Keep in touch with the ministry at SEVBC and the Tetreau family through Pastor Joel Tetreau’s monthly newsletter, The Barnabas Chronicle. In this August issue, Pastor Joel explains his heart behind starting a newsletter, shares family and church news as well as upcoming events, and ends with an encouraging devotional.
Download the newsletter here, The Barnabas Chronicle, or send an email to email@example.com to sign up for the mailing list.
(Written last summer, but very good thoughts to reflect on as we look forward to this summer!)
Even though Phoenix can get too hot, my family and I enjoy the summer months for several reasons. My wife Toni teaches piano ten month out of the year but takes June and July off to spend some extra time with her husband (that would be me) and our sons. During those two short months I take the bulk of my vacation time off so we can have some special times together. All of us are “crazy busy” during the majority of the school year. My sons (Jonathan, Jeremy and Joshua) are at a fun age – 16, 14 and 12. They’re all involved in school, church, sports, music, etc….When the end of school comes around they are as needy of a break as Toni and I are.
We’ve enjoyed two “get-a-ways” this summer. We spent a week in Show Low right after school ended and another in San Francisco last week. In a few more weeks we’ll enjoy Sedona for 3 days (My boys call it Sedo-nut because of some of the people that live there!). Often on our trips, I get to preach at a sister church and the rest of the family will play instruments or sing. Then we try to enjoy some sights and fun times as a family.
Because we live in the desert, my family loves the beach; especially when the weather is like 60 and the ocean is cold. Call us nuts, but we’ll be the weird family picking up sea shells, making sand castles and sticking our feet in the pacific when nobody and I mean nobody is on the sand. And even though traveling together can sometimes be stressful, overall these family times are something of a break and a blessing to me personally. I love these family times. I’m trying to hold on to the memories. Before long life will capture the boys and they’ll be off making there own way. Of course besides salvation and Toni, they will always be the most special gift God has granted to me. Before our marriage, my heart’s desire was three sons. Amazingly God gave us three sons.
In addition to my time off with the family, I take an additional two weeks up in the AZ White Mountains to be with our church kids up at camp; one week with the teens and another with the juniors. Grand View Camp is presently using a beautiful property in Alpine, AZ. At 7,000 feet it’s cool, it’s quiet, and it’s almost heavenly! The mountains here are majestic. I always spend ample time just in quiet prayer, Bible-reading, reflection and writing.
Every year I experience a spiritual and an emotional “repair and tune-up” in the midst of the aspen and pine. Ministry is exhilarating but at times a leader can take a beating both physically as well as emotionally in the “ebb and flow” of God’s work. On top of that basic fact is my personality. I’m a bit of a driver. I drive myself pretty hard over the course of the ministry calendar and so these summer months that allow a lull in our pace is important. The result of these times away has been fruitful times of physical rest and a definite shot in the arm by way of spiritual/emotional refreshment. These seasons of rest humanly speaking may add years to my earthly ministry as well as the strengthening of my relationship with my wife and children. The Scriptures are fairly clear about the importance of allowing ourselves “rest.” The problem with most of us in ministry is we work on Sunday and we too often don’t make up for the residual need for rest.
It never fails. Each summer as I’m quiet, God speaks to me through His Word. The message is not audible but it is clear. Here’s what I’m learning (or re-learning) this summer.
1. Jesus wants me to be real in my private and public walk – Luke 12:1-3
This summer I’m continuing my sermon series through Luke. We are in chapter 12. The end of chapter 11 and the beginning of chapter 12, Jesus speaks to the issue of hypocrisy and fear. On this first point God is reminding me of the importance of being real and genuine in my walk. What will hypocrisy do to those that live with me and serve with me? What will hypocrisy do in my own spirit if I allow it to be unchecked? Too often I come to the summer months and I’ve been trying to make “this work” or “that work” in ministry of life. Instead of asking God to empower, I pull up my sleeves and do it myself. This always eventually results in hypocrisy and burn-out at some level. It becomes a result of “flesh” instead of “God’s Spirit.” Faithfulness in prayer goes a long way in helping here!
2. Jesus wants me to trust and fear God….not man – Luke 12:4-6
Too many times I come to the summer months tired because of illegitimate fears of life challenges, ministry conflict or personal finances. God has promised to take care of us. We are His children. Why would He abandon His children? He will not let leave us un-cared for. A middle part of this trust in God is a certain view of this life. Luke records the words of Jesus in verse 4 when he asks, “Why worry about people that can only take your life?” It’s almost as if Jesus is saying, “Don’t hold on too tight to this life….the life to come is the one that has ultimate significance.” He builds on that in the next verse and clearly states the issue to be concerned with is not the loss of physical life but eternal life. Lord willing in a few short months I’ll be ministering to the underground church in Asia. These dear saints live with this reality on a regular basis. We should too!
3. Jesus wants me to trust that His time-table is better than mine! – James 5:7-8, 11
I have a day-timer. I’ve been using this personal calendar system sense the early 90’s. Often times God surprises me by upsetting what I had in mind by way of personal or ministry plans and schedules. I love this passage in James. Over the span of just a few verses, James reminds us that we need to be patient, not only for the coming of the Lord, but also for His will as He works that out in our lives. God’s timing is different than ours usually for one of at least four reasons: (1) His predestined plan is ultimately better for His kingdom than what we have in our day-timer (Eph 1:11); (2) Sometimes God allows Satan and his evil-helpers to fight against us (Eph 6:12; Daniel 10); (3) Sometimes God delays providing what we need until the last second to teach us a lesson about His character (Gen 22:6-19); and (4) Sometimes God wants to provide a better alternative than the options we know about (Gen 24:12-27).
4. Jesus wants me to enjoy the blessings that God has already given me by way of work, life, marriage, children and ministry – Ecclesiastes 3:12-13
How many times have I missed the miracle of the moment or the blessing of the hour because I’m too busy wanting to push for more? How many gifts of God have I snubbed because I’m not content to simply say “Thank you.” As I reflect on all that I have spiritually, in ministry, in fellowship, in family, God is reminding me to enjoy these good gifts. They all come from our Father’s hand. A connected issue to this would be contentment. When I’m grateful, I’m content!
So, as I sit in the lawn-4000 (This is what I call my lawn chair) up at a cool 7000 feet and reflect on what God is reminding me this summer, I’m grateful once again for His mercy.
Praise God for His mercy! I pray that you too will find some time this summer to quietly step aside, enjoy God’s gifts and blessings that all of us have, and come apart…..before you come apart!
Introduction – Not long after I had surrendered to the call of ministry, I started to become aware of a number of “inner-struggles” that existed in many, good fundamental churches. Because my Dad had been in educational ministry, I had overheard various discussions in which Dad (Dr. Jerry Tetreau, President – International Baptist College) would reach out and encourage various hurting believers from all over the country, who were being wounded because of an errant “decision-making process, ” in that particular ministry. As I continued to develop in my theological and ministry training, I became alarmed at the frequency of what I considered to be poor, and at time disastrous, interpersonal relationships in many ministries between “pastors,” “deacons,” and members of the congregation. My decade in the pastorate has unearthed the finding, that this problem persists in many churches because of (I believe) a gross misunderstanding of the “decision-making process of the local, New Testament Church.” I have dedicated the last 3 years of my academic work, plowing through the Scriptures, searching for God’s heart on this topic. This work is in connection with my D.Min. Final Project at Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Plymouth, Minnesota.
My motivation is, first, to glorify God in understanding His will on this critical topic. Second, it is to aid any church (of which I am a part), in understanding and then implementing a “decision-making process” that honors the teachings of God’s Word. Third, to make a dent in the continual “friendly-fire” casualties that occur regularly in many good churches, because of ignorance or other sad motivating factors, that sometimes exist in the hearts of leaders and laymen alike. The following is an abridged outline that explains how we understand the Decision-Making Process to intersect with the pastors (elders), deacons, and individual laymen, and laywomen. It is a description of what we are trying to accomplish at Southeast Valley Baptist Church in Gilbert, Arizona. It is not my purpose to undermine those who differ on various elements of the way we do this at SVBC. It is my purpose to call the church to examine how much of this process is patterned from God’s word, and how much is patterned from other influences (such as a democratic and/or republic form of government, management structures from corporate America, the decision and command structure of the US military, etc.). Today many extremes exist in answering the questions of “who” and “how” decision-making should happen in the local, NT church. The following is a short list of three such extremes:
1) Extreme #1 - “Pastoral Dictatorship Extreme”
- The Problem: In this extreme the pastor or elder has what is called, “The Messiah Syndrome.” Here the assumption is that all decisions must have the senior pastor’s stamp and /or okay before they can legitimately be implemented. Often the underlying conviction is that the “pastor always knows best.” Often these “men of God,” lead with a harsh and unloving demeanor. This is not to suggest that a pastor (especially a senior pastor) can never be forceful or show strong emotion in his leadership. It is to say that he is to have that energy checked by a personal code of conduct and character that is consistent with 1 Tim 3.
B. What God thinks about this attitude:
The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by constraint but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock…(1 Peter 5:1-3).”
2. Extreme #2 – The “Board-Run” Extreme
A. The Problem: Here a small group of individuals (in our circles usually comprising of “deacons,” and/or “trustees” chosen from the laity) determine all or certainly most of the decisions for a church. The problem is similar to the former one except this one involves more than just one person in this misfortunate system of governance. Often the attitude from this “board” is one of “I’ll get my way,” as opposed to “May I serve you?”
Note: In Extreme #1, the pastor is abusing his authority. In Extreme #2, the pastor is abused by being stripped of his rightful authority! Typically the congregation is also stripped of its authority in this system as well! They become hostages to the will of a few! This may not always be a visible problem if these men are God-loving and fearing men. It becomes especially disastrous when they are not!
- What God thinks about this attitude:
“…The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves…(Luke 22:25-26).”
3. Extreme #3 – The Congregational/Democracy Extreme
A. The Problem: While legitimately there are a few important decisions that must be made by the congregation at large, these congregations are under the self-deception, that they are to instruct the leadership on what to do, instead of being willing to submit to God-ordained and placed leadership. Often the assumption in these churches is that the relationship between pastors and deacons is the equivalent to the relationship between the executive and legislative branches of American government. In other words, deacons serve a two-fold purpose: 1) they represent special interests of groups (this often generates a kind of ecclesiastical form of “lobbying” and “politics” in these types of churches) within the congregation and 2) they provide balance of power.
B. What God thinks about this attitude:
Remember those who rule over you who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct(Heb 13:7)
The author of Hebrews continues:
“Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you (Heb 13:17)
Here is our attempt to be biblically balanced in the Decision-Making Process:
1. Their role as defined by Scripture: Key Passages: Acts 20:17-35; 1 Thess 5:12-13; 1 Tim 5:17-22; Titus 1:9-11; Heb 13:17; Jam 5:14-16; 1 Pet 5:1-4.
- “Shepherd” – We get our word “Pastor” from this term. The emphasis here is on feeding, protecting, and tending in illness.
- “Bishop” – The word literally means “overseer.” The emphasis here is on an administrator. The elders are to be the chief overseers of the spiritual sphere of ministry details (This is in contrast to the deacons who are to be the overseers of the physical sphere of ministry details – Acts 6).
- “Elder” – The word speaks to leadership.
- “Teacher” – Out of the many functions of the Elder/Bishop/Pastor, a fundamental emphasis is that of communicating biblical truth to God’s children. This is evident in several ways (notice in Eph – “Pastor/teacher,” notice Christ’s admonition to Peter – “feed my sheep!”)
2. Their areas of “decision-making” (authority) based on their “role” (responsibilities)
A. Pastors should have control over the pulpit ministry. In other words neither the congregation nor the deacons are to instruct the elders as to who should or should not teach and/or preach in the pulpit of the church. This is not to say that a deacon or a laymen does not have a right to communicate when he disagrees with an aspect of the pulpit ministry. Neither does this mean that it is incorrect for anyone to have a suggestion as to special speakers, missionaries, etc. This is to say that it is the elder’s responsibility to oversee the communication of truth to God’s people. (We will mention this again later, but the deacons will have a part in the decision-making process of bringing special speakers because of their general oversight of the finances.)
B. A second area of “responsibility” laid on the shoulders of the elders/pastors is that of determining, based on information gathered, who should minister in what ministry. (This will intersect with the decision-making category involving each individual. Because of our doctrines of “priesthood of the believer,” and “individual soul liberty,” it would be incorrect for a pastor to “instruct” or “command” an individual believer to function in this role or that. However, the elders should challenge or give individuals the opportunity to serve where they are gifted. It is then the responsibility of the laymen to consider whether or not this indeed is what the Lord wants for them by way of ministry). The practical result of this is the ability to make budget recommendations to the deacons, based on ministry need. The deacons should be willing to follow budget recommendations by the elders. However, it is the deacons’ responsibility to make sure the financial budget request is both in balance with the existing budget and that it is also fiscally responsible.
- The pastors/elders are given the responsibility to set the “vision” and determine the “mission” of the local church.
D. The pastors/elders are responsible to oversee the accomplishing of ministry
objectives: Worship, Instruction, Fellowship and Evangelism.
E. The pastors/elders are given the responsibility of overseeing the settlement of church-discipline matters. In some cases it may be necessary to involve the deacons as well.
F. Based on the information gathered from the NT, it was other elders, not deacons or even the congregation, that held oneanother accountable. In other words, it is not valid for a deacon or a member of the congregation to take it upon himself to be the pastor’s, “accountability.” That’s not to say that a pastor can never confide in a deacon or layman, it is to suggest that as far as the ministry and personal life of the elders, they are to hold one another accountable. It is however
true, that as a group of leaders, the elders are accountable to God and their church for their leadership and lives. This also does not mean that it would be wrong for a deacon or a member of the congregation to approach an elder over a disagreement or a personal difference. It would be certainly wrong for an elder to skate around such an encounter by using his position as a shield against such confrontation. (“How dare you question me – don’t you know, I’m a pastor!”)
G. While the deacons are to have the practical oversight of the church budget and ministry, elders should have freedom to spend monies designated in areas of their personal oversight. At SVBC the leadership of each ministry has been granted the freedom to spend up to a certain budgeted cap before needing approval by the executive leadership (This cap may increase or decrease based on the growth and size development of the church). Expenditures would of course need to stay under the cap given by the approved annual budget. Any spending above the budget cap would need to be approved by the Executive Leadership Team.
3. Internal authority structure of the eldership team
Throughout Scripture there are paradoxes. The Word of God is both a human-written book as well as a God-breathed book. Jesus of Nazareth is seen as 100% God and 100% man. Another paradox exists in this issue of the internal authority structure of the elders team. A good way of describing this is by looking at the trinity. On the one hand the “ontological trinity” teaches us that God the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit are totally equal. On the other hand the “economic trinity” teaches us that God the Son submits to the will of the Father. This is a close (not perfect!) illustration of the internal authority relationship within the team of elders.
A. Clearly there is “one office.” This suggests that on the one hand authority is clearly shared between the elders. There needs to be a commitment to the process of unity and consensus. The elders must hold each other accountable.
B. Also clear is the scriptural evidence of the “first among equals.” Even though nowhere in Scripture do you see anyone being called a “senior pastor,” evidence exists that there was some sort of hierarchy for purpose of “function” (not status). Notice the following evidence for this:
1) The qualifications listed in 1 Tim 3:1, 8 (bishop is singular, deacons is plural)
2) The role of James in the Jerusalem Church
a) At the Jerusalem Council, Acts 15
b) At Paul’s Report to the Church, Acts 21
3) The “angels” of Rev 2-3. The message is aimed at a single “messenger.”
4) The work and character of God – God has forms of hierarchy in other God-ordained institutions.
D. All this means practically, is that the “senior pastor” functions as the leader of leaders. One will not find elders in the NT “slam-dunking” decisions without the unity and consensus of the other elders. There of course will be a handful of decisions that the “senior pastor” and only the senior pastor should make (such as to what text to preach from, when to call special meetings, his work schedule, etc.). However, again it would seem prudent to ask for the wisdom of other men even on these issues that he, and he alone must decide. This also does not mean that other elders cannot instigate decisions regarding ministry. You can see a similar relationship with the apostles. Just because you had 12, then the 3, then the 1 (Peter), didn’t make the other 11 less than an apostle. For that matter it didn’t give them less authority, nor did it mean they where less spiritual! Even though Peter exercised great leadership, many would argue that others were more consistent in their spirituality. The biggest contributing factor here would be the individual’s recognized “leadership,”“giftedness,” “ability,” and “calling.”
E. The result of this at SVBC is that the elder team should be willing to submit to the elder who is ministering in his primary area of ministry. At the same time, each elder has authority to exercise leadership in other areas of ministry. Each elder must fight two extremes: the tendency to have his hand in everything or the tendency to be entrapped in his single corner of the church!
4. Process of “discovering,” and then adding to the team of “elders”
A. The present elders become aware of an individual’s “characteristics” and “calling” (a God-placed desire to the pastoral function) and the possibility of them joining the elder team at SVBC.
B. These individuals can be discovered in one of two contexts (just as we find in the NT):
1) These individuals are already a part of the body of SVBC. In many cases these individuals have already received theological and/or ministerial training and experience.
2) In some cases the elders will discover an individual not associated with SVBC, but who demonstrates the call, characteristics, and willingness to be a part of the eldership team at SVBC.
C. The process of bringing an individual to official “eldership” status is as follows:
1) Communication between the prospect and the elders takes place that there is a desire to join the elders team.
2) Process of communication and interview (involving first the elders, then a combined session with the elders and deacons) to see if there is philosophical, and theological compatibility.
3) An understanding and agreement of the basic role that will be played by the new elder.
4) A period of time is set (to be determined by the elders based on each situation), in which the leadership and congregation can watch and determine if indeed the individual should function officially within the elder team.
5) Once the executive leadership (involving all of the elders and deacons) of SVBC has arrived at consensus that the prospective elder should be a part of SVBC leadership, a special Sunday will be set up where the elder will preach, and then share his philosophy of ministry and goals. Following that will be a question and answer period where he will field questions from the congregation. After that, the congregation will vote. Those receiving an overwhelming majority (percent needed will be determined by the elders – each situation may be different) will join the eldership team at SVBC.
6) Those who are rejected will be given a written reason as to why. In some cases, the individual may need to work on a personal area of his character. In some cases the issue is only timing. The leadership may determine that more time is needed. Unfortunately, there may be some cases where the leadership and/or congregation believe an individual is not qualified or is philosophically and/or theologically incompatible.
5. The issue of compensation for eldership
Clearly the NT teaches that a local church is under obligation to pay their pastors well. SVBC is committed to doing all it can to fulfill the responsibility of honoring God’s servants with financial compensation. However, the NT also demonstrates that in many cases the Lord desires for his leaders to be fully or partially “bi-vocational.” This in no way diminishes his office or authority as pastor! If anything it raises his level of honor. The decision of the level and type of compensation is determined by the combined leadership of SVBC. The goal of the SVBC is to pay as much as we can to as many of the elders as we can, based on a variety of criteria (such as the financial health of the church, life and family needs of the elder himself, level of ministry-responsibility, faithfulness to his tasks, and the proficiency of his office). In some cases individual elders may request to be either volunteer, or part-time, based on God-ordained employment and life-situations. The following are the three categories of compensation:
A. “Full-Time” Salaried Staff
B. “Part-Time” Salaried Staff
C. “Volunteer” Staff
The level of work expectation will be reflective based on the level of compensation. This will be clearly communicated in a mutually agreed upon “job description.”
1. Their role as defined by scripture: Key Passages: Acts 6:1-6; Philippians 1:1; 1 Tim 3:8, 12; Romans 16:1; 1 Tim 3:13.
A. “Deacon,” or “Servant” (lit. “servant”) – The context of Phil 1:1 demonstrate that the term “deacon” by the time of the writing of Philippians (ca. A.D. 61), “deacon” was an official office as discernible as the “bishops.”
B. “Serve,” “minister” (verb)
C. “Service,” “ministry”
2. Their areas of “decision-making” (authority) based on their “role” (responsibilities)
A. The key distinction, based on the information gathered in Acts 6, between the elders, function and that of the deacons is not ministry, (clearly based on a quick glance of the qualifications and characteristics both of these groups are to be involved in various realms of ministry); but rather “spheres” of ministry. The spiritual leadership (then apostles, today elders) are to primarily give
attention to ministry of the Word and prayer. In other words, the elders are to oversee the spiritual sphere of ministry. Also clear from the mentioned passages is that the office of deacon was instituted in order to assist the elders in overseeing the physical sphere of ministry. The clearest motivation for this was to free up the spiritual leadership to spend the necessary time and attention on the ministry of the Word and of prayer.
B. The deacons in the early church were responsible to oversee the business of finance. The Greek term “tables” in Acts 6, most likely refers to tables used to count and deal with finances. A good translation of Acts 6:2 would read, “It is not right for us to neglect the preaching of God’s word in order to handle finances.” This also seems consistent when one considers the context of Acts 4:34-35. It seems clear that these first deacons (sometimes called, “proto-deacons”) demonstrated oversight of the finances by:
1) Collecting money and goods contributed to the needy (Acts 4:34,35,37; 5:2).
2) Distributing the money or goods to the needy (Acts 4:35).
3) Ensuring that the church justly and fairly distributed the money (Acts 6).
4) Coordinating the church’s overall financial affairs and ministries of mercy (Acts 6).
The point of all of this to the contemporary church: Even though technically the elders have been given the responsibility of general oversight (including issues dealing with finance) of each congregation, practically the deacons should be the chief financial overseers of a church, not the elders, nor the congregation. (One of the reasons why deacons are to be men, “full of the Holy Spirit”) In this case it seems right that the elders and the congregation be willing to submit themselves to the “day in/day-out” financial decision-making of deacons. This is not a problem for a Spirit-lead pastor, or a Spirit-lead congregation! It is very difficult, perhaps impossible for a flesh -filled pastor, or a flesh-filled congregation! Churches that cannot trust deacons with this level of authority need to examine whether or not they have biblically qualified deacons! Churches thathave pastors that cannot trust qualified deacons with this authority, need to examine whether or not they have qualified pastors!
Final Note: When applying this aspect of deacon-oversight to the physical resources of ministry, it seems consistent to conclude that it falls on the team of deacons to oversee the upkeep and care of other physical resources (such as buildings, vehicles, equipment, etc.). This is not to say that the deacons are to do everything (This is a great place to plug “gifted” men and women of the
congregation into the ministry structure of a local church. This is also a great area to allow young people the chance to work toward a missions trip, etc.).
C. Also clear in the text was the deacon’s responsibility to make sure that those in clear need within the Christian community were taken care of. They oversaw the ministry of mercy or benevolence. While the office of deacon does inherently have authority (delegated by God, not the pastor nor the congregation!), the textual emphasis is not on being a “boss,” but rather a “servant.”
D. Deacons are to have been “discovered” by others in the congregation, and “approved” by the leadership (then apostles, today elders – Acts 6). It would seem unbiblical for leadership to just “appoint” those who will serve as deacons without congregational inpute. This is done many times in churches by pastors who are looking for spineless “yes” men, who will always be loyal (nothing is wrong with “loyalty;” the problem is “blind loyalty”) to every wish of the pastor. Typically these are pastors who do not evidence the spirit that NT demands be found in elders. Often these spiritually and emotionally abused congregations led by such, “men of God” (so-called!) become so beaten down, the leadership becomes verycultish. The sad point here is that these congregations become bewitched in thinking that these men are to be mindlessly followed and obeyed. They often do not realize that God has given them the authority to throw such leadership out the door! When some figure this out, they often leave (or get thrown out by the pastor himself!).
E. Deacons are not required to be involved in the “spiritual sphere” of ministry (hence the missing qualification “apt to teach,” that does exist for the elder – the only difference found between the two offices). This does not mean that deacons cannot or should not minister in the spiritual realm vs. the physical realm (notice the personal ministries of Stephen and Philip in Acts 6 and following).
3. Process of discovering, and adjusting the team of deacon: See SVBC Constitution.
1. Their role as defined by scripture: Key Passages: 1 Peter 2:5, 9; 1 Cor 12:4-31
C. Member of the Body
2. Their areas of decision-making (authority) based on their role (responsibilities).
A. One of the big theological foundations for this category (each laymen’s authority in the context of local church ministry) is that of spiritual gifts. If one understands the NT teaching on spiritual gifts, it is evident that every believer has been given gifts which are to correspond to local church ministry. Who is best suited to make the day by day, ministry decisions for those ministries? The elders? The deacons? Without a doubt, believers who have been given “gifts” for various ministries are better equipped to make the many decisions found in that ministry. Of course if the elders or other lay leaders have a concern, the individual laymen or laywomen should be willing to submit to their authority. However, there should basically be little interference. Interference should come only when the direction of the lay ministry is headed for danger.
B. Scripture is also clear that while women have authority to function within local church ministry, their authority is limited in that it does not place men underneath their jurisdiction. This would preclude women from serving as leadership heads such as elder, deacon, or any other office of headship. (This does not mean that they could not serve as advisors on a service-oriented, ministry team or committee.) The only exception would be a ministry leadership position that only involves the oversight of women or children. See 1 Cor 11:3; 1 Tim 2:9-15; Titus 2:3-5
1. It’s role as defined by Scripture: Key passages: Acts 2:42-47; Acts 6:1-6
B. “Called-out assembly”
2. It’s areas of decision-making (authority) based on its role (responsibility)
A. A clear point of Scripture is the responsibility a church has to examine closely who should or who should not be in positions of authority and leadership.
B. Additionally clear is the fact that the congregation needs to be discerning about what is being taught. (Acts 17:11)
C. NT churches demonstrated “collective will” by giving amounts of aid to specific local fellowships. It seems reasonable, in keeping with this practice of the early church to allow and encourage congregational inpute on significant decisions dealing with finances and other monumental decisions. This is not to say that the elders and/or deacons should abdicate their leadership in these important matters.
3. Its area of responsibility to others in the context of decision-making in a local church ministry
A. The congregation is to submit to the elders in the area of spiritual leadership and church ministry (Heb 13:7, 17).
B. The congregation is to submit to the deacons in the areas of the physical sphere of ministry.
C. The congregation is to submit to lay leaders, leading in the areas of their ministry strengths and giftedness (Eph 5:21 – Paul here teaches mutual submission is an evidence of being Spirit-filled).
Conclusion: The Method of “Decision-Making,” in the local Church
No matter who a local church determines is responsible to make decisions, Scipture indicates by way of command and example how decision-making should proceed. There needs to be a commitment to several procedures:
1. A corporate and individual commitment to prayer
James states in James 1:5, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” It would seem evident that especially at the crucial times of decision-making, God’s children should
give themselves to seasons of prayer and fasting. When this doesn’t happen, often the attitude is, “Well I have authority for this decision, and I think we should do this, or that.” This is tragic if these important decisions are made hastily without prayer. When this is done, it typically indicates a spirit of pride not humility!
2 A corporate and individual commitment to humility
Many of the “power-struggles” we read of in the gospels between the apostles, were due at least in part from a prideful spirit. Christ, on many occasions, had to take time out of his ministry to rebuke his disciples for such attitudes. It is imperative when a leadership team is working through a decision, that all of the participants have a teachable, approachable and humble attitude. It seems impossible for a “man of God” to continually have a non-teachable and stubborn attitude and at the same time be biblically qualified for either the office of pastor or deacon.
3. A corporate and individual commitment to the idea that the will of “Christ” is to be
preeminent in a local church!
Paul makes it abundantly clear in Colossians 1 that Christ is preeminent in the church because of his work of creation and redemption. John warns the readers of 3 John about a church leader by the name of Diotrephes, for “he loves to have the preeminence among them…” The point of application here is simply this: every layman, deacon, and pastor must be willing to submit his will to the will of God. If and when a believer (no matter what his function in a local assembly may be) is more concerned about his will be followed than God’s, he sets himself up as an idol. This idolatry seems especially criminal when one uses his so-called, “God-given authority” as a clock to set his own agenda without considering if indeed that is God’s will and direction.
4. A corporate and individual commitment to the process of “consensus”
It is imperative that the God-ordained idea of a plurality of leadership be allowed to function as one sees illustrated in the NT. (Notice the Jerusalem council of Acts 15). Here God’s men worked and prayed through a debated spiritual issue until they arrived at what they understood was God’s answer. This simply does not happen if all you have is the “slam-dunk” approach to decision-making, or the “pure democracy” approach to decision-making.Please Note: Again, this does not mean there are no “leaders” to direct the flow of consensus.
An alarming rate of the Lord’s servants suffer from major discouragement and depression. What has been especially difficult and alarming is the number of presentations I have listened to that seem to indicate that this discouragement comes to those who are in some way, “weak” and “sinful.” Often times the listener goes away with the sense that if only I were “more holy,” or perhaps “more disciplined” I would be able to “break free” from these feelings of discouragement. Panic, anxiety and other physical “reactions” to stress and strain are often assumed to automatically be signs of “bad theology” or “personal sin.” Often such symptoms certainly may in part be connected with sinful choices. But we need to remember that one cannot assume that because a servant is going through a time of depression – even the type that effects one physically, that that is necessarily the result of “sin” in faith or practice. For those who refuse to accept this, I simply need to remind you of Jesus of Nazareth. Christ, in His humanity, suffered physiological symptoms (sweating blood) on the eve of his crucifixion. Yep, you have “physiological results” from “internal strain.” I hope we would not say that Jesus’ suffered from “bad theology” or “personal sin!” Just as it was normal for Jesus, to suffer the physiological effects of strain at Golgotha – Those of us less divine can certainly expect that often we will feel the effects of discouragement even depression and anxiety in our weak, physical bodies and brains!
For the last seventeen years, I have had the privilege of pastoring in Michigan, Minnesota, and now in Arizona. What I have discovered is that while each ministry and minister is unique, and while the cultural setting may vary from region to region, we are all very similar in the way discouragement attacks us. This article was initially written several years ago during a time in which we have dedicated several months of preaching and teaching to the topic of “The Bible’s answer to discouragement and depression.” What began as a 4 week preaching series grew into a 10 week “journey” into a specific time frame in the life and ministry of Elijah. What follows is some Biblically based information that when applied can be helpful for the man or woman who faces the common times of discouragement and even depression, within the context of life and ministry. This brings us to our “case study.”
You will remember that in 1 Kings, chapter 18, Elijah experiences a great victory on Mount Carmel. After this victory, including the execution of the prophets of Baal, God sends rain and helps Elijah win a “foot race,” against the chariot of Ahab to Jezreel. I believe it would be obvious to say that Elijah has a full day in chapter 18. It also seems clear from the text, that Elijah was experiencing victory in life and ministry. However, when you come to the next chapter (chp 19) you will notice a major change in demeanor. Our victorious, triumphant Elijah becomes fearful, depressed, and despondent. Wow, what a change! The reason I mention this portion of the OT is because it is very instructive for God’s servants today. I believe you will notice some very interesting parallels as to the cause and then solution of this type of ministry and life depression. Notice what I believe to be contributing factors to Elijah’s depression.
#1 – Elijah is going through a major “life” and “ministry-change.” From what we can determine here in this portion of 1 Kings, Elijah is going to be transitioning into a new phase of prophetic ministry, namely that of “mentoring” the next major spiritual leader, Elisha. This marks the beginning of the end of Elijah’s ministry. Counselors (both “Biblical” and “Secular”) will tell you that people are most susceptible to discouragement when they find themselves in the middle of a “life-transition.” I believe that this is no different for the Lord’s servants.
#2 – Elijah suffers a major “failed expectation.” It seems very apparent from these chapters that Elijah expected Israel to turn back to Jehovah. Not only does that not happen but also the queen is after his “neck!” This again rings true with those involved in day to day life and ministry. How common it is for a pastor to feel like a failure on Monday morning, a Christian School teacher to feel unloved because they struggle with not getting a raise in salary when others in the ministry structure do! A Bible Camp Director when out of a dozen supporting churches, he can only muster up 3 to help during “clean up week!” A pastor who does not get the pay raise he needs, even when the church could afford it. You get the picture. These types of “failed expectations” can easily propel us into self-pity and discouragement.
#3 – Elijah suffers from physical exhaustion. Let’s not forget Elijah’s journey here. Remember it all began on Mount Carmel. After his victory, he runs all the way to “the entrance of Jezreel.” After getting word that the queen is out to get him, he continues his journey all the way to Beer-sheba where he drops off his servant and then runs 15 more miles (a day’s journey) into the middle of the Negev desert, finds a tree and essentially collapses. When you add it all up, that’s more than 80 miles! We think that was all in about a day and a half! Well, how would you feel after running over 3 marathons in a short period of time! The text seems to describe this journey as anything but “calm.” Very clearly, he is running for his life. Very clearly, God’s servant is physically tired.
How common it is for all of us who have been in ministry to get tired, and then as a result to feel “down.” No matter what kind of ministry you find yourself, we all have the same “MO.” Your “to do” list is longer than your “grocery list.” The problem is that we often set unfair and unreasonable expectations on ourselves. This is no doubt connected with the day and age we live in. We are used to “instant this and that,” and so we get frustrated when our ministries are not zipping along at mach 3! So to compensate we work, work, work, and work, (often at the expense of a healthy diet and exercise program!) until we’re whipped. As I look at my own heart I have to admit that sometimes I am guilty of this because I think (or maybe “others” in the congregation wrongly think) that building God’s church is more up to me, than Christ. Remember His words, “I will build my Church!” I think if we really believed that, we could avoid the sin of “workaholism.” That’s not to say that we are to be lazy, but remember even Christ took time out of his earthly ministry to rest. I’ve heard it said, “You need to come apart, before you come apart!”
#4 – Elijah suffers from emotional and spiritual exhaustion. Without a doubt, “ministry” takes something out of you. Anyone who has tried to counsel or help others in time of crisis knows that “ministry burns energy.” As you think of Elijah here, let’s not forget that he had spent the entire previous day doing battle – not just expending physical energy; he was involved in spiritual battle! All ministry, if it is God-honoring, will be involved in this type of “spiritual warfare.” Paul does not stutter when he proclaims in Ephesians 6:12, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” When you give of yourself in ministry there is a spiritual and I believe emotional drain that takes place.
#5 – Elijah suffers from isolation. When you come down to 1 Kings 19:4, the prophet here is all alone. You will remember that back in Beer-sheba, Elijah drops his servant off. Elijah is all alone. We really don’t need to be surprised that Elijah actually thinks that he’s all that’s left for Jehovah. That is a normal feeling when you’ve isolated yourself from everyone else! God was good later in the text to remind Elijah that, “no son, you’re not alone, I have another 7,000 in Israel who have not bowed to Baal. Have you ever had that feeling? Oh God, only I am left!!! When you think about that, Isn’t that pathetic! I mean really! This might be an indication that some of us have taken “separation” to the unbibilcal extreme of “isolation!” God did not intend for that to be normal! He very much is into the “team mentality.” God is not interested in each of us fighting as an “one-man army” – he has placed us into His army, with other soldiers who love the Lord as much, if not more, than we do! That’s why he gives us each different gifts, so that in the midst of the battle we are able to lean and rely on each other! What is interesting here is that not only does Elijah isolate himelf from other people, he also ignores God! Not once in this “Mt Carmel to Jezerel to Beer-sheba to the middle of the Negev” trip, do you see God’s servant praying. And finally at the end of verse 4, when he does pray, it’s rather self-centered – “Please God, just kill me!”
#6 – Elijah suffers from panic. When we look at all of these other contributing factors to Elijah’s “burn-out,” it should not surprise us that God’s servant is taken over with fear. This is the same guy who in faith, takes on 450 prophets of Baal (chp 18), is feed at the brook Cherith (chp 17) and then later that same chapter tells the widow at Zarephath to, “Fear not” concerning enough food for himself, her and her son. The point here is this, Elijah was no spiritual wimp. He has seen first hand God’s supernatural hand of deliverance. I only mention this to point out that “panic,” and “depression” are not only characteristic only of the “unspiritual.” It often attacks believer’s who for years have faithfully and selflessly served the Lord. Many of God’s choicest servants both in scripture and throughout history have wrestled with this. What is hard to believe is that Elijah would run from a woman who gives an oath to her “gods,” the same gods who proved to be totally helpless the day before, when fighting against Jehovah. Elijah is not in a frame of mind to realize the obvious about the impotence of Jezebel, and her gods! There will be times that we are faced with fear. But we should not forget that God has promised to be with us. God has ordained and continues to maintain our ministries. We do not need to fear because God is faithful!
Well, What’s the answer? Notice with me that God helps Elijah in this time of depression by focusing on several issues. First, God allows Elijah to have victory over depression from the physical sphere. Then the spiritual spere. And last, the relational sphere.
A. Attacking depression from the Physical realm.
1. Healthy Sleeping – The first thing God allows Elijah to do is to get rest. One of the first things to suffer when we get “over-extended” in life and ministry is sleep. Here God allows His prophet sleep. Many times we don’t get the sleep we need because we are still working, or we’re worked up so much in our mind that we can’t sleep (another indication that we might not be trusting God). Most folks in ministry don’t have a problem with too much sleep, it’s usually too little!
2. Healthy Eating – When the angel awakes Elijah he gives him bread. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that God’s bread probably didn’t have 35 additives in it. I doubt it had the word, “Wonder!” stamped on the side. My guess is that God’s bread was nutritious. We in ministry are frankly notorious about our bad eating habits. What is amazing is that often the preachers with the “biggest mouth” about destroying our bodies (temples of the Holy Spirit) with cigarettes, drugs, and booze, often are destroying themselves with the “biggest belly!”
3. Healthy Drinking – The third point here is to simply note that when giving Elijah a drink, it wasn’t wine, it wasn’t juice, it was “good ol” water! The point here is not that it’s wrong to have a coffee in the morning or an occasional soda, its simply again to note that God gives his servant healthy drink in his time of need. It is interesting to note that modern day psychologists believe that depression hits hardest those who are not eating and drinking in a healthy manner.
4. Healthy Physical Pace – The last issue here is simply to realize that after this time or physical refreshment, he went forty days and forty nights to Mount Horeb (about 200 miles south of Beersheba). A long trip for sure, but a much more reasonable pace that that first 80 mile dash at the beginning of chapter 19! Physicians are telling us today that with physical exercise it is possible to do damage to your body with either the wrong kind of exercise or the wrong amount (including in some cases – too much). Within the last several years, several famous middle age athletes have died pre-maturely because of over-exercising. Probably most of us struggle with the other extreme – not enough exercise!
B. Attacking depression from the Spiritual realm.
1. Elijah finally begins to pray – When you come to the end of verse four, in a fit of desperation, the prophet prays to God. The point could be made that perhaps this isn’t the best prayer, but at least he’s now talking to the one who can help! I must admit that this has happened to me more frequently than it should. I will be working on a problem and I get stumped and so after I’ve exhausted all my mental resources (which doesn’t take too long!) I say well, “at least I can pray!” No doubt God would have us learn to do this first! Many times depression is a result of Holy Spirit conviction concerning unconfessed sin in the life of God’s servant. David reminds us in Ps 66:18 that this will block our fellowship with the Lord, causing a “sense” of separation from God (even though He’s not the one who’s moved away!). The answer to unconfessed sin, according to 1 John 1:9, is “prayer!” Sometimes it’s Satan functioning as the “accuser of the brethren,” trying to discourage us with “false guilt,” stemming from past failure that has already been forgiven and forgotten (except by us & Satan!). Again, the answer is prayer. The point here is that finally God’s servant begins the process of healing through prayer.
2. Elijah listens to “the word of the Lord” – When we come to verse 9. The Servant is now in the Sinai range, finds a cave and begins to listen to “the word of the Lord.” In communicating his disappointment in God’s people and even in God himself, finally Elijah listens to Jehovah’s answer for the situation he finds himself in. It is interesting that in this revelation from God, Elijah is asked the question, “What are you doing here?” No doubt a reference that his arrival to this location was initiated by his fearful fleeing, and not the result of the Lord’s instruction. The prophet’s response shows that he felt tired, fearful and alone in the face of those who hated both himself and God. The Lord’s answer to Elijah is so descriptive of God’s character that we find it used in Romans 11, by the Apostle Paul, in his explaining of how some of the house of Abraham have not deserted God. Here Elijah is instructed to anoint Hazael, Jehu and Elijah. It is encouraging to remember that the Lord, through these men, completed the destruction of the Baal worshipers that Elijah had begun. Additionally, God reminds his discouraged servant that, “no” he was not alone, another seven thousand had not bowed the knee to Baal. This “word” needs to be sounded again today. Often the pastor, deacon, Sunday school teacher, Christian camp worker, the mother, the father, the teenager and a host of others feel like they’re all alone. My dear Christian friend, hurting in life and ministry – you are not alone! God is with you, others have gone on faithfully in the face of similar discouragements and God was faithful in getting them to the other side. God will be faithful to you, He will not fail you – He can’t, He’s God! He will accomplish his purpose in a way that is best for you, and consistent with his sovereign will. Our salvation and ministry are all a result of God! He is both the author and finisher of our faith. Because of Him, we can and must go on. For in going on in faith, even in the face of discouragement and depression, we have the privilege of witnessing and partaking in God’s work and deliverance. Remember Hebrews 12:1 “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” This brings us to the last part of Elijah’s attacking depression.
I don’t have the room here to treat this fully. The Hebrew term for meditate (hG,hey,- pronounced “he-gah”) mean’s “self-talk.” The idea you hear preachers use is a cow chewing it’s food. That’s really not the best description. A better idea would be like a dove who “coo’s.” We are to “coo” God’s Word – In other words, we are to “self-talk” day and night (Joshua 1:8, Ps 1:1, etc….). When we are hit with those waves of discouragement. It is imperative that we talk to the Lord, and “self-talk.” That is we reflect on the promises of God’s Word. David was not free from discouragement. A quick view of the Psalms reveal that. Powerful is Psalm 31. David works through a list of reasons he runs to God for comfort. In times of discouragement, the Father desires that we run to him. “As a father pieties his children…..” Praise the Lord he cares about his children, especially during the low times of life and ministry.
C. Attacking depression from the Relational realm.
1. Elijah seeks out Elisha – When I was a teenager, one of the most popular movie series was “Rambo.” My take on the movie series back then was that the story line was essentially the same. In each episode, a “one man” army goes and kills all the bad guys, so America can live safe and free in the face of the communist threat. I’ve observed many in ministry with the same attitude. They can handle this all by themselves! The problem here is that if you actually tried to fight a real “modern day” war this way, once the bullets started to fly, you would probably have a life expectancy of about…3 seconds! This is not to say that The Lord on some occasion won’t ask us to stand alone in face of sin. But it is to say that the scriptures consistently demonstrate a “team mentality” to ministry. Sometimes in a quest to be separate from the world, we actually isolate ourselves from each other! Here, Elijah has help in that God directs him to Elisha. As one reads the following chapters, it is very apparent that Elijah not only becomes a mentor to Elisha, but additionally Elisha becomes a very special source of encouragement to the older Elijah.
2. Elijah is “ministered unto” by Elisha – At the end of this chapter, the reader finds a very interesting phrase. In verse 21, the reader will note that after Elisha sacrifices the oxen and says his good-byes to loved ones, “he arose, and went after Elijah, and ministered unto him.” The idea is that the younger Elisha goes and serves and encourages the older Elijah. The impact here should be several fold. First, it is important for those of us who are constantly serving others to allow God and others the occasion of serving and ministering to us. Second, those of us who are younger in ministry should not be afraid to speak a word of encouragement or do a kind deed of service to those who have gone before us. Frankly, I have always unconsciously believed that those who are in minsitry with significant responsibilities don’t need my support or service because obviously at that level of spirituality, they don’t need it. I’m finding out that they need it probably more than those of us with less responsibility! It is important to remember that God created us with the need for fellowship. It is good to be able to have friends and comrades in ministry. And if one doesn’t have any friends, it may be good to ask himself, am I “friendly?” Better yet, ask your wife. God doesn’t want a bunch of disconnected and discouraged, “ministry-Rambo’s!”
By way of conclusion, when you’re tired and feel like Elijah in 1 Kings 19, remember the words of Elisha (to his fearful servant in Dothan) in 2 Kings 6, “Fear not; for they who are with us are more than they who are with them.” Praise God we serve a Lord who says, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee (Heb 13:5).”
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE ESCHATON FOR OUR MINISTRY OBJECTIVES: HOW ESCHATOLOGY IMPACTS WORSHIP, INSTRUCTION, FELLOWSHIP AND EVANGELISM
Introduction – For the majority of my time in pastoral ministry, I have gone out of my way to avoid eschatology. A part of that is well represented by Merrill C. Tenney. In explaining the common pastoral misgivings of preaching or applying eschatology, Tenney reflects on the fears of many in ministry:
If I stand in my pulpit, and preach eschatological message, how do I know that my interpretation is correct? Am I simply giving a little harmless amusement to those who are curiosity seekers? Am I simply tickling the ears of the eschatologically curious? Am I preaching on the periphery of Christian truth, when I should be preaching on its very center? What good does it do to preach on the anti-Christ to people who need, first of all, to be saved? Why should I emphasize the second coming when so many of them have no particular convictions about the first?