Who Is Your Counselor?

where do you turn when you don’t know what to do? who do you ask when you’d like to do better?

When an issue comes up in your family and you need help, where do you turn? What do you do when you’re talking with someone who has a problem and you have no idea how to advise? When an incident occurs that needs action, but you’ve never encountered anything like it, who helps you consider possible solutions?

Before I met James Jones in 1982, I was often lost. I’d never discussed personal or church issues with a counselor. See blog post, 3 Ways I Helped Get Myself Fired. At first, I didn’t want to start. The first day he was in our building, he asked me to have lunch with him. I was reluctant, but agreed to go. I didn’t want him to “figure me out.” I was scared of him.

But as we talked more, I began to realize he had knowledge and skills that could be helpful to me, my family, and the church.

Our elders had entered into an agreement with him to rent our library at the Central Church of Christ in Dalton, Georgia, for five hours free counseling per month to be used at the discretion of the elders. He began to serve in several areas.

  • Counseling with established clients. He already had people in the North Georgia-Chattanooga area who talked with him often.
  • Referrals. After I learned to trust him, I referred members who came to me who needed more help than I was prepared to give. Some would say, “I’ve never talked to a counselor. I’m afraid. Would you go with me?”. I was glad to do that for a session or two, learning much from watching and listening.
  • Elder-preacher meetings. The elders, Cordell Holloway, Ross Jordan, and I had standing appointments for the first and third Mondays at 7:00 a.m. We worked on our communication. I began to talk to elders on an adult to adult basis instead of child to adult. We discussed difficult issues. I referred to one of those sessions in a previous blog post: Church Discipline: Tell It to the Church. We never ran out of topics to discuss. It was a growing and enriching experience for me.
  • Classes. In the fall after he started working in our building, he taught classes on Monday nights. We had two hours of lecture followed by an hour of group discussion. We practiced what we’d been learning from reading assigned books and hearing the lectures James presented. Some of the classes were:

..Dealing with Grief.
..How to Handle Conflict in the Church.
..Counseling Principles for Christian Leaders.

  • Individual and family counseling for my family and me. As our trust and appreciation grew for James and his work, there were many opportunities to meet with him and listen to his advice. As our children grew older, there were always new things we’d never faced. We talked with a church in Texas during the summer of 1984 about moving to work with them. We talked with James individually and as a family to consider the advantages and disadvantages of that opportunity. James and I went to the church, talking with the elders and staff for two days. When I moved from Dalton to Nashville in 1988, James consulted with me, my family, and the elders during the process. We discussed what would be good for the church and our family—when to announce and how to do a good job leaving.
  • Phone counseling. After I moved to Nashville and later to Berry’s Chapel in Franklin, Tennessee, I continued to consult with James by phone and workshops he conducted at Berry’s Chapel until he died, July 2, 1995.

After his death, I became acquainted with Phil Pistole in Brentwood, Tennessee. During my time at Berry’s Chapel, I met with him once a month. I kept my Phil List of things to discuss at our monthly meetings: personal and family issues, church problems where I needed help, coaching on counseling opportunities I was working on, and family-business relationships.

Suggestions for Selecting and Working with a Counselor

  1. Select carefully. Talk with people who’ve worked with the counselor you’re considering. Interview the person to discover his experience in dealing with issues you and your church may encounter. Ask who he goes to for counseling and how often.  If your counselor doesn’t have a counselor, you may end up being your counselor’s counselor. Click To Tweet That’s not the way it’s supposed to work.
  2. Understand the value. Just as it’s good to have a family physician before you have a health crisis, it’s good to have a counselor who understands you and your group before major problems arise. He knows more of what he’s working with.
  3. Referrals are easier when I’ve been to the counselor. People are often embarrassed when they finally admit they need help. I’ve found it takes pressure off when someone asks me if I can recommend a counselor and I reply, “I’ve been talking with Phil Pistole for several years. He’s helped me and many others I’ve referred to him.”
  4. Recognize the limits of his responsibility. A counselor is not your boss or supervisor. You don’t have to do everything a counselor suggests. What you do is your choice.
A good counselor can often inform and remind me of more choices than I was aware I had. Click To Tweet

What suggestions and experience have you had in working with Christian counselors?

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Fairlane — the Church that Started New Shepherds Orientation

8th New Shepherds Orientation Workshop

In the fall of 2013, Henry Wilhoite, an elder at Fairlane Church of Christ in Shelbyville, Tennessee, called. He said, “We’ve recently appointed five elders. Four of them have never served before. Could you put something together to help us get started and be more effective?”

We met in Henry’s cabin in Gatlinburg November 1, 2, 2013. We worked six hours on Friday and six hours on Saturday. We studied, discussed, talked, questioned, ate, and enjoyed the weekend. Spouses were there and participated in many of the discussions.
Henry’s phone call and the results have been a blessing to me. I’ve led these workshops in six other congregations. This blog is an outgrowth of this concept.

I’ve often observed we appoint men to serve as shepherds, overseers, elders. Often they’ve had no training to do the work and we provide no training for them to improve. Then we criticize them for not leading like they should.

The workshop has grown, developed, and changed since the first edition. I’ve asked for criticism and responded. It was an honor and joy to be back with the Fairlane group November 10-12. We again spent twelve hours together. Because of suggestions from previous workshops, there were more break-out sessions and interaction in smaller groups. This proves to be some of the most beneficial times during our training.

Those in in the group: Ed and Elaine Boggess, Kari and Trey Bell, Helen and Richard Blanton, Gail and Larry Evans, Elizabeth and Jeff Floyd, Angie and David Parker, Charlie and Cindy Pope, Dolly and Michael Sharp, Jerry and Marie Smith, Lou and Todd Smith, Anna and Henry Wilhoite, Gail and Jerrie Barber. Everyone had perfect attendance for the workshop!

Thank you Fairlane for the invitation, for the idea that’s blessed me, several other congregations, and a few hundred others who read New Shepherds Orientation blog each month.
Read more about New Shepherds Orientation Workshop.

As of today, I have openings in 2018 for one workshop in October and another in November. For questions, send me an email at: jerrie@barberclippings.com or a call at: (615) 584-0512.

What suggestions or questions do you have about leadership training?

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Where Do Christians Learn to Gossip?

have you checked with parents, preachers, and elders?

When you find conflict in a group (family, business, church, or softball team), somebody is spreading gossip. They think they’re doing the right thing (Proverbs 21:2). “Well, it’s the truth. Somebody needs to be speaking up. If I feel this way, I’m going to say it. At least I’m honest.”

Where Do Christians Learn to Gossip?

Rarely do people come up with an original idea. My guess is they’ve heard others, and they’re imitating them.

It might be good to check with:

  • Parents. Parents have speaking rules in their homes. Usually, family rules are unconscious, unspoken, but understood. They’re often learned by imitation rather than instruction. If mother and daddy talk about elders, preachers, song leaders, politicians, friends, associates, and others in a derogatory way, it would be normal for their children to follow their example. “What harm does it do?” A powerful statement I read made an impression on me. A lady was telling about hearing her mother and her friends gossip about each other: “Their behavior taught me not to trust anyone—especially people who were nice to my face. Instead, I trusted abusive people because I thought they were being honest. I ended up running with a bad crowd and found myself dating abusive men because I couldn’t trust polite guys.” Please take time to read the article: Gossip causes long-term damage, especially for children who hear it.
  • Preachers. Preachers have been my heroes. But preachers aren’t perfect. If I spend time around a preacher or a group of preachers who are always talking about other preachers, about how ungodly and unfair elders are, and how brethren are mistreating them, it would be easy to imitate their behavior. After all, they’re “good, sound, faithful, gospel preachers.” Gossiping preachers teach “the truth” on every issue, except on how to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves.

If a person criticizes his child who is Christian, a good response would be, “What did my son say when you talked to him?”. One thing my son resented growing up was a few people “telling on him” when he did something they thought was inappropriate, unwise, or wrong. He said, “Daddy, I’m seventeen years old, 6′ 3″ tall. I’ve been a Christian five years. Why don’t they talk to me first?” Good question. I wish I had had more wisdom and courage then and asked them to follow Jesus’ instruction.

  • Elders. When elders think their job description is to fix every unhappy person in the church and attend to issues which aren’t their business, they may be examples of how not to deal with people the way Jesus taught. A good response when someone tells about someone who has mistreated them and want you to fix it is, “What they he say when you talked with him?” If the answer is, “I haven’t talked to him,” your response might be, “Jesus told me not to talk to him yet. You go first. If you and he agree I might be helpful, I’ll be glad to assist. You first—me second.”

When elders receive complaints about the preacher without holding members accountable for addressing their concerns to the preacher, they’re bypassing Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 18:15. Jesus didn’t say, “Moreover, if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone—unless he’s the preacher—then the elders can do your work for you.” The best way for the preacher to understand what “a lot of people are upset about” is for a lot of people to go to him, one at a time and explain it to him in a spirit of love. The volume of information will make an impression, whether it’s about his preaching, attitude, work ethic, or lack of attention to people who need his help.

Jesus didn't say, “Go and tell him his fault between you and him alone—unless he’s the preacher.” Click To Tweet

Reasons People Gossip

  1. It’s easy. It’s easier to talk about somebody than to talk to the person of concern.
  2. Maybe someone else will get the other person straightened out. Gossip is often an invitation for someone to talk to the person(s) who is bothering me. If that person can fix it, I won’t have to.
  3. It’s exciting. Watching another “get what’s coming to them” gives people a rush. I may feel better when I can relate how another has done more wrong than I have, according to my accounting.
  4. Some people who don’t gossip listen to it. Without gossiping ears, there would be no gossiping tongues. Read South Central Bell’s solution to obscene phone calls: IT TAKES TWO TO MAKE A SUCCESSFUL OBSCENE CALL.
Without gossiping ears, there would be no gossiping tongues. Click To Tweet

Why Not Gossip?

  1. It’s a sin. God said not to do it (Leviticus 19:16; Proverbs 26:20, 21). Mark 16:16 is red in my Bible. Jesus said it. I want to teach people how to be saved. Matthew 18:15-17 is red in my Bible. Jesus tells how to address those who have “missed the mark” with us. I am to go to the person who sinned. If that doesn’t work, take one or two more. If that doesn’t change him or me, I should involve more people to help.
  2. It helps no one. Everyone gets hurt.
  3.  Individuals, churches, businesses, and other groups cannot function well with people addressing their concerns to the wrong people. Gossip, talebearing, divides churches, alienates family members, and harms businesses.

How do you prevent gossip in yourself and discourage it in others?

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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.
Sunday:
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).

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?

Questions

  • 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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