Friday, January 18, 2008

"Banned from Church" ... share your thoughts!

Today's edition of the Wall Street Journal. The cover of Weekend Journal shows an article called "Banned from Church." It highlights how many churches have revived the practice of strict church discipline.

The illustration is humorously eye-catching, a retired-aged, clean-cut person being shamed by a finger pointing through heavenly clouds.

The opening story highlights a pastor from a Baptist church who phoned 911 on Sunday morning.

"Half an hour later, 71-year-old Karolyn Caskey, a church member for nearly 50 years who had taught Sunday school and regularly donated 10% of her pension, was led out by a state trooper and a county sheriff's office. One held her purse and Bible. The other put her in handcuffs.

"The charge was trespassing, but Mrs. Caskey's real offense, in her pastor's view, was spiritual. Several months earlier, when she had questioned his authority, he'd charged her with spreading 'a spirit of cancer and discord' and expelled her from the congregation. 'I've been shunned,' she says."

Her strict offense was urging the new pastor to abide by the bylaws of the church, which including assigning deacons. He refused deacons for his reasons. She insisted on the bylaws. For this she was shunned.

His justification for shunnnig her? He says in the article that "a strict reading of the Bible requires pastors to punish disobedient members. 'A lot of times, flocks aren't willing to submit or be obedient to God,' he said in an interview."

I'd love to know that verse in the Bible that says it is a pastors job. Matthew 18 says it is the congregations job, not the pastors. In that passage, not even elders are mentioned to do it by proxy. And that makes everything a little trickier.

This continues some thinking I've done regarding authority in the church and the model most evangelical churches follow... a senior pastor who is in charge of just about everyone and everything else.

I've got questions:
  1. Has the idea of "this is the way we've always done it" blinded us from reviewing whether our method is what God intended? Are we guilty of not studying the issue and demand we stick to what has been taught us or accepted as the norm?
  2. If Jesus is the head and the church is the Body, what is a pastor or elder? Another head? A representative head?
  3. Is there a senior pastor position in the scripture? If so, is he given authority to judge, shun, excommunicate... what are his limits?
  4. Is the pastor or elder accountable to anyone?
  5. Is leadership in the early church singular or plural?
  6. If a pastor's or elder's job is to safeguard doctrine, is that necessary now that we have the Scriptures spelling it out for everyone to read?
  7. If a pastor's or elder's job is to organize services or to help teach Scripture to the congregation, does that include taking authority and discipline unto ones own hands?
  8. What qualifies someone to take such a position? A seminary degree? The gifts of the Spirit? Mature character? Who decides this? Ordination? Ordination in denomination?
  9. If members in the church find the pastor unbiblical or spiritually abusive, what do they do about it?
  10. Does Jesus through Holy Spirit lead the people of God or does he only lead the 'one in charge'?
Please share some thoughts.

While you gather your thoughts, feel free to prime the idea pump with this thread at the Christian Classics Etherial Library. Maybe this will prime the idea pump.

28 comments:

Jonalyn Grace Fincher said...

Some great food for thought. I would like to say that in reading the post you link at the end of your blog (Christian Classics Ethereal Library) my favorite question brought up there is: "What does it look like to lead a group of people that are supposed to be following somebody else [Christ]?"
EXACTLY!
And I liked these verses:
Matt 23:8(b)You have only one teacher, and all of you are like brothers and sisters.
Matt 23:9(b)All of you have the same Father in heaven.
Matt 23:10(b) The Messiah is your only leader.
Matt 23:11 Whoever is the greatest should be the servant of the others

Journey said...

And the disgrace continues...events like these nearly make you wish for a protestant papacy. The probably of being fiercely "independent" is that there is no one to hold you accountable when you are fiercely wrong...

Dale Fincher said...

Now you've introduced another conundrum, Mr. Chesterton. ;o)

Who keeps the fierce pope fiercely accountable? Or does this stay off topic?

(I am interested in seeing what you think the scripture is really teaching about how to be the church and then do the church... No popes in the NT. That seems to be inferred later through the church fathers, etc.)

Philip said...

"Who keeps the fierce pope fiercly accountable? Or does this stay off topic?"

Ha ha its stayed off topic for most of church history. That's one reason why we have Protestants.

Leadership of the church in Scripture is vague beyond the idea of Jesus being the High Priest and "Head" (Sumner's idea of head and body, or is leadership inferred? Another thing to think about). I've heard "overseer" interpretted so many different ways. I think there should be some form of leadership because it would naturally happen anyways.

When it comes to banning someone from the congregation, it is the congregation's job to do so; not the senior pastor's. Some would argue that the senior pastor has been approved by the congrenation so his decisions should reflect the congregation, but I think that is hard to distinguish at times.

My church has recently gone through a new change in leadership, which brought a lot of strife from the traditional side. Some of them left the church, and some of them question him. It was to the point where the congregation had a lot of control over him (which can be good and bad).

Elders, senior pastors, overseers, or whatever else shouldn't be the main focus I think. Whenever the Lordship of Christ becomes "threatened" or overshadowed by a leader is a good sign that the leader is the issue not the system. Systems can always be distorted; I'm more concerned about the men behind the pulpits than how we should govern ourselves. The right man will go a long way, the right system only so far.

To be "above reproach" is needed as well. If the leader is unable to live a consistent (not perfect) life, then it is a slippery time for the whole church. This goes along with having the right man is more important than having the right system.

These are my initial thoughts; its late...

Journey said...

It probably takes us off topic. I'm sure a mutual friend of ours would make some allusion to the "SS" or the "Iron Curtain" after reading about this pastor...

Things like this are tricky. On the face of it, errant biblical exegesis seems to be the culprit. But this could also be a case of undetected personal pathology at work, long entrenched prior to pastoral office. Not strictly either/or, but each problem requires a separate remedy. And my guess is the latter.

But it is always discouraging to hear this is kind of abuse going on. Can you imagine how ripped off and wounded that woman must feel?

Dale Fincher said...

No kidding. And I know the feeling. And I think you are right that something more is going on. Yet he still gets away with it Bibilcally by quotating supposed Bible verses. How many people who read the WSJ yesterday even batted an eye at it. Or did they think, "That Bible is whacked!"

This extreme example of abusing authority, I think, is a good moment to evaluate authority in the church in general. What about non-pathological congregations who have a belief that a church should have one pastor and that this pastor has the authority. So they put him into place (often imported) because they think it's the right model. And then people are writing books and blogging that maybe our very model isn't Biblical.

Sometimes the model itself can safeguard us from abuses or make us more vulnerable to abuses.

Dale Fincher said...

Philip,

Wouldn't you think the right system would help safeguard from having the wrong person? And would only add to the influence of the right person?

Recent statistics I've heard is that the average pastor in an American church is only effective for five years. I think of several reasons for this.

1) They are imported from another sub-culture.
2) They only have so many interests and so many things to talk about. The average person may only have three areas at most that they really dive into and understand well. Watch pastors that you like and see if you don't find themselves repeating over and over after a while. This isn't bad. But it shows the limits.
3) There is not a plurality of voices constantly refreshing and creating a real dynamic in the congregation.
4) The 'vision' of the pastor is limited to the pastor. Even if he gains insight from other places, it is highly unlikely the church will go in directions he isn't comfortable.
5) The pastor, if this is his limit, should stop being professional pastor and take his seat in the pews of his own church. It's the body working together. This is also why 'importing pastors' can be such a problem. Intead of allowing leadership to emerge with the gifts of the Spirit within a local community, we squash the development of the Spirit in that area, import someone to help, and then send them on their way when they can't help anymore.

Regardless of the man, doesn't the 'system' sound odd to you?

There does seem to be verses that speak of a plurality of teaching/leading to some degree in the Scripture. Robert L. Saucy and Walt Russell of Talbot both have that view. The early church, they argue, never had a single pastor. That idea sprang up later, outside the Scripture.

I've been in three churches that had plurality of elders (no pastor) speaking and leading. One in Vancouver, one in Laguna Beach, and one near Azusa (Sumners church). The 'system' works quite well, from everything I've seen. And it gives the Spirit freedom to move because the church isn't locked down behind one man's opinion/idea of how things should be.

More thoughts.

By the way, did you check out the link for that discussion on authority?

Philip said...

I haven't checked that link yet; it was late when I saw this and thought I would just write down my first thoughts before they left me. I'll read it soon.

I agree with you about bringing in or importing pastors to an extent. Timothy was charged by Paul after travelling with him to stay in Ephesus and "oversee" the church there. To me that speaks to finding a right fit for lack of better words.

With that said, it is a risky business importing a pastor and the common thing to do in Biblical times and shortly after (from my understanding) was to train a man from the congregation to oversee. This is very healthy in my book and don't understand why some denominations flee from it. Too many churches are name grabbers, thats what my church recently did.

Plurality of voices is also something I think is smarter. There's a presbyterian church in my town that I have visited a few times, each time it was a different teacher (they have "associate pastors" or teaching pastors as well as a senior pastor). This church also has an elder system which is more healthy I think, but their new pastor just stepped down because he preached in favor of inter-racial marriage and there were a few, open racists in the elders.

And this is what I mean by a system can only go so far. It's tricky. Picking the right man or woman is equally tricky. The bottom line is that a congregation needs a leader and/or leaders. Ephesus needed Timothy. There is no problem, in and of itself, to have an overseer or senior pastor (I use those two together roughly). Timothy had elders and deacons along side of him, and I think this mindset is needed: the senior pastor or overseer is to be along side his congregation not looking down upon them.

There is a point to be made that Timothy was charged by Paul to be above reproach, and thus an example as well as held accountable; but nonetheless not above any other member of the congregation. It is dangerous when the pastor has the idea that HE has a congregation or He has a church. He is the leader OF the congregation, but not above it.

It sounds like the bigger problem is that the pastor at this church in the WSJ never had anyone keep him accountable. I think it dangerous to say that the church should follow the vision of the pastor; the pastor does not set the agenda of the church. His goal is to care for the congregation, lead in proper worship, and to teach sound doctrine. Maybe we are just thinking two different ways about the same thing.

I think we can definitely agree on one thing: plurality of teaching is a great need; as Ravi says, "Unity does not have to mean uniformity." We can have unity without believing everything and having the same kicks as the senior pastor.

Dale Fincher said...

I wonder if a case can be made that Timothy was not the sole overseer. I'd have to do some research to fish that out.... And Ephesus was an particularly pagan town with the cult of Artemis. Being trained by an apologist like Paul is a good background for some of the leadership at that church. Slicing through paganism is a tough cultural shift that requires skill and insight.

Also, some examples in the NT don't necessarily apply. A lot of Paul's work was on mission. So if someone was 'imported,' it is very likely because the group needed to grow in knowledge and character and didn't have anyone in the midst....yet.

This is, to me, the missional aspect. Importing a leader to a place that has no knowledge, character and leadership yet, is good sense.

But that's not an issue in America. There's enough publishing, blogging, mentoring, radio, Bible reading, etc., that anyone in the congregation can grow in knowledge and character to become more like Jesus. And these are the people to be teaching and sharing.

Here's another interesting blog on the topic of authority worth reading as well... from a pastor.

copy/paste:
http://merchristianity.com/2008/01/17/the-conundrum-of-authority/

Waypoint Ministries said...

Wow...how the Holy Spirit works on topics...

First as Titus reads in Chpt3, we find that disputes over the law are useless and to dispute why a pastor of a Baptist Church took a self imposed authority to boot this lady from church takes us away from productive discussions of true church governance. As this pastor, by description, feels no accountablity to anyone.

Also with regards to the Pope and the teachings and government of the Catholic Church leaves so much to discuss Bilically....

Recently in reading "Letters from a Skeptic" - Ed and Gregory Boyd, I was drawn the John 17:20-16 and Jesus' prayer for believers. As I believe God answers prayers, I believe that God is answering this prayer in today's non-denominational movement in "mega-churches" around the world. Its truly amazing how people of different denominational backgrounds can come together in Bible teaching churches and shed the waters that man has done such a good job of mucking up over the years. As people disover true relationships with Jesus, they also discover that they are very responsible for their own walks and allowing the Holy Spirit to lead them and show them what God's word has for them. A guest speaker at our church said something that really should be applied, "The fear of God needs to return the the church." Its awesome to see the biggest division in church (between Catholics and Protestants) mending as Jesus' prayer for believers to be ONE is happening all over, through a true fear of the Lord.

Church Governance is a difficult thing, but there are accountability factors that have to be in place and that includes pastors to pastors, pastors to elders, and even elders to elders. And as I began...God answers prayers and congregations should pray for the authorities of their church and allow God to lead them. Simply put...God ordained the church, not man, and to believe in God is to believe in that God is 3 in 1....there is a helper in the Holy Spirit and every church needs to be in tune with the helper that God has give us/them.

To your point, Dale...there are a number of folks, simply reading the Bible and gaining knowledge, and these folks are out preaching in Christ's name and in return, folks are blindly giving an "amen" to a lot of these words, but...without the help of a helper and a relationship with Jesus, will they hear the words spoken in Matthew 7:21-23?

I'll stop rambling for now.

Dale Fincher said...

Waypoint Ministries... thanks for your comment! I totally hear you.

If the Holy Spirit isn't working, then we are fruitless.

And I think that's what I'm trying to get at with this discussion. As individuals we follow Him, but when the Holy Spirit is leading a group and the group leader doesn't want to go that way, then we have a quandary. And if the issues aren't moral, then we often count that as having no grounds to dispute.

When the tone is set for the church from the front that squelches the life of the people in the pews, you can't just say, "We don't like the tone you set... we are not being set free." This is subtle stuff that has huge impact on the life of the Body. And if those in the Body decide to meet elsewhere where they see the Spirit moving, then it is viewed subversive.

I think there's has to be a better way!

And then there's the whole other issue of the Holy Spirit so-called contradicting himself... where one feels lead and another feels lead and those directions are opposite.

I guess I'm saying there's got to be a model that best prevents this... and whether the Scripture is pointing to one. A lot of our CEO business model of church is imported from the corporate world and not the New Testament. A cultural phenomenon worth noting. I wonder if the church should be treated like a business at all? How many offerings in the NT were taken for operating expenses and paychecks beyond helping with the needy and mission work?

That we may all be one is a prayer that God is answering. I find communion of saints most places I travel. And I find it in my own town, as I have friends who go to all different churches and we congregate often at our homes for real friendship.

I'm finding so little hostility between denominations these days in my travels. Overall there is a real attitude of mere Christianity. And that's exciting.

Yet on another level, there is an outpouring in publishing that real discipleship making (the kind Jesus refers in the Great Commission) isn't happening. We are unified, but we know very little of the thing that unifies us. We're decent at getting seekers in the door, but where do they go from there?

In our work with Soulation, we find casualties all over, people disillusioned with church because either what they preached didn't deliver in real life, or they saw it as a big show with excellent presentation but without authenticity, as a bank for tax-deductible donations, people hungering to have their questions answered but an organization too caught up in being relevant to stir the water with hard answers. Many are not even learning how to have a relationship with God beyond devoutly reading their Bible daily and praying--two exercises that often require maturity and training to even get much out of them.

How many people in the church are actually know what their Bible says? And, on top of that, how many actually know how to read their Bibles? Based on the seminars we give on reading the Bible, the percentage is extremely low.

Even Willowcreek, the model of mega-churches, has admitted recently that they may have been doing it all wrong. There's something to be said for that. Making church in to a rock concert format or a special event doesn't feel like real koinonia to many. Some of it has been patched up with the small-group format, which often feels just as forced (though, I admit, many do enjoy it and get much out of it... it's a mixed bag).

And then there's the issue of celebrity pastors... churches built around a certain personality.

I was in a mega-church recently that boasts being cutting edge. During our 'tour' (yes, a tour of church) the guide spoke so much about the pastor, I wondered, tongue-in-cheek, if the pastor was another member of the trinity. This tour-guide was banking so much on this one individual and his teaching. And this was one of the lay leaders of the church!

A friend of mine, who isn't particularly culturally savvy, remarked, "This feels like Disney church." In the name of unity, is this really what we are targeting?

Thanks for jumping into the discussion!

Waypoint Ministries said...

“Set free” is a key point....isn't it awesome to be free as the is sang in “I Am Free” - Ross Parsley A freedom to dance and sing as David did because we are free in Him.

“Feels” being the key word in the “contradiction”....as God can not lie (Titus 1:2), there is truly never a contradiction. When one says “I feel” that is from the soul. When the Holy Spirit guides, he guides as His name suggests...In the spirit. So it always gets back to testing what one says is the Holy Spirit's guidance. And the model that best prevents this is to build teachings around the Word of God to answer the “Why” questions and to help in that maturing of operating in the Gifts of the Spirit. I don't think the “CEO” model is correct as that poses a question of a dictatorship, but...a corporate mentality is often needed to ensure proper church governance to avoid a sense of lawlessness and a feel good mentality. That would be more Inter-denominational and that just gets back to muddy waters. There still needs to be structure especially in the larger churches. But....But....with the structure needs to be accountability and if done correctly will lead to a flourishing of God. And as far as paychecks and operating expenses, we can look the the metaphorical teachings of Paul (1 Cor 9:9, 1 Tim 5:18) and bring forward the teachings in Duet 25:4 not to muzzle the ox while treading the grain and the laborer be worthy of his wages...this very much applies to those spreading the gospel...but they are also required to be responsible stewards and should create ministries of missions and helping the needy.

As you stated, discipleship is key in these times...as the Great Commission is clear that we are to GO OUT (not bring in) and make disciples we should also remember that someone has to finance that and also remember that there has to be a sense of building a machine to do the ministry of Christ. And with that we will all have different rolls as stated in EPH 4.

A key responsibility of the Church and those in ministry is to be prepared to answer the “why” questions. As you wrote in Living With Questions, if Nicodemus hadn't have asked his questions, we may have never had the 26 word verse of John 3:16. I am so impressed with the outpouring of wisdom and knowledge from the church I attend to answer the “why” questions that believers (both new and old) have. How many churches today can or do explain why people are baptized? Has it become so routine that they can't even explain why? Challenges challenges. And a simple teaching on reading the Bible, can simply be pray first that the Holy Spirit reveal to the reader what is for that reader. Its amazing the result. And for a church like Willowcreek to admit what they have isn't all that bad...it shows a sense of humility that can be looked up to.

Thanks so much for this blog entry, I hope it sparks a sense of urgency and a fire in churches to let the entire word of God be spread through the power of the Holy Spirit....its time for man's doctrine to step aside. I've taught recently that its not time to sharpen your sword, the sword is sharp, its time to pick it up and use it. (HEB 4:12).

Thanks to you and Jonalyn for serving, Soulation has a great audience that through the teachings of the Holy Spirit can lead to great things for God.

Sorry to turn this forum-like, but it is great discussion.

Dale Fincher said...

Waypoint, good discussion (by the way, have you a name or some initials to go by?).

I see you've read my book. Very cool!

I personally don't see the CEO model as a dictatorship, as I never viewed Bill Gates as a dictator over microsoft. I do see the popular church format it as the way corporations are run in America, top-down pyramid model. And I do see the church as morphing into some kind of machine these days.... input/output, count the numbers, see how effective we are, measure effectiveness with surveys, imitate what other church machines have found effective, do more conventions to streamline the machine, etc. I wish it weren't that way. But the younger generations are seeing it, find it false to varying degress, and are finding alternatives. It saddens me, and many are not even equipped to formulate what an alternative would be, but it's happening.

Yes, the Great Commission is to go out. And if that's the case, then an argument could be made that church as we know it is definitely upside down.

But couldn't you say it is also to bring in? In fact, we're grafted INTO the vine of the Jews; we are each gathering into a community. What is more, Jesus is speaking at the end of Matthew to disciples before a church is established. But once a church is established, it seems going out means reaching people in your own community, in your own spheres of influence. If EVERYONE was going out the way the Apostles went out, there'd be no Christian communities as we'd all be criss-crossing the globe.

As for salaries in the church, there does seem to be something in the Scripture to some degree.... Paul is speaking about getting monies for his work. After all, he was always on the move and couldn't hold down a job. Yet, he still demonstrated quite well, that it is good to also gain income from other sources as a worker of the gospel, when possible. Tent-making isn't a bad idea. The church I attended in Laguna could say that almost every person on staff worked at another job: art teacher, art festival coordinator, journalist, english professor, real estate agent, lawyer/accountant, etc. That was impressive and modeled what I'm trying to get at.

As for elders, they receive double-honor, Paul says in Timothy. In context that seems to speak more of paying them with honor than paying them money. In other words, their payment is honor which is why the next verses says be careful when you accuse elders (because they are to be honored) unless you have more witnesses.

Now honoring could be wages, but I don't see wages in that passage. I just see a metaphor speaking about wages, tying into the earning of honor for preaching and teaching. Full-time salaried positions in a church need to be justified in another way if a strong case is to be made Biblically.

The way the church seems to run now is that you go to seminary to get a degree (do we really need that? I have one, but I don't think that's necessary). Then we put out resumes for churches. Then a church hires us to put on programs for a certain group. It seems most of the time in such a position these days is spent planning for a splashing good time (music, video, etc) when the group gets together.

The amount of time needed to put into study to prepare the average sermon, talk, address in churches today can't be more than 10 hours, if that. I know guys say they do more, but I'm in this kind of work. I know the kind of sermons that require a lot of work and the kind that don't. Many sermons I day don't require a lot of work (sadly).

So back to my point, it seems a lot of what people are paid to do in church is prepare for a lot of things that either lay-people can volunteer to do or that just doesn't need to be done.

For example: youth programs spend a lot of time and money on 'cool.' But I can guarantee you, when you're teaching the gospel in a clear and personal way, students will be interested, regardless of 'cool,' when they are called by the Spirit. It may not draw huge numbers. But we are finding huge numbers are often a false guise of success of the spiritual work that is happening.

I'm certainly not advocating a lack of structure. I'm just questioning whether the structure of the church needs to be as complicated as we've made it. The system itself may be giving a privileged few a role and status above what God intended.

How many churches witness a voting in of new teaching group every couple of years with the previous teachers assuming their places in the congregation again? How many experience every elder (who are supposed to be equipped to teach the body, says Paul in 1 Tim 3) speaking to the audience regularly on a Sunday morning. I know of very few. Yet, with what I see in Scripture, unless someone is a missionary, there is no need for them to jump ship when they are no longer 'in charge.' Usually those in pastoral positions just shift to another place. Are we supposed to consider them as missionaries? If so, let them go on mission. In most cases, pastoring American churches isn't mission. The local bodies can raise up their own leaders as part of their culture and their contribution. There are many in the church with the gift of teaching that never get to share it to its potential because the pastor dominates the sacred pulpit on Sunday morning. Ought this so to be?

I'm totally with you that God cannot lie and cannot give different messages to different people. I meant it tongue-in-cheek, in case I wasn't clear. Even still, it is difficult to validate some promptings of the spirit in church, which leads to my original quandary... what safeguards a body of God's people when being led by the spirit to actually move forward into the freedom and life God has given them.... when a pastor may be unaware, threatened, or in disagreement with the way the spirit is leading him? Who can arbitrate between the two?

I would hope a better system could be in play to offer a healthy check and balance and the slow, steady forward movement of the Lord.

I am with you in that I'd like to see more urgency among God's people to explore out these issues and be part of the larger conversation of how to live as the people of God in community. I see so many INDIVIDUALS living for God. But living in healthy COMMUNITY is a much different thing. Most church members are passive observers in church. And simply telling them to get involved isn't the solution. The don't want to be involved in a church program. They want to be involved in the Kingdom, building the body. This may mean, using their gifts in areas that overstep the senior pastor... in part, becase maybe the senior pastor ought not be there ('system' problem again).

No worries on it sounding more forum-like... :) Those interested will appreciate the exchange!

I've not publicized some of my opinions/views on this topic before, so this is something of a first. I'm still feeling it out, learning and listening. But it's dangerous to put your views out in public. I hope I don't get black-balled! :)

Dale Fincher said...

Philip,

Waypoint's reference regarding pastoral salary does infer there was more than one overseer in Ephesus besides Timothy. Note 1 Tim 5:17. "Elders" is plural, meaning there was more than one preaching and teaching. It was a plural leadership, plural teaching/preaching, not a singlar one.

Philip said...

This discussion has gone far since this morning even! I think we would go a long way in defining what we mean by overseer and elder. I think they could mean two different things or the same thing; are they the same word in Greek? What is the idea of the Greek definition?

The word for overseer in greek is episkopos. In New Testament times, this term was for an adminstrator of some kind (John MacArthur: http://www.biblebb.com/files/MAC/calltols.htm). Phillipians 1:1 uses this same term, which is found in 1 Timothy as well as Acts 20:

"Paul an Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus: To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons."

There is a plural form of episkopos and thus of overseer. Also Paul instructs Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 on what qualifications an overseer should have. This is not instruction to Timothy about how he should act because Paul uses second person to describe an overseer in this passage; I think it is safe to assume that he is talking about any addition to the overseers already there. This supports the idea of a plurality of leadership.

The term "elder" or "presbuteros" can mean just an older man or it can mean a leader of a community. This term is used interchangeably with the term overseer and I my speculation is that they mean the same thing but are possibly pointing to two different ideas: elders being people of leadership, and overseer being an actual "office".

It seems the New Testament church was based on a plural leadership idea with no one being a head or senior pastor. If this is the case, it helps most definitely with situations we found in the WSJ.

Can this be universalized to any generation? I think it can be, but it means some churches may need to get smaller (which I think is another good thing).

I have no problem with this idea, I think it is healthy as I mentioned with the presbyterian church in my town. But I think Dale said a thing we need to all remember: the congregation needs to care and keep these men accountable, regardless if there is one of them or ten. Community is lacking in the church today because of this more than anything else in my opinion. We find community in the ways we should though, in the ways the first churches did: around the dinner table and in our houses.

Waypoint Ministries said...

Dale...I read your description of what you believe is the resonsibilities or ideal responsibilities of different people (not levels) in the church and I fully agree and become proud to know that the church I attend is following that model. Although it is a mega church, it is ran very humbly and very biblically. In fact, our elders speak not only from the pulpit, but also in classroom settings. Currently my wife and I are hosting one of 6 revolving classes on the foundational teachings discussed in Hebrews 6:1-4...these are all elder taught. We also have teams led by elders who often go on missions trips.

Yes, I do agree that you are to bring into the church as well...but I do think that all churches need to support the both ministries, in and out. I think there could be a lot of discussion regarding full time vs. part time pastors...it really gets down to the size of the church. Mega Churches to me are a blessing that overshadows what you and I had growing up that no longer exists. As you and Jonalyn are blessed to live where you do, when your children are older, you will still be highly cautious to even let them go down the street without you seeing them....this was a sense of caution we didn't grow up with. Mega churches are becoming the safe community we all desire. As far as your church in Laguna, I think each church has a calling from God and we can't "cookie cutter" churches and make them all work the same.

Your elder description is right on...no they shouldn't be paid and yes they should be honored (for life) I think too in Pauls teaching on not muzzling an ox is to also mean that those who minister are very much ministered to and expected to be. Including the elders.

As far as seminary is concerned, I think a lot of them are getting muddled with too much man and not enough God....it seems a lot of Baptist seminaries are getting overran with Calvinism which is, in turn, becoming doctrine in a number of churches. Oh how we could go off on that. But again I look at our Senior Pastor...His tesimony includes a description of a dream repeated 3 nights in a row that he would pastor multitudes of people. His first thought was to go to Seminary and then a small Bible College....both of which he heard from God not to do...He has no degree and pastors our church of over 8,000 members and has an international television marriage ministry in over 250 countries world wide including Muslim areas of Russia. I love this as well as I don't have a degree either....But, when God ordains and gives a calling on someone, he also equips.

As far as time into a sermon, I can't make a call on that. If one is being led by the Holy Spirit to deliver a message to the body, couldn't it be from the cuff (per say)? If the Holy Spirit is allowed to operate then you can't really put a prep time on it.(?)

As you are called to work with Youth, I can't really speak as to what works and what doesn't....I love my own kids, but when it comes to others, its a true test for me. I enjoy kids and youth, but my ministry is called to teach the kids of the 20-50 range...haha.

I understood the tounge-in-cheek comment on the Holy Spirit, but the safeguard in place include prayer, the word of God, and also patience. As patience is a gift of the Spirit, its something that Satan chose to give up and it drives him made when we Wait Upon the Lord! (IS 40:31)...With situations rising in leadership, the most powerful think a church can do when they feel helpless is PRAY. But tests from God aren't always easy and there are times when churches are tested in the same manner as individuals....we have to remember that God is in control and we have to maintain ourselves with God in the now. We as a church were in a situation with a pastor for a year and it became all about him (the pastor). Eventually he was removed, but we as church learned that if we are to grow as we are now, we have to do it humbly and completely on HIS time.

Dale...when your views/opinions are backed biblically then only respect can come from what you stand on....again as Hebrews 4:12 says: For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. God's word has an answer for everyone....how awesome is that!?

Keep up the good work.

Love ya Bro!
Jeremy

Waypoint Ministries said...

"We find community in the ways we should though, in the ways the first churches did: around the dinner table and in our houses."

Something that is key in our church....50% of church is in our small groups (LifeGroups)....my wife and I also teach one of 400 groups in our church...in our home. It gives church a chance to discuss and ask questions.

Great points!

Philip said...

Waypoint Ministries mentioned a really good point. We cannot cookie cut churches. As much as we all would like to say that our model is the Biblical model, go around and you'll find every church saying that. This is good stuff to think about and act upon, but dangerous to make a rule. It seems to me that it is not a "categorical imperative" to borrow from Kant.

Dale Fincher said...

Jeremy and Philip,

Yeah, I think there's something to be said about community at home and around the table.

In Corinth, this is what was happening and the folks were making a real party out of it.

But it does make me wonder if these home-churches were 'under' a larger community church or if that was even the intention... in other words, each home-church (or small-group) was it's own Body, it's own authority under Jesus.

Dale Fincher said...

Philip, Jeremy, I agree, we cannot cookie-cutter churches.... which is, in a manner of speaking, one of the things I'm getting at. (This discussion has several facets now! LOL)

Most church are cookie-cutter, with similar models/mods of male authority, hierarchy, strategies for getting more people through the door, new building programs, hip concernt-like bands, chairs (pews) all facing the same direction prompting passive participation...

How many churches have people stand impromptu and confess their sins? How many have them stand and share about God's grace in the week? How many of them have no-name people preach (even women) on a Sunday morning so that the congregation can hear from the Spirit through many voices in the same community. I visit a lot of churches and I've only seen this on a handful of occasions.

No wonder they say church is like a football game where 22 people in need of rest are watched by 70,000 people in need of exercise. Seems like the actual 'system' or 'format' of the church encourages it in many ways. And for all the books about helping pastors lead and motivate people, they may be overlooking a very important point... maybe it's the system.

Look at Jonalyn's post at the top and the words of Jesus quoted there. That is an example of non-cookie-cutter.

Waypoint Ministries said...

Good stuff....

I think one thing to remember about "church" is not to criticize the size as even within large churches you can have small churches in peoples homes as the NT church is described. What we need to be passionate now more than ever is that the message of the ENTIRE WORD OF GOD is taught and spread. Too many churches today try to be politically correct and do what makes people feel good. These seeker friendly churches need to stand up and teach Truth.....Jesus said, "I am the truth..." not a truth and He needs to be taught. Jesus was not politically correct and was/is absolutely absolute...To turn the mic over to just anyone can be somewhat dangerous as there has to be accountabilty. As I mentioned before...God answers prayers and we need to pray for the churches in this country, now more than ever.
Dale and Johnalyn...may God continue to bless your ministry and pour his Holy Spirit over you in your teachings.

Journey said...

I read some of these posts...well, I read pieces of a few. My main concern is that we not use the scriptures to micro-manage how we do...anything. micro-managing seems to be a pre-Christian modus operandi. thats all.

Dale Fincher said...

Journey, what do you mean?

I do understand stretching scripture to say things because want our things to come from Scripture. Makes things cleaner and more easily justifiable.

But many things we do aren't really said in scripture... we just take it to mean that.

I had a conversation with a friend recently on what 'overseer' meant... if we use shepherd language and stretch the metaphor too far, we may be assigning things to a pastor that only rightly belongs to the Good Shepherd.

Scary thought.

steve francis said...

Hey I just read your latest blog about church discipline, and that "Pastor" clearly does not know what church discipline is for. My church practices it when needed, but the goal is always reconciliation, and the pastor does not have the sole authority to exercise this, it is to be done just like the Bible says, bring it before the church, then the church makes the decision, but it is never vindictive and always to be done so that the goal is reconciliation. Also he needs to learn that it is usually over moral issues and known sin in someone's life. What a sad day we live in, when people misuse the Bible to achieve their little agendas.
Steve

jeremy zach said...

Is leadership in the early church singular or plural?

In my perspective, I see leadership in the NT as a plural task. It is a communal, and not individual type of leadership. For example let us explore eldership.
Walter Liefeld (NT scholar) argues that there is no evidence of an individual elder who acted with autonomous authority. Eldership was plural. Eldership was a collection of individuals. Also, eing appointed an elder did not focus on the gender, but focus on what the individual could contribute to the eldership team. Liefeld also notes that elders were not shepherds, not a board of directors as we see it in the 21st century church context.
It is my belief that the church leadership team function as a spiritual guide and a traveling companion.
Church should not be focused on the personality of the pastor, but focused on the person of Jesus. Elevating one charismatic and great speaker pastor may only do the congregation a disservice, than a service.
Tony Jones comments that ministry is the joining of spirit and practice for liberative transformation.

If a pastor's or elder's job is to safeguard doctrine, is that necessary now that we have the Scriptures spelling it out for everyone to read?
hahahahahhaha great point!!!! i have more questions...........
How does we know which doctrinal interpretation is correct? Should we even be calling it doctrine? Or should we call it theology? Are the Scriptures clearly spelling it out? Why is there so much disagreement about the interpretation of certain scriptures? namely gender roles? homosexuality? political association? Calvinism vs. open theism? Evolution vs. creation? The list can go on and on.......

What are our guiding principles determine if one is a heretic or preaching the "gospel"?

Dale Fincher said...

Hey Jeremy, thanks for chiming in!

I do lean toward plural eldership to help lead and disciple the body. Where I have a hard time is understanding in what areas they have authority over individual lives. Is the direction for individuals and a community set by the elders or simply by the body and acted on by the elders.

The way you lay it out (and the way it is done at the Church by the Sea) is very appealing and very healthy. In fact, the healthiest churches I've attended have been elder led with a speaking rotation.

On interpretation, yes, that's the more detailed problem. In some churches they get into non-essentials and exclude people that don't believe the same way.

What I have found in the Scripture is that the most important things are spelled out pretty clearly. God has reconciled himself through his son Jesus, this through the Jewish line, so that the nations will be redeemed for a new earth.

Many of the other peripheral issues, the ones we'd like to polarize people over, aren't always so clear. Instead of humility in holding the position, we call it a 'distinctive of our church' and draw rigid lines. Our identity gets shaped around peculiar things.

Another area of Biblical theology/doctrine are things taught implicitly in the Bible that should be up for healthy consideration (maybe not as defining markers, but for spiritual growth). Many implied things in Scripture cannot be attached to a chapter and verse. Some of our ultra-conservative brethren turn a little pale faced if there's no verse to back up a belief. Yet if you really immerse yourself in Scripture, you'll get the gist of things. Read it as it was written and a mosaic emerges that is its own Myth, a true Myth, one we can walk around in organically rather than robotically.

Next time you speak at church, tell them I say hello through my blog! :)

persifler said...

A trueism, "Absolute power corrupts absolutely." Even the best of men, with the most honorable of intentions, when placed in a postition of final authority will at some point or other succomb to tyranny. If there is no accountability other than their own conscience then there will be abuse. Add to that a paradigm that has been inplace for generations now where the "one" leads the many and you have a recipe for long-term disaster.
I live in the belt-buckle of the Bible belt and I have seen the results of this "authoritative" conundrum. All I have to do is look in my own neighborhood and the effects of this epidemic are legion. Literally, I can almost throw a rock from church building to church building. (Most of which are splits from one another.) It has become some perverted reality TV game show about who's brand of "church" is the best.
Painting with a broad brush, I doubt there are many (if any at all) who would come together to worship, or band together to serve the community (save for a natural or catastrophic disaster). And that is in large part due to personality conflicts of those who are at the helm, so-to-speak.
We have (again with the broad brush) hunkered down in our guilded bunkers and developed an unhealthy 'us against them' mentality. If they don't do it our way then they are heathens and heretics, and we will have no part of them, lest we ourselves be tainted with their error.
I am a product of this very disease. For years I attended one of these break-away fighting fundie congregations. The pastor was a bi-vocational pastor since we could not afford to give him a "full" salary. As we grew and were able to build our own building and the offerings increased there was a change. The pastor 'asked' for a full salary. It was a strain but it was voted on and passed. On Wednesday nights an "Elder" teacher had been doing some very good expositional teaching and he was very much loved in the congregation. (I will try to be brief) One series was on the "Rapture" would it be pre-trib, mid-trib or post-trib. Ath this point the 'salaried' pastor took over the Wed. services in order to keep heresy (ie anything other than pre-trib rapture)from creeping into the church. He booted out the elder teacher and solidified his reign over the congregation in the name of doctrinal purity.
What saddens me the most is not the just the broken fellowship in that congregation but the foul testimony such actions leave a lost and dying world.

I know that does not answer your ?? about authority and plurality of elders. I remember reading this story when it first surfaced and it brought back all these painful memories. Most painful of all is knowing that those of us who left afterward can no longer fellowship with those brothers and sisters. What to do... throw a rock, where it lands start again? Sadly it is a story told, re-told and told again. That is the legacy of the "lone" authority.

Dale Fincher said...

Answered a question or not... persifler, thanks for your post and sharing your experience. I spent a good many years in the Bible belt and saw the spiritual abuses fester. It's dangerous stuff.

And starting another church down the block doesn't seem to be the solution either. Thanks for sharing that insight as well!