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Church Leadership

Titus 1 & 1 Timothy 3: Six Things the Bible doesn’t say

Here are the two most often quoted passages from the New Testament about the qualifications of a pastor.

Titus 1:5-9 [Brackets, mine]

The reason I [Paul] left you [Titus] in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders [some translations use the word leader] in every town, as I directed you. 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. 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. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 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.

1 Timothy 3:1-7 [Brackets mine]

Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer [elder, pastor, overseer are basically the same word] desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

6 things that Paul doesn’t say that American church culture often says are qualifications to be considered a pastor.

  1. You have to be a leadership expert, a proven leader with years of experience, a reader of books on leadership, aspiring to be a leader, and a regular at Willow Creek’s Leadership Summit and/or somehow tangentially related to John Maxwell.
  2. You have to be an employee of the church. The same passage describes the biblical qualifications for a pastor as they do positions the American church almost never considers staff-level. (Elder, overseer)
  3. Aspiring to be a well-known preacher. “Able to teach” is a pretty low standard. I am fully “able to run” but you won’t catch me out there doing it too often.
  4. Be in possession of an Masters in Divinity from a denominationally approved seminary prior to seeking ordination. That said, education was a high priority in the early church. You couldn’t even be baptized or label yourself a Christian until you’d gone through about a one year process of intense discipleship. (Prior to baptism, new believers were called catechumen.)
  5. Be a great manager of programs and projects. Since the early church was organized around the idea of family, you didn’t need to take classes in organizational leadership to understand the dynamics of a family.
  6. You have to be an amazing self-promoter of both the church and your “personal brand.” Paul didn’t have a blog, Twitter, or Facebook. And yet he somehow managed to be spur on the most powerful viral message of all time.
Categories
Church Leadership

Megachurches canceling services today?

Last night my friend Gavin Richardson posted an interesting quandary on Twitter. To paraphrase, “Why is it that in some parts of the world people die trying to go to church while here in the states megachurches are canceling services because they did a big service Christmas eve?

Here was my response, “Easy. It’s a different Gospel. The Gospel of convenience/comfort bears no resemblance to one of suffering.

Let’s unpack this

In Iraq, Christians gathered for Christmas Eve services in defiance of people who threatened their lives. (And had proven the threat just 60 days ago!)

Throughout Iraq, churches canceled or toned down Christmas observances this year, both in response to threats of violence and in honor of the nearly 60 Christians killed in October, when militants stormed a Syrian Catholic church and blew themselves up. Since the massacre, more than 1,000 Christian families have fled Baghdad for the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq, with others going to Jordan or Syria or Turkey. Though the exact size of Iraq’s Christian population is unclear, by some estimates it has fallen to about 500,000 from a high of 1.4 million before the American-led invasion of 2003. Iraq’s total population is about 30 million.

Read the rest at the New York Times (Here’s the article Gavin linked to in his tweet)

Unfortunately, Iraqi’s aren’t alone. There are Christians killed for worshiping Jesus every day. Throughout the world believers in Jesus suffer daily. If you’d like to hear their stories and understand their struggles more, I’d recommend subscribing to the Persecution Podcast published by Voice of the Martyrs.

For a large part of the world loving Jesus is tied closely to suffering. Many are expelled from their families for following Jesus. Some are sold as slaves. Some are imprisoned. Some experience economic inequity. Many are breaking the law by meeting– even in private. Many are left as outcasts. Many go hungry while their neighbors do not.

In the United States, some Christians won’t gather for services the day after Christmas because their leaders want to give everyone a day off. Their Bible apparently includes an out-clause in Exodus 20:8-11. Their Bible reads, “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, except after Christmas when we give everyone the day off so they can spend time with family.

After gearing up for Christmas services throughout this week, several megachurches will wind down by canceling Sunday worship on Dec. 26th.

Pastors and church leaders say taking that day off allows the staff and volunteers more time to spend with their family during a traditionally busy season.

Read the rest at Christian Post

For a large part of the United States loving Jesus is tied closely to convenience. We do things when it works for us. But when it is more convenient to not do something, we pretend like we don’t even see it.

To summarize: In some parts of the world people risk death threats to worship while in other places in the world we’re taking the Sabbath off so we can spend time with family.

Two different worlds

We, in the United States, dishonor those in the persecuted church when we decide not to meet because it’d be more convenient. Any time you hear a pastor justify something like this by saying “we are putting families first,” you need to call them out. We are called to put God first. Period. 52 Sunday’s per year. 365 days per year. 24 hours per day.

Why?

The church is our real family. Coming to church, small group, or other forms of community is real family time. Partnering with those who suffer for the sake of Christ by continuing to worship no matter what is a real family expression of love. Healthy families get together. We suffer together. It is what we do. It is who we are. More importantly, it is who Jesus told us we need to be.

Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!” “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” Luke 18:26-30

Taking the Sunday after Christmas off to spend time with family? What a slap in the face to the concept that the church is your family! This is the churches way of telling its congregant… “You aren’t my real family.

This is what happens when church becomes staff-driven and about programs as opposed to the simple expressions described in the New Testament. (Where one person, maybe, was employed… per city!) Church becomes about doing what is best for the staff and what is convenient to the programs. Staff and programs aren’t bad– they are good. But the organization isn’t and shouldn’t ever be about them. They are there purely to serve the family.

We are to be real family to those without family. We are to be about the business of loving neighbors. We are to take care of widows and orphans. We are to feed the poor. We are to be about suffering alongside our brothers and sisters. We are to be about sacrificing for their sake.

Be reminded that the early church spread fastest, furthest, and had the deepest impact when we had no paid staff, no property, and met in homes or borrowed spaces.

Instead, they depended on one another as equal. Paul paints the picture again and again that the church is a body. We are inter-dependent. When one part suffers we all suffer. And when another part rejoices we all rejoice. Let no one in the church be more important than the other!

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? James 2:1-6a

In the end, the megachurches who take today off (and the myriad of churches who follow their lead, since they are “church growth experts“) are exhibiting the hole in their Gospel. Not to vilify them– but to expose the places we need to help them repair. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time but they got it wrong.

No more groupthink in church leadership. Instead, let’s move forward by compassionately living out what God has clearly told us to do in the Bible.

Categories
Christian Living Church Leadership

Myth: God opens and closes doors

I’ve heard this phrase to the point where I think people actually believe this is somehow a biblical concept.

God has opened the door for me to ____.

I was pursuing something I really felt called to, but God closed the door.

That’s not in the Bible folks. It is a non-biblical, non-Christian philosophy called fatalism.

I believe this little phrase, God opens and closes doors, has lead to people falsely blaming God for missed opportunities. We put this philosophy of open and closed doors above biblical concepts like perseverance, patience, and long-suffering.

Instead, many have bought into a mentality that it’s meant to be, God will open doors. If it isn’t meant to be, God will close doors.

Again, that’s fatalism. That isn’t how God works. Nor is it how God’s people are asked to look at the world.

This is what God says about opening doors:

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. Revelation 3:20

  • Did David tell his friends, “Yeah, I was anointed as the next king, I don’t know though. Clearly, Saul doesn’t like me so I think God is closing that door?
  • I don’t think God cared too much about Jonah’s “closing the door” on going to Ninevah.
  • I don’t remember Jesus telling Paul the whole blinding thing was an open door to a life in ministry.
  • And a ship-wreck was clearly a “closed door” if I’ve ever seen one. But did that stop him?
  • Persecutions of the first apostles weren’t seen as God closing doors. The only door that ended their ministry typically involved lions.
  • Pharaoh refusing to release the Jews for the first 9 plagues wasn’t God closing a door.
  • Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had an open door to a fiery furnace. But that didn’t stop them, did it?
  • Seems like the doors were closed around old Jericho, weren’t they? Did that stop God’s people from taking action?

On and on we see that Scripture is not fatalistic about vocation, doing good, doing right, or fulfilling our call!

But God does work in us and through us when we persevere, when we are patient in affliction, when we long-suffer for doing right.

God rewards the righteous. God smiles on those who seek justice. God hears and answers prayer. God wants us to seek wise-council. God’s calling is true. God can move literal and figurative mountains for the faithful.

God calls us and asks us to depend on Him and Him alone.

He could care less about our education. (Paul) He could care less about our abilities. (Moses) He could care less about our lack of faith. (Jonah) He could care less about our past failures. (David)

When God asks us to do something open and closed doors are meaningless.

If He is asking you to do something He will make a way.

Rather than worrying about if the door is open or closed we are asked to open the door. We may have to kick it in. And we may need to buy a sledge-hammer to make a way where there is no way.

But waiting for doors to open or doors to close is meaningly, dangerous, and destructive. The only door you should be closing is on fatalism. The only door you should be opening is to Jesus, “Here I am, use me how you want. I am yours. You are my Savior and Lord.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2