Poetry of Love part 2

12 10 2010

What is the true journey between the crib and the crypt?  Why are there seasons of life in a tunnel of experiences?  Is not our life to be punctuated with shafts of insight that take us deeper into who we are and why we are here?  I think so.

In a culture that has trivialized the sacred, commercialized the occasion and sentimentalized the most lovely, there is within each of us a longing for the prophetic word that will give us the reason for our life.  Even the most hardened cynic, worn down by failure, confusion and unreached dreams, has times of deep yearning for answers to their very existence.

You are a spiritual, physical, emotional and mental creation of God.  Your body, your mind, your spirit, your emotions are the stanzas of a poem spoken into existence by God.  Every cell, chromosome, bone, every dimple, mole and cowlick is part of the poem of God.  You are His work, His dream, His thought, His heart. 

All of us were penned before the foundation of the world.  We were thought up in the heart of the Master Poet before our exit out of the birth canal.  The Bible is crystal clear: “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.” (Ephesians 1:4)  He was dreaming of, thinking through and musing over you millennia before you were created.  The poet expresses it deeply, 

Many, O Lord my God, are Your wonderful works

Which You have done;

And Your thoughts toward us

Cannot be recounted to You in order;

If I would declare and speak of them,

They are more than can be numbered.

Psalms 40:5

God, The Master Poet, has thought about you innumerable times in creative ways that have yet to be discovered.  His greatest work is the beauty of his handiwork in each image bearing soul.  A sonnet penned by the hand of God, written with the ink of love.

We are poems “created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Ephesians 2:10), designed and written for the ultimate good work of love.  And as with any loving relationship, there is an unpredictability and ever-present possibility of pain and disappointment involved.  C.S. Lewis once said, “Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal.”[i]  In speaking of God’s love, John Eldredge writes, “But God does give it, again and again, until He is literally bleeding from it all.  God’s willingness to risk is astounding—far beyond what any of us would do were we in His position.”[ii]

A love relationship with God and others is risky business.  God sent His Son to risk it all on you and me.  The ultimate poetry of love was God creating His Son in the womb of His creation in order that He might die under the hands of creation for the ultimate purpose of a rescue mission.  Francis Frangipane has said, “Rescue is the constant pattern of God’s activity.”  This is why Jesus came.  Jesus proclaims His mission to us when he said,

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,

Because He has anointed Me

To preach the gospel to the poor;

He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,

To proclaim liberty to the captives

And recovery of sight to the blind,

To set at liberty those who are oppressed;

To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.

(Luke 4:18-19)

A poetry of love first dreamed in the heart of God, expressed by His Son, wordsmithed upon our heart.  We are the poetry of a warrior poet, a passionate God who has risked it all for us.  We are His collection of poems, each one of us, unique and complex, written for a purpose.  He has come to rescue and redeem His marred poems.  His rescue mission involves a deepening love and more extravagant relationship—a poem being written.

[i] Quoted from Wild at Heart by John Eldredge p. 32

[ii] Ibid.

Poetry of Love

29 09 2010

While praying and musing at a monastery chapel high and hidden in the mountains near Long’s Peak God spoke into my inner spirit, “poetry of love.”  I was startled and confused for it seemed so foreign and out of context.  It didn’t fit at all with what my mind was thinking about at the time.  It almost seemed as if He had bypassed my mind to touch my heart.  I asked for a bit more clarity and I was greeted with silence (I hate when He does that).

I just couldn’t get those three words off my mind.  I was doomed to ruminations, meditations, and inner questions for days.  The answer came from the Word of God, through a conversation and discussion with one of the Mountain Springs pastors I was reminded of a verse.

Paul, in writing one of his most intimate letters to a church that he deeply loved, wrote,

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

The word “workmanship” riveted my imagination and served to wipe away the cobwebs of my past study.  Workmanship is derived from the word, poieema, from which we get the English word “poem.”  In the Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, this word is described as “a thing of His making,” His “handiwork,” a “spiritual creation.” John Calvin writes of this phrase:

When he says, that “we are the work of God,” this does not refer to ordinary creation, by which we are made men. We are declared to be new creatures, because, not by our own power, but by the Spirit of Christ, we have been formed to righteousness.[i]

God is saying that each of us are a unique and beautiful poem.  As a new creative poem, He is writing His sonnet upon the fabric of His book of poetry.  It’s His book but we are the verses.  He’s the poet and we are living His verse.  We are living, loving poems.  We are the poetry of God.

What is poetry? Throughout the centuries, there have been many attempts at a definition.  Poetry is “the art of uniting pleasure with truth” (Samuel Johnson)[ii], “the universal language which the heart holds with nature and itself” (William Hazlitt)[iii], “the music of the soul” (Voltaire)[iv].  T.S. Eliot once said of poetry, “It is not the assertion of truth, but the making of that truth more fully real to us.”[v]

William Wordsworth may have captured our meaning best when he wrote, “the poet is the rock of defense for human nature.”[vi] Similarly, Coleridge wrote, “[the poet] brings the whole soul of man into activity.”[vii] God is the poet and it is through His Spirit that we come to discover our true nature, our whole soul moved to creative energy.  We are the poems of the Poet.

Dylan Thomas once commented that “a poem on the page is only half a poem.”[viii] You see, a poem is only half alive until the words on the page are spoken.  They must be spoken into the hearts of other people.  Our life in the Spirit is a wildly jumbled creative, unique blend of verses that have a rhythm that touches everyone around us.  But we must live, really live.

Albert Einstein said that truth is “that which stands the test of experience.”  We are a creative energy of God mirroring the Master Poet with all of our poetic experiences.  Sometimes we are a poem of pain, sometimes a poem of joy, sometimes a poem of endurance.  But with each experience, His poem is crafted, rewritten, and more deeply edited by the love of God.

Jesus said,

No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.  You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.  These things I command you, that you love one another. (John 15:15-17)

We are not just any run-of-the-mill poem.  We are poems being written by the love of Jesus.  We are the fruit of His love.  We are in a love relationship with the Poet.  He is writing His words, His purposes into the fabric of our heart.

You can tell much about a poet by his or her poems.  The poetry of Emily Dickinson is vastly different from Robert Frost.  The works of Coleridge stand in major contrast to John Keats.  We are the sheet poems, the unfinished poems of God.  We are being crafted and written by the hand of God, through the Spirit, in the blood of Jesus.  If we will let Him, if we will stop resisting, God will write us.  We are His poetry of love.

Receive the point of His pen.

[i] Calvin’s Commentaries

[ii] A Treasury of the World’s Best Loved Poems, Crown Publishers, New York, p. v.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Gerard Kelly, Spoken Worship, Zondervan, p. 13.

War, Witches and Panic

17 08 2010

Wars, witches, and panic attacks are the substance of 1 Samuel 28.  King Saul is a study in fear.  Faced with withering support and a ferocious enemy, Saul is wholly unprepared for the challenges of life that God has put before him. And in this chapter, Saul is overwhelmed by the impending battle with the Philistines.  Saul succumbs to fear, and fear has power.

“When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly.” (vs. 5) Saul is a beaten man before he’s entered the battlefield. Let’s look at the process of paralyzing fear in Saul’s life, and the confusing questions that are created:

vs. 6  Because of his fear, Saul can’t hear from God even when he prays.  (Where is God in my life?)

Vs. 7  Because of his fear, Saul compromises his convictions and morals and seeks out a witch.  (What do I believe anymore?)

Vs. 8  Because of fear, Saul loses his sense of identity and “disguises himself.”  (Who am I anyway?)

Vs. 16-18 Because of fear, Saul can no longer listen to sound advice and wisdom.  (No one understand me?)

Vs. 20 Because of fear, Saul is overtaken by a panic attack and collapses.  (Am I losing my mind?)

Vs. 21-22  Because of fear, Saul is broken down physically and unable to sleep or eat.   (What is happening to my body?)

Vs. 23-25 Because of fear, Saul can no longer lead with strategy and clear thinking.  (What do I do next?)

If you have asked such questions, then you just might understand the power of fear.  Fear has power. Fear combined with worry can have a paralytic power.  Satan uses fear to create panic and confusion in our mind.  Fear not only affects our mind, but also our body and spirit in ways that can shut down the flow of our physical and spiritual antibodies.

Sick of Fear

Have you ever been sick of fear?  You probably have.  In a landmark study entitled “Who Gets Sick: How Beliefs, Moods and Thoughts Affect Health,” Dr. Blair Justice found that a life based in fear and worry was one of the most common denominators of those people who contracted cancer.  Fear could be traced closely to all forms of cardio vascular disease as well as many other physio psychological ailments.  The study found that fear has a paralyzing impact on our natural abilities to cope with life.

Undealt with fear has the potential to immobilize our physical immune system, thus creating a domino effect that can bring with it panic attacks, disease, and despair.  This is exactly what happens to Saul.  We read in our passage, “Then Saul fell at once full length on the ground, filled with fear…” (vs. 20)  The panic attack that Saul is experiencing continues and eventually leads to a loss of all appetite and an inability to sleep (vss 21-23).  Fear has power.

Attacked in L.A.

Ten years ago I fell under the power of fear and was shrouded with an anxiety attack.  I was enveloped with a blanket of claustrophobia that left me in a fetal position in a California hotel.  I was emotionally paralyzed, wept uncontrollably, and experienced insomnia.  The sense of foreboding, depression, and distress that followed took all my efforts, prayer, and seeking of God’s power to overcome.

As I sought wise counsel, at times fasted and prayed, and talked to several doctor friends, I realized that if I was going to live a healthy rest of my life, I needed to seriously reevaluate my lifestyle.  In due course this led to a new set of daily habits that included exercise, more laughter, and a deeper relationship with Jesus and people.

Created for Intimacy

You can break the cycle of fear.  But you will have to get off the anxiety merry-go-round and seriously reassess your lifestyle.  I did almost ten years ago and it’s made all the difference in my world.

I believe the heart of every human being was formed for intimacy.  Intimacy with God, made known through Jesus, and intimacy with people is the key to peace.  This is why when Jesus was challenged by religious leaders as to which Law was the greatest, responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the prophets.” (Matt 22:37-40)  Love is the strongest form of intimacy.  Jesus is commanding us to love Him with every ounce of our spiritual, emotional, and physical energy, and then, as a result to love people with equal passion and zeal.

I believe that a deep growing maturing friendship with Jesus releases spiritual antibodies that strengthen our immune system.  Intimacy with Jesus brings a new power, the power to break the insidious satanic pressure of fear.   Intimacy with Jesus and people fills up our spiritual and emotional tank.  This then enables us to have the spiritual immune system needed to withstand the many anxious thoughts that we are bombarded with each day.

So, enjoy Jesus today through prayer and Bible study.  Build deep friendships and laugh often.  Exercise is vital.  Surrender your need to be in control and give God your worries.  Don’t hesitate, boldly jump into a new life of faith and peace.  Then, fear will have no power!

One Thing Losers

3 08 2010

I’m a loser!  If I were to evaluate my life based on the standards of the sports page, the entertainment section, and my son’s high school friends, I’m a loser.  I’m not all that intelligent, all that funny, or all that cool.  I’m showing signs of a growing spare tire around the belt line, grey hairs are popping up everywhere, I drive a truck with camo seat covers, I turn in the bill of my baseball cap, and love flannel shirts.  None of which constitutes culturally current winning qualities.

But I’m a loser with passion.  I tell my sons and daughters all the time to “give it all.”  Whether it’s a recital for piano or a baseball tournament, I say things like “leave it all on the field,” or “don’t hold back,” etc.  You know, the kind of stuff that parents are supposed to say to their kids.  The only difference is that I mean it.  I’m not saying that other parents don’t mean it, they do.  I’m sure they do because I sit in the stands with a lot of them at games and they shout, scream, pout, and almost cry like 3rd graders.  It’s an amazing thing to watch—otherwise normal middle aged worldly successful adults suddenly morphed into adolescent elementary aged behavior that often leaves me wondering what happened to the adult I was just talking to.

But I really mean it when I say to my children to be all there—focused, determined, and relaxed.  I don’t mean win, win, win, rah, rah, rah.  I mean be hot.  Be hotful (is that a word?); radically give it all—for something greater than yourself.  I sometimes say:  My time is valuable.  Don’t waste my time, the coach’s time, or your time.  Be hot out there.  I don’t care if it’s a piano, violin, or sports contest—be hot and be focused…for God’s glory.

I’m a loser for one thing.  The apostle Paul once said, “This one thing I do…”  Most of us can only do a few things half decent.  We’re just losers who aren’t very smart nor very talented.  But we can do one thing.  Yes, all of us can do one thing.  Instead of dabbling around with drink, entertainment, or whatever we dabble in, I want to be a one thing guy.  One thing.

Years ago I came across these words of Bishop Ryle.  They speak of our calling as Jesus followers,

“A zealous person in the Faith is pre-eminently a person of one thing.  It is not enough to say that he is earnest, hearty, uncompromising, thorough-going, whole-hearted, fervent in spirit.  He only sees one thing, he cares for one thing, he lives for one thing, he is swallowed up in one thing; and that one thing is to please God.  Whether he lives, or whether he dies—whether he has health, or whether he has sickness—whether rich or poor—whether he pleases men or whether he gives offense—whether he is thought wise or foolish—whether he gets blamed or praised—whether honored or put to shame—for all this the zealous man cares nothing at all.  He burns for one thing; and that one thing is to please God, and to advance God’s glory.  If he is consumed in the very burning, he cares not for it—he is content.  He feels that, like a lamp, he is made to burn; and if consumed in burning, he has but done the work of God for which God appointed him.”

Be a passionate one thing loser…for Jesus!

6 Principles of “Those Who Turned the World Upside Down” part 5

21 06 2010

This is part five in a series on the topic, “New Testament Principles on Leadership Structure.”  Enjoy.  If you want to catch up on the previous parts, scroll down.

Principle #5: Two Levels of Leadership

The ruling leaders of the New Testament churches are called bishops, pastor-teachers, elders, and overseers.  Paul states clearly, “Let the elders who rule [lead, direct, guide, manage] well be counted worthy of double honor” (1 Timothy 5:17a).  Dr. Grudem writes, of the main purpose of the elders: “One of the major roles in the New Testament is to govern the New Testament churches.”  He then references 1 Timothy 5:17 and 1 Timothy 3:4-5 (ibid).  Dr. Alexander Strauch writes, “Elders…lead, direct, govern, manage, and care for the flock of God” (ibid, p. 25). So, the Bible is clear that certain men are given the responsibility and gifting to lead the local church toward the purposes of God.

Besides the elder ruling structure, we also observe the use of deacons in the local churches.  There is much less in the New Testament in regards to the role of deacons compared to elders, bishops and overseers.  The word deacon is a translation of the Greek word, diakonos, which is the ordinary word for servant, whenever it used in the context of dealing with church officers.  Deacons are mentioned in Philippians 1:1: “…To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.”  We find no specifics as to their function, other than a distinction from the elders/bishops.  Deacons are also mentioned in 1 Timothy 3:8-13 in reference to the needed qualifications for those in such responsibility.  The list of character and moral qualifications for deacons follow closely the list given for elders.

From the list in 1 Timothy 3, we observe that the deacons must have had some responsibility with finances, administration and counseling.  The best example of the elder and deacon branches of leadership might be found in Acts 6: 1-6. 

Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. 2 Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. 3 Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; 4 but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, 6 whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.

Grudem comments:

The noun deacon is not found in Acts 6:1-6, but a related verb (Gk. diakoneo “to serve”) is found in verse 2… “Here the apostles who ruled over the Jerusalem church found it necessary to delegate some administrative responsibilities to others…” It seems appropriate to think of these seven men as deacons even though the name deacon had perhaps not yet come to be applied to them as they began this responsibility, for they seem to be given tasks which fit well with the responsibilities of deacons hinted at in 1 Timothy 3:8-12 (ibid, p. 919).

The deacons had a distinct role of serving the local church through serving the leadership of that particular body.  It is significant that nowhere in the New Testament do we find deacons as having ruling status in the churches.  The role of the deacons is clearly one of serving the elders in tasks that would pull them away from their primary function of ministry to the Lord, the people, and the spiritual ministries of the church.  (In this regard, there is no biblical reason that women would not also occupy such a position.)  Thus, there are two primary branches of leadership in the New Testament church:  the elders who rule over the spiritual direction of the body, and the deacons who serve the administrative and leadership needs of the elders.

The following diagram illustrates the two branches of leadership and how they function at MSC.  This is a visual of how God has led us to design the flow of leadership from Jesus Christ, the head of the church, through the elders to the congregation:


Benefits of Two Levels of Government Structure:

  • The ruling elders are not limited in their ministry and leadership by the physical/administrative needs of the congregation
  • The ruling elders can stay focused on the spiritual vision and direction of  the body, while the deacons take care of the needs of the elders
  • The deacons can provide support and healthy leadership in the day to day functions of the church while the elders can oversee such functions
  • The gift mix needed for each function is very different, and more people can be utilized throughout the leadership structure of the church
  • More people will be served by utilizing the different branches of government, thus enabling a healthy, more productive fellowship

In Practicum:

As stated earlier, MSC has an elder team made up of pastoral and board elders.  Pastoral elders are on staff and focus on preaching, teaching and oversight of the day to day ministry of the church.  Board elders focus on governance.  The roles of both Pastoral elders and Board elders are complimentary and have some overlap, as necessary.  We believe in the function of the deacons but do not use the term.  We consider associate staff, support staff and volunteer leaders who are ministering alongside our pastors, as functioning in the role of deacons.

6 Principles of “Those Who Turned the World Upside Down” Part 4

15 06 2010

This is part four in a series on the topic, “New Testament Principles on Leadership Structure.”  Enjoy.  If you want to catch up on the previous parts, scroll down.

Principle #4: Qualified Leadership

In Paul’s letters to the lead pastors, Timothy and Titus, he very clearly spells out the qualifications of leadership in the local church:

This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work. 2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; 3 not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; 4 one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence 5 (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); 6 not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. 7 Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil (1 Timothy 3:1-7).

Paul also instructs Titus in the importance of qualified leadership:

For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you– 6 if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. 7 For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, 8 but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled (Titus 1:5-8).

Peter gives us his list of character qualifications in his first epistle:

The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: 2 Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; 3 nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock (1 Peter 5:1-3). 

One of the clearest mandates of New Testament churches was the need for qualified elders governing the church.  The requirements are laid out so specifically that there is no doubt that the early church considered this of paramount importance. The overriding concern of the early church was to have men of Christ-like character who could model the life and ministry of Jesus to the fellowship of believers.  Alexander Strauch emphasizes this:

The overriding concern of the New Testament in relation to church leadership is for the right kind of men to serve as elders and deacons.  The offices of God’s church are not honorary positions bestowed on individuals who have attended church faithfully or who are senior in years…The church offices, both eldership and deaconship, are open to all who meet apostolic, biblical requirements.  The New Testament is unequivocally emphatic on this point” (ibid, p. 68).

Paul insists that the leadership under Timothy’s care not only be of the utmost in character qualities (see 1 Timothy 3:1-7 above), but also that the leaders must “…first be tested, then let them serve…” (1 Timothy 3:10).  This indicates that the qualifications for an elder must be clearly observed in the person before they are selected for leadership.  This was not just a set of qualifications to be used in interviewing a potential candidate, but rather was an observable lifestyle noticed by the other elders.

Elders who govern the church well are men who have access into the lives of her people.  They enter homes, love the hurting, counsel marriages, and pray for those in distress.  They are men who are aware of confidential information that will affect the lives of those of whom they have relationship.  These governing elders are leaders who teach God’s Word and model the life they teach.  Such men must have irreproachable character because of the ministry responsibility they carry.

In addition, church leaders are to be examples to the flock (see 1 Peter 5:3 above). Their beliefs and lifestyle are to be models of conduct that everyone in the fellowship would want to emulate.  John MacArthur writes, “Whatever the leaders are, the people become.  As Hosea said, ‘Like people, like Priest’ (4:9).  Jesus said, ‘Everyone, after he has been fully trained will be like his teacher’ (Luke 6:40).  Biblical history demonstrates that people will seldom rise above the spiritual level of their leadership” (ibid, p. 70).  Leaders have a tremendous responsibility in leading the church well.  They will be followed and even copied in how they talk, how they react, and how they live.

These are the spiritual fathers of the church.  Their lives will be seen as examples to the flock.  If the elders have a contentious spirit, the people will become contentious (see 1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7).  If the elders are greedy, the people will become greedy (see 1 Timothy 3:3).  If leadership is allowing immorality, the entire church will be negatively impacted by immorality.  Stauch writes, “Much of the weakness and waywardness of our churches today is due directly to our failure to require that church shepherds meet God’s standards for office.  If we want our churches to be spiritually fit, then we must require our shepherds to be spiritually fit” (ibid, p. 71).

Qualifications defined for Leadership/Eldership in the New Testament:

  1. Above reproach (1 Timothy 3:2-7; Titus 1:6-9):  anepilemptos, meaning free from any offensive or disgraceful blight of character or conduct, particularly as noted in verses 2-7.
  2. The husband of one wife (1 Timothy 3:2-7; Titus 1:6-9):  mias gynaikos andra, meaning a “one woman man,” one who, if married, has a faithful, healthy monogamous marriage to one woman.  This would prohibit any questionable sexual relationships related to polygamy, homosexuality, concubines, or outside relationships other than one’s wife.  This passage is not excluding a single man, but rather defining the relationship of one who is married.
  3. Temperate (1 Timothy 3:2-7):  nephalios, meaning mental sobriety, self controlled, and free from debilitating excesses or rash judgment.
  4. Prudent (1 Timothy 3:2-7):  sophron, meaning self controlled with good judgment and able to keep a balanced, objective perspective in the face of disagreements and problems.
  5. Respectable (1 Timothy 3:2-7):  kosmios, meaning a sensible minded person with proper behavior and orderliness.
  6. Hospitable (1 Timothy 3:2-7; Titus 1:6-9):  A concrete expression of Christian love in the church and in one’s family.  An open home to those in need.
  7. Able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2-7):  Able to guide and protect the body through the proper handling of Scripture.  A readiness to teach when needed and an aptitude in basic theology and doctrine.
  8. Not addicted to wine (1 Timothy 3:2-7; Titus 1:6-9):  Above reproach in the use of alcohol; not preoccupied with or overindulgent in the use of alcohol.
  9. Not pugnacious (1 Timothy 3:2-7; Titus 1:6-9):  A pugnacious man is mean spirited, bad tempered, and out-of-control with one’s attitudes and actions.  One who is prone to gossip, anger, and highly emotional.

10.  Gentle (1 Timothy 3:2-7):  Meaning forbearing, kind, magnanimous, equitable and gracious.

11.  Uncontentious (1 Timothy 3:2-7):  Meaning peaceable and not divisive in word or deed.

12.  Free from the love of money [sordid gain] (1 Timothy 3:2-7; Titus 1:6-9; 1 Peter 5:1-3):  meaning not greedy but content.

13.  Manages his own household well [children who believe] (1 Timothy 3:2-7; Titus 1:6-9):  Meaning he can manage (prohistemi) lead and care for his wife and children in a responsible manner.  He must have a reputation for caring for and managing his family financially, emotionally, and spiritually.  A man who can manage his children graciously and consistently.

14.  Not a new convert (1 Timothy 3:2-7):  Meaning not new to the faith, not a beginner or a baby Christian.

15.  A good reputation with those outside the church (1 Timothy 3:2-7):  Meaning that the person is known for integrity, honesty, and fair dealing in the secular world.

16.  Not self willed (Titus 1:1-9):  Self willed means arrogant, prideful; the opposite of being gentle.  A self-willed man is stubborn and insensitive to the opinions and needs of others; he is headstrong, independent, self assertive and not a team player.

17.  Not quick tempered (Titus 1:1-9):  Quick tempered means a “hot head,” an angry person who is easily antagonized and hurt.  A destroyer of peace and unity.

18.  Lover of what is good (Titus 1:1-9):  Closely associated with hospitality, the word is philagathos, meaning one who willingly, and with self denial, does good and is kind.

19.  Sensible (Titus 1:1-9):  sophron, same as prudent.

20.  Devout (Titus 1:1-9):  hosios, meaning firmly committed to God and His Word; to be separated unto God and His purposes.

21.  Self controlled (Titus 1:1-9):  Meaning self disciplined in every aspect of life, particularly in physical desires.

22.  Holds fast the faithful Word (Titus 1:1-9):  Able to exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who distort and contradict God’s Word.

23.  Not under compulsion, but voluntarily (1 Peter 5:1-3):  Meaning one who willingly and joyfully gives of his time to help and minister to others.

24.  Not lording over, but proving to be an example (1 Peter 5:1-3):  Humble, not dictatorial, but a mentor to those in need. 

25.  Shepherd of the flock of God (1 Peter 5:1):  poimanate, meaning to tend, to know the flock, seek out the lost, gather the flock, and feed the lambs.

We might call these “The Top 25 Leadership Qualifications of the New Testament.”  This is perhaps the most thorough list ever written on leadership qualifications.  From this list we see the ethical, moral, and spiritual qualifications needed for leadership in the local church.  Without questions, if churches today took seriously the qualifications listed in the New Testament for all elder positions, our churches would be as empowered as the New Testament churches were.

Benefits of Morally, Ethically, and Spiritually Qualified Elders:

  • The leadership will more fully reflect Christ to the congregation
  • The leadership will live exemplary lives and model to younger members of the church how a Christian man should live
  • The church will be led and governed in a God honoring manner
  • God will bless a church that is seeking Him and His perfect will by giving revelation and guidance to the leadership
  • When problems arise, these men will seek God and lead the church with wisdom and humility
  • These men will guard the church from heresy and unscrupulous leaders
  • These men will follow the scriptures in all of their teaching and leadership, thus discipling the fellowship into maturity

In Practicum:

At MSC we take seriously the character qualities listed, and we use these qualities as a gauge in hiring all pastors and in the selection of all board members.  Whenever we have not looked closely at a man’s character, we have paid dearly.  In viewing leadership I utilize the 6 C’s of leadership.  I call these my “6 C’s of leadership at Mountains Springs.”  These are the areas we use as our measuring rod for hiring pastoral staff:

Calling-he knows that God has clearly called him into the ministry at MSC.  He knows that this is not a job, but a calling to be a servant leader

Character – he is living a life with the intent of the heart  and lifestyle that is exemplified by the qualities outlined in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-8, and 1 Peter 5:1-3

Chemistry—he and his family have the vision, values and DNA of Mountain Springs

Competence—he has the skill, talent, and spiritual gifting to do the job assigned

Courage—he has the strength and courage to lead others with vigor and joy

Coaching—he is gifted to recruit, develop, and release other leaders in his area of ministry

6 Principles of “Those Who Turned the World Upside Down” part 3

7 06 2010

This is part three in a series on the topic, “New Testament Principles on Leadership Structure.”  Enjoy.  If you want to catch up on the previous parts, scroll down.

Principle #3: First among Equals

Paul explains the principle of “first among equals” when he writes, “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine” (1 Timothy 5:17).  Paul is expressing a “first among equals” status for certain leaders who were especially called and gifted in teaching God’s Word.  John MacArthur, in his commentary on this passage writes, “Elders who serve with greater commitment, excellence, and effort should have greater acknowledgement from their congregations.  Implicit is the idea that some elders will work harder and be more prominent in ministry” (Study Bible, p. 1869).  It seems that God has designed spiritual gifts such that certain members of the church are given the gift of teaching and leadership in preparing and equipping the Body of Christ for ministry.  There ministry will have greater prominence in the local church.  Alexander Strauch also expresses this sentiment:

Although elders act jointly as a council and share equal authority and responsibility for the leadership of the church, all are not equal in their giftedness, biblical knowledge, leadership ability, experience, or dedication.  Therefore, those among the elders who are particularly gifted leaders and/or teachers will naturally stand out among the other elders as leaders and teachers within the leadership body.  This is what the Romans called primus inter pares, meaning “first among equals” (ibid, p. 45).

Even Jesus singled out Peter, James, and John as “first among equals” in relation to the other twelve disciples (see Luke 8:51; 9:28; Mark 14:23).  In all four gospel accounts, Peter is the prominent leader among the twelve disciples.  Peter also stands shoulders above the other leaders in the Jerusalem church (see Acts 2:14, 42; 4:33, 35; 5:12, 18, 29, 42; 6:2-6; 8:14; 9:27; 15:2-29).   Peter is the chief leader among the elders in Jerusalem in the first twelve chapters of Acts.  In the second half of Acts, beginning in chapter thirteen, Paul becomes the dominant leader among the apostles outside of Jerusalem.  In Paul’s letter to the Galatians he speaks of James, Peter, and John as the “pillars” of the church in Jerusalem (see Galatians 2:7-9).

We further advance this principle of “first among equals” as we see who the pastoral epistles (1st and 2nd Timothy and Titus) are written to.  Paul directs his two letters to Timothy, and not the elders in Ephesus.  Paul sends his letter to Titus and not to the elders at Crete. Indeed, with Timothy and Titus are both taxed with the responsibility to “set in order the things that are lacking” and develop strong leadership in each church.

The pastoral epistles describe men who are the “first among equals” in building solid structure in teaching, church discipline, leadership qualifications, and church government.  The level of authority and the kind of teaching that Paul brings to these men make it obvious that they are to follow just what Paul admonishes Timothy,  “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).  Thus, Timothy in Ephesus and Titus in Crete are acting in the capacity of being lead pastors over the governing leaders in each congregation. 

Accordingly, scripture shows that the main vision, values, and direction of the Jerusalem church came from Peter (see Acts 1-13), and that the main visionary of the churches outside of Jerusalem rested largely with Paul (see Acts 14-28).  The lead pastor in Ephesus at the time of Paul’s letter was Timothy.  The lead pastor in Crete was Titus.  Thus, the principle of “first among equals” is another strong principle of New Testament government.

Wayne Grudem in Systematic Theology explains practically how “first among equals” can function in a local church:  

The senior pastor would be one among the elders in this system.  He does not have authority over them, nor does he work for them as an employee.  He has a somewhat distinct role in that he is engaged in the full time work of ‘preaching and teaching,’ (1 Tim. 5:17), and derives part or all of his income from that work (1 Tim 5:18).  He also may frequently assume a leadership role (such as chairman) among the elders, which would fit with his leadership role among the congregation…Such a system would allow a pastor to exercise strong leadership in the church while still having equal authority with the other elders” (p. 933).

Hence, the New Testament is very clear that God raises up men with a certain gifting of leadership and teaching that is used by God to build up and guide the local church toward the vision God has given that body of believers.  They are not more special or more gifted but do occupy a position of greater responsibility to the Lord and the elders in leading the church.

Benefits of a “First among Equals” Government Structure:

  • A highly gifted leader or teacher can use his God-given gift mix to its full potential
  • As the church provides financial support for this leader or leaders, the whole body will be blessed by their full time commitment to the church
  • Such leadership can provide necessary protection from abuse, heresy, and bad teaching as the leader or leaders can give necessary time to the plans and preparations of leading the church
  • A lead pastor can have the time to seek the Lord for clear direction and vision for the local church
  • A lead pastor with strong accountability will be able to lead the elders in a plan and strategy that can in turn bless every member of the local congregation

In Practicum:

As the senior pastor and founding pastor at MSC, I am often considered the “first among equals” at Elder Board meetings.  I am equal and not above the other elders in all matters related to the board.  But because my role involves visionary leading and teaching God’s Word, God has given me a certain responsibility and equity with my spiritual and board elders that requires that I lead out on visionary matters.  In some church structures, I would be designated as the “teaching elder.”  MSC also has an executive pastor who is a “first among equals” with the other pastors as he leads them in the day to day ministry of the church.

How and by Whom are Decisions Made at MSC?

In the process of decision making, the question is often asked “How and by whom are decisions made at MSC?”  On both the pastoral elder team and board elder team, we have utilized several approaches to decision making.  All of these approaches have value in certain circumstances.  I will explain this process from the continuum of autocratic to democratic:

Autocratic à  Consultative àConsensus à Democratic

The Autocratic mode of decision making means that one man leads and makes all major decisions.  At MSC, we rarely use this approach.  Yet there are times when myself, or one of our other lead pastors or board elders, must make a decision quickly and singularly.  Even in those situations, we encourage that consultation be sought first.

The Consultative mode of decision making means that a leader consults, gets the opinion of others and from that consultation makes a decision with the group largely in agreement.  I prefer this model more than the Autocratic and find that this is often an excellent approach. We have, from time to time, had to make major decisions that will impact the whole church, and I have always followed the consultive and also the following, consensus model.

The Consensus mode of decision making means that the group agrees in unison on a given approach or decision.  This is my preferred approach to leading and managing MSC.  Almost all decisions made by the pastors and board fall into this category.

The Democratic mode of decision making means that votes are cast and the majority wins.  Although this is the approach used in many churches, I have rarely used this, as it has the potential to short circuit the deep prayer and consensus building needed to develop a solid team that hears God together.  However, at the point of a deadlock, this approach can be preferable.

On the Pastoral and Board Elder Teams we approach each issue and decision with what I refer to as the “75/100 Rule.”  This means that we will always seek 75% agreement on a decision, but 100% support once the decision is made.  After much dialogue, once a decision is made, even if there is not complete unanimity on the decision, when we walk out of the meeting, we will support the decision 100% in talking about or discussing it with the congregation.  This enables us to keep unity in the body, even when we disagree on certain matters.