J. Gordon Duncan

Culture, Business, Fitness, Etc.

Samson as More than Hero or Cautionary Tale

A Once and Future SamsonIf Samson were alive today, he would have a million Twitter followers, tweet things like “great #honey last night what a blast lol”, and the world would love him.  That is, the world would love him until he made every mistake under the sun and TMZ started covering him.

With those things in mind, one must wonder what relevancy does Samson still hold?

Is he a picture of what believers can be when they trust from the Lord and turn from their idols?

Is he a picture of what will happen if men pursue their lusts and thus an antitype of say, Joseph?
Is he a foreshadowing of Christ?

Unfortunately, many practical devotional writings pull Samson out of context and teach purely an exemplary exegesis that treats Samson as a model that can be followed or avoided.  For example, Henry Blackaby in his Experiencing God devotional uses Samson’s life as a pattern to be followed when we have lost spiritual power.  Relating to Samson, he says, “Those around you who have relied upon your strength are discovering that you are not as helpful as you once were.”  To remedy this, he encourages, “If you walk with God in this manner, you will grow in spiritual strength (like Samson) and be used mightily by Him.”

Another example is Steven Lawson’s Men Who Win.  He talks of the great victories that God has brought, “Samson slew the Philistines.  David fought Goliath,” but warns, “Our battles are just as real.  The Canaanites outnumber us.  The Goliaths are waiting for us to grow weary and falter.  The Delilahs are lying.”

Truly, whenever we see a biblical character succumbing to sin, the believer should be on guard lest he fall.  Whenever we see a biblical character achieve victory, we should rejoice that God is gracious.  But these kinds of examples miss the point of Samson, nearly completely.

The takeaway is that God moves, enlivens, empowers, and delivers despite the sinfulness of His people.

With these thoughts in mind, please check out “A Once and Future Samson” available as both a Kindle Single and PDF download.  It is a simple, concise, and hopeful look at God’s work among even the worst of us.

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July 24, 2013 Posted by | church, church planting, gospel, men, mission, missional, ruth, training men | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Is a Good Man Hard to Find” is Available

new releaseExcited for the arrival of “Is a Good Man Hard to Find?” in all formats.  Amazon has it listed as the #1 New Release for men, and thanks to all of you, it is already in the Top 50 of both Men’s Issues and Church Leadership.

The design of “Good Man” is to enable invidiuals, families, and churches to develop and sustain efforts to identify and train Godly men.   The book focuses on four areas:  Home Life, Thought Life, Church Life, and Community Life.  I hope this is a simple, helpful resource.  If so, please let folks know about “Is a Good Man Hard to Find?”.

You can find “Is a Good Man Hard to Find?” in several different formats.

Paperback
Kindle
Nook
PDF

Good Man snippet header

July 9, 2013 Posted by | church, church planting, gospel, men, mission, missional, training men | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is a Good Man Hard to Find?

Good ManWhy another book about men, Godly men, training Godly men, elders, and all of that stuff?  The simple answer for another book is that we need to keep looking at the scriptures, looking at what we’ve done (and not done), asking good questions, and then we need to look at the scriptures again.

And hopefully, in the process, we will see Godly men grow, be raised up, and reproduce themselves for the church, for the good of everyone involved, and ultimately to the glory of God.

This book is a humble attempt at just those things.  Available July 9th everywhere, “Is a Good Man Hard to Find?” hopes to be an honest confession and guidebook to help us get there.

The cover art was designed by the ridiculously talented Jay Holmes, and any errors within are mine.  I’ve included the Introduction below to give you an idea of where things may go.  Thanks for considering this.

I’ve been through leadership training in a bunch of different arenas.  I’ve been to public school teacher training.  I’ve been to sales meetings.  When I managed an eye doctors’ office, I went to the optometric national conference every year.  As a seminary student, I was trained to death.

In the church, I was trained to be a lay ruling elder and a pastor teaching elder.  All of those involved tests, both written and oral.  Once I became a church planter, I was entrusted with the task of training elders and deacons.

I don’t tell you all of that to say that I know what I’m doing.  I tell you because at this point and time, I wonder if any of us do.

But this book is my attempt to explain things as I see it, and I hope that it will be of some benefit to you, to my church, and to the larger church nationwide.  You see, throughout pastor training (both for me and to others), I’ve noticed a couple of temptations:

Churches often ordain influential, successful men thinking that their earthly success and wisdom will result in spiritual success and wisdom.  That’s possible, but it doesn’t always work out.

Another temptation is to completely focus on doctrine thinking that a right thinking man is a Godly leader and shepherd.  That is possible, but that is not always the case (and it doesn’t always work out well).

Sometimes elders and leaders move from one city to another and think that they should already be made leaders in any new church that they attend.  Again, it might work out, but that kind of assumption doesn’t take into account context or mission.
So what do we do?  What do we emphasize while seeking to be fiercely biblical?

Well, in my humble opinion, I would suggest three essential qualities and one really strong recommendation in a Godly elder.  Now, let me say this.  These should be qualities that every Godly man aspires to, so they should apply to deacons, leaders, and men in general, but this book’s emphasis is on elders.

First, that man must have a personal holiness that enables him to lead his family in a self-sacrificing manner like Christ led the church.  We will call that Home Life.

Secondly, that man must have a firm and deep theology that is consistent with the body to which he hopes to lead.  We will call that Thought Life.

Thirdly, that man must have the ability to perform the office to which he aspires.  If he seeks to be an elder, he must be able to shepherd.  If he seeks to be a deacon, he must be able to serve.  We will call that Church Life.

And finally, I would suggest from both practical and Biblical example that that man should have non-wavering agreement with the specific mission of that church.  We will call that Community Life.

To get us there with these thoughts, we look at the biblical qualifications of a leader in scriptures.  Those qualifications will expound on the ideas surrounding our first two qualities (Home Life and Thought Life).  Then we will look at the ability to shepherd (Church Life), and then we will conclude by discussing the mission of the church (Community Life).

Hopefully, in the end, we will all walk away with Godly men who lead their families well, have a firm and consistent theology, who own the mission of their church, and have the ability to live out the office to which they take vows.

Thanks for taking the time to even consider these things.

Gordon Duncan
June 2013

July 2, 2013 Posted by | church, church planting, gospel, men, mission, missional, training men | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Family Guy – Qualifications of an Elder

family_guy_dsNo matter your place in life, no matter what job you have, or who you are, you have to prove yourself in one area before you can be given responsibility in another.  If you are 5 years old, you have to show responsibility in small things before being given privileges in other things.  Most parents make their teenager demonstrate some modicum of wisdom before giving them keys to a car.  If you do a good job as a bag boy in grocery store, you might get moved up to cashier.  Faithfulness in small things is evidence of faithfulness in larger things.  Disregard in small things is a good test that disregard will be given in large things.

Much of life is built like this, and the way someone handles these times of testing really speak to their character.  I remember student teaching before becoming a teacher.  You have the chance to take on an entire teaching load under the supervision of an experienced teacher, get real time feedback, and figure out what you don’t know.  You do that well along with a few other things, and you can earn your teacher’s license.

I remember one guy who was in my group of teachers.  We would drive over the school each day, commiserate about being lowly student teachers, and compare lesson plans while trying to figure out how to eat lunch for less than $2.50.  We got down to the last 2 weeks of student teaching.  At that point and time, the teaching load is gradually being handed back to the experienced teacher.  The student teacher is practically on cruise control, and with a tiny bit of effort, they will be on their way to be a licensed teacher.  But a problem arose for my buddy.  During those last two weeks, the Grateful Dead were coming down from Virginia, through NC, and touring into SC.  My buddy was a huge Deadhead.  He mentioned to me that he might skip a day and go see them.  I urged him not to because I knew that his tendency would be to take a bunch of days off and follow the band from show to show.  Unfortunately, he didn’t take mine or anyone else’s advice, and the last time I ever saw him was when he pulled out to go see that first show.  Apparently, he hooked up with the band in Virginia and never came back.

Stories like that are exactly why there is a time of proving for most everybody in every walk of life.  Talent doesn’t mean squat if you don’t know how to follow through and endure the tough times.  Well, last week at Sovereign King, we discussed how God’s giving the church Godly leadership was a gift.  This week, we are going to see how those gifts are proven.  We are going to see God’s internship played out if you will.  Towards that end, we are going to ask this Big Picture Question:

Big Picture Question:  How are future leaders of the church proven to be qualified and ready to lead God’s people?

Last week, we talked about the qualifications of an elder as found in 1 Timothy 3:1-3.  Basically those qualifications fell into 3 categories.

  • Holiness in Personal Life vss 2-3
  • Godly management of one’s household vss 4-5,
  • Spiritual maturity vss 6-7

We only had time last Sunday to discuss the first category of holiness in one’s personal life.  There, Paul outlined 10 characteristics that should define personal holiness.  They are:

  • Faithfulness as the husband of one wife.
  • Sober-minded or the ability to see the big picture of scripture, personal life, church life, and kingdom life.
  • Self-controlled saying “yes” to personal disciplines and saying “no” to sin.
  • Respectable to both believers and non-believers.
  • Hospitable serving even one’s enemies.
  • Able to teach which is evaluated by people’s propensity to learn under your teaching.
  • Not a drunkard or an alcoholic.
  • Not violent but gentle meaning that people rest in your presence.
  • Not quarrelsome or valuing being right over retaining relationships
  • Not a lover of money which means your money is kingdom minded first and personal comfort second.

We also mentioned last week that all of these qualities are expected of each and every one of you.  These aren’t some fictitious higher standard made up for elders but the standard to which all believers should live.  As you prayerfully seek to nominate elders, you are looking for men whose lives are radically being transformed in these areas.  No one is going to meet these standards perfectly, but a qualified elder is someone who is day by day becoming these standards.

Having caught us up, let’s look at the second category of qualifications that you should find in an elder.  This one is Godly management of one’s household as found in verses 4-5.

4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?

This is a lot like what was mentioned at the beginning of the sermon.  If someone proves themselves faithful in one area, then they can be trusted in being faithful in other areas.  One of the criteria by which you should evaluate a potential elder is by looking at how they manage their household.  If they manage their household well, then that is evidence that they may be able to care for God’s church.  This principle is proven true in Jesus’ Parable of the Talents.  If you don’t know the story, here’s a quick reminder.

In Matthew 25, Jesus tells this story.  A man went on a journey, and he entrusted each of his servants with golden talents.  To one he gave 5, to another he gave 2, and to another he gave 1.  The one servant who was entrusted with 5 took that money and earned 5 more.  When the master returned, he rewarded the faithful servant for his good work.  The servant who was entrusted with 2 talents took that money and earned 2 more.  He also was rewarded by his master.  But the servant who was entrusted with 1 talent buried it out of fear.  When the master returned, he punished the servant and took away even his 1 talent.  The point of the parable is that God entrusts His servants with many things:  skills, money, responsibilities, on and on.  God expects His servants to take care of and use those gifts to God’s glory and as servants they should recognize that all they have is really God’s and not their own.

That is the principle behind why an elder should lead a Godly home before leading the church.  If a man can lead his family in Godliness, then he might be able to lead his church family.  If he cannot lead his family in Godliness, then he definitively cannot lead his church family.  Maybe a man might have the skills to lead the church, but if his family is suffering, then he needs to put the time and effort into leading his family and not in leading the church.  Trust me, no matter how skilled, you want your elder to have put time in and proven himself in leading his family, and if he has failed at home, trust me, no matter how skilled, you don’t want him as an elder.  So the real question I guess is, “How do you know if someone can leads a Godly home AND lead the church in Godliness?”

Well, an elder is a guy who can lead both.  He can lead his family in Godliness and lead the church in Godliness.  And the way you can know this is that by examining his life, as much as you can tell, you see that His home is his first and foremost place of ministry.  Yet you can also tell that he has time and vision to lead the church.  He realizes that if he helps a church grow and sees many people come to know Christ yet fails to nurture his family in Godliness, he has failed.

Let me share a story with you that impressed how this principle should work.  Amy and I were at church planters’ basic training, and Steve Childers was speaking.  Now if you don’t know who Steve Childers is, He is in charge of Global Church Advancement, and has forgotten more about church planting than most church planters will ever know.  He told the story about his first church plant where he gathered everyone in the room and cast a vision for what the church was going to be like.  He detailed the mission and the vision and how the small groups would work ultimately leading to an effective outreach into the community.  The crowd was excited and galvanized.  They were ready to go start a church.  Steve went home that night still excited about how everything went.  He asked his wife, “Honey, how do you think the meeting went?”  She said, “It was incredible.  You did just a fantastic job presenting a vision for the church.  I only wish at some point and time in our life, you would have articulated a mission or vision like that for our family.”  Steve went on to tell us that if we build the church at the expense of our families, then we are failures and not good servants.

An elder is a man who is clearly leading his family in Godliness and can simultaneously lead the church in Godliness.  Now, men hear me out.  Every one of you is leading your family.  You are the spiritual barometer for your household.  You are either doing a good job at leading your family in Godliness or you are doing a job that will bring you shame.  Men, people should be able to look at your household and see the passion that you have for your wife and children and their well-being and their Godliness and know that you can put that much passion into leading the church.  You almost worry that he is so dedicated to his family that he can’t lead the church but his dedication to his family is what enables his service to the church.

This gets turned around sometimes when a man can lead the church but his family is left behind.  If a man can lead the church well but is negligent on leading his family, I’m not interested in his bastardized church leadership.  God looks for men, and you should as well, that have such a special relationship with their wife and children, that you wish that same kind of care for yourself and the church.

There are so many areas to go in describing what leading a Godly family looks like, but to keep it contextual, let’s take those 10 characteristics above, and see what applying them, modeling them, and instilling them in your wife and children.

  • The elder exercises faithfulness and dedication in his home, and teaches his family to be faithful and dedicated to God, each other, and the church..
  • The elder exercises sober-minded, big picture thinking of scripture, personal life, church life, and kingdom life in his home, and teaches his family to be sober-minded, big picture thinkers in all of those areas as well.
  • The elder exercises self-control saying “yes” to personal disciplines and saying “no” to sin in his home and teaches his family to be self-controlled as well.
  • The elder’s home is a model of being respectable to both believers and non-believers and the elder teaches the disciplines of respectability to his family.
  • The elder’s home has an atmosphere of hospitality serving friends and enemies alike, and the elder teaches his family to be hospitable to whomever God sends across their paths.
  • The elder teaches his family well, and they learn under his teaching, and he teaches his family how to be teachers.
  • The elder is not a drunkard or an alcoholic in his home, and he teaches his family not to be drunkards or alcoholics.
  • The elder is not violent either in speech or action to his family, and he teaches his family to be gentle.
  • The elder is not quarrelsome and values the relationships in his family over being proven right all the time, and he teaches his family to do the same.
  • The elder’s home does not demonstrate a love of money but instead his home reflects a passion for the kingdom of God, and he teaches his family to live in the same way.
  • God says if you can’t do those things in the home, then you can’t do those things in the church.

The final category of characteristics as detailed by Paul in 1 Timothy is spiritual maturity.

Spiritual Maturity

6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

Now I use the term spiritual maturity to describe the seasoned life of the believer.  That maturity in this passage takes on two characteristics:

  • They can’t be a recent convert.
  • They must be respected by non-believers.

Paul warns here that a person who has recently come to know Christ as their savior should not become an elder because if they do, they might become puffed up, conceited, and fall into the condemnation of the devil.  Let me see if I can explain this command in this way.  You know when you first fell in love?  Maybe you remember the moment either as that first gooey eyed stare on a date or maybe that moment is encapsulated for you on the day you took your marriage vows.  Either way, those are great moments in which to look back.  Now fast forward to today.  You love your spouse but living out that love in the midst of bills, children, and so many other things is when you found out just how much you love them.

That is exactly how it is with your relationship with God.  When you first become a believer, you are rightfully incredibly excited.  You’re guilt is gone, and you have more joy and peace than you have ever had in your entire life.  Now fast forward until today.  You love God but living out that love in the midst of bills, children, and so many other things is when you find out just how much you love Him.

That is Paul’s point.  You can’t make a recent convert an elder.  The recent convert has not proven that his declared love for God can handle adversity yet.  For any of our young couples here, bask in the joy of young love, but the depth of each of your love will be determined by how well you do once you have been married a while.  That is also how it is for the believer.  Your love for God is not measured by your zeal for Jesus when you first know Him but your zeal for Jesus after you have known Him for a while and you have faced adversity.

Also, if you ordain a young elder, there is every reason for that person to be tempted into thinking that they have arrived and develop a conceited and entitled spirit.  The word for puffed up in the Greek literally means to go up in the air like a puff of smoke.  Now what does it mean that a young, rashly ordained, conceited elder might come under the condemnation of the devil?  Does the devil get to condemn conceited elders?   No the usage of the word in the Greek there is called an objective genitive.  It means that the elder can fall under condemnation for pride just as the devil has fallen under condemnation for pride both of which come from God.  The story of Satan’s fall from the highest of angels is found in Isaiah 14.  The idea here is that you don’t want to lay hands on an elder too soon because the elder will get all puffy headed and prideful and God will have to demote him from his position as elder just as Satan was demoted from the highest and most beautiful of angels.

So, you want to look for an elder who has the spiritual maturity that comes with loving God over a long period of time.  His love has been tested and been found true.  Your elder must be able to function in this position of leadership without growing proud, conceited, or as Paul puts, all puffy headed.  One of the evidences of this maturity is found in verse 7.  Not only is the potential elder mature in His devotion to God, He demonstrates the transforming work of God by earning a good reputation even with people outside the church.   Here is one area, perhaps one above all others, that the church has sorely missed out on.  You want to look for an elder who is respected by outsiders as well as those inside the church.  Not only should you within this church admire and respect this man in the managing of his household, but non-believers as well.

The reason that I think that this is so challenging is that in this day and age, it is hard to find any Godly believers who active, on-going, respectable relationships with non-believers.  These things are essential for the elder in part because they are essential for evangelism, and if your elder doesn’t evangelize, doubtful many of you will either.

Having a respectable relationship with non-believers provides two things:

  • Living out your faith in such a way for non-believers to respect provides a Godly example for the church.  This means having friends who are non-believers and having relationships with them that are not solely based on arguing or debating.  Arguing and debating with non-believers is not respectability.  They are respectable relationships based on love and service.
  • The second thing that living out your faith with non-believers does is that it provides a fertile soil for evangelism to grow.  If you love and serve non-believers and show them that you are able to have friendships with them whether or not they are a believer, you provide a foundation by which you can proclaim the Gospel truths of Jesus.

The church is desperately in need of this type of leadership.  The church needs Godly elders who embody a personal holiness, a holiness in leading their home, and spiritual maturity that comes from years of walking with Christ and is evidenced by good, respectable relationships with non-believers.

Now as we come to an end of looking at the Biblical qualifications of an elder, you may have one of two ideas floating around in your head.  You may be thinking, “God has blessed SK well.  We have a couple of men like that who I think are going to lead us in Godliness.”  Or you might be thinking, “Wow, we are never going to have elders with these guys.”  Let me encourage you in this way.  The only person who fits the bill of the above characteristics is Jesus.  He is the chief elder of the church and you will have the privilege of hearing Tim Burden on the very topic next week.  All of the men in this church measure up in some way on that list, but yes, some do more than others.

  • First and foremost:  spend time in prayer.  Do not make such a weighty decision lightly or flippantly.  Ask God for wisdom long before you ever nominate anyone.
  • Speak with the person you are considering to nominate.  Ask them about their own sense of calling.  They may clearly say that they feel no sense of call in even being nominated at this time or they may be aware of theological disagreement they have SK that they do no wish to pursue changing.
  • Don’t be disappointed as you first consider who to nominate.  We are all gradually being transformed into the image of Christ by future of the fact of the Resurrection-powered Holy Spirit that lives in each and ever believer.
  • Even if you see a potential elder falling short in a particular elder, pray still about nominating him.  You are looking for Godly men who are being radically transformed into the image of Christ.  You are looking for men who cannot help but be about Jesus and the work of the Kingdom.
  • Nominate them and allow the process to do its work.

Between now and the called congregational meeting, I’ll provide you with more details, and go into greater depth about how the elder needs to line up with a Godly life, theological agreement with the principles of SK, and how they should embrace the mission of the church.  If we do those things, and ask God for much wisdom, then we should have no fear that God will provide us with an incredible session of elders. Let’s pray.

This article also appears at Raleigh Examiner.

October 26, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 2 Comments

SK Video Sermon Preview for 11/01/09

October 24, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 2 Comments

A Good Man is Hard to Find: Qualifications of an Elder from I Timothy 3

a-good-man-is-hard-to-find1Sermon audio can be found online at http://www.sermoncloud.com/sovereign-king-church/

The ability to give good gifts is a gift in and unto itself.  Don’t get me wrong.  If a guy buys his wife flowers, he is probably ahead of the curve.  But buying the right gift and giving it at the right time is a rare commodity.  The truest and most sincere gift is one that given specifically for the joy and care of the recipient.  It is selfless and not self-serving.

Now, I don’t necessarily fashion myself a great gift giver.  I’m not ignorant of the need, and I’ve probably given a couple really awesome gifts in my life, but for the most part, I’m probably average.  However, I have received some awesome gifts.  One in particular stands out.

It was in 2005, and I was about to graduate from seminary.  I had never been more broke in my entire life.  I had to defend my thesis, graduate, go through the ordination process, raise money for the launch of the church, sell a house…you get the picture.  I was stressed out.  So being without any extra money, I was spending my free time, if I had any, playing guitar.  That was at least free.  I was also spending my time looking for electric guitars online because I hadn’t owned one in years.  The model I wanted was aptly named the Paul Stanley Silvertone Sovereign Pro.  But my looking was really only wishing as like I said, I had no money.

But then one day, as I was walking up to the front door of my house, I noticed a box from the mailman propped against the door.  When I opened it up, it was my guitar.  The exact model I wanted.  To this day, I still don’t know who bought me that guitar, but it is one that I will keep for the rest of my life.  Every time I look at it, I am reminded of someone’s generosity to me.

Now, God is a fantastic gift giver, and He demonstrates this by giving gifts to the church.  As always, they are like the gifts we give but somewhat different.  God’s gifts are always gracious without evil intent.  Unfortunately, human nature can give a gift and then try to make someone feel guilty about it.  Any of you who have received a gift like this would almost rather have not have it if you have to feel guilty about it for the rest of your life.    God’s gift are always to His glory and rightfully so.  Ours can never be for our glory, and any gift that might be, is not really a gift.  But this one thing we know:  God’s gifts are always good.

Now scripture details a host of gifts that God gives His children.  Some churches emphasize some gifts more than others, but here is a very brief list.

  • Gift of the Holy Spirit –  Acts 10:45
  • Gift of Faith – Ephesians 2:8
  • Spiritual gifts – I Corinthians 12
  • Gift of Jesus Christ – John 4:10

No matter what gift God gives though, scripture commands each believer that their gift should be used in service.  It is not to be kept, guarded, or hidden.  The gifts God gives are always to be poured out in service.  We see this in the Parable of the Talents as well as commanded in I Peter 4:9-11

1 Peter 4:9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Now one gift from God that gets looked over quite often is the gift of church leadership.  1 Timothy 4:14 describes Timothy’s leadership of the church as a gift that was displayed and affirmed by the laying on of hand by the elders.  These leaders are gifted so that the people of God will be led in holiness and wisdom.  Scripture is full of these examples like Moses, David, and Peter.  Of course, as soon as I mention these guys, their faults come to mind, but still, God gifts the church with Godly leadership so that the people of God will not be left to wander alone.

Despite church leadership always being imperfect, every believer is called to submit to these leaders as is seen in Hebrews 13:17 – 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. By this command, any believer who is presently not in a community, whether that community meets in a building, by a lake, or in a home, where they are actively submitting to church leadership is in sin.  It is the equivalent of telling God, “No thanks,” to the good gifts He has given.

In light of that, let’s answer this Big Picture Question this week:

Big Picture Question:  How is the leadership of the church God’s gift to His people?

1Timothy 3:1-7 – The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

Now the context of this letter is Paul writing to Timothy to prepare him for ministry once Paul is gone.  Paul is interested in encouraging Timothy in his personal discipleship as well as encouraging Timothy to continue to disciple and train church elders and deacons.  Paul says that if someone wants to be an elder or overseer, the office itself is a noble calling.  It is noble office because as we saw in Hebrews 13:7, God entrusts the oversight of the souls of His people to the leaders of the church.

The language most often associated with this kind of relationship in the scriptures is the language of headship.  This is when a person or persons leads and represents others before God.  And how things go for them is how things go for everyone else.  The life and health of the people they represent and care for are intrinsically tied to the Godliness of the head.  Adam is the head of the human race in Romans 5.  That didn’t work out too well did it?  The husband is the head of the wife in Ephesians 5.  The husband bears the spiritual responsibility of leading His family in Godliness and I’m sure we’ve seen good and bad examples of that.  Jesus is the head of the church in Ephesians 5.  He by His work has led His people in all Godliness.

And the elders of the church have the noble task of overseeing the souls of God’s people.    Godly and wise church leadership guides the church in Godliness and wisdom.  Ungodly and unwise church leadership leads the people towards sin and foolishness.  I’m afraid we’ve seen both of those in our days and maybe more of the latter than the former.

But if someone desires to fulfill that calling they need to meet several requirements, and these requirements fall into basically 3 categories:

  • Holiness in Personal Life vss 2-3
  • Godly management of one’s household vss 4-5,
  • Spiritual maturity vss 6-7

Now before I go any further, let me make this point.  In fact, what I want to do is dispel a commonly held myth – one in which many of you might hold.  As we look at those 3 categories of requirements, we need to understand this:  elders and overseers, pastors, and deacons are not held to higher standard than anyone else in Christianity.  They are held to the very same standard to which every believer is held.  Let me explain.

There is no such thing as a higher or lower standard or higher or lesser righteousness Biblically.  God has commanded us how to live in the scriptures in accord with His character.  So, there can be no higher obedience than what God has commanded.  If there was a higher standard, then that would be what God commanded.  Let me use the most common example to illustrate how people think about this…drinking alcohol.

Scripturally there is no evidence whatsoever that a drink of alcohol is sinful.  In fact it is commanded by Paul to Timothy, exemplified by Jesus, and even commended in Proverbs 31.  Now some folks will say, “Well drunkenness is a sin, so I’m never going to drink alcohol.”   That is a perfectly fine application and I support it wholeheartedly.  Rock on.  But it is not higher righteousness.  If not drinking at all was the level of righteousness that Jesus wanted, He would have commanded us to not drink at all.  People have this impression of officers though.  They think they should be held to some fictional higher level obedience.  Folks, obeying what God has commanded is hard enough.  Obeying any extra rules is impossible and even counterproductive.

No, the elder, deacon, pastor, and overseer are judged presently for their character whereas most people in the church are not judged at all for their character unless their actions rise to the level of church discipline.  The officer though lives their Christian life for the world to see and evaluate.  In essence, the occupation of the church officer is the occupation of being a believer.  The job of an officer is to be a Christian.

So, a gifted overseer or elder in the church will have a holiness in his personal life.  The phrase above reproach is a summary description of the following 10 Godly characteristics.

  • The husband of one wife
  • Sober-minded
  • Self-controlled
  • Respectable
  • Hospitable
  • Able to teach
  • Not a drunkard
  • Not violent but gentle
  • Not quarrelsome
  • Not a lover of money

Let’s start with the first one:  the husband of one wife.  Well, let’s ask a couple of things first.  Why would this characteristic, whatever it means, matter?  The answer is that an elder, an overseer must be committed and dedicated not given to quitting or impetuousness.   Being an officer of the church requires perseverance in the midst of the most difficult situations.   But believe it or not, this is a very contested characteristic.  Appears simple, but here are some of the questions that arise with this quality.

  • Does this verse mean that you have to be married to be an elder?
  • Does the husband of one wife mean you can’t be divorced?
  • Does this mean that you can’t be a woman and be an elder?

So, let’s eliminate a few things first.  Fist, you cannot be married to more than one woman at a time and be an elder.  That’s clear from the verse, so you can’t be a polygamist which was still pretty prevalent in that day.  Second, you don’t have to be married to be an elder because if being married was a requirement then Jesus himself wouldn’t qualify to be an elder.  Jesus wasn’t physically married, and if Jesus doesn’t qualify to be an elder, I sure as hell don’t want to be part of a church that wouldn’t allow Jesus to be their elder.

So, onto our next question:  can you be divorced and be an elder?  Well, being divorced is not a sin if a person divorces for biblical reasons.  So, since as we mentioned, officers are not held to some false higher standard, and being divorced is not a sin, you can be divorced and be an officer.

So what about women elders?  To eliminate the confusion, Biblically, there is no support for female elders, but I don’t think this conviction comes solely from this verse.  That conviction has to be seen in the larger Biblical context.  Now, as we jump into the issue of male/female elders in the church I would like to recommend 2 books on the subject that have informed me well on this subject.  “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” by John Piper and Wayne Grudem and “Vintage Church” by Driscoll and Breshears.

The qualification of being the husband of one wife does lend some weight to this church’s stance on that issue if it is seen in the larger context. Again, being an elder is about headship and just as the husband is the head of the family, so are elders heads of the church.  Think of it in this way.  God created men and women in the image of God which means that we are equal but last time I checked incredibly different.  It takes the distinctions of both male and female to understand the image of God.  The differences are not merely physical appearance.  I don’t any men who have had babies lately, so obviously the idea of different roles with equality is something that God is okay with.

So men uniquely reflect God’s being a Father with leadership and guidance of His people by being the heads of their families.  Women uniquely reflect God’s creation and compassion by being mothers.  It takes both the headship of the male and the creation of the female to gain a full and accurate picture of the image of God.  Those roles begin to become clear as we walk through the Bible.

Despite the presence of many Godly women in the OT, the senior spiritual leadership of Israel was the male priests.  Jesus taught and trained many Godly men and women but His 12 disciples were male and He appointed them to be the apostles and leaders over the church.  Now, just because the priests were male and that Jesus trained 12 men that doesn’t mean that He doesn’t want well trained females.  God intends for the entire church to be incredibly qualified theologians but He has commanded men to be the elder and teachers.

1 Timothy 3 commands that women should learn quietly in all submissiveness while forbidding them to teach or exercise authority over a man.  Now obviously the verse has been misapplied in many churches where women walk in looking like they are afraid to speak, keep their heads down, and avoid all eye contact.  But by commanding that women learn quietly, Paul was actually revolutionizing the approach towards women for the day.  Paul was saying, “Hey, this is the church.  The women of the church should be as stout as theologians as the men are.  They should learn and no one should prevent them from learning, so men, get over your backward ways, and women, get over your fear.

However, the women are to learn in all quietness.  Now the Greek word for “learning quietly” does not mean total silence as it has been translated and applied quiet often.  “Learning quietly” means learning in a peaceable demeanor.  It means learning in such a way as to be humble and respectful.  Women are to learn these things in submissiveness to authority without taking on teaching roles over the other men.  Now this of course does not mean that women are not incredibly gifted teachers or gifted in shepherding.  Of course they are.  If that’s the case though, why would God say that women should not teach or have authority over men when they can completely function in those roles if they had to?

The answer is that God has appointed the leadership and headship of the church to men.

  • Romans 5:12:  Adam was the head of Eve and the human race and took responsibility for her sin.
  • Ephesians 5:23:  Husbands are the heads of their wives and heads of their families and thus responsible for the spiritual health and teaching of the home.
  • Ephesians 5:23 – Christ is head of His bride the church.
  • In a few verses where we are told that an elder must lead his household well.  Can’t do that you can’t lead the household of God.
  • There are no Biblical examples of headship given to any female.

I know some folks want to say that the commands for an elder are written in such a way because of the male-biased slant of Paul’s day.  I would caution such a view for this reason.  God has written what He wants written in His scriptures.  If the Biblical writers could prophesy and then we see those things fulfilled, why wouldn’t God just command in such a way as to fit our “supposed enlightened” gender views.  God didn’t inspire scripture and then sit around waiting for our egotistical enlightened views of how those things were really supposed to be lived out.  God commanded what He wanted here.

Biblical wisdom finds its highest fruition if it is lived out in the context of God’s command.  Our women here have incredible, Godly skills and talents which include teaching and shepherding.  Deployed as God commands, those skills will find their highest fruition.  Deployed as we think best, they will not and churches who have gone against these commands have suffered for it as witnessed from the denomination that the PCA pulled out from 35 years ago.

Having said those things, let’s walk a little further in understanding holiness in personal life.  Let’s examine what those who will function in the headship of the church should look like.  Let’s look at 2 that are very similar:  Sober-minded and Self-controlled

Being sober-minded doesn’t mean that God is looking for men who never laugh or men who sit in stuffy rooms wearing big hats making decisions with furrowed brows.  Sober-minded really means big picture type guys.  Sober minded is the ability to assess how everything from the direction of the church all the way down to the questions that you have are part of the work of the Kingdom, the work of SK, the work of Christ in people’s lives, and how all of those things are reflective of the truths of scripture.  To be that leader, one must be self-controlled.  Now as I love to do, let me dispel another myth.  Self-control is the ability to say no to bad things like drunkenness, pornography, and anger.  But it is much more than that as well.  Self-control is more about saying yes than saying no.  Self-control is about being disciplined in all areas of life.

This is one thing that the men at Fight Club have tried to grow in.  Godly leaders to exercise self-control in every discipline of life.  They need to be disciplined in praying, studying their scriptures, disciplined in physical exercise and showing moderation in eating and drinking.  No one can expect to show discipline in saying no to temptation if they haven’t already said yes to the disciplines of Godliness.

The next two characteristics that demonstrate holiness in one’s personal life:  Respectable and Hospitable.  These two go hand in hand.  Now, no one can be respected by every single person, but across the board, this will be someone that you look around and say, “Huh, I don’t too many that would not resonate with that person.  They are respectful to me, respectful to others, and respected by most.  If you peak ahead to verse 7, Paul says that an elder has to be so respectable that even those outside the church, non-believers respect them.  Essentially, if the world doesn’t respect you, then the church won’t either.

  • The key to being a respectable Godly person is being hospitable.  Every Christian is commanded to be hospitable because in doing Matthew 25 says that we are serving Jesus Christ Himself.  People can disagree with your theological convictions all day, but if you serve them, they will respect you and that service in and of itself with provide for you a platform to proclaim the Gospel.  These two qualities, respectable and hospitable, are where you should look for people within SK who embody the mission of this church (creating and engaging).  If they aren’t doing those things, they cannot lead you well.

Another and a very important qualification for an elder:  Able to teach.  This is one of the distinctions between being an elder and deacon.  For the most part, the qualifications are the exact same, yet your shepherd, your elders should be able to teach.   Now the ability to teach is not something a person can proclaim about themselves unless it has been affirmed by others and here specifically affirmed by the leadership of the church.  Teaching is not exemplified by the ability to explain but exemplified by others ability to learn underneath a person’s teaching.  Teaching is tied to other qualities.  If you aren’t honorable in your home, or if you aren’t sober-minded or self-controlled, if you aren’t respectable and hospitable, it doesn’t matter how smart you are, you will not be a good teacher because most will not want to learn from a person who is not those things.

Let’s try just a few more before we wrap up for this week.  You cannot be an elder and be a drunkard.  This goes back to the issue of self-control.  God wants disciplined believers and disciplined church leadership.  You cannot be an alcoholic and be an elder.  This doesn’t mean that you can’t have been one and have recovered to sobriety, but it does mean that you cannot be an alcoholic.  If you are one who is controlled by either your access or lack of access to alcohol, then you cannot lead God’s people because you are driven by something other than your desire for God.

Two more:  Not violent but gentle and Not quarrelsome.  Are you a gentle person?  Do people walk in fear of either your fist or your tongue or do people find themselves resting in your presence.  Do you love arguing everything from theology to politics to sports?  I don’t mean debating the BCS vs a playoff system or a flat-tax vs. income tax.  I mean do you love arguing?  Do you value being proven right more than value relationship?  God does not want quarrelsome men leading His church.  This is a tough one because many Christians fashion themselves excellent debaters when what they really are discontent quarrelsome men.  How do you know the difference?  Well, are you violent?  Do you regularly hurt people either with your tongue or with your fists?  Do you enjoy putting people down with your speech?  If you don’t know if you are or not, ask your children or your spouse if they think you are gentle.  If they struggle to answer or are scared to answer that you are those things, you are probably disqualified to be an elder.

And finally for today, an elder cannot be a lover of money.  This is tough one for the American church because we are so rich.  In America, if you qualify for welfare, you are in the top 10% of wealthiest people in the world, so American’s have a lot of money.  The question is, “Do you love money?”  You know, for as much greed as I see, even with the church, and as much as church’s struggle too meet budget, I’ve met very few Christians who will admit that they love money.  So how can you tell?  I’ll make it as clear as possible.   Do the works of your hands whether they may be at a job, the spending of your income or the debts you choose to take on, do they serve the work of the kingdom as a faithful servant or do they seek your own pleasure and enjoyment?  If those things serve your comfort and enjoyment first, you love money.  If they serve the kingdom first, you don’t.

Folks, this list should make each and every one of humble.  They are guidelines by which all of us should examine ourselves and Godly characteristics to which we should all aspire.  Even given to teach.  We all should know our scriptures well enough to speak to them in an instructional fashion.  As it comes to nominating Godly men, you are looking among this congregation and asking yourself, “Are there any men that are either these characteristics or men who are radically being transformed in their direction?  No one apart from Jesus will embody these things perfectly.  You have to see who is most set apart in becoming these qualities.

Continued next week.

This article also appears at the Raleigh Examiner.

October 18, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

SK Video Sermon Preview for 101809

Silvertone_Paul_Stanley_Sovereign_ProTomorrow (10/18/09) is the kick off of Sovereign King’s “Lead, Follow, and Getting Out of the Way” series on church leadership.  A good friend recommended that 90 seconds to 2 minutes was about as much as most folks would watch for a video clip, so this week I tried to edit myself a bit better.

Below the clip are the 3 related articles to this series.  Look for the sermon notes on Sunday evening.  Thanks.

Related articles:

The Gift of Giving Good Gifts

Lead, Follow, and Getting Out of the Way

There is No Higher Standard

October 17, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Gift of Giving Good Gifts

boyfriendpillowThe ability to give good gifts is a gift in and unto itself.  Don’t get me wrong.  If a guy buys his wife flowers, he is probably ahead of the curve.  But buying the right gift and giving it at the right time is a rare commodity.  The truest and most sincere gift is one that given specifically for the joy and care of the recipient.  It is selfless and not self-serving.

Now, I don’t necessarily fashion myself a great gift giver.  I’m not ignorant of the need, and I’ve probably given a couple really awesome gifts in my life, but for the most part, I’m probably average.  However, I have received some awesome gifts.  One in particular stands out.

It was in 2005, and I was about to graduate from seminary.  I had never been more broke in my entire life.  I had to defend my thesis, graduate, go through the ordination process, raise money for the launch of the church, sell a house…you get the picture.  I was stressed out.  So being without any extra money, I was spending my free time, if I had any, playing guitar.  That was at least free.  I was also spending my time looking for electric guitars online because I hadn’t owned one in years.  The model I wanted was aptly named the Paul Stanley Silvertone Sovereign Pro.  But my looking was really only wishing as like I said, I had no money.

But then one day, as I was walking up to the front door of my house, I noticed a box from the mailman propped against the door.  When I opened it up, it was my guitar.  The exact model I wanted.  To this day, I still don’t know who bought me that guitar, but it is one that I will keep for the rest of my life.  Every time I look at it, I am reminded of someone’s generosity to me.

Now, God is a fantastic gift giver, and He demonstrates this by giving gifts to the church.  As always, they are like the gifts we give but somewhat different.  God’s gifts are always gracious without evil intent.  Unfortunately, human nature can give a gift and then try to make someone feel guilty about it.  Any of you who have received a gift like this would almost rather have not have it if you have to feel guilty about it for the rest of your life.    God’s gift are always to His glory and rightfully so.  Ours can never be for our glory, and any gift that might be, is not really a gift.  But this one thing we know:  God’s gifts are always good.

Now scripture details a host of gifts that God gives His children.  Some churches emphasize some gifts more than others, but here is a very brief list.

  • Gift of the Holy Spirit –  Acts 10:45
  • Gift of Faith – Ephesians 2:8
  • Spiritual gifts – I Corinthians 12
  • Gift of Jesus Christ – John 4:10

No matter what gift God gives though, scripture commands each believer that their gift should be used in service.  It is not to be kept, guarded, or hidden.  The gifts God gives are always to be poured out in service.  We see this in the Parable of the Talents as well as commanded in I Peter 4:9-11

1 Peter 4:9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Now one gift from God that gets looked over quite often is the gift of church leadership.  1 Timothy 4:14 describes Timothy’s leadership of the church as a gift that was displayed and affirmed by the laying on of hand by the elders.  These leaders are gifted so that the people of God will be led in holiness and wisdom.  Scripture is full of these examples like Moses, David, and Peter.  Of course, as soon as I mention these guys, their faults come to mind, but still, God gifts the church with Godly leadership so that the people of God will not be left to wander alone.

Despite church leadership always being imperfect, every believer is called to submit to these leaders as is seen in Hebrews 13:17 – 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. By this command, any believer who is presently not in a community, whether that community meets in a building, by a lake, or in a home, where they are actively submitting to church leadership is in sin.  It is the equivalent of telling God, “No thanks,” to the good gifts He has given.

In light of that, let’s answer this Big Picture Question this week:

Big Picture Question:  How is the leadership of the church God’s gift to His people?

Related Articles:

Lead, Follow, and Getting Out of the Way

There is No Higher Standard

October 16, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

There is No Such Thing as a Higher Standard

higher standardWhile contemplating Godly church leadership and preparing for the upcoming Sovereign King series, “Lead, Follow, and Getting Out of the Way,” I’ve bumped into a few myths about Godly leadership.  In fact, what I want to do is dispel one commonly held myth – one in which many of you might hold.

As we look at those 3 categories of requirements 1 Timothy 3 (Holiness in Personal Life vss 2-3, Godly management of one’s household vss 4-5, and Spiritual maturity vss 6-7), we need to understand this:  elders and overseers, pastors, and deacons are not held to higher standard than anyone else in Christianity.  They are held to the very same standard to which every believer is held.  Let me explain.

There is no such thing as a higher or lower standard or higher or lesser righteousness Biblically.  God has commanded us how to live in the scriptures in accord with His character.  So, there can be no higher obedience than what God has commanded.  If there was a higher standard, then that would be what God commanded.

Let me use the most common example to illustrate how people think about this…drinking alcohol.  Scripturally there is no evidence whatsoever that a drink of alcohol is sinful.  In fact it is commanded by Paul to Timothy, exemplified by Jesus, and even commended in Proverbs 31.  Now some folks will say, “Well drunkenness is a sin, so I’m never going to drink alcohol.”  That is a perfectly fine application, and I support it wholeheartedly.  Rock on.  But that application is not a higher righteousness.  If not drinking at all was the level of righteousness that Jesus wanted, He would have commanded us to not drink at all.

People have this impression of officers though.  They think they should be held to some fictional higher level obedience.  Folks, obeying what God has commanded is hard enough.  Obeying any extra rules is impossible and even counterproductive.  No, the elder, deacon, pastor, and overseer are judged presently for their character whereas most people in the church are not judged at all for their character unless their actions rise to the level of church discipline.

The officer though lives their Christian life for the world to see and evaluate.  In essence, the occupation of the church officer is the occupation of being a believer.  The job of an officer is to be a Christian.

Essentially, in nominating, training, and ordaining officers, you are looking for people who are radically being changed into the image of Christ.  They are not meeting an ever moving higher standard than the rest of the Christian world.  They are living up to the standard to which all believers are called to live.  Find those men within the context of your church’s mission and theological convictions, and you will find your officers

This article also appears at the Raleigh Examiner.

Related article:  Lead, Follow, and Getting Out of the Way

October 15, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | 6 Comments

Lead, Follow, and Getting Out of the Way

helpTypically, we don’t just wake up one day as adults after spending our entire lives as children.  Instead, we experience moment by moment opportunities to mature and become “grown up” if you will.  However, along the way, there are larger moments, rites of passage if you will, that create leaps of growth towards adulthood:  puberty, learning to drive, graduations, marriages, etc.

These same truths apply to a church.  No matter how mature or Godly the people are within a congregation, maturing as a Body takes time.  Along the way though, there are moments where maturity leaps forward.  Sovereign King Church is about to embark on one of those moments, and we invite you to join us.

1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 detail what Godly leadership looks like within the church.  Obviously, church leadership is not perfect and still sinful, so immediately, the process of finding, training, and installing leadership is a grace filled one.  As much guidance as possible is needed.

Towards that end, over the next 2 Sundays (October 18th and 25th), SK is going to take a small break from the book of Romans to pursue an understanding of the Biblical descriptions of Godly church leadership.  In a mini series entitled, “Lead, Follow, & Getting Out of the Way,” we are going to do 3 things.  We will study the Biblical requirements of being an Elder and Deacon.  We will discuss the process of nominating, training, examining, and electing church officers, and we will seek God’s glory as He builds His church.

We invite all of you to join us for this series.  The process of initially electing church leadership is rarely seen because so many churches are older and established.  They already have their officers.  Even new churches often start with all their leaders in place.  SK is making the transition from being a young, church plant to a maturing growing church.  Part of that process involves seeking, training, and installing Godly leadership.

So, whether you are a part of SK or not, learning what scripture requires in these areas is beneficial.   Perhaps you have been curious about SK.  Aside from the vision of the church, there is probably no more beneficial thing to know than understanding what our leadership is going to look like.  We invite you to find out.

Let’s be honest.  We know that disillusionment abounds when it comes to church leadership.  Sadly, their failures are more widespread than their successes.  We are seeking to change both the perception and the reality of church leadership by seeking what God wants in the governing of His church (novel concept).

Come check Sovereign King out October 18th and 25th for this series.  We look forward to the next step in our maturation, and we would love for any and all of you to join us.

sk-Church-Logo-dotcom-mono-

October 14, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment