Thursday, January 25, 2007

Selecting Leadership in the Church

Most evangelical churches are congregational, meaning the the assembly of the members has a say on matters of church business. Most also have some form of leadership that is more or less selected by the members to exercise that role. Some may have a more authoritarian form like a pastor that is voted in but once there has a very strong voice in any decision making. Some may have a more diverse group like a plurality of elders who are picked to lead the body. Some, like the Brethren churches have very little centralized leadership.

Leadership is biblical. We see leadership in the church laid out in the New Testament. We are given qualifications for what kind of men can be in leadership. But the thing I have been considering is the choosing or appointing of leadership. Appointing a leader can be a very top down thing like the president appointing a secretary of state but it can also be a bottom up concept like a congregation voting on a pastor.

We see both of these approaches in the scriptures. Paul appointed elders in every church that he established. He instructed men how to appoint pastors. But there is the other style of appointment too. Do you remember? In Acts 1 the whole assembly was to decide who should take Judas's place as one of the twelve apostles.

I have been ruminating on this for several days because I find it interesting. There are two components. First there was qualification. Peter articulated to the assembly that they needed a man that had witnessed Jesus's entire earthly ministry from His baptism to His resurrection. There were then 2 men Joseph and Matthias that were put forward as meeting the qualification. I find it interesting that they found 2 men who were qualified (and we are given no indication that one was more qualified) and then they chose between them. Often in politics we talk about the evil of two lessers in an election but here was two well-qualified men and the assembly had to choose one of them to exercise leadership.

Then they held a vote. Well, not really. Then they cast lots. Now I know that we see lots being cast throughout scripture although it is not entirely clear what this device was. Whether it was some kind of dice or straws or colored stones drawn from a bag is really immaterial. The issue is it was something definitive (not like tea leaves!) that could unequivocally answer a question. Not only do we see lots being used in scripture frequently but we see some commentary on their use. Most shocking to us is perhaps Proverbs 16:33:

33 The lot is cast into the lap; But the whole disposing thereof is of Jehovah. (ASV)

So, this is the question I have been asking: can you imagine your church selecting deacons, elders, presbyters, pastors or whatever by lot? I think an argument could be made that an election is a form of the lot, however, I have been considering what happens when you have no rational bearing on the outcome. A method "cast into the lap" where the "whole disposing" is in God's control.

I'm not suggesting this necessarily. But the exercise is this: our twenty-first century minds immediately become uncomfortable with such a low-tech and irrational idea. But this is something that scripture tells us that God commanded of His people in the Old Testament and we see it used in the New Testament. So before we just write it off as some vestige of the past we should at least consider it. Would you base your decision on your next leader on the role of a die?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

An Ideal Church

"A church is an assembly of baptized believers, joined by a covenant of discipline and witness, who meet together regularly under the preaching of the Word of God."

So what does this look like ideally? Obviously this is going to be opinionated. Also, I guess I should insert American or something since assemblies of believers will look different in different parts of the world at different times. However some of these principles will actually be the same wherever and whenever you see them even though the outward manifestation may not appear congruent.

While a church is not a building (according to our working definition) the place of assembly should look like a place set apart for the worship of God. It should not look like something that got thrown up overnight or like something that will fall down today. It should not be dwarfed by a Family Life Center, a bookstore, a school, a bus depot or other extracurricular structures. As you enter this building it should have a sanctuary that calls for a solemnity and consideration of the greatness of God. [Aside: I think that one of the huge problems of modern American Christianity is that we have allowed our churches to become multi-purpose theaters where many things take place and consequently our worship just become one among the many mundane things and is no longer holy and special. But I will take that up another time.]

The people that we see gathered should look as though they came here on purpose with preparation to do something that is unlike other mundane gatherings throughout the week. I do not espouse a certain kind of dress I simply say that they should dress in a way that is set apart, that indicates a reverence and desire to worship. As we look around at those assembled it should not look like a crowd at a football game or movie theater. It should look different because they are here for a different reason. The conversations overheard should be different than the everyday water-cooler fare. These people should be engaging in each other's lives and not simply rehashing the weather, the workweek and the latest TV show craze.

As the service starts, one would hope to observe in the liturgy (music, prayer, reading, speaking) a formality without formulaity that indicates that this is not just a political meeting or hobby club but a group that is coming before the Creator and Sustainer for the purpose of hallowing His Name. If the music is just like what you listen to while passing time on your commute then there is a problem for it should be more thought-provoking and stirring. The prayers should not sound like your dinner prayer they should be intoned and addressed as being from the entire group to God and they should stir up truth as we listen to the one praying. As we read the Word and it should be done with worshipful excellence not hurried through or stumbled through. It should not be done in antiquated language that is incomprehensible to the listeners. [Aside again: I always find it strange when preachers who never say "Thou" when talking to you will say it 17 times while preaching. What is that about?]

Lastly, the church has ordinances. We were given them for a reason and we should use them to accomplish the purpose for which they were intended. That is a whole topic in itself but suffice it to say that I believe we have taken these wonderful pictures that Christ gave to us and cheapened them almost to the point of insignificance. The ideal church should be making these ordinances a centerpiece of their mission to discipline each other to holiness and witness to the world of the greatness of God.

American Christianity is made up of many churches who do not have a clear purpose. They go through rituals without understanding the purpose and basis of what they do. Of course I do not believe that all or even most of the churches are completely lost but this is the kind of thing that creeps in on an assembly and starts to slowly choke out life. Thus it is incumbent on those that want to continue, while the Lord tarries, to see their bodies grow and accomplish the Great Commission to actively fight to maintain an assembly of baptized believers, joined by a covenant of discipline and witness, who meet together regularly under the preaching of the Word of God.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Welcome to 2007

Well, it's double-ought seven and I am still alive. My family has had the most relaxing, quiet and uneventful Christmas break ever. So I did not break up the quiet by blogging. But now I am back and I have several more articles in my church series that I will be working in.

I caught an interesting article over at SharperIron that I thought I should comment on today. According to that blog the top story in Evangelical blogging in 2007 was "Porn-it is not just for Perverts any more." Seems more like a story from 1999 (the year the internet really took off) but I will not belabor that. The gist however is that just as many men who claim the name of Christ are partaking of internet porn. And the church seems to not be doing much about it.

Galatians 6:1 gives us the very important command to restore brothers who we find in sin. But it also reminds us to be "considering yourself, lest you also be tempted." I am thankful that of all the struggles with sin I have, internet porn has not been among them. That is due in large part to a wonderful wife who has been very tech and internet savvy from the beginning. We have all the good rules: I try not to be browsing around the net when I am by myself; the computer is set where everyone can see the screen; the history is available for review. Despite such rules and the touting of accountability services the problem seems to be growing, not going away.

Perhaps it is time the we really get up close and personal. Imagine this. You arrive at church on Sunday morning. You see you buddy Fred. "Hey, man! Howz it goin'," you say. Fred says, "Great. By the way, have you been looking at any internet porn this week?"

WHOA! You can't be talking like that at church! Why not? Are we not to "consider one another to provoke to love and good works (Heb 10:24)?" Seems to me if this is a growing problem then people are not doing enough considering. We need to get beyond the weather and "How'r ya doin'" to something that means something regarding love and good works. I have a friend that consistently confronts me about my relationship with my wife. It is great because I know that when I see him, he will ask me if I am loving my wife the way Christ loves the church. That is the kind of thing that we need: relationships that help us have the discipline to witness to the world about the grace of God.

Try it this week.