.

What takes more time now: Unilaterally making a change and letting everyone know about it...or walking everyone through the change with you? If your theory & mentality is “My way or the highway” or “Get on the bus…of get left behind!", then just go ahead and make the change. Drop it like a bomb! But if you want to not only sustain your leadership, but also actually grow the people and the organization you're leading, then take the time to walk them through it with you. If you have a vision worth selling and you're a leader worth following, then take the time to share that vision with the people you want to follow you. I know it feels like the long way, but it winds up being the short way.

“…the prudent gives thoughts to his steps.” Proverbs 14:15
“Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” Proverbs 15:22
“Train up a child in the way he should go; in the end he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6

Leading an organization? Building a team? Do it the right way. It’s worth it.

Raising a child? Discipling your son or daughter? Man, don’t we all wish there were some shortcuts. Sorry. No dice. It’s long, hard work. And it’s worth every moment, every tear, every prayer, and every opportunity of shepherding their heart toward Jesus.

If we embrace and enjoy and savor the journey, the destination will be that much more satisfying. 

The long way sometimes winds up being the short way.
The long way very often ends up being the right way.

Who cares about shortcuts, anyway? 

February 21, 2017

How Do We Select Elders?

In my previous post, Why Do We Have Elders, we looked at the biblical mandate, calling, and role of the elders in the church. The pastors and elders are called to "shepherd God's people"; to humbly oversee the church as servant leaders. Here I would like to share how we go about selecting, examining, and affirming these men.

First off, each new year begins an informal NOMINATION process. What does this mean? Great question. Each year the current elders begin praying through the question: Are there certain men within our church family who meet the qualifications described by Paul to Timothy and Titus of an elder? We start making a list. We then continue praying through that list together. After a certain period of time, if we come to unanimous agreement on a particular man (or men), we approach him and ask him to prayerfully consider if the Lord might be calling him to this role. As an example, this past year our list began with 4 men. Over a month's time, we all felt very strongly about 2 specific men. They both agreed to prayerfully consider the question: Is God calling me to be an elder? 1 of those 2 men overwhelmingly sensed that affirmation and the other did not. That's one way that a man enters into this process.

Along with that, a couple of other initial scenarios can happen. One being that a man can nominate himself. This may sound or seem egotistical or prideful to some, but to be honest, if that was the driving force behind a man's self-nomination, it would almost certainly be visible. Self-promotion is pretty tough to disguise. Having said that, there have been times when a member has come to us and asked us to consider a man for nomination. One man in our church (who would probably be shocked by this due to his humility) has had multiple people over the last years come to me and "nominate" him - meaning they've come and asked, "Why isn't so & so an elder? He would make a great elder!" This man clearly meets the qualifications, yet very clearly has told me (on mulitple occasions) that he does not sense the Lord's calling and leading to take on that role or responsibility. I would also like to add that there are multiple men within our church body who have been approached by the elders because of the clear evidence of their character, who have not felt the call of God to the role. The calling is critical!

So whether nominated by a church member, himself, or the current elders, if a man accepts that nomination we then begin what we call the EXAMINATION process. [This usually lasts around 6 months.] We have a fairly thorough 6-page application that an elder candidate fills out, including everything from family history, to testimony and personal salvation experience, to doctrinal and theological questions. We also ask for references. We want to talk to people who can verify that what we see in an elder candidate's life is being seen by others and has been seen by those surrounding him for some time now. During this time, our pastors and elders are encouraged to meet with him, spend time with him and his family, get to know who he is and pray for the Lord's clear wisdom and discernment concerning this man. We also require him to do a bit of reading, wanting to make sure he understands (as fully as possible) the role and responsibilies he is considering. He needs to know that he is not becoming a member of a board or group of trustees or a personnel committee. First and foremost, he is yielding to God's call on his life to "shepherd and oversee" the people of God.

When (and if) our pastors and elders come to unanimous resolution that we have fully examined this man's life and we not only see clear evidence of him meeting the qualifications, but also that he is surrendering to the call of God on his life to step into this role, we will then present him to the church family for a brief time of examination. [This usually lasts around 4-6 weeks.] This time allows anyone to come and ask questions of the elders, bring up anything that may have slipped past us in regards to his character or actions, but also (and hopefully more prevalently) provides an opportunity for people to get to know him, pray for him, and see the evidence of why we nominated him in the first place. 

At the end of this process, after the entire church body (pastors, elders, staff, members) has had time to examine this man's life, if we (the elders) are still in unanimous agreement, we will then AFFIRM him as an elder before the entire congregation. We have always done this on a Sunday during our services because we believe it is something the entire church body should be involved in. While what we do is very simple, it is also very meaningful. The pastors and elders will gather around the elder candidate, lay hands on him, and pray over him. This is not a magical transference of "elder powers" or some sort of mystical ceremony. Paul laid hands on Timothy as he prayed over him. The apostles "prayed and laid their hands on" Stephen and the others they had chosen to be deacons. We do the same.

While we desire every part of WHAT we do to be driven, catalyzed, and mandated from and by the scriptures, we are aware that a portion of HOW we go about it comes from us. This is why we never stop asking, "How can we do this more effectively? What can we do better?" 

I hope these posts have given greater clarity and understanding to what our elders do, why we do it, and how we are chosen to do it. We would be glad to answer any questions you may have about biblical elders and church leadership.

"The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task." 1 Timothy 3:1

February 8, 2017

Why Do We Have Elders?

When something is foundational – a ground-level, concrete, nonnegotiable part of who you are & what you do & why & how you do it – it's not only healthy, but essential to re-visit and remind yourself of it often. With that understanding in mind, I'd like to talk a little bit about what the Bible says about elders and why we have them at The Brook.

Let's begin by establishing what an elder is not: Someone who is older than you. Culturally this is what we have meant and implied when we say: “Respect your elders!” or "Take care of the elderly." This is not the biblical definition or implication of an elder.

Elders are also not a board of trustees or a management team. Jeramie Rinne, in his book Church Elders (from 9Marks) puts it this way: "When elders see themselves primarily as members of a board of trustees, they perceive their purpose as managing the organizational elements of the chruch. "Success" likely means keeping balance sheets in the black, maintaining the facilities, and sponsoring high-quality, well-attended programs and events. Trustee elders are tempted to emphasize managing the machine over maturing the members." Don't misunderstand: many of those things mentioned are important, but they are not the priorities of the elders of the church.

An elder (as described and defined in the New Testament) is a shepherd & overseer. It's the same word used for Pastor (poimen). When we read the New Testament as a whole, we understand there are certain aspects and characteristics of an elder. Pastors and elders are called by God to shepherd his people. The apostle Paul makes it clear to Timothy (1 Timothy 3) that any man who takes on this role without the calling of God will most certainly regret it; it is a weighty responsibility. He calls it “a noble task”. Paul gives Timothy and Titus (Titus 1) very similar, yet distinct descriptions of an elder. (You can take a look at those for yourself.) For our purposes in this post I would like to specifically address some FAQs and what I will call "frequently misunderstood ideas" about elders, while also addressing the specifics of the role and function of elders within our church.

One FAQ we have heard and addressed is this: If pastors and elders are from the same word, and both are shepherds and overseers, then what is the difference?

At The Brook, while pastors and elders primary calling and function overlaps (to shepherd, guide, and “pastor” the people of the church), there are also several functions and roles that are equally distinct. Specifically in our context, pastors are men who not only heed the call to shepherd God’s people, but also feel led to vocationally lead the strategy and ministries of the church. They have also answered a call to preach the Word of God, very closely mirroring what the disciples gave as the reason for appointing the first deacons: “we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Conversely, elders do not necessarily have this sense of vocational calling, nor do they feel called to preach. They do, however, have a burden and responsibility to attend to the governance of the church. They pay attention to how we are stewarding the gifts of the Lord; specifically our tithes and offerings. And while our elders may not preach on a Sunday, they are all capable of teaching (and are currently doing so in some capacity), and are responsible (along with the pastors) for ensuring that what we do preach is biblically, doctrinally correct. This is what Paul exhorted the Ephesian elders to do in Acts 20: guard the doctrine of the church.

Now, let’s get even more practical. Another FAQ is (to put it bluntly): So…what do our elders actually do?

Once a month (at minimum) our pastors and elders gather together. While our meetings will frequently involve discussions over current ministry strategies, decisions over present issues and/or future opportunities, that time will always be prioritized by our praying over and for one another, our church, and our people. To be candid, we spend much time laboring for marriages to be healed, for the Lord’s guidance and provision in decisions we must make, for the healing of those who are sick, and the deliverance of those who are burdened. This is the “noble task” Paul spoke of to Timothy. Our elders humbly serve. These men often lose sleep on behalf of our people. Their first and primary concern is for the spiritual well-being of the sheep because they know (ultimately) they will answer to the Good Shepherd. I don’t write this so anyone will pity or feel sorry for them. Actually, on the contrary, I exhort you to love and respect and pray for the men in your church who have taken on this burden and responsibility.

In my next post I’m going to talk about the process of finding, examining, and affirming elders at The Brook.