WORK HARD FOR A HEALING SPIRIT (6)

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

We continue unpacking Paul’s quest in 1 Thess. 5:12-13 for preserving unity in the church by advocating followers’ respect for their leaders because of their work.

So far we have considered the family and hard nature of that work. This post focuses on the leading nature of the ministry.

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Respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord. The verb over is made up of two Greek words, literally to stand before.

It means to provide oversight. Paul exhorted the elders at Ephesus about this aspect of the work in Acts 20:28.

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God (emphasis added).

Overseer is episkopos—one who watches over. These servants preside over the affairs of the congregation for its welfare and good order.

Please don’t miss those words in the Lord. The elder’s domain is spiritual. It’s the church. Elders tend to the affairs of Christ within the local congregation as His representatives doing His business.

I love to start every new member class the same way. I introduce myself: Curt Heffelfinger. I give my title: I am the pastor-teacher here at OGC. Then I add, “I am not the senior pastor.”

To which I then ask, “Would you like to know who is?” Inevitably I get a yes and some just blurt out the answer. Jesus. Jesus is the Chief Shepherd of His church (1 Pet. 5:4). Every elder and deacon who assists elders is nothing more than Christ’s underling/steward.

Hebrews 13:17 summarizes this well:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you (emphasis added).

By the way, you simply cannot obey this verse, if you don’t belong to a local church as a member, partner, whatever you want to call it. Someone in a local context of Jesus’ universal church needs your informed consent to take accountable responsibility for your spiritual welfare.

Alfred Poirer notes this as one of several aspects of a biblical basis for covenant membership in a local church.

The New Testament writers assume that Christians can identify their leaders to whom they have voluntarily submitted themselves. . . . And conversely, they expect the leaders of a church to be able to identify those members for whom they must give an account (Acts 2:28-30; 1 Thess. 5:12-13; Heb. 13:17; 1 Peter 5:1-4). If the sheep must know their shepherd, so too the shepherd must know his sheep. Yet God will not hold a pastor liable for failing to discharge his duties as shepherd over sheep that he cannot determine are his own.

But my primary point here is that a lack of respect for the officer for his work can tempt him to groan. It can tempt him to discouragement. Don’t go there.

Threatening Christ’s servants’ joy through disrespect and being unduly difficult to shepherd will not profit you and will jeopardize the peace of the church. Please determine to be easily led for the sake of the unity of your fellowship!

Some practical suggestions on this front:

Are you going to be gone for several weeks and go missing on Sundays? Let your pastor know so he does not wonder if you are OK.

If he tries to reach you via text, email, or phone to check up on you, to ask for your help, to follow up on something, don’t make it hard for him. Be responsive, be prompt, be cooperative in every way you can. You will give him such joy.

Of course, if you have not yet become a member of your church, determine to take advantage of the soonest possible opportunity you can to identify with that congregation and its leaders.

Labor mightily for a healing spirit!

Family Night Highlights

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If you couldn’t make it last night, here’s what you missed!

“Operation Beautification” Property Work Day and Pancake Breakfast – set for 8 AM, Saturday, March 21. Subdue the south wilderness beyond the playground and exercise dominion!

Financial Snapshot of 2014 – total income up 10% and $44,601 extra applied to mortgage debt. Praise God for His faithful provision for another year!

Capital Campaign Debt Snowball Plan – $500 per household per year given toward mortgage will turn, Lord willing, twenty years of debt into only thirteen and save a whopping $700,000 in interest!

Body Life – babies being saved at AWHC through compassionate signs, TLC Walk for Life set for 3/28, member’s sharing their faith and getting involved in ministries like Anchored Youth!

Submitting to One Another in the Church of Jesus Christ – devotional by elder Will Powell from the book of Ephesians finishing with this convicting notion from Church Membership:

Truth be told, people are not afraid to submit. They just want to submit to beauty, like the valiant hero who submits himself to rescuing the damsel in distress. What’s unexpected about Christianity is that its hero doesn’t risk all for a damsel but for what the Bible likens to a harlot. Then he calls everyone that he saves to submit themselves to this same harlot—the bride still being made ready, the church. Now, submitting to ugliness does scare people. And that’s what submitting to the local church can be. Churches are filled with other sinners whose visions of glory contradict our own. But this is how Christ loves us: ‘Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another’ (John 13:34). Christ’s love wonderfully transforms the ugly into the beautiful (see Ephesians 5:22-31). Our love for one another should do the same thing—help the ugly become beautiful. Who can love in this way? Only the ones whose eyes have been opened and whose hearts have been freed from the slavery of loving this world: ‘So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed’ (John 8:36).

Chef GabrielChili Cook-Off Champs – Chef Bob Travelstead (3rd place); Chef James Harvey (2nd place); and the Grand Prize Winner – Chef Mallory Gabriel (pictured right receiving his reward). Gentlemen, your recipes please!

Future Family Night Plans – aiming for once per quarter with additional ways to enhance our care for one another!

Thanks to everyone who worked so hard putting this together and pulling it off!

A Shepherd’s Dilemma

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Frankly, it’s hard for any pastor, I suspect, to zero in on only one. Lots of things perplex, challenge, disturb, perhaps even dismay a shepherd of God’s sheep. The one I feel the most more than not is trying to shepherd those with whom I can’t seem to make contact.

Proverbs 27:23 exhorts, “Know well the condition of your flocks and give attention to your herds.” The writer’s main application may well pertain to literal diligence on the farm, but I dare say any pastor worth his salt will make the connection that he should familiarize himself as well as he can with the sheep of his pasture for their welfare. Add Hebrews 13:17 to the equation, the sobering truth that undershepherds ultimately will give an account to the Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4) for those entrusted to their charge, then you have a pretty good idea how distressing it can be for someone who takes such a thing seriously to lose touch with the lambs in his fold, many or few.

As self-serving as it may seem, here is my plea to sheep everywhere to help ease this dilemma of shepherds everywhere when it comes to their obligation to feed, tend, know, and care.

One, become a member of your local church. Without your informed consent, your willing submission to the pastoral authority in your church, your shepherd has no ecclesiastical ground upon which to move into your life with the array of responsibilities with which he is charged, especially your discipline if necessary. This is why Hebrews 13:17 exhorts believers to submit and obey. You acknowledge that some ecclesiastical authority, somewhere, has your permission to keep watch and even intervene with discipline if you stray and that they are indeed responsible before God to do that. Remember, you cannot be put out of that to which you don’t belong (see 1 Cor. 5).

Two, don’t forsake the assembling of the saints together on the Lord’s Day (Heb. 10:24-25). It’s not the only way shepherds track sheep, but it’s a primary and significant way. We look to see who is hanging around the ordinary means of grace each Sunday that is the preached word and the Table. By the way, you can help your shepherd a lot if you will communicate with him in advance when you are going to be on vacation or away from the assembly for any other reason so that he need not be concerned about whether or not your absence means you have fallen into the ditch somewhere and that he needs to come with his crook to help yank you out of there.

Three, if you become discontent with your church and decide to go searching for a different sheep pen, do your present shepherd who cares about your welfare the favor of letting him know. Give him a heads up. I get that this is hard. You don’t want to hurt his feelings. You just want to slip quietly away. All I can tell you is that my default response when anyone extends to me the courtesy to communicate in this fashion is this: “Thank you for loving me well by cluing me in. You just made my mission-impossible job a bit easier.”

Four, don’s stay in limbo too long and as soon as you can take the church you are leaving off the hook for your care by resigning your membership and/or preferably transferring it to your next place of community. I’m not saying every church cares about this kind of record keeping, though I believe it should. But it helps your shepherd and it protects your soul if you make a clean and appropriately timely and sooner-rather-than later shift and inform the necessary parties affected.

My personal philosophy of people moving from church-to-church boils down to this: bless and release – EXCEPT if someone is running from sin or conflict. In those cases the same sin and the same conflict is waiting for you in greener pastures just in different garb. Deal with your stuff where you are and then if still lead, get a move on, little lamb.

And if you don’t know how to do that, ask your shepherd for help. If he can’t or won’t, you should probably leave that pen anyway.

The Flourishing Life

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It was a delight to climb back into the pulpit at OGC this morning after our sabbatical. To get to preach again, particularly on a passage in Psalm 92 that so thoroughly expresses my desires for this next season in my life and ministry, gave me great pleasure. If you care to, you can access the audio here.

I blew through the the eight takeaways at the conclusion of the message. Someone in the body asked me for them. Decided it would make for an easy blog post. Here they are:

  1. One, offer praise to God as the tenor of your life.
  2. Two, gather with God’s people on the “Sabbath” and more. Be a fixture in God’s church. No fellowshipping, no flourishing. Be a churchman and churchwoman.
  3. Three, reject the lie of our materialistic culture and its flourishing-only-for-a-brief-while ways and invest in life-long flourishing commitments that will serve you well to the end of your days.
  4. Four, beware the American retirement dream in terms of having earned endless days in front of the TV or on the golf course. Have a robust theology of leisure to be sure but believe in “rehirement” not retirement. My thanks to David Sims for that play on words.
  5. Five, treasure a church body with multiple generations not just a bunch of folks your own age.
  6. Six, if you are young, badger some old saint until they own you in a mentoring, discipling kind of way. If you are old like me, give yourself away. Invest in the next generation. Declare that he is your Rock to all who come.
  7. Seven, speak up and announce the praise of God when given the chance. Regularly testify to His faithfulness.
  8. Eight, pray this text for me and the rest of our elders as long as you are a part of OGC. I beg of you.

Ten Reasons NOT to Become a Church Member

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Sometimes I feel woefully inadequate persuading good-for-nothing-brick types to join a local church through positive arguments. For this post I decided to try the reverse psychology approach with ten good reasons why someone would NOT want to join a local church.

One, you should not become a church member if you do not want your profession of faith in Jesus to be evaluated and deemed credible or not by a body of believers charged with determining, with God’s help, who really does belong to the King as opposed to who might just be fooling himself (Matt. 7:21-23).

Two, you should not become a church member if want to avoid any of the inevitable “one another” commitments of the New Testament that find their fullest and best expression in covenant community (John 13:14).

Three, you should not become a church member if you think participation in the ordinary means of grace – the preached word and the sacraments – are somehow optional in the Christian life (Heb. 10:24-25).

Four, you should not become a church member if you want to maintain complete control over your finances such that you feel no obligation to support the local ministry from which you receive ministry and experience community (Gal. 6:6).

Five, you should not become a church member if any of the idols of your heart have such a grasp upon you that you fear exposure by rubbing shoulders more intimately with other members of the body of Christ (Heb. 3:12-13).

Six, you should not become a church member if the idea of submitting to anyone’s authority gives you the willies and that you might be held accountable to the commitments covenant members make as a part of church membership (Matt. 18:15-20).

Seven, you should not become a church member if you prefer to sit on the sidelines of the church and bury your gifts in the ground for fear of the what the Lord might require of you in terms of ministering to others (1 Pet. 4:10-11).

Eight, you should not become a church member if the tyranny of busyness so controls you that you can’t imagine fitting another thing, no matter how important, into your schedule (Eph. 5:16).

Nine, you should not become a church member if the only world that concerns you is within your own four walls and that obeying a commission to take the gospel to the unreached people groups of the world and/or the folks where you live, work, and play don’t register on the radar screen of your life (Matt. 28:18-20).

Ten, you should not become a church member if you don’t want to belong to the one entity God has ordained to put His glorious plan and purposes on display before all things invisible (Eph. 3:10).

Why Churches Should Require Membership Covenants

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Next week, Lord willing, OGC will take in a dozen new members.

Note: for a biblical defense of the concept of church membership click here.

We praise God for the new bunch of folks He has brought into our fellowship. Each of these saints has attended our membership class. They have completed an extensive application and submitted to an interview with two of our officers. They have been approved by the elders in a formal motion at a business meeting and so noted in the minutes. And without exception, each has signed a dated covenant of membership. Copies of that covenant will be made available in the service next Sunday for every member to reaffirm the commitments that come with belonging to a covenant community of believers.

The question I wish to address in this post is why insist on members of a local body signing a membership covenant? Answer? INFORMED CONSENT. What in the world is that? Informed consent is documentary evidence of a church member’s familiarity with the teachings, policies, practices, and requirements of participation in the community and most importantly their agreement freely and willingly to abide therein. Why does that matter? Many reasons, but none more important in our litigious age than in the matter of church discipline.

The reason, among others, that there is a covenant of membership on file in our office with my name and date on it is because I don’t trust my own deceitfully wicked heart (Jer. 17:9). Should I wander off into unrepentant sin, perish the thought, I want my elders and church to come after me with the full force of Matt. 18:15-20, Gal. 6:1-2, and a bunch of other texts aimed right at that heart. Furthermore, I don’t even want to be tempted in the event of such an unfortunate set of circumstances to entertain the idea of suing my church for slander or some such nonsense. Having given my informed consent in the way of a covenant of membership assures that OGC doesn’t have to think twice about even excommunicating me if necessary for fear of an expensive and damaging lawsuit, not to say the havoc such a thing would bring upon the peace and welfare of the church.

Most people I speak with to attempt to persuade them about the importance of church membership rarely even give this aspect of the matter any thought whatsoever. Peacemaker Ministries has done a good job of articulating this and can help to explain:

Church membership is generally viewed by the courts as being a matter of contract, whereby members freely choose to associate with a particular church community and in doing so accept the benefits and duties of that association. The membership process provides an ideal means to obtain informed consent to a church’s policies and practices. Informed consent is easier to prove if you establish membership in a clear and explicit manner.

The article then proceeds to outline four steps to this end:

  1. Membership Class
  2. Membership Interview
  3. Declaration of Membership – public installation and records to that effect
  4. Written Commitment

Here’s how they unpack that all important fourth dimension:

Further evidence of express informed consent may be obtained by requiring new members to sign a written commitment to membership, which includes a specific reference to having received a copy of the Relational Commitments and to being willing to support and submit to them.

The entire article is worth your time and effort. To read it click here.

Have you thought about this as a professing Christian? It matters a lot to your spiritual welfare and that of the church to which you belong that you do think long and hard about it and that you give your informed consent for the glory of God, the welfare of the church, and the good of your soul.

A Crucial Question About Church Membership

That would be how long should someone attend a church before deciding to commit to covenant membership?

Good question. And a pertinent one for the twenty or more folks currently working their way through the latest edition of Discover OGC.

I came across this post by Brian Croft on his blog Practical Shepherding. He asks some other strategic questions that ought to come into play in determining the answer to the timing question. These include:

  1. Is this a church where my family will be regularly fed by God’s Word?
  2. Is this a church where I am convinced the care of my soul will be a priority?
  3. Is this a church where my family will experience meaningful Christian fellowship and accountability?
  4. Is this a church where I can serve God’s people and use my gifts for its benefit?

He concludes most wisely, I think, with this:

There is one essential element that must exist in this process.  It is the key to possessing the zeal required in this search.  That is, a constant feeling of uneasiness that should exist in you knowing you and your family are not in covenant fellowship with a local church and are not under the authority of undershepherds caring for your souls.  The freedom and absence of accountability many experience in the search for a new church can cause a sinful complacency.  In other words, you do not ever want to become comfortable being one of God’s sheep who has wandered away from the fellowship of the flock and the accountability of shepherds to care for you, even if that journey at the time feels fun and exciting.

To read the entire post click here.

Pray with me that the folks investigating our church at the present time will know from the Lord the answer to these and 0ther crucial questions in their church for a church home.

6 Reasons to Be a Faithful Member of a Local Church

A friend of mine in ministry posted a link on Facebook to an article about church membership.

I am so grateful for over twenty-five folks in this fall’s edition of Discover OGC! I am looking forward tomorrow to sharing with them about the doctrines of grace.

Here is #3 of the reasons in this post:

You become a more committed part of a spiritual family. Joining a local church demonstrates a certain level of commitment. It shows that you want to be more than a bystander, that you want to be involved in ministry in a more significant way. Joining a local church is like entering into a covenant relationship with other believers in order to love them as an active part of a spiritual family (1 Jn 4:7). We also need the spiritual oversight and soul care of faithful shepherds (Heb 13:17).

I couldn’t agree more. You can read the entire piece here.

Time for a Check Up?

Spiritual that is.

Thabiti Anyabwile has written a 9Marks book to help church members assess the state of their spiritual health. It’s called What Is a Healthy Church Member? He proposes that you can identify a healthy church member by ten marks.

  1. Expositional listener
  2. Biblical theologian
  3. Gospel saturated
  4. Genuinely converted
  5. Biblical evangelist
  6. Committed member
  7. Seeks discipline
  8. Growing disciple
  9. Humble follower
  10. Prayer warrior

How do you fare a first glance? Would you call yourself in excellent health spiritually or do you have some deficiencies to ask the Lord to help you with? This little read will help you. I’m taking a chapter a day in my quiet time and using the marks as prayer fodder for working my way through our directory. Care to join me?

V-8 & Community Life

With permission I post these reflections of one of our recently installed new members at OGC, Connie Wilder.

Are you ever amazed at the promises of God when they come to fruition? Don’t you just want to do the V-8 smack on the head and shout “Wow, I could have had these blessings all along!”?

Since becoming a member of the OGC community a mere three weeks ago, the flood of blessing inferred in community life has poured over me, filling my heart beyond my belief with the joy of my salvation.

I have shared in the Lord’s Supper with an inner humility and thanksgiving never before experienced.

I have heard the sharing of missionaries that has stirred my heart for the Gospel and the lost.

I have attended prayer meetings with a renewed passion and boldness and privilege to be in the throne room of God.

I have shed joyful tears as mothers and fathers brought their children to the “temple” to dedicate their families to serve and follow God.

I expect to witness the baptism of new believers later this month and anticipate a sense of celebration.

I toyed with this faithful body and pastor shepherd for years. I praise God for the words of life that finally convicted me of this need and lack in my obedience.

Wow, I could have had these community blessings for years.

Thanks, Connie, for sharing with us how God has worked in your life.

May we all learn and grow from your experience by faithfully giving ourselves with renewed zeal to the commitments and benefits of covenant community!