Don’t rush eldership

As Paul instructs Timothy, don’t be quick to lay hands on a brother because his character might not be tested or revealed enough, and you will be blessing an unseen set of problems. Character problems just don’t go away; they hide, not vanish. In younger and talented believers, when the pressures of ministry come, those problems will be amplified.

22 Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure.

1 Timothy 5:22

What are we symbolizing by the laying on of hands? We are conferring a role and a sacred charge. We are also indicating that this person has the proven character not only to share the Gospel but to conform his own life to it. His private life and his public life correspond. As we confer the blessing and the role upon this brother, we are linking our lives and ministries to him, too.

Once we lay hands on a brother, we are telling the church that this man has a public and personal life which they can follow. In other words, we are saying that we trust him to demonstrate the Gospel and they should to. So, this is not an act or declaration which should be taken too quickly or prematurely. Once you do it, it is very painful to take it back. It is noteworthy that Paul immediately connects the phrase “nor take part in the sins of others.” The laying on of hands is a prayer of the bonding of trustworthy ministers together.

We are not saying that the man is perfect, rather, that the elder knows how to immediately calibrate his life back to the Gospel when he sins. He is growing in holiness together with the bride. (I’m not referring to disqualifying sins here). Therefore, his teaching will take on a sense of personal humility before Christ and at the same time, the authority of Christ will be evident in his teaching.

We all know of plenty of ministry train-wreck stories. I don’t think they can be completely avoided this side of Heaven. Even Paul shared a few with us from his ministry. However, I do believe we can wisely reduce these wrecks through patient service together and observance of a man and his family. One practice which has helped us is to have a brother serve as an “elder-in-training” for a while (at least 1 year). This has given us the necessary time to evaluate his character and his giftings. The temptation which I think many ministries face is to invent what’s not there because we earnestly want our churches to grow and multiply. So, on one hand we should be proactive in identifying and training men who could be potential elders and on the other hand wise enough not to rush them into place.

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Our Roman Leadership Problem

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,…” Matthew 20:25-26

statue of NeroItalia is in the news quite a bit these days from the papal resignation to the sorting of the political system where an angry, non-elected comedian may set the tone and agenda of the country over the next couple years. Oh, but he has no agenda. In fact, he ran other people for office on “no agenda”. It’s comical + sad = bizarre.

These are symbolic of the leadership problems that the church is also facing throughout southern Europe (and in many cases, around the western world). Putting it succinctly, there is an abnormal dearth of servant eldership in Italia to both guide existing churches and plant new ones. We have our work cut out for us. I believe a great cause of the abnormal dearth is the Roman ideal and model of leadership imported and imposed upon the life of the church itself.

Now, please stay with me because I’m striving to write something for everyone utilizing an Italian cultural example…

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Incident, Coincidence, Pattern

Spilled-milk

How do you know when to encourage or confront someone — or both — “encouragingly confront” them? What is a good guideline for how patient we should be with each other in this holiest of minestre called the Church (this new city)? How tolerant should we be when somebody near us makes-a-bigga-messa (or even a little one)?

A number of years ago, I was reading the musings of a Jewish rabbi who was counseling his readers with practical wisdom about how people should respect one another. I wish I had saved the article because one of the first nuggets of wisdom that he gave was for young men to never argue with somebody more than 20 years their senior. This has proven to be good advice in my own life. Apostle Paul said to entreat them as we would a father.

The second golden nugget that has stayed with me and been repeatedly tested is the principle of an incidence vs. a pattern. When someone spills the milk, you have an incident. If later, they spill the milk a second time, that’s a co-incidence. However, if the person wastes a third glass of milk in a relatively brief period of time — that’s a pattern — and you might have to tell them to hold it with both hands. The rabbi’s practical advice was to be patient before responding to determine whether you had an incident on your hands or a developed pattern. When you can determine that there is a destructive or inappropriate habit in a person’s character, then you’re going to need to put it in check.

The wisdom of the axiom is that younger leaders and ministers (and I would include the parenting of children and leading of a home or a position at work) often face the desire to instantly correct something that they perceive is wrong; thus forcing the person to cry over their spilled milk and not helping them by being patient or forming their character. 

This is a general guideline. I understand that there are times where immediate and decisive action must be taken on a discovered incidence (which might already be a hidden pattern) of behavior. I know that there are moments which arrive where we have to warn even against a coincidence (a repeat). At the same time, we need to be careful about how we treat one another in everyday life things. Grudges are often born out of the pettiest of things. We will hear things like, “Do you know what she said about me?”  She said are the operative words there. Is she continually saying? We need to fight-off and dig-out the seeds of resentment and absorb, yea, cover a multitude of incidents with loving patience. Christ is our model and gospel identity our guide.

“Encourage one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today’, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ…”  Hebrews 3:13-14a

“For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me’.” Romans 15:3