Monday, January 7, 2019

The Elder-Pastor

Everyone is a pastor. The word “pastor” in our English Bible comes from three Greek words: “shepherd”, “overseer”, and “elder”. In this post I’ll talk about what it means to be a ELDER.

It’s natural for us to hear the word “elder” and think of the elderly. An elder is someone who is old, right? Well, that’s one use of the word. But when it comes to spiritual leadership an elder represents something entirely different from age or lifestage. In the New Testament, eldership refers to having experience and wisdom, being a model of godly character, and acting as a spiritual guide.

Experience and Wisdom

1 Timothy 3:6–7 (TNIV) — 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

I recently questioned a man in his young thirties how he thinks our church respects the Millennial generation. I asked if he could see himself serving in an elder position; his response was “I’ve never considered that. I assume I’m too young.”

While it isn’t wise for your church to have teenagers serving on the elder board, eldership is about maturity and not age. I’ve served as an elder at two different churches in my 20’s - the first time I was only 21 years old. In the Bible we see Paul the church planter encouraging Timothy, a young pastor, not to feel insecure about his youthful age (1 Timothy 4:12). It was Timothy’s job to not only be an elder, but to seek out and teach future elders in his church (1 Timothy 3:1-7, see also 4:11).

Let me make an important distinction: churches have men who function in the OFFICE of elder. That is a title, a position, a role - and a temporary one at that. What I want you to know is that all Christians are to aspire to be elder-quality Christians. Elders are to be mature in their faith, knowledgeable of bible doctrine, able to withstand hardship, competent to reproduce disciples (1 Timothy 3:6; 2 Timothy 4:5).

This is the call of every Christian, whether you attend elder board meetings or not! Those under your care, spiritually or otherwise, need an elder in their life who can be a stable, mature, experienced pastoral influence.

Model Character

Titus 1:5–9 (TNIV) — 5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. 6 An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7 Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8 Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

The most foundational requirement for elders is being a model of character. Passages like Titus 1 above make it clear that no man can function as a church elder unless his personal life is in order - if married his marriage is solid, his children are obedient, his community respects him, and his character is not in question. His spiritual and emotional health is in check.

While this text is written for men joining Titus’ elder board, these qualifications have meaning for the rest of us too. If you hope to influence anyone in their walk with Jesus through this life, your own character is a non-negotiable. Integrity, self-control, discipline, generosity, patience, and self-sacrifice are character traits expected from every follower of Jesus.  As the Apostle Peter put it, “I exhort the elders among you [to act as] examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:1,3).

The Bible Project has created the video shown above. 
It’s an eight-minute sketch of the bible book of Titus. 
Titus was a young pastor instructed by Paul to appoint mature 
elders in the churches throughout Crete - pay special attention 
to this video at the two minutes and 35 seconds mark.

Spiritual Guidance

James 5:14–15 (TNIV) — 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make them well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.

1 Peter 5:5 (TNIV) — 5 In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders.

Elders are able to function as a spiritual guide to others. They often invite others into their home and life (Titus 1:8), are quick to pray for the sick and hurting (James 5:14-15), stand ready to correct wrong behavior or thinking (Titus 1:9), and remain proactive in equipping others to do ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12).

Sometimes elders have to say unpleasant things. For people to move from dysfunction to maturity, they have to work through junk. In the book Everyday Church, Chester and Timmis list the following verses that tell us how to pastor people through their problems: Acts 20:31; 1 Thess. 5:14; Col. 1:28, 3:16; Rom. 15:14; 2 Tim. 4:2; Titus 2:15. From these verses he discerns three key pastoral interventions:
  • “We teach or instruct where people are ignorant.
  • We encourage or comfort where people are fainthearted.
  • We rebuke or admonish where people are wayward.” (1)
Even if you aren’t a nominated elder in your church, there are people who are relationally connected to you in need of spiritual guidance. Acting as a spiritual guide means we walk with people, ready to rejoice with them, pray with them celebrate with them, listen to them, or teach them. As you consider those in your spheres of influence, what next steps come to mind? How will you as a pastor and spiritual guide?

(1) Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Everyday Church: Gospel Communities on Mission (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 67.

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Shepherd-Pastor

Everyone is a pastor. The word “pastor” in our English Bible comes from three Greek words: “shepherd”, “overseer”, and “elder”. In this post I’ll talk about what it means to be a SHEPHERD.

The metaphor of shepherding - common throughout the Bible - has lost much of its meaning today. Shepherding just isn’t a common occupation in the modern world. I don’t have any friends who are shepherds... I assume people still do this for a living, and I assume that I know the gist of how one cares for and reproduces sheep, but I really have no clue what goes into it!

In their book The Way of the Shepherd, Kevin Leman and Bill Pentak monologue the early career of Ted McBride, CEO of General Technologies. In his final semester at the University of Texas at Austin, Ted sought out a mentor to give him guidance before entering the business world. One of his professors took Ted under his wing and taught him leadership lessons at his home ranch - working with a flock of sheep. His professor taught him leadership lessons that carried over to the business world. He learned the importance of knowing the condition of your flock, identifying with your flock, keeping the pasture a safe haven, and using the staff and rod for direction and correction.

The apostles constantly used this metaphor of shepherding to teach pastors how to lead the church. At least three themes come up:

Knowing your flock

1 Peter 5:2–3 (TNIV) — Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them... eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.

John 10:14 (TNIV) — “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me...”

Good pastors know the state of their people. They are aware of the struggles and strengths, the pain and celebrations, and the needs of those under their care. Hebrews 13:7 refers to this as “keeping watch over your souls”.
  • As a manager, you probably know the compensation and HR needs of your direct reports. But what if you were their pastor as well as their employer?
  • As a parent, you probably know the dietary and logistical needs of your children. But what if you were their pastor as well as their father or mother?
  • As a ministry team leader, you probably know the schedules of your volunteers. But what if you were their pastor as well as their coordinator?
In my junior year of college, the Dean of Men established me as a dorm supervisor. Part of my job was to make sure guys were in their rooms and quiet by a certain hour. Around the third week of school I chided a freshman roaming the halls after hours. He responded with “Man, you don’t even know my name!” Ouch. The next night I tucked my tail and walked room to room, saying “Hey guys. I’m sorry, but it’s been three weeks now and I don’t know your names or anything about you.” It took me a week or two, but I eventually got all the guys’ names down on my floor, where they lived, and so forth. Just knowing their names and background greatly changed their interactions with me as their leader.

Equipping and serving them

Ephesians 4:11–12 (TNIV) — So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up...

A shepherd wants to see his sheep grow soft wool, keep clean hygiene, live a long life, and reproduce - he wants his sheep to thrive. Likewise, a pastor wants his flock to thrive in their relationships, their discipleship, and their mission.

And this is what followers ultimately need. They don’t want someone to tell them what to do. Or to give them a list of rules. Or to be a life consultant. People want leaders who care about helping them thrive in doing what God has called them to do. This is the act of equipping: “to prepare for a purpose, prepare, make, create, outfit” (BDAG, 526).

Sometimes this requires giving direction. Sometimes this requires rebuke. Or encouragement. Or protection. Or prayer. Or the handing off of responsibility. A pastor is an equipper, one who shepherds others towards following Jesus more effectively.

Reporting to your Over-shepherd

1 Peter 2:25 (TNIV) — For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

1 Peter 5:4 (TNIV) — And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

Shepherds also have to face this truth: they are sheep too. Timothy and Titus realized that they followed a shepherd - Paul the apostle. Barnabus followed his shepherd, Peter. Many reading this have to act as a shepherd who follows another shepherd. Perhaps you lead a ministry or group and you report to a pastor or director on staff. Remember: the effectiveness of your leadership is directly correlated to the effectiveness of your followship.

Ultimately, all of us fall under the authority of Jesus Christ, the “Chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:4). And Jesus has chosen to delegate his authority of pastoring to people like you and me. This isn’t about my sheep. This isn’t about my agenda. This isn’t about following my life lessons. It’s about stewarding relationships and responsibilities that God has graciously placed in my hands.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Everyone is a Pastor

“So what do you do?” I had just told this guy what my profession was - I’m a pastor in a church. He was really confused when I told him our church has a few different pastors, most of whom do not preach every week from the pulpit. When he asked what I “do”, what he meant was “What on earth do you spend your time working on when you aren’t on a stage talking?”

NEWSFLASH: the word “pastor” isn’t actually in the Bible. Yes, you can find it in your English Bible. But it is always translated “pastor” from one of these three words: shepherd, overseer, and elder. And at times these words are used interchangeably. That means that the apostles didn’t have a one-size-fits-all approach to church government; they did however build the church with the concept of leadership, people we call pastors, to guide God’s people in ministry.

So shepherd, overseer, and elder… Those three titles sum up the role of a pastor pretty well. Pastors are:
  1. Shepherds over a flock of people
  2. Overseers of the governance and day-to-day operations of a ministry
  3. Elders, or seasoned believers who can model Christian life and mission to others.

Who do you pastor?

You are a pastor.

I know, I know, most people reading this do not have the title “Pastor” on their job description. I know that different denominations use these words as officials titles (elder boards, regional bishops, pastor of this or that).

My point is that God expects every believer to function in some capacity as a pastor to the people or ministry in which they are involved. You are not allowed to skip over 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus in your Bible reading. When you hear a message from 1 Peter 5 you can’t tune it out because “instructions to elders” doesn’t apply to you. The character and competencies required to be a pastor apply to every Christian.

So who or what do you pastor? What people or ministry do you lead, invest in, or guide? Perhaps your family comes to mind. Or your staff at work. Or the ministry you are part of. Or your neighbors. Everyone needs a pastor - and that pastor may be you.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

A Word to Generation X about Sexuality

If you are a Christian with adult children, or close to it, you are likely lamenting the sexual habits of young people these days. Cohabitation, premarital sex, loose standards, serial monogamy - this bothers many mature Christians. But I have a challenge for you. I want to challenge you to embrace the next generation of adults, sex problems and all.

Below are four thoughts for you to mull over.

#1. Appreciate what cohabitation adults still value - marriage, commitment, family, financial responsibility.

Contrary to popular opinion, emerging adults are not opposed to marriage. In fact 93-96% of them WANT to marry someday.[1] They just are in no hurry.

Young adults view marriage as the highest commitment. They've read the statistics on divorce and they want nothing to do with that kind of hypocrisy.[2] They have seen the poor relationship their parents have, and they want no part. This is why young people are delaying marriage - they want to be all in, fully committed, and sure that their partner is one they can promise "till death do us part". In a way this is very good. Young people are hesitant to marry, but it's because they actually think saying "I do" means something. Gen X, affirm that!

On the other hand, they may need guidance to see how noncommittal sex really effects them. Emerging adults value “flexibility, autonomy, change, and the potential for upgrading” to a better partner.[3] Many believe that living in serial monogamy (jumping from one monogamous relationship to another) will reveal that one person they are looking for who meets their needs and is sexually compatible. But you and I know it doesn't work that way. "The one" doesn't exist, and sleeping around will not help you find him or her. As long as someone straddles the fence, being committed and monogamous while keeping options open for a new and better partner, true intimacy will not happen.

Make sure young people know that marriage and minivans do not go hand-in-hand. They are scared that entering marriage will be too expensive, restrictive for their dreams, keep them from experiencing travel or higher education, and ruin their sex life. But that just isn't true; and they may need help seeing that (182-194).[4]

#2. Don’t buy into the cultural script for sex.

All of us have assumptions (or "scripts") concerning what is normal or abnormal sexual practice. We all are learning about sex from stories we’ve heard about other people’s sexual experiences. Stories from a buddy, a movie scene, a porno, the radio, etc. These scripts are powerful because we believe them; even though most of our assumptions are false.

We assume that everyone else is having more sex than we are, but in most cases that isn’t true. We assume that introducing sex into a relationship early will bring deeper connection, but the sooner sex enters the relationship, the greater the chance of the relationship failing. We assume that cohabitation is a logical step towards a stable marriage, but that actually increases the chance of divorce, dramatically. We assume that getting married young keeps a young person from completing their education or having opportunities to travel, but the opposite is true. We assume that marrying young shortchanges someone’s career path and earns them less money later in life, but the opposite is true.

As you see and hear about sex in our culture, do not assume that everyone lives that way. And if conversations about sex come up with young adults you can let them in on this little-known secret. Just because all the movies and rap artists portray sex a certain way does not mean the other 99% of the world feels that way. (After all, when's the last time you saw a movie about a sexually fulfilled, middle-aged married couple?) There are millions of Millennials and Gen-Zers out there who think something is wrong with them because they don't fit in with the hook up culture. Show them that the cultural script does not match reality. Show them that having strings "attached" is the best kind of sex, whether drama television says so or not.

#3. Don’t make promises to young unmarrieds that cannot be kept.

“Wait to have sex and your marriage will rock someday!” Well-intentioned parents, teachers, and counselors have told Christian young people lines like this one. In his book Divine Sex, Jonathan Grant , a pastor of a church with a high percentage of single adults, writes about conversations he and his wife had with attenders. Half of them were frustrated that they had “obeyed all the rules” yet entered their late thirties unmarried and still a virgin. The other half set aside their Christian faith in the sex and dating arena, only to feel guilty after each encounter. The frustration came about because youth pastors had sold their youth on a deal (that God will give them a sexually and emotionally fulfilling mate if they don’t "sow their oats") rather than a savior.[5]

Young, unmarried Christians need to be reminded that following Jesus never comes with promises of an easy life. In fact Jesus said the opposite. Yes, God's guidelines for sex are in place to protect us and promote a more positive society, but sexual gratification doesn't always come to his followers. If I am choosing to follow Jesus with my whole heart, then I also have to follow him with my whole mind and my whole body… whether that results in a dynamite sex life or not.

#4. Don’t turn young people away from Jesus because they aren’t following the Christian rules on sex.

So a cohabitating couple walks into your church this Sunday for worship, really enjoys the service, and begins attending regularly. You can relate to them in three ways: (1) Reinterpret the Bible so that it appears God has nothing to say about our sexual life. This will make many friends, but few converts. (2) Take a hard stance against sin. Tell them they are unwelcome to become integrated into the church until they correct their sex life with Biblical principles. This will make many enemies, but few converts. (3) Address them with both grace and truth. Find middle ground in which they can understand a Christian view of marriage, but still have space to wrestle with the competing cultural script. I encourage you to consider option three.

Listen to young adults. Recognize that sexual practice is changing dramatically in our society. Every Christian has things they are working through as they follow Jesus, and sexuality can be one. Because of their sexuality, many emerging adults are turning away from the church, but fewer are turning away from Jesus. Allow enough space for your church to be an exception.[6]

[1] Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker, Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying (Oxford University Press, 2011), 169.
[2] Helen Fisher, Technology Hasn’t Changed Love. Here’s Why, accessed October 19, 2018,
[3] Regnerus and Uecker, Premarital Sex in America, 171.
[4] Regnerus shows data that disproves these myths about marriage. Regnerus and Uecker, 182–94.
[5] Jonathan Grant, Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2015), 17, 138–42.
[6] Irma Fast Dueck, “Without Rings or Strings: Engaging Cohabitation in the Church,” Direction 45, no. 2 (2016): 180–91 Irma gives compelling reasons why the church ought to care for cohabitating adults rather than turn them away. She argues that cohabitation is a form of honoring the sanctity of marriage; many young people fear divorce and do not want to enter marriage lightly. She writes, “How will the church care for those who are living together without diminishing a Christian understanding of marriage? ... It has much to gain if it faces [this challenge] soon.”