WORK HARD FOR A HEALING SPIRIT (4)

The What & Why of Honoring Church Leaders for Unity’s Sake

“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”

So Paul, the apostle, exhorts in Rom. 12:10.

A gospel-shaped life (Rom.1-11) demonstrates itself in a variety of manifestations of love-in this case competitive honor-showing.

I have argued in my previous three posts that this must especially be true in the way followers treat their leaders in the local church.

We will struggle to enjoy ongoing unity in the body of Christ failing to cultivate such a virtue.

In 1 Thess. 5:12-13 Paul details four aspects of the nature of a shepherd’s work which warrant extra attention in the way of honor and esteem on the part of us as followers: family, hard, leading, and corrective work.

In this post I want to address the first.

family

Family Work  

Remember how Paul begins? We ask you. He urges gently; he doesn’t pull apostolic rank. And he writes with affection calling them brothers. Of course, as the ESV marginal note clarifies, he means brothers and sisters—both men and women.

He builds everything he commends here on the gospel foundation of brotherhood. We are family. Before we are elders, deacons, congregants et al, we are brothers and sisters in Christ. The church is God’s family.

What should distinguish us above all else is the love for which we have for one another.  For followers that must be especially true of the way they esteem their church officers.

One Sunday morning a number of years ago I went on an ill-advised tirade during the announcement segment of the worship service. A new round of what we call Equipping Hour (think Sunday school) classes lay before us.

Attendance at these often started strong but waned as weeks went by. In an effort to motivate greater participation, I went on a legalistic rant and rave. I mean, it was ugly.

It was so bad my wife actually pulled me aside during the music to express her dismay at my meltdown!

If that wasn’t bad enough, a week or so later our young pastoral intern asked to meet me for lunch. After the usual chit chat, Scott courageously brought up that Sunday.

I’ll never forget what he said. Pastor Curt, the only thing that entire day that pointed me to the gospel was the baptisms at the end. This clearly had not been my finest pastoral hour.

That both my wife and an intern needed to exhort me about it humbled me big time. I got the message. I determined never to do that again.

Both the way Nancy and Scott approached me made all the difference in the world in the way I reacted. They never lost sight of respect for my calling and authority as an elder. They entreated me with esteeming love as a brother—and in my wife’s case—also as her husband!

When you engage an officer about some issue in your church, picture him with his family hat on—your brother—before you do with his leader hat on.

What is one way you could show your esteem for a pastor this week as your brother?

WORK HARD FOR A HEALING SPIRIT (3)

The What & Why of Honoring Church Leaders for Unity’s Sake

Shepherding

In their book, Redeeming Church Conflicts, Tara Barthel and David Edling put their finger on a troublesome issue between followers and leaders in the church:

Typically, in our churches today, we find followers who don’t want to follow because they think they know more than their leader. They are like rebellious sheep who just want to do what they would do naturally. It’s true that all leaders are imperfect. But we can all learn to follow imperfect leaders. We have no other choice, for there is no perfect leader in a fallen world, and as followers, this is what we are called to do.

In this series of posts regarding followers excelling in safeguarding unity with leaders, we have answered the “what” question from this passage.

Followers who master peacemaking with leaders in their church treat them with the utmost, relational, loving esteem/honor/respect possible.

Now we are ready to ask the “why” question.

The answer comes in the middle of 1 Thess. 5:12-13because of their work.

I make it a point every Sunday before the worship service to eyeball the congregation looking for new people. If possible, I head their way to welcome them.

One Sunday I approached a lady visiting for the first time. I introduced myself by my first name. She smiled and replied, Hi, Curt, and shook my hand.

But then she paused, maybe catching a glimpse of my name tag. She actually gasped a bit. Are you the pastor? she asked. Well, yes, I am. I answered.

And then she apologized. She explained: Then I should have addressed you as “pastor.”

I assured her that she did not offend me. Lots of folks around Orlando Grace call me “PC” for short. I actually like the affection behind the nickname!

Some even address me by my first name, without the title. It really makes no difference to me.

But the fact that she took the office seriously and wanted to convey that even by the way she addressed me made me think.

She gets this verse.

Don’t get me wrong. This principal for safeguarding unity isn’t necessarily about titles.

But particularly in a conflict involving your shepherds, if peacemaking and Paul’s teaching matter here, you will want to take enormous pains about the way you go about communicating.

You will govern your tone of voice, the choice of words, and your overall demeanor so that you guard your heart from disrespect.

Paul lists four aspects of the officers’ work that necessitate honoring them as an essential part of pursuing peace and preserving unity in Christ’s church.

In the following posts we will look at each—family, hard, leading and corrective work—and make some practical applications.

How might you be tempted to think that you know more than your leaders?

 

WORK HARD FOR A HEALING SPIRIT (2)

The What & Why of Honoring Church Leaders for Unity’s Sake

In my last post, I argued that eager preservers of church unity (Eph. 4:1-3) bring a lot of energy to peacemaking in the church. It always ranks high in their priorities as members of a fellowship.

respectWith this end in view, the apostle Paul zeroes in on the relationship between followers and their leaders in 1 Thess. 5:12-13. He spells out a practice they must master, if they are to excel as a peacemaking people.

Simply put: Peacemaking people in Christ’s church treat their officers with utmost honor given the nature of their work.

Paul models a peacemaking spirit himself in carefully chosen words up front. We ask you, brothers (emphasis added). He commands at the end of v. 13—but he leads with a request.

The same word ask appears earlier in the letter coupled with another term in 1 Thess. 4:1. We ask and urge you. The two verbs combine to reveal his heart. He pleads with them.

He appeals to their familial sentiments—like a father would his children. With respect to their attitude toward their leaders—elders and deacons alike—he begs for a spirit of honor.

The What—Respect and Esteem

Paul uses two infinitives—synonyms to drive home his point—to respect (v. 12) and to esteem (v. 13). The former literally is the Greek word for to know. We ask you, brothers, to know those who labor among you.

He desires something more than raw recognition or mere dutiful honor. Don’t just acknowledge them because you must obey. Know them. Relate to them. Personally engage them.

That fits well with the addition of the words in love that go with the second infinitive: esteem them. That infinitive normally gets translated to consider or to think in a certain way. Here the context dictates a nuance of honor.

Think of them in terms of esteem—and to no small degree. Esteem them very highly in love (emphasis added). One commentator calls very highly a triple Pauline intensive. It means quite beyond all measure.

It conveys the highest form of comparison imaginable. It appears rarely in the New Testament, but perhaps most vividly in Eph. 3:20—Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think (emphasis added).

Tara Barthel relates a story about a woman she once helped. It illustrates the kind of spirit Paul advocates in these verses:

Her marriage was very difficult, and her church leaders, though involved, were inexperienced in biblical counseling and biblical peacemaking. They made mistakes but they truly wanted to do what was biblically correct. Although this woman suffered greatly, she did so with great love and patience, realizing that her temporary circumstance was not just about her—it was also about helping her church leaders grow in knowledge, wisdom, and ability to serve as officers of Christ’s church. Her marital and familial conflicts concerned her church family, and so she endured patiently as her church leaders stumbled, erred, and caused hurt. Yes, she wept. Yes, it was hard. But God was glorified throughout the process, and her church was strengthened as she lived by faith and modeled what it looks like to be a biblical follower. This dear woman remembered that leaders are human; leaders are in the process of growing too. They are just as much in need of grace as followers are.

What are some ideas you have for showing respect and esteem to your church leaders?

 

WORK HARD FOR A HEALING SPIRIT

The What & Why of Honoring Church Leaders for Unity’s Sake

NPG D29704,The Farewell Sermons of ...,by Unknown artistSunday August 24, 1662, witnessed a great turning point in English Christianity. Dubbed The Great Ejection, some 2,000 ministers left the national church for reasons of conscience.

That “Farewell Sunday” Puritan giants like Richard Baxter, Thomas Manton, Thomas Watson, and numerous others delivered parting sermons to their congregations.

Thomas Brooks prepared his own, but apparently never got to preach it. Consequently he preserved his in written form. His conclusion consisted of twenty-seven “legacies” he wished to impart to his people.

The tenth revealed his passion for the church to excel in preserving unity:

Labour mightily for a healing spirit. This legacy I would leave with you as a matter of great concernment. To repeat: Labour mightily for a healing spirit. Away with all discriminating names whatever that may hinder the applying of balm to heal your wounds. Labour for a healing spirit. Discord and division become no Christian. For wolves to worry the lambs, is no wonder; but for one lamb to worry another, this is unnatural and monstrous. God hath made his wrath to smoke against us for the divisions and heart-burnings that have been amongst us. Labour for a oneness in love and affection with every one that is one with Christ. Let their forms be what they will, that which wins most upon Christ’s heart, should win most upon ours, and that is his own grace and holiness. The question should be, What of the Father, what of the Son, what of the Spirit shines in this or that person? and accordingly let your love and your affections run out.

In his first letter to a mostly healthy church at Thessalonica, the apostle Paul issued a variety of exhortations.

One in particular championed Brook’s labor-mightily-for-a-healing-spirit legacy.

Be at peace among yourselves (1 Thess. 5:13b).

The verb is an imperative. He commands this. It is not optional to pursue peace in the body of Christ—and get this—constantly no less.

He uses the present tense. It conveys a continuous kind of action. An alternate translation could rightly read, Keep on being at peace among yourselves.

Hebrews 12:14 slants it this way: Strive for peace with everyone. Paul stressed in Rom. 12:18, If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Brooks nailed it. Labor mightily for a healing spirit.

Do-your-best preservers of congregational unity should bring a lot of energy to peacemaking in the church. It will always rank high in their priorities as members of a fellowship.

In 1 Thess. 5:12-13, Paul zeroes in on the relationship between the people and their leaders. He spells out a practice they must master, if they are to excel as a peacemaking people.

Concluding with some final instructions he writes:

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.

The apostle targets principally the followers—the greater majority of any congregation.

The principle for laboring mightily to safeguard unity in this case is this: Peacemaking people in Christ’s church treat their officers with utmost honor given the nature of their work.

In my next few posts I plan to unpack the what and the why of honoring church officers. In the meantime, ask yourself this question:

How does my attitude toward the leaders of my church preserve or threaten my church’s unity?

GUARDING PEACE WITH GIVING THANKS

Preserving Unity When Your Church Struggles

Every church experiences its ups and downs.

Ours has had its share. Most have involved me as lead pastor.

Between mega-loss and poor health, it seems I’ve spent more time out of the pulpit over the last three years than in it.

It’s awfully tough for a church to maintain momentum when the point man goes down.

Those things are largely behind me now. We’re working on rebuilding. But staying positive has its challenges.

And yet remaining thankful in all things matters so very much to a church’s peace. Paul exhorts in Phi. 2:14, Do all things without grumbling or disputing.

The church at Philippi suffered its share of disunity. Paul went so far as to call out publicly two women at odds with one another within the body (Phil. 4:2-3). Yikes, that must have hurt!

A spirit of discontent cripples the peace of any congregation.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer offered this counsel for navigating hard times in a needy congregation:

In the Christian community thankfulness is just what it is anywhere else in the Christian life. Only he who gives thanks for little things receives the big things. We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts He has in store for us, because we do not give thanks for daily gifts. We think we dare not be satisfied with the small measure of spiritual knowledge, experience, and love that has been given to us, and that we must constantly be looking forward eagerly for the highest good. Then we deplore the fact that we lack the deep certainty, the strong faith, and the rich experience that God has given to others, and we consider this lament to be pious. We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts. How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from Him the little things? If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.

How’s your thanksgiving quotient in your church? Its peace depends in part on your faithfulness in the little things.

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thess. 5:18).

TWICE FAVORED

Perspective with Yet Another Grief Anniversary

For three years now January has come and gone with the pain of loss. I’ve said it many times. No one should have to bury a child.

Now I add May to my least favorite months of the year list. Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of Nancy’s–the wife of my youth–going home to be with the Lord.

I was not sure how it would pass for me, especially since last March the Lord blessed me with Jan–the wife of my later years.

Me, Nan, & Jan

This picture was taken three years ago at a new people fellowship in our home. Who could have possibly known the providence of God that would unfold so soon after?

My emotions certainly came into play last night as the exact hour of Nan’s passing 365 days ago approached. Different folks reached out to me assuring me of their prayer support. Jan and I spent the evening together remembering and processing.

A verse I have returned to repeatedly through this journey is Prov. 18:22.

He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.

What can I say? I’ve been favored by God in this regard twice in one lifetime.

Nancy was a gift from God to me. Jan is a gift from God to me. Both qualify as “excellent” (morally strong) women (Prov. 12:4; Prov. 31:10). Both were/are “prudent” (wise) women (Prov. 19:14). God alone gives a man such extraordinary favor.

Charles Bridges, in his commentary on Proverbs, said well what I testify to as a man favored in marriage not just to one, but two godly women in a lifetime:

The good thing is, when he honors her, . . . as the person, whom God saw to be the best and fittest for himself in the whole world, a comfort for life, a help for heaven. Thus she becomes the one object of his undivided heart. Mutual faith is plighted in the Lord. Such a communion spiritualizes his affections, and elevates him from earth to heaven.

And so with this first May anniversary behind me, I do that very good thing.

I honor both these women–gifts from Him lifting me more heavenward than I might ever have reached without them.

Thanks be to God for double favor.

SUCCESSION PLANNING FOR PEACE

The Ten Commandments for Successful Succession Planning

The clock is ticking. At my age you have to start thinking about handing off the pastoral baton to a younger guy in God’s timing.

BXP135656

While I still hope I have a few good years in me at the helm, wise leadership requires thoughtful discussion and diligent prayer about how to plan for such a significant thing as pastoral transition in the life of the church.

Lately our elders have been pouring over Next: Pastoral Succession That Works. Too many churches suffer a disruption of their peace when pastors come and go. We want to avoid that if at all possible.

One practical assignment suggested in the book involved the current pastor drafting his own version of the Ten Commandments for successful succession planning. I found it a helpful exercise.

I offer these as a possible encouragement to any other church facing the same stewardship challenge.

  1. He shall run the race hard for the glory of God and the welfare of OGC over the rest of his course as pastor-teacher—however long the Lord determines that he remain on point.
  2. He shall consistently take initiative to keep the conversation about succession ongoing so that no one else may feel awkward about having to force the issue due to his reluctance.
  3. He shall do everything in his power to ensure that the baton handoff occurs—when it does—in a fashion that safeguards the peace and purity of Orlando Grace Church.
  4. He shall regularly pray about the succession process for wisdom and guidance from the Lord from start to finish.
  5. He shall determine to listen carefully and defer in humility as must as possible to the concerns/desires of the rest of the leadership team in executing the plan.
  6. He shall neither exit prematurely from his role nor linger past-time in the same, but seek to discern with the rest of the body the most opportune time for the transition.
  7. He shall diligently seek to determine from the Lord what next vocational assignment awaits him and his wife, whatever and wherever that may be.
  8. He shall act as the number-one cheerleader for the next pastor-teacher and do everything in his power to ensure the man’s good success and favor with the people and community.
  9. He shall tend carefully to the needs and concerns of the rest of the staff throughout the succession process such that their voices are heard and their welfare served.
  10. He shall exit when the time comes with a heart of gratitude and humility for the privilege of having pastored faithfully, albeit imperfectly, so great a church as OGC.

THE GOSPEL GRACE OF WELCOMING (4)

How Embracing Others with Differences of Conscience Protects Church Unity

The New Testament prescribes many principles aimed at the need to excel in preserving unity in the church (Eph. 4:1-3). One very important such command involves embracing in love those who differ with us in the so-called “gray areas” of the Christian life.

welcome aboard 2

I first introduced this issue in post #1.

In post #2, I treated the gist of welcoming–Paul’s antidote for unity-destroying judging in the body.

In post #3, I covered the two-fold ground of welcoming: the gospel of God and the judgment of God.

In this final post, I want to conclude with the goal of welcoming–the glory of God.

Remember the climatic verse in Rom. 15:7?

Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you.

This connects back to the benediction Paul inserts in Rom. 15:5-6.

[5] May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, [6] that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Notice the therefore in v. 7.

In light of Paul’s prayer for them for God’s gift of endurance to live in harmony that they may with one voice glorify–magnify, make to look great–the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, therefore welcome one another.

As one writer put it, the neighbors are watching. A welcoming, receiving, taking to one another, embracing spirit toward especially those who differ with us on some of these thorny issues speaks volumes in credit to the praise and glory of God before a watching world.

Paul does not nearly concern himself as much with who’s right or wrong. That’s not the point. It’s how we treat one another. His preeminent concern is that we guard the peace, unity and harmony of the community.

At the Promise Keepers Pastor’s Conference in the Georgia Dome some years ago, I actually heard Max Lucado share this piece he wrote:

God has enlisted us in his navy and placed us on his ship. The boat has one purpose-to carry us safely to the other shore. This is no cruise ship; it’s a battleship. We aren’t called to a life of leisure; we are called to a life of service. Each of us has a different task. Some concerned with those who are drowning, are snatching people from the water. Others are occupied with the enemy, so they man the cannons of prayer and worship. Still others devote themselves to the crew, feeding and training the crew members.

Though different, we are the same. Each can tell of a personal encounter with the captain, for each has received a personal call. He found us among the shanties of the seaport and invited us to follow him. Our faith was born at the sight of his fondness, and so we went. We each followed him across the gangplank of his grace onto the same boat. There is one captain and one destination. Though the battle is fierce, the boat is safe, for our captain is God. The ship will not sink. For that, there is no concern.

There is concern, however, regarding the disharmony of the crew. When we first boarded we assumed the crew was made up on others like us. But as we’ve wandered these decks, we’ve encountered curious converts with curious appearances. Some wear uniforms we’ve never seen, sporting styles we’ve never witnessed. “Why do you look the way you do?” we ask them.

“Funny,” they reply. “We were about to ask the same of you.” The variety of dress is not nearly as disturbing as the plethora of opinions. There is a group, for example, who clusters every morning for serious study. They promote rigid discipline and somber expressions. “Serving the captain is serious business,” they explain. It’s no coincidence that they tend to congregate around the stern. There is another regiment deeply devoted to prayer. Not only do they believe in prayer, they believe in prayer by kneeling. For that reason you always know where to locate them; they are at the bow of the ship.

And then there are a few who staunchly believe real wine should be used in the Lord’s Supper. You’ll find them on the port side. Still another group has positioned themselves near the engine. They spend hours examining the nuts and bolts of the boat. They’ve been known to go below deck and not come up for days. They are occasionally criticized by those who linger on the top deck, feeling the wind in their hair and the sun on their face. “It’s not what you learn,” those topside argue. “It’s what you feel that matters.”

And, oh, how we tend to cluster.

Some think once you’re on the boat, you can’t get off. Others say you’d be foolish to go overboard, but the choice is yours. Some believe you volunteer for service; others believe you were destined for the service before the ship was even built. Some predict a storm of great tribulation will strike before we dock; others say it won’t hit until we are safely ashore. There are those who speak to the captain in a personal language. There are those who think such languages are extinct. There are those who think the officers should wear robes, there are those who think there should be no officers at all, and there are those who think we are all officers and should all wear robes.

And, oh, how we tend to cluster.

And then there is the issue of the weekly meeting at which the captain is thanked and his words are read. All agree on its importance, but few agree on its nature. Some want it loud, others quiet. Some want ritual, others spontaneity. Some want to celebrate so they can meditate; others meditate so they can celebrate. Some want a meeting for those who’ve gone overboard. Others want to reach those overboard but without going overboard and neglecting those on board.

And, oh, how we tend to cluster.

The consequence is a rocky boat. There is trouble on deck. Fights have broken out. Sailors have refused to speak to each other. There have even been times when one group refused to acknowledge the presence of others on the ship. Most tragically, some adrift at sea have chosen not to board the boat because of the quarreling of the sailors. “What do we do?” we’d like to ask the captain. “How can there be harmony on the ship?” We don’t have to go far to find the answer.

On the last night of his life Jesus prayed a prayer that stands as a citadel for all Christians:

I pray for these followers, but I am also praying for all those who will believe in me because of their teaching. Father, I pray that they can be one. As you are in me and I am in you, I pray that they can also be one in us. Then the world will believe that you sent me. (John 17:20)

How precious are these words. Jesus, knowing the end is near, prays one final time for his followers. Striking, isn’t it, that he prayed not for their success, their safety, or their happiness. He prayed for their unity. He prayed that they would love each other. As he prayed for them, he also prayed for “those who will believe because of their teaching.” That means us! In his last prayer Jesus prayed that you and I be one.

Say no to clustering. Say yes to welcoming.

THE GOSPEL GRACE OF WELCOMING (3)

How Embracing Others with Differences of Conscience Protects Church Unity

It feels good to return to writing about the New Testament prescription for believers to excel in preserving unity in the church (Eph. 4:1-3).

Gospel

In post #1 on addressing how judging one another over “gray areas” in the Christian life damages unity, I introduced the issue.

In post #2, I treated the gist of welcoming–Paul’s antidote for unity-destroying judging in the body. In this post, we turn to the all-important ground of welcoming.

The ground of welcoming has two parts: the gospel of God who has welcomed us in Jesus Christ and the judgment of God before which every believer ultimately stands or falls.

Each one will require its own post for adequate explanation.

The first part is so important that Paul says it twice, each time invoking a different member of the Trinity.

Why should neither the strong nor weak despise or pass judgment of the other? Rom. 14:3— for God has welcomed him. Rom. 15:7—the conclusion of the matter—therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you (emphasis added).

The grace for doing community well, especially the more demanding prescriptions—but in reality all of them—always comes from the grace of God in the gospel and His great love for us properly appropriated and treasured.

The call here in terms of the ground for obedience does not differ at all from the call to forgive and the ground for that impossible grace, if left to ourselves, in Eph. 4:32—Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (emphasis added).

In one respect this way of arguing by Paul is from the lesser to the greater. And here’s why. Consider Rom. 5:6-10.

[6] For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. [7] For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—[8] but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. [9] Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. [10] For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life (emphasis added).

All Jesus asks of us in gospel-shaped community is to welcome saved-by-grace believers with differing opinions on the grey areas of the Christian life. That’s the lesser.

How tough can that be (here comes the greater) for we whom the Father and the Son welcomed, received, embraced, justified, adopted, and loved though not just weak, but ungodly, sinners, and enemies no less?

Matthew Henry said it so well:

Can there be a more cogent argument? Has Christ been so kind to us, and shall we be so unkind to those that are his? Was he so forward to entertain us, and shall we be backward to entertain our brethren? Christ has received us into the nearest and dearest relations to himself: has received us into his fold, into his family, into the adoption of sons, into a covenant of friendship, yea, into a marriage-covenant with himself; he has received us (though we were strangers and enemies, and had played the prodigal) into fellowship and communion with himself.

Are you finding it difficult to get along with people in the church whose opinions about secondary issues differ from yours?

Nothing will help you more than sustained focus on the gospel–amazing grace that saved a wretch like me and you.