Church Discipline: “Tell it to the Church”

how? when? why?

How and when and why do you “tell it to the church”?

“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17, NKJV).

We learned about it as one year was changing to a new one several years ago: two prominent, active couples, the man in one and the woman in the second, had become infatuated with each other and were moving toward dissolving their marriage for each other. I knew them both well. I’d done premarital counseling and performed the ceremonies. The elders and I had breakfast the following morning after I was informed and discussed the situation. Both extended families were concerned and cooperated in trying to bring resolution, although the parents of one involved weren’t members of the church.

After several contacts and visits over two or three weeks, we saw no sign of repentance. In this church, we met with a counselor twice a month to discuss whatever was current in our work. On this Monday morning, one of the elders told of our concern and intent. He related that our visits with the two hadn’t resulted in a change in attitude and said we would announce to the church the following Sunday that if there was no repentance in two weeks, the elders would ask the church to withdraw fellowship.

Our counselor replied, “You can do that and probably run off several families and upset the whole congregation.” We asked what else we could do. Didn’t the Bible teach withdrawal of fellowship for people involved in this?

His observation: about a third of the congregation is already upset because they know what’s going on and wonder why you haven’t already done something; about a third of the congregation knows about it and thinks it’s too soon for such drastic action; about a third of the congregation doesn’t even know anything about it. The elders followed his suggestions.

1. The following Sunday, one of the elders read a statement with no names mentioned.


“Thank you for your care and concern for others. It is my feeling this is Biblical, and very much Christ-like.

“Two of our young families are in tremendous pain and difficulty at the present time. This is so disappointing and I feel so tragic, especially with the potential for the Lord’s work these families have had.

“Since late December your elders and brother Jerrie have been aware of the circumstances and have worked daily on these problems, both in personal contacts and in prayer. The past few days have been distressing and the situation seems to be deteriorating. We desire and seek your help. Please pray sincerely that this hurt can be healed. If you become aware of anything that can be done, please contact your elders with your help.

“For the Elders.”

No names were mentioned. But people who knew about this now knew that the elders and preacher had been involved constantly. The ones who didn’t know now knew that there was a serious problem in the church.

2. After a few weeks, another announcement was made:

“On February 6 of this year, the announcement was made to you that two of our young families were suffering extreme difficulty. For the two involved, ___ _______ and _____ _____ , their condition has continued to grow increasingly worse. It is now the need and request also the pleading of your elders that you be more involved in helping _____ and __ .

If you can contact either ___ or _____ by personal visit or letter, please meet with us this evening at 6 p.m. in the all-purpose room downstairs. It is our sincere desire to bring these two back to God, if at all possible.”

The room was filled that night. We did not tell what the couple had done. The elders told what we had done and of our ineffectiveness to bring them to repentance. The elders asked everyone who knew them to contact them during the next two weeks in whatever way they thought appropriate to ask them to reconsider and return to their mates who were willing to take them back: make a visit, talk on the phone, or write a letter.

3. Two weeks later, the elders requested that all who came to the first meeting assemble again in the fellowship room thirty minutes before evening worship. They asked the group to report their recommendations by responding in writing. They had prepared a letter to the elders:

“Because of my love for ___ and _____ , I recommend the following: _______________________________ _______________________________ Signed: _______________ “

4. Without exception, the individuals in that meeting said, “There is nothing left to do but to withdraw fellowship. They admit their sin and show no signs of repentance.”

5. The elders replied, “We agree with your evaluation and we will be announcing that during the services this evening.” We had a sad service that evening announcing the process, ending in asking the members to withdraw from this brother and sister until they repent. Several family members were present in that service.


1. Although these two did not repent, we didn’t lose a person because of this action. The families were involved. Close friends and other members were involved. When I left that congregation several years later, the grandmother of one of the parties thanked me for everything I did and that the church did to try to bring her grandchild back to repentance.

2. Elders cannot withdraw from a wayward member in behalf of the congregation. They can only request that the members withdraw.

3. If the members are not involved in the process, there is the possibility that someone will say, “If I had only known, I think I could have done something to help.”

4. If a person is asked to participate and chooses not to make any effort, they have no complaint.

5. It’s my understanding that this is to be a church effort—not just the elders and/or the preacher. It’s interesting that in the books that discuss church discipline (Matthew, 1 Corinthians, and 2 Thessalonians) there’s no mention of elders. This isn’t to say that they shouldn’t be involved and lead in this good work. It’s to observe that scripture doesn’t teach you must have elders to practice church discipline in all its forms and degrees.

Paul said,

Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted (Galatians 6:1).

What suggestions do you have for this third step in church discipline?

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Jesus on Making Peace

repairing damaged relationships Jesus’ way

It was something said, done, or wasn’t said or done. Now two people who were close friends, brothers and sisters in Christ are alienated, hurt, and apart. Is there any hope for repair? I want to share with you a tract that Jesus wrote, I printed, and some have told me was helpful.

Jesus on Making Peace

Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called sons of God (Matthew 5:9, NKJV).

The presenter in the first workshop I attended on conflict management said, “Many people are more interested in peacekeeping than in peacemaking.” By peacekeeping he meant trying to get comfortable quickly, trying to please everybody, trying to make everybody happy, appease all criticisms and complaints. In peacemaking, often it has to get worse before it gets better.

“Many people are more interested in peacekeeping than in peacemaking.” Click To Tweet

Reconcile with people you hurt

Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison (Matthew 5:23-25).

Many like to skip this step. If I know I’ve hurt someone or someone thinks I have violated them, I need to go to that person immediately to get the matter resolved. Jesus says reconciliation is more important than worship.

Go to the one who offended you: ALONE!

Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother (Matthew 18:15).

When someone sins (misses the mark) against me, I need to address that issue with that person. Notice the number of people in this meeting—2. I can’t obey this instruction of Jesus by having a fit in the foyer. There’re too many people observing and listening. This meeting involves me and one more.

Take one or two with you

But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that “by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established” (Matthew 18:16).

If the small discussion didn’t bring reconciliation, ask for help.

Two ways I’ve approached this.

  1. There’s been a time or two when I talked to friends, told them how badly I’d been mistreated, and asked them to go with me to visit my adversary to get him straightened out.
  2. On another occasion, I suggested to someone with whom I had a disagreement, “Why don’t you select a person and I select a person we both trust and see if they can help us. I suggest we not tell our story until our meeting time.”

Which do you think worked better?

Involving other good people can bring a calmness and objectivity that would be difficult for the parties involved. I have trouble listening to someone when I’m thinking of my next response. When people not involved in the conflict are listening without having to respond to every statement, they can listen, take notes, and suggest solutions.

If in these meetings the “one or two more” think I am the instigator or at least a propagator of the problem, I may need to make amends and ask forgiveness before we go to the next step and tell more people.

I have trouble listening to someone when I’m thinking of my next response. Click To Tweet

Tell it to the church

And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector (Matthew 18:17).

If the meeting of two and the meeting of three or four hasn’t brought reconciliation, involve the larger group.

Read more about telling it to the church: Church Discipline: Tell It to the Church.

You can print the tract on letter-size paper: Jesus on Making Peace.

What suggestions do you have for working with conflict?

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Am I a Doctor’s Helper Who Is Allergic to Sick People?

how do we work with diseased people and churches?

A response and question from my blog post of August 1, 2017: “Brother I liked your article Do you know a sound congregation? I know why I would write an article like this, but I am curious why you did? Just curious…thank you and love you.”

I don’t think I serve the cause of unity by making breaks in fellowship before God makes them. If I get angry and accusatory at people who have different views and encouraging others to stay away from them, either by my command, example, or necessary inference, I’m promoting divisiveness.

If I cannot work with churches and people less than perfect, I’m not following the example of Jesus who ate with sinners, selected imperfect men as the cabinet in His kingdom, and attracted misfits to Him.

When Jesus heard it, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Mark 2:17, NKJV).

My experience in the past ten years of interim ministry is that churches in the worst trouble are the easiest to work with. When they see their mess and don’t know where to turn, they’re teachable. When a church “has it all together” and an image to protect and project, they aren’t in learning mode.

Churches in the worst trouble are the easiest to work with. Click To Tweet

Imperfect people and churches need to be corrected—not condemned and abandoned—until they persistently show they have no intention of correcting. I don’t think that needs to be done in the first two weeks of hearing they did something I don’t like. When and if the divide comes, the door needs to be left open, shoes prepared, calf fattened, clothes clean, and the party prepared when individuals can be seen in the distance coming home. Dead churches can have live Christians in them (Revelation 3:1-4).

If I condemn them to hell, withdraw fellowship from them, and publish warnings in brotherhood papers and on Facebook when they clapped after a baptism or one elder reads KJV only and encourages others to do so, I don’t think I’m following what I read in the Bible about Corinth and the seven churches of Asia. Most of those churches were in a mess, but they still had candlesticks.

I push people away and solidify the divide when I shoot first and ask questions later. Click To Tweet

The point of my post, Do You Know of a Sound Congregation…? is not where we go to services on vacation.

My suggestion is labels of “sound” and “unsound,” indicating that anyone in that church and the church itself is not recognized by the Lord may not be accurate. It is my observation that many reasons many brethren label a church “unsound” and warn others about them do not promote unity and encouragement to grow.

The Holy Spirit through Paul had not written off Corinth when Paul wrote his letter to them. Yet they had attitude problems, moral problems, worship problems, maturity problems, marriage problems, and doctrinal problems (resurrection). Paul wrote to correct the problems they had. He addressed those problems. But he began the letter: “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours” (1 Corinthians 1:2).

Most of the seven churches of Asia had serious problems. Yet when John wrote Jesus’ messages to them, they all had a candlestick.

Who came out better in the end, the One who ate with tax collectors and sinners or the ones who thought Jesus was “unsound” because He did?

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

How do you work with people who are less than perfect (including yourself)?

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Culturally Diverse Church in Raleigh, North Carolina

7th New Shepherds Orientation Workshop

We had a hard working group for the 7th New Shepherds Orientation Workshop. It was a beautiful drive around the Northern border of the Smokies the weekend of August 25-27. This is one of the most culturally diverse congregations I’ve visited. The Spanish and English worship together. Their website is in both English and Spanish. They have members from other nationalities as well. I asked one of the elders the different backgrounds of the members at Raleigh. He replied, “Honduras, El Salvador,  Ghana,  Nigeria.  And there’s even a Californian…now they are something else.”

This congregation is about fifteen years old and has recently appointed new shepherds. These men, their wives, the preacher, and his wife had done their homework. They were ready to discuss ways to be more effective in the Lord’s work.

As a result of suggestions at a previous workshop in Puyallup, Washington, we had more time for small groups to interact.

The men’s and women’s groups worked separately on a real situation in a real church and made observations and suggestions of how to improve the interaction of elders and their flock.

I gave the men an issue of someone wanting to modify the elders’ plan to do mission work when a brother with money had rather build an educational annex.

The ladies discussed issues that come with being the wife of an elder. This was especially helpful to the wives of the new elders.

We concluded Sunday morning with the Bible class, Leadership is a Gift, Not a Grind. During the worship, I discussed what Paul talked about and what they did at his last elders’ meeting with the overseers of the Ephesian church. Each elder shared a “mustard seed” he had learned during the workshop.

The elders, preachers, and wives of the Raleigh church: Bill and Beth Culverhouse, Elisha and Anne Marie Freeman, Glenn and Fran Holland, Allan and Barbara Johnson, Bob and Margaret Platt, Mac and Pamela Safley, and Scott and Carol Wollens.

Discussion Topics

  • What are guidelines to help us have a better discussion and workshop?
  • How can elders shepherd each other?
  • How will we grow together as a group?
  • How will we handle criticism?
  • What is a good plan to be sure we are adequately caring for all the sheep?
  • How can we deal with deacons and encourage them?
  • How will we develop as overseers as well as shepherds?
  • How will we oversee each other?
  • What can we do to keep important things from falling through the cracks?
  • Will we function as deacons and be called elders?
  • How can we prevent the development of a toxic “head elder”?
  • What is one thing we can do to prevent conflict and promote peace?
  • How will we evaluate the deacons, the ministers, and each other?
  • What are some ways we can have good communication with the congregation?
  • What are different kinds of meetings we should have to lead this church?
  • Who should select additional leaders in this congregation?
  • What is a good way to facilitate selection?

Workshop Characteristics

  • Include all shepherds, preachers, and wives.
  • Meet offsite — away from the building.
  • Include twelve hours of working time.

The Usual Schedule

Friday — 6:00-10:00 p.m.
Saturday — 8:00-12:00 a.m.; 1:00-5:00 p.m.
Bible class: When Leadership Is a Gift Instead of a Grind
Sermon at worship: What Do You Say at Your Last Elders’ Meeting?

Dates I have available today for 2018: a weekend (Friday night, Saturday, Sunday morning) in April, May, September, October, November.

What questions or observations do you have about the New Shepherds Orientation Workshop?

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Creating Biblical Leaders: By God’s Design (Tacoma, Washington: Agape Publishing, 2008)

What material can help you encourage men to be leaders in the church and develop and mature those serving?

If someone should ask me to suggest a book for a Bible study to encourage shepherds and train future elders, I would recommend Creating Biblical Leaders: By God’s Design, by Dr. Ken Wilson.

Dr. Ken Wilson has preached for decades, served as a professional Christian counselor, and now serves as an elder in the church at Puyallup, Washington.

Here are some “mustard seeds” I highlighted as I read the book:

Biblical leaders also have to be willing to rise above their environment. I believe that leaders can be classified in two ways: REACTIONARY and VISIONARY. Visionary leaders are not satisfied with the status quo. Visionary leaders not only deal with the immediate problems, they also actively lead in new horizons of future planning. They are pro-active as opposed to re-active.

Reactionary leaders really do not lead at all; they just react and put out fires (page 2).

Visionary Leaders are not people who are always on the cutting edge of change. They are leaders who perceive problems before they occur and search for solutions in order to avoid problems (page 3).

As we begin to define biblical leadership, we cannot neglect the Lord’s admonition that leaders must be servants! The authoritarian approach leads to the formulation of institutionalism. Webster defines the word institutional as “the characteristic of, being instituted; or to institutions, rather than individuals.” The tendency of some church leaders today is to direct the church towards being an institution. This is reflected in the slow and subtle decisions being made when leaders are shifting the emphasis from evangelism and church growth to presenting the church as an entertainment center (page 3).

There is a sharp contrast between spiritual and secular leadership. The secular leader is concerned about the worker reaching maximum production for the institution. The Christian leader is concerned about the worker reaching maximum potential in the Lord. The concept of effectiveness is not seen in the power of management skills in the biblical model, but in utilizing the resources of people and their ideas. True spiritual leaders meet the needs of people as they work at accomplishing their tasks. Biblical leaders should be required to solve problems, not create them (Acts 6: 1–6) (page 4)!

If there is poor communication, lack of commitment, and a lack of unity in the congregation, it is because these same deficiencies are found in the leaders as well (page 5).

It is evident today that we do not need leaders who do nothing but call the shots. Such leadership models fail because they are not biblical. Instead, we need leaders who, by their shepherding and modeling of service, stimulate the church to develop servant minds and servant hearts. This is the key to church growth and spiritual maturity (page 6).

Biblical shepherding influences for good and is powerful. Biblical shepherding can best be described as the ability of one person to influence another for good. The relational model of leadership allows for creativity in workers, because of the relationship and trust factor. The positional model of leadership does not encourage creativity in the workers. A positional leader is easily threatened by the imagination and creativity of those who are allowed, as workers, to own the process of ministry and be empowered by it (page 11).

Let me reiterate the fact that the elders/shepherds in a congregation have God-given authority, and that is not a question of dispute, but how they exercise that authority is the issue. There is a pattern in the New Testament for the qualifications of eiders/deacons, for the selection of elders/deacons in the congregation, and how authority is to be exercised (I Peter 5: 1–4). The pattern is identifiable and significant (page 25).

To see the pattern, let’s note the similarities, yet important differences, when comparing the practice of many congregations today with the early church, in reference to the selection of elders/deacons, the early church leaders asked the congregation to submit names of possible candidates for the specific work of leaders (Acts 6:1–6). If this was indeed the pattern established for all churches, it is a practice that is not often seen today. The New Testament pattern stipulates that the congregation he involved in the selection process, rather than the current elders selecting new elders or deacons, with the congregation merely ratifying the decision. Put simply, the primary responsibility for selecting new leaders depends, not on existing leadership alone, but on the Church as a whole (page 26).

If deacons do not exercise leadership and delegate responsibility, they will be limited in the ministry to accomplishing only what they can do themselves, thus limiting the church, as well (page 34).

Anyone who steps into the arena of leadership must be prepared to pay a price. True leadership exacts a heavy toll on the whole person — and the more effective the leadership, the higher the price (Nehemiah 4: 1 –23)!

God’s will was not for the wall to be built without opposition. He does not direct us to the road of least resistance. The success of the project, so far, evoked opposition, which builds character in leadership, even if it lacked admiration in those w, ho oppose. The heart of the habitual critic resists change. Every leader must develop the ability to measure the value of the worth of criticism (page 54).

We seem not to want to do what Jesus told us to do, when we have problems with our brethren. All these behaviors directly contradict vs hat Jesus taught when he said, Go to the person who has done something to you that you believe is wrong, and tell him about the situation. In families, this approach can replace nagging or bantering with effective results. It would seem that the same result would come from our brethren doing what Jesus told us to do (page 81).

Most leaders consider it crucial to defend themselves when they are criticized. They feel that they have to prove that the criticism is totally wrong, and that they have been sadly misunderstood. They feel that the response they made was correct and reasonable, and that the other person is a poor judge, who has no right to criticize anyway. So they argue and plead their case or attack the critic, probably because of their fear of looking less authoritative or capable as a leader. What remains in the end is anger and strained relationships. Rarely do people handle criticism effectively or biblically.

There is the presupposition that the critic is wrong, that we have been terribly misunderstood, and that we will not survive another minute, unless we set things right, or prove the critic wrong. None of these common views are true. Strange as it may seem, much of the criticism is usually correct. Not always, but often. Not entirely correct, but correct enough in a large measure. Occasionally, of course, the critic is totally wrong (page 81).

I have observed that, in situations where the elders operate as positional leaders, the problems between preachers and elders are exacerbated. In such cases, elders often operate as employers, treating the preacher as an employee. In this situation, there is very little team work or cooperation, and the elders often fear that the preacher won’t respect their position as elders. The elders give the orders and expect the preacher to obey them. An atmosphere of intimidation results when there is a lack of respect for the distinctive works of elders and preachers.

Having observed elders who operate in a relational mindset, it is evident that they consider the preacher a member of the team. When leaders have a relational mindset, neither the elders nor the preacher have a hidden agenda. With this mindset, there is no sense, on the part of the elders or the preacher, that there is any threat or competition. There is only the willingness to support and encourage one another in the great work of saving lost souls and keeping the saved, saved.

Everyone benefits from this kind of cooperative attitude; the elders, the preacher, and the congregation. Remember that biblical leaders are called to meet the needs of their followers. Elders should be concerned about the needs of preachers, and preachers should be concerned about the needs of the elders (page 88).

“When a movement develops around a dominant personality, the real test of the quality of his leadership is the manner in which the work survives the crisis of his removal.” (Oswald Chambers) We need mentors in the church to show us how to deal with anger, how to show compassion, how to live with disappointment, how to live with grief, how to do evangelism, and how to lead people to greater heights of spiritual growth (page 114).

Biblical leaders are not above making bad decisions in personal relationships in the Church. They can make bad decisions, due to faulty interpretations based on the lies they may be telling themselves, and when they do, they must be accountable. One of the weaknesses of elderships, in some cases, is the reluctance to acknowledge their own mistakes or sins and accept accountability. The tendency is for elders to support one another and not call each other to be accountable. What develops, then, is what I call the bunker mentality, where the leaders or elders begin to circle the wagons. They begin to perceive threats to their authority, and they then see others as the enemy, resorting to a controlling style of leadership that threatens and polarizes the members of the congregation. There must be a check and balance system in place that requires members and leaders to willingly confess their faults to one another (James 5:16). I am not talking about a calculated witch hunt, but a transparency among leaders that allows them to model accountability to their followers, as their followers demand accountability of them (pages 125, 126).

Preacher Evaluation…Suggestions

how can we encourage our preacher to continue to grow?

I enjoyed having a yearly evaluation from my elders. I want to know how my overseers see me. I won’t know unless they tell me. Unless they write it, I may forget. Unless we discuss what they wrote, I may not have a clear understanding.

I received this request from an elder-friend in an email recently: “It is time for our first annual elder/preacher evaluation. Do you recommend any particular questionnaire or form for us to use?”

We had a phone conversation. I wanted to know more about their thoughts and expectations.

Some things we discussed:

  1. How has this year been?
  2. What do you want to accomplish in the evaluation?
  3. List everything your preacher has done well the past twelve months. Comment on sermons, Bible classes, visits, and other acts of ministry. Be specific. Be generous. Ken Blanchard said, “Catching people doing things right provides satisfaction and motivates good performance. But remember, give praise immediately, make it specific, and finally, encourage people to keep up the good work.”
  4. Ask him what he’d like to improve and how you can help. You know you’re being good shepherds and are developing a good relationship with your preacher when he can freely tell you his weaknesses and struggles. You’ve shown him you’re concerned about him and his family as fellow Christians in this congregation and not just as an employee. Does he want to improve his Bible knowledge? A lectureship, Polishing the Pulpit, a college course or degree might be a good goal—if he’s committed to it. Does he need to improve skills in speaking and ministry? Better Preaching workshops have practical ideas and good fellowship with other preachers. Would a couple’s retreat led by competent people to improve his marriage and parenting skills make him a better husband, father, and leader of his family?
  5. If this is your first evaluation as an elder and with this preacher, it would be good to practice before you do his evaluation. I also think if it’s the twentieth one, practice would be helpful. For your practice, set a time for each elder to evaluate each elder, using the same principles listed above. I’d never thought of this until I heard an elder from North Jackson Church of Christ speaking at Freed-Hardeman University Lectureship year before last. He told about their practice of not only evaluating staff but also each elder.

But what about things he needs to correct? Don’t we need to address these?

I hope you haven’t waited a year to address what you don’t like.

If I knew my evaluation was to be all my mistakes in the last 12 months, I’d dread it like a whipping. Click To Tweet

Those things need to be addressed quickly. When I was the office manager in two churches, hiring and supervising secretaries, I had a 48-hour rule: “If you’re doing something I don’t like or not doing something I want to be done, you’ll know in forty-eight hours.” I won’t save a list of failures for a year and list them at your evaluation. To be more specific, I won’t mention any of them. I’ll have already addressed them day-by-day.

That’s the way I want to be treated.

As a follower of Jesus, if that’s the way I want to be treated, that’s the way I’ll treat others. Click To Tweet

Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12, NKJV).

What suggestions do you have for edifying evaluations?

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Do You Know of a Sound Congregation…?

how many sins does it take in a congregation not to worship (or work) with them?

I see this notice on Facebook often. Someone is traveling. They ask, “Do you know of a sound congregation in ___________? We are going to be there this weekend.” Or from a fellow preacher, “I have been contacted by this congregation. Do you know if they have any problems? Would I want to move there?”

It’s A.D. 54. I’ll be traveling through Corinth this weekend. Do you know of a sound congregation where my family could worship?

Check with the apostle Paul. He wrote them a letter recently. He addressed them as, “The church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours” (1 Corinthians 1:2, NKJV).

I decide to stop by on my way to Athens. But I’m shocked! They’re divided. Some of the most arrogant, prideful people I’ve ever met worship there. I heard, and I got it from a good source, a man is shacking up with his father’s wife and the church is doing nothing—they’re proud of it! They have all kind of marriage problems in this congregation. People are confused about eating meat offered to idols.

I’ve been to a lot of churches, but it’s the first one where they had a potluck, and the lady with the best banana pudding wouldn’t share with everyone—just her little group. She didn’t know me. I didn’t get any of her banana pudding. And there was one or two drunk during worship. You should’ve seen their worship. People were talking and singing at the same time. Some were speaking in a language I couldn’t understand, and nobody was there to tell me and others what they were saying.

During Bible class, there was a discussion about the resurrection. There were several who argued resurrection was impossible. They said once you’re dead, that’s it. I can’t believe they permitted someone to express that in what I understood Paul to say was a sound congregation.

In Bible class, several argued a resurrection of a dead body was impossible. Click To Tweet

Would it be better to worship in our motel than go to church in Corinth? If I were moving there, should I raise money to start a sound congregation in Corinth? I thought Paul said the church belonged to God, and they were saints. If I started a Sound Church of Christ in Corinth, would Paul hold a gospel meeting for us? If Paul held a gospel meeting for the old church in Corinth after I started the Sound Church of Christ in Corinth, should I mark Paul for preaching for an unsound church because of all the sin and error in that church? Should I post on Facebook, Twitter, and in every brotherhood paper that Paul was unsound because he preached for that group?

If you moved to Ephesus in A.D. 96, would you worship with the church there? They’re active. They are “sound”: cannot bear those who are evil, tried false apostles and found them liars, and they hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which Jesus also hates. No-one would write you up for worshipping with this sound congregation. However, Jesus says they’ve left their first love. Unless they repent, He’ll remove their lampstand. It’s interesting the “soundest” church in Asia is the one of seven Jesus is warning about removing their lampstand. Is it possible Jesus’ evaluations and our evaluations are different?

Suppose you lived in Sardis around the turn of the first century, and the congregation asked you to serve as an elder, what would be your response? Would you want to serve as a shepherd in a dead church? Is it possible you and the few who had not defiled their garments could have a good influence on the majority who were dead? Would it be worth it to shepherd the few and encourage them to continue to stay alive in a dead church and continue to walk with Jesus?

If you were a preacher when John was sending Jesus’ messages to the churches in Asia Minor and you saw an ad in the Gospel Advocate the church in Laodicea was looking for a preacher, would you send your resumé? Or would you and I require a better church?


  • Who needs to be labeling churches?
  • If I label a church unsound where Jesus hasn’t removed its lampstand, am I adding to the words written in the book (Revelation 22:17, 18)?
  • Who has the knowledge and authority to declare a church no longer a church Jesus recognizes?
  • Does Jesus need me to advise Him when to do that?
  • Should my concern be to find the purest group or to be a Physician’s assistant Who said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Mark 2:17)?
  • When the church where I’m worshipping does a thing or two that makes me uncomfortable, should I and a couple of hundred others turn it over to the ones who are wandering in the wrong direction, or stay and be salt and leaven to remain faithful to what the Bible teaches and live as Jesus taught?
  • If I leave so I can feel comfortable again, how is that different from those who want to do other things so they can feel better?
  • Is Jesus’ call to discipleship to do whatever you can to feel comfortable or to serve in Corinth, Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea, Nashville, San Francisco, or Frog Jump—even if everyone and everything is not as it should be now?
Who needs to be labeling churches? Click To Tweet

How did Jesus and the Holy Spirit decide when to mark off a church in the New Testament as unworthy of attendance and service? How do you decide today?

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How Elders Have Shepherded Me

how loving, caring, leading, guiding, correcting, encouraging men have contributed to my growth as a preacher and as a person

I’ve had a few elders less than the best. I’ve worked with many excellent elders. I’ve had some in-between. Preachers need shepherding as well as other dependent, dirty, and disoriented sheep.

Here are actions and attitudes of helpful shepherds with a few contrasts to make the picture clearer.

    1. They’ve told me the truth. They’ve done what they said they’d do.
    2. When I made mistakes, I’ve had enough to encourage me that I didn’t give up. As a young preacher, one night I realized I’d raised money to do a project the elders didn’t want. I went to the two elders in tears, apologizing for what I’d done. I planned to go for a college Bible course in another town that night. I suggested I stay at home and not attend the class. One of the elders was angry — “Yes, that’s what you need to do. You’ve got to learn you can’t do things like that.” And He went on and on. The other elder said, “No. You go to the class. This hasn’t been your pattern. You’ve recognized your mistake. It’s evident you’re sorry for what you’ve done.” I’m thankful for the kindness of the second elder. I’ve wondered what would have been the effect if both elders had taken the harsh approach of the first. I stayed several years and did a good work there.
    3. They’ve expressed their concern by listening to what was going on in my life.
    4. They’ve communicated trust by asking for help and prayers as they shared what was good and less than ideal in their world.
    5. They conducted regular evaluations without my prompting (see #1). Those were times of encouragement. I looked forward to my yearly evaluations the last week of May. I hurried home to read them to my wife.
    6. Evaluations were positive and complimentary because we kept current with likes and dislikes. Evidently, they were men who didn’t want their supervisors saving all their mistakes to read aloud once a year. My shepherds observed the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12) and treated me as they’d like to be treated.
    7. During times of personal and family difficulty, they prayed for me and encouraged me to take any time needed to work on family matters immediately.
    8. Especially when my children were home, they reminded me to spend time with my family.
    9. When there was sickness or loss, they visited without having to have a visitation card. I got the impression they cared and wanted me to know.
    10. I’ve had elderships who requested and participated in special times of Bible study for growth and to study specific topics of concern.
    11. They treated me as a trained, intelligent, and competent person who could be trusted to be in leadership meetings to talk, listen, suggest, evaluate, and not think I had to have my way. When I had a suggestion or request, I didn’t have to argue my case before the Supreme Court, then have a decision handed down. I was permitted to be in on the discussion and observe approval, disapproval, or modification of the request in real time. Many times a concern could be answered in five minutes and the project approved. I prefer that to sending me out, denying my request, and telling me why. One time when I explained the objection, the one delivering the rejection said, “If we’d known, we might’ve done it differently. But we’ve made our decision, and we’ll stick with it.”

I’ve had very few classes on becoming and functioning as an elder-shepherd-overseer. I’ve taught hundreds of classes. Most of what I’ve learned, taught, and now write has been learned by observation of men who have led well — and not so well.

What memories do you have of good shepherding?

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“Bless Our _______ as They Make Their Decisions”

…the ones they know they're making and the ones they don’t

One of the frequent petitions I hear about elders in public prayers is, “Lord, bless our elders as they make their decisions.” I often cringe when I hear that. What about, “Bless our elders as they shepherd the flock; bless our elders as they set examples of excellence, dedication, service, and holiness; bless our elders as they discern and lead this church in a heavenly direction”?

But when you think about it, decisions our elders make are crucial. Not ones about whether to build or not to build, the color of the carpet, settings on thermostats (I think one of the qualifications of an elder should be he doesn’t know how to operate a thermostat), or the type and size of lawnmowers for church grass.


Some Decisions Elders Make Every Day

  • To shepherd or do the work of a deacon. I hear many excuses about why elders are still doing the work of deacons years after they were appointed to shepherd the flock and know better. The reason is everybody (elders, deacons, and members) likes it the way it is better than what it would take to change it.
Everybody (elders, deacons, and members) likes it the way it is better than what it would take to change it. Click To Tweet
  • To do the work of ministry or also equip others to do the work of ministry. Paul taught evangelists, pastors, and teachers to equip saints for the work of ministry — not do all the work themselves. (Ephesians 4:11-13).
  •  To mentor and train leaders or hope some show up when we need them. It’s too late to be alarmed over a lack of qualified men to lead two weeks before the day to appoint new elders and deacons. I believe each congregation has leaders they want, leaders they prayed for, leaders they trained. What planned development are you doing for elders and deacons now? What have you done in the last two years?
Each congregation has leaders they want, leaders they prayed for, leaders they trained. Click To Tweet
  • To deal with difficult situations or ignore them. The Holy Spirit makes shepherds who will work with sheep. Sheep, by nature, are dependent, dirty, and disoriented. Sheep get in messy situations. Shepherds can continue to meet about the budget and complain how bad the world and brethren are or get into their spiritual ambulances and pick up the sheep who’ve wrecked on life’s highway. One is more comfortable for the moment. The other is the job description of a shepherd.

Others Who Are Making Important Decisions
“Bless our ______ as they make their decisions”

  1. Deacons decide if they’ll serve with excellence bringing glory to God or just take up space on the church bulletin — to do all the work they’ve been given or develop others in the work of ministry.
  2. Preachers decide if they’ll preach the truth with enthusiasm and conviction or look up a good sermon on the internet Saturday night and read it on Sunday morning. They decide by pain and hard work to develop a Christ-like attitude or do what comes naturally, which is often offensive.
  3. Parents decide if they’ll prayerfully put the priority on raising their children in the way of the Lord by example, teaching, and training or decide to make them popular and pleasing to the world of sports and entertainment.
  4. Young people are making decisions about serving God, their occupations, marriage, and morals. In the next ten years, decisions of our teens will probably have a greater impact on the church in the next fifty years than decisions of our elders.
  5. Bible teachers decide if they’ll prepare their lessons well, live a good life, be a worthy example, and be interested in teaching individuals not just filling time for forty-five minutes.
  6. Every Christian decides if his or her emphasis concerning God is to be faithful, prayerful, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, or if a little religion is good for a well-rounded life.
  7. We all decide, either on purpose or by default, how we relate to fellow Christians in encouragement, happiness, sorrow, and conflict.


Who do you want God to “bless as they make their decisions”?

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Don’t Promise Much…

…do what you promise…or let people know you won’t be able to do what you promised

We’ll call Tuesday night at 7:00. Just move, and we’ll take care of you. We’re going to visit all the families in the congregation.” “I’ll help this church double. We’ll be able to appoint elders six months after I start working with you. I haven’t had any courses, but I’m a good counselor.”

When promises aren’t kept, trust erodes and quickly disappears. It may be in the home, business, or church.

There’s a way not to let trust deteriorate:

Don't promise much…do what you promise…or let people know you won’t be able to do what you promised. Click To Tweet
  1. Don’t promise much. When a promise is related to dates and times, record it and set up a reminder to execute on what you said you would do. If you’re uncertain if you can do what you’d like to do, state you’ll do your best, and if it doesn’t come together, you’ll let others know.
  2. Do what you promise. It may take more time, money, and effort than you first thought. But doing what you said is important.
  3. If you can’t do what you promised, let people know you won’t be able to keep your commitment. If you see before the date and time, let people know you won’t be able to keep the commitment. Give an alternate date and time or give a reason why you won’t ever be able to keep the promise.
  4. If the deadline passes, contact the ones who were counting on you and apologize.

An alternative to this plan is not to do what I promised. I hope people will forget. It was harder than I thought. It took longer than I expected. It cost more money than I budgeted.

It’s been three months. Everybody seems to be OK with me.

I repeat this a few times.

I don’t understand why people don’t believe what I say.

An article from the Wall Street Journal illustrates the principle:

Don’t Promise What You Can’t Deliver

“I’ll have your parts in two weeks.”
Four weeks later the parts arrive.

“I’ll put it in your hand the minute you walk in the door.”
But all you get when you walk in is a handshake.

“Dinner will be at 6:00.”
But as you dip your spoon in the soup, the clock strikes 7:45.

“The doctor will see you in five minutes.”
35 minutes later you’re greeted cheerfully: “And how are we today?”

Avoid a lot of grief and inconvenience for the people you deal with. Think before you announce how long something will take — and then deliver what you promised. On time.
(A message as published in the Wall Street Journal by United Technologies Corporation, Hartford, Connecticut 06101, 1986.)

I had an experience in trust building about a year ago. My computer wasn’t working. I carried it to the Apple store in Louisville, Kentucky. They said everything checked out fine except the hard drive. We decided that was important. They promised to have the work completed in three or four days. They’d call or text me when it was ready. I left the store about 4:00 p.m.

I drove back to Jeffersonville, Indiana. I received a call at 7:15 that night.

“Mr. Barber, your repair is complete and ready to be picked up.”

“That’s not what you promised me.”

“What did we promise?”

“You promised you’d be finished in three or four days. It’s only been three hours and fifteen minutes.”

I was impressed. I posted the incident on Facebook. I’ve been telling my friends since then. That kind of promise keeping is valuable, encouraging, and makes people fans of a reliable promise keeper.

Promise keeping is valuable, encouraging, and makes people fans of a reliable promise keeper. Click To Tweet

How do you build trust? What do you do when people are untrustworthy?

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