A Treatise on the Eldership (Chillicothe, Ohio: DeWard Publishing Company, Ltd.)

82 pages in the print edition

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Contents:
1. There is Such an Office
2. Title of the Office
3. The Titles Explained
4. Duties of the Office
5. How to be Examples
6. How to be Shepherds
7. How to be Overseers
8. How to Withdraw the Disorderly
9. How to be Teachers
10. Primitive Mode of Teaching
11. Qualifications for the Office
12. Intellectual Qualifications
13. Plurality of Elders
14. Selection and Appointment
15. Regular Meetings
16. Want of Time

Very practical study of New Testament leadership. One of the most helpful insights for me was on selection and appointment:

We have only one example on record, in which we are distinctly told what part was taken by the congregation, and what by the ordaining officers. This is the case of the seven deacons of the church in Jerusalem. The Apostles called together “the multitude of the disciples,” and said, “Look you out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business” (Acts 6:2-3). The selection, then, was made by the multitude, and the appointment by the apostles. The distinction made between these two terms should not be overlooked. The term appoint is sometimes understood as including the selection, but in the style of the apostles it means merely induction into office, and is distinguished from the selection which precedes it (Kindle Locations 833-839).

Good Shepherds I Have Known:

Ed Riadon

Near the end of my first New Shepherds Orientation Workshop, an elder asked, “Who is one of the best elders you have ever served with?”. My mind went to Ed Riadon in Madisonville, Kentucky.

We met first when Gail, Jerrie Wayne, and I stayed in their home in November, 1968. We were in Madisonville to “try out” as the next preacher. During a diaper change, Jerrie Wayne, two months old, deposited a high amount of humidity on their couch. I thought that would be the end of my consideration. But Ed and Sarah were understanding, telling us they were grandparents and that had happened before.

This was my first impression of a great shepherd and his wife. Ed worked at the Post Office and introduced us to disposable diaper samples recently delivered through the mail.

I passed the “try out.” We started working with the Madisonville church in December, 1968. He invited me to go with him on visits with members, visitors, sick, new parents, bereaved, and discouraged.

One of my favorite Ed stories occurred on one of our first nights visiting. As we were finishing, he asked, “Do you like ice cream?”. When I replied in the affirmative, he pointed me to a Kwik-Pik Market. Ed bought a half-gallon box of cherry-almond-vanilla ice cream. He went into the kitchen, placed the box of ice cream on the table, retrieved a serrated edge knife from a drawer and cut the box of ice cream in two. He handed me a spoon, half the ice cream, took another for himself, and said, “I never like to eat ice cream unless I can eat all I want.” We finished the half-gallon. I knew this would be a great relationship. From the first meeting until his death, April 11, 1976, I was able to observe a good shepherd in action.

Some of the admirable characteristics I saw:

  1. He was firm. When the elders asked me to speak on a difficult topic, an elder would go to the pulpit before me and say, “We asked Jerrie to speak on this topic. We encourage those who need to make changes in their lives to do it today.” After the sermon, an elder would publicly thank me for the sermon and commend those who responded.
  2. He was compassionate. His tone was gentle, even with those who were upset with him. He gave hope and encouragement to a man we visited one night who was drunk. I was a young preacher who made mistakes. When Ed discussed those with me, he always expressed confidence I would learn and do better.
  3. His priorities were obvious. He spent more time with sheep than in meetings talking about “the members.” His leadership was demonstrated then in the lives of his children and decades later it is still there.
  4. He was approachable. Ed and Sarah often invited my family and others into their home. They were “given to hospitality.” I felt free to drop in anytime I wanted to talk.

When I think of good shepherds, I think of Ed Riadon.

Who are good shepherds you have known?

Helping Deacons Deak:

when elders assign the work and deacons don’t do it

There are two problems in delegation: not releasing a task and not accepting responsibility.

I received the following email after a previous post:

Marked this (delegation) early this morning to send to my elders…they do a great job in this area. The most challenging things for them are:

  • Deacons who “grew up” under a system where they were not allowed such freedom and end up wanting an elder to always hold their hands.

  • Members who do not accept deacons’ given authority and bring matters to them instead of dealing with deacons.

Here are elders who want to be shepherds. They want deacons to lead in their areas.

Two Problems:
  1. Some deacons don’t take responsibility.
  2. Some members think elders should know about and be in charge of everything.

How Can You Improve?

“They Say We Don’t Listen…”

why would they say that?

I know Jesus said to talk to people you have something against, but it won’t do any good because they won’t listen”

My question: “What did they say when you talked to them?”

Often the answer is, “I didn’t talk to them because it won’t do any good because they won’t listen.”

“How do you know they won’t listen if you haven’t talked to them?”

“Because everybody says they won’t listen.”

And those are some of the beakers in communication (practicing practical Christianity).

I don’t do what Jesus says when it is difficult, embarrassing, or uncomfortable.

Spreading and/or listening to gossip that comes to and from “everybody and they.”

It’s easier to blame and dodge than to engage in painful conversation.

However, is it possible that sometimes leaders don’t listen well, long, and patiently? Is there an element of truth in the comment, “They don’t listen?” Have I thought about growing in the Jesus-like skill of compassion?

Questions to Consider
  1. Do I listen? Listening is more than being silent when someone is talking. One definition of listening: “take notice of and act on what someone says; respond to advice or a request.”Listening is more than being silent when someone is talking. Click To Tweet
  2. Do I let others finish what they want to say before I start preparing my reply? One of my weaknesses is thinking about my next speech while the other person is telling what is important to him.
  3. Do I freely accept, invite, and appreciate criticism? It’s easy for me to “tune out” when someone reminds me that not everyone agrees with me and values what I say and do. But that’s not wise. “Whoever loves instruction loves knowledge, But he who hates correction is stupid” (Proverbs 12:1, NKJV).
  4. Do I subtly deflect criticism by using several of the following statements?
    Let’s think positive.
    We need to count our blessings.
    When we trust God, everything will work out.
    We don’t need to dwell in the past.
    It’s time to move on to the next level.
    We’ve talked about that enough.
    You need to respect your elders (preacher, deacons, parents, etc.).
  5. Am I practicing listening in a safe environment to be able to listen in a more challenging situation? You can’t read enough good books to play great basketball. You have to practice, practice, practice.
  6. How do I evaluate my listening? If I were the one expressing my concerns, questions, or criticism, and the person receiving my sincere thoughts responded as I usually respond, what would I say about how that person values me? Golden Rule: (Matthew 7:12).

Is it possible people say “they don’t listen” because I don’t listen very well?

How could I grow?

What will I do to become a more caring listener?

It’s easier to blame and dodge than to engage in painful conversation. Click To Tweet

What blessings will I receive by believing that everyone can teach me something if I am willing to value the uniqueness and insight of every God-created person? (Philippians 2:3)

“When you fast…” — Jesus

why would you fast?

I was asked to teach a young adult Bible class on Bible study or fasting. I chose Bible study because, at the time, I’d never fasted. I didn’t want to teach what Jesus and others said about fasting then make excuses about why I’d never practiced it.

Since then I’ve fasted. I’m not an expert but I’ve learned some things by experience in addition to what I read in the Bible.

Jesus fasted. He assumed and stated His disciples would fast after He was taken away from them (Matthew 4:1, 2; Matthew 6:16-18; Matthew 9:14, 15).

The church at Antioch fasted when they sent out Barnabas and Saul on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:1-3).

Paul, Barnabas, and the churches of Galatia fasted after or during the appointing of elders (Acts 14:21-23).

Paul counted fasting part of his sufferings for the Lord (2 Corinthians 6:4, 5; 2 Corinthians 11:27).

When we read the Bible, we learn God’s people have fasted. In the Old Testament, they fasted in times of war or the threat of it, when loved ones were sick, and when seeking God’s forgiveness. In the New Testament, fasting accompanied dealing with temptations, special missionary emphasis, and in the selecting and appointing elders.

Some things I’ve learned from fasting:

  1. I spend much time preparing for, cleaning up after, or driving to and from eating events. I’ve done most of my fasting during “weeks of isolation” where I set aside special time for study and reflection. I was amazed at what I could do during the time I would’ve been eating for three-five days.
  2. The hunger pains were good reminders when I had a special prayer emphasis. When I felt the hunger, I would pray.
  3. Fasting is a good exercise in self discipline. I don’t do what I feel like doing when I don’t eat when I’m hungry. There are many times I don’t need to do what I feel like doing. Practice strengthens that muscle.[tweetthis]Fasting is a good exercise in self discipline.[/tweetthis]
  4. Fasting gave me a greater appreciation of food and water when I broke the fast. Gratitude is often heightened after deprivation, whether voluntary or involuntary.
  5. I now read Psalm 42:1 and sing As the Deer with a different understanding after going without food and water.
  6. I learned that liver and onions isn’t a good meal to break a fast. Some reading about this topic can be helpful. I read Richard Foster’s book, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, the summer I fasted the first time.[tweetthis]I learned that liver and onions isn’t a good meal to break a fast.[/tweetthis]

Jesus didn’t say, “If you fast.” He said, “When you fast.” Although we’re not saved by fasting, we may be served well by fasting and other teachings of Jesus which we may or may not have noticed, practiced, and encouraged other disciples to obey.

Jesus concluded the sermon where He mentioned fasting by saying, “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man…” (Matthew 7:24, NKJV). I want to be a wise man.

How has fasting made a difference in your life?

Shepherds, What Are Your Rules?

are they unconscious, unspoken, but understood?

This is the way we’ve always done it. We don’t do it that way around here.”

During an eldership funeral (topic for another blog post), I asked the elders, “Will you let new elders be a part of the team? Or will they be junior elders? Would you do anything differently if they suggested it or will they have to do everything like you do it now?”

The answer was, “That depends on what they want to do. There are some things we would be willing to change. There are some things we definitely would not change.”

My next question, “Will you tell them ahead of time or surprise them when they are appointed and come to the first meeting?”

The elders drafted two documents:

  1. Standard Operating Procedures Negotiable Items.
  2. Standard Operating Procedures Non-negotiable Items.

Before men were added to the eldership, the present group shared with the men considering and being considered the way they worked together. If there were matters of concern, they could discuss those matters before accepting the responsibility.

Families, groups, elderships have rules. They are usually unconscious, unspoken, but understood. When examined, they are often contradictory. If they haven’t been discussed, negotiated, recorded, and reviewed regularly, these unconscious rules will be the basis of conflict.

Each shepherd comes from a different family. He has been influenced by his family, education, and experience of how things should be done. Each shepherd has thoughts of what should and shouldn’t be done and how best to do it. Unless they discuss the way this group is going to operate, they will have conflict because of different backgrounds and views. Or they can let one person tell them how to function and agree with him. That will reduce conflict but it will also defeat the concept of the plurality of elders.

It is my observation that time spent in discussing what the Bible teaches about the role of shepherds and overseers and how this group will apply those principles is time well invested. It is good to develop guidelines to keep each person on task. This can be a basis for holding each other accountable to do the work God has called shepherds and overseers to do.

How have you seen shepherds agree on how to function? What are good agreements for elders to consider?

10 Ways to Improve Decisions

which comes first: deciding or discussing?

I have an idea and I think we ought to do it.  Let me tell you where I saw it work.  Here are reasons I think we should do it here…Brother Famous Preacher and Brother Dedicated Elder in another congregation endorse this wholeheartedly.  I’ve already talked with a couple of you and I know you think it is good for us.  Does everyone agree I should announce this Sunday?”

Where was the discussion of the proposed idea?

Could it have been improved if others had questioned and contributed?

Could it and should it have been evaluated and ignored if the group had sufficient input?

I’ve observed in some leadership groups, the amount and speed of decisions made depend on the forcefulness of the personality of the person leading the meeting.

Perhaps it would be helpful in getting the wisdom of the group to recognize the difference in

  1. Discussion.
  2. Decision.

Ways to Encourage More Productive Discussion and Decisions in the Group

  1. Realize it is healthy in making group decisions to receive the thinking of everyone in the group before making a decision.
  2. Maintain a policy not to have meetings before the meeting to decide what is going to be decided in the meeting. [tweetthis]Maintain a policy not to have meetings before the meeting to decide what is going to be decided in the meeting.[/tweetthis]
  3. Permit each one to share his thoughts before evaluating.
  4. Do not take part in or permit devaluing of thoughts and suggestions that shuts someone down.
  5. Encourage those who say little or nothing to share what they think.  Often people who speak least think most.  Good thinking can result in better decisions.
  6. List at least three solutions to an issue before deciding on the best one.
  7. After coming to the best solution, consider the exact opposite.  Is there a solution between what you thought best and the extreme opposite that would be better than your first solution?
  8. After allowing everyone to contribute to the discussion, pray for wisdom from God to decide what is best and to carry out the decision according to His will.
  9. Is this a decision that might be improved with a few days of thinking before acting on it?
  10. Is this a decision long overdue because we talked it and thought it to death without any action?

When a forceful personality begins to present ideas with enthusiasm, it is hard for less assertive people to express themselves.  When this is done repeatedly, it is the beginning of the group instating a head elder.  This defeats the Biblical example of a plurality of Shepherds.

There is value in a group of men with different personalities, experiences, and backgrounds participating in shepherding and overseeing the Lord’s people with wisdom rather than agreeing with a dominant person.

What have you seen to encourage better discussion and decisions from the group?

Next: pastoral succession that works (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014)

Preachers, when do you plan to leave the church you are serving?  How do you plan to leave?  What are your plans when you are 60+ (and earlier) when most churches no longer want to discuss their work with you?

Elders, are you discussing the transition after your present preacher leaves even though it may be years in the future?  What plans do you have for transition should your present preacher’s ministry end unexpectedly?

If you are not already discussing that, it’s time to start!

William Vanderbloemen and Warren Bird strongly suggest that this needs to be a topic of regular conversation between a preacher and elders (although they use different terminology).  They have interviewed and studied successions that worked well and those that didn’t.  I found several “mustard seeds” worth considering.

Consider this quote:

Every pastor is an interim pastor.  Few ministers consider that truth.  Few are eager to admit that their time with their present church will one day end.  But ultimately, all pastors are “interim” because the day when a successor takes over will come for everyone in ministry.  Planning for that day of succession may be the biggest leadership task a leader and church will ever face.  It may also be the most important.  There’s an old saying:  “Everyone wants to talk about succession . . . until it’s their own.”  For way too long, the subject of succession has been avoided in the church, in pastors’ gatherings, and even in the pastor’s home.  Those in leadership may not talk about it, but succession happens anyway (Kindle Locations 162-167).

[tweetthis] Preachers, when do you plan to leave the church you are serving?  How do you plan to leave?[/tweetthis] [tweetthis] Elders, are you discussing the transition after your present preacher leaves even though it may be years in the future?[/tweetthis] [tweetthis] Fellow preacher, what are your plans when you are 60+ when most churches no longer want to discuss their work with you?[/tweetthis]

Do You Lead Like Your Daddy?

did you come from the perfect family?

You’ve probably heard the story of the newly married couple.  Both were trying to be the perfect partner.  The husband noticed his wife cut off about 3” of the ham each time she cooked that dish.  He didn’t want to criticize.  But she kept doing it.  He was calculating how much money she was throwing away.

He finally asked, “Honey, why do you cut off the end of each ham you cook?”
Her reply, “My mother taught me to cook and that’s the way she did it.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know.”

The next time they were visiting, she asked her mother why she threw away the end of every ham.  Her mother said, “My mother taught me to cook and that’s the way she did it.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know.”

The next conversation with Grandmother they asked her why she cut off the end of the ham and threw it in the trash.Her answer:  “I had a very small skillet.”

Many family rules had a good reason for their beginning but are not helpful now.

Several years ago, I heard a preacher say, “You may not believe it but I had perfect parents.  I don’t think either one of them ever committed a sin.”  And he was old enough to know better.

[tweetthis]Everything in any home is not always right and every right thing is not always the best. [/tweetthis]

People rarely evaluate how they grew up and what they learned.

Margaret J. Marcuson, in her book, Leaders Who Last:  sustaining yourself and your ministry, makes this observation:

Relationships are both the most delightful and the hardest part of ministry.  We all learn how to relate to others in the family we grow up in.  For better and for worse, this is what feels normal and natural…When we unconsciously act from our family script, our choices are limited.  It tells us how to be angry, or how to hide, or how to protect others.  We learned our lines as soon as we learned to talk (Copyright © 2009 by Margaret J. Marcuson, pages 370-376, Kindle edition).

Think of the power of that.  Each person on the leadership team has been preset to act the way their family taught them — unless they have thought and made choices.  Each person grew up in a different family.  Can you see how we often have conflict?

It might be good to find out why grandma cut off the end of the ham.  I might change my way of acting without showing any disrespect for the family tradition.  But the only way I’ll find out is to learn why my family does what it does.

I’ve found it helpful to talk to family members about what shaped them and through them shaped me.  You might like to try it to see what you learn from those who taught you.

For a list of questions to discuss with family members to improve your understanding of your background, go to this link:  Questions to Learn More About my Family .

What have you learned about your family that has improved your leadership?

Where Do You Find Additional Shepherds?

start looking 30 years before you need them

One of the joys of our last interim in Maury City, Tennessee, was seeing the faith, works, and gratitude of Christian farmers.  They are men and women who operate big businesses.  Farmers study, learn, invest, plant, fertilize, and pray to the Lord to give increase.  After an abundant harvest, they thank Him when He blesses them.  They share their increase.  Sowing and reaping are not just something they read about in the Bible.  They experience it every day.

The same principle works in leadership development.  We are blessed or deprived depending on how well we cooperate with or ignore God’s immutable laws of sowing and reaping.

[tweetthis]Each congregation has the leadership it wants and deserves, leadership it has trained and prayed for.[/tweetthis]

How is that done in a practical way?

One of the best examples I’ve seen was at the Central Church of Christ in Dalton, Georgia, when I worked with them.

Each year, the elders asked the deacons to select a Deacon of the Year.  This was powerful!  The elders weren’t picking their best friend or brother-in-law.  The deacons were selecting one of their own and saying in the selection, “This year, here is the man who exhibits the qualities of a special servant in this congregation in Dalton, Georgia.”

The results of this self-evaluation was announced at a banquet.  The elders, deacons, preachers, and spouses gathered at a restaurant.  A guest speaker was invited who would compliment and challenge.

One or more of the elders expressed appreciation to all the deacons for their service during the previous year.  The climax of the night was the presentation of the Deacon of the Year award.  The Deacon of the Year was presented a plaque and was reminded he was selected by his fellow deacons as one who exhibited excellence in service.

The elders then asked the deacon to return the plaque to them.  They would present it again on Sunday morning before the whole congregation, telling them about the banquet, the Deacon of the Year award, and how this person was selected.  He then took the plaque home to be reminded of how God had blessed him with opportunities to serve and how he had responded with faithfulness.

In addition to the banquet and the plaque being presented twice, this deacon was invited to attend elders’ meetings during the next year.  This Deacon of the Year could add items to the agenda and make comments and suggestions during the elders’ meetings.  He was not an elder but he observed how the elders worked together.  It wasn’t a surprise to me in a few years, when additional shepherds were selected, many of them were men who had been recognized as Deacon of the Year.

Farmers know you don’t plant corn and cotton and expect to gather and pick them in two weeks.  Wise shepherds plan decades before for the leadership of the local church.  I believe each congregation has the leadership it wants and deserves — the leadership it has trained and prayed for.

[tweetthis]We reap what we sow. We reap more than we sow. We reap in proportion to what we sow — in leaders.[/tweetthis]

What suggestions do you have for sowing leadership seeds?