Giving Thanks to God

I am one of those people who refuses to play Christmas music until after Thanksgiving.  I don’t think of myself as a Scrooge as much as a “Thanksgiving purist”. Thanksgiving holiday reminds me to live out my thanksgiving.   In a society that rushes through Thanksgiving so that they can capitalize on materialistic hearts in Christmas, let’s not forget to thank God.  I can think of few ways of starting a new year, then with a Thanksgiving hangover lingering into 2018.  No, not from alcohol or a carb comma from the stuffing, but the attitude impacted by giving thanks.   In fact, Ephesians 5:20 tells us to “give thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  I did a little study in the Bible of the things we are to be thankful for, even when life is difficult.  This is what I found we can give thanks for:

  1. For our share in the inheritance of the saints: Colossians 1:12 giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. NKJV
  2. God’s Kindness that leads to repentance:  Romans 2:4
  3. Goodness of God and His enduring Love: Psalm 106:1; 107:1-2, 15; 118:1
  4. Receiving Christ in faith: Colossians 2:6-7
  5. Ability to pray: Colossians 4:2
  6. A Future Permanent Home with God in Heaven: Hebrews 13:14-15
  7. God’s workings and miracles in our past: Psalm 105:1-5
  8. All men and leaders: 1 Timothy 2:1-3
  9. Food: 1 Timothy 4:3-4
  10. Gift of Christ: 2 Cor. 9:15
  11. Power and reign of Christ: Revelation 11:17
  12. Working of the word of God in others: 1 Thessalonians 2::13
  13. Deliverance from adversity: Psalms 31:7, 21; 35:9-10; 44:7-8
  14. Deliverance from indwelling sin: Romans 7:23-25.
  15. Our aging Bodies will one day be changed into a glorified body with out age:  1 Corinthians 15:53-57
  16. Victory over death and the grave: 1 Corinthians 15:57
  17. Triumph of the gospel: 2 Corinthians 2:14
  18. Conversion of others: Romans 6:17
  19. Faith and Love exhibited by others: Romans 1:8; 2 Thessalonians 1:3
  20. Nearness of God’s presence: Psalm 75:1
  21. Supply of our bodily wants: Romans 14:6-7; 1 Timothy 4:3-4

What can you add to this list?

Jarrod Scott

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Expecting death and life

I had the honor of standing by a family of faith as they said goodbye to their wife, mother, sister, and daughter at her graveside.  The death was relatively fast and unexpected and we prayed for a miracle.  The miraculous healing did not happen and death occurred. Yet God’s power was still on display. Instead of God healing a body from cancer, His power produced spontaneous singing by a graveside.

2 Corinthians 4:7-12 “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair, persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.  So death is at work in us, but life in you.”

The scripture tells me that God purposely chooses to display His power through fragile vessels.  We are ones with fragile health. Our security on this earth is fleeting and fickle.  Our comfort zones are temperamental things. The love and respect for others, which we desire, can be as short-lived as our own health.  As I read 2 Corinthians, it seems that in the very act of dying physically and metaphorically, God reveals His power in our life.  His power may look like perseverance, determination, hope, and conviction of His presence. As we step out into the uneasy waters of sacrifice and unfamiliarity, we can expect to meet Jesus in those same waters. If we want to know God’s power on display then expect to die to yourself. Which is the greater miracle: seeing someone healed from cancer or spontaneously singing by the graveside of someone you love?  I would count them both as miracles.

Jarrod Scott

Freedom From Regret

I listen to a particular preacher online, and he makes it a point to steer clear of many or any personal examples in his sermons.  Rare are the instances where he shares a story from his life of how a verse impacted him or what the Lord may have done or shown him at some particular point in his Christian walk.  His intent is for his messages to carry the same validity and have the same basis of application regardless of where and when they are delivered and heard, and re-heard.

Similarly, one of my concerns is that any recounting of a personal incident may be just the thing that interests no one but myself.  So, in the case of a topic such as regret or unfinished business, I’m sensitive to the fact that most everyone has experienced this unpleasant reality, and what each has endured is most likely far more impactful than anything I might have been through and decided to share.

Therefore, to elicit a reaction, and hopefully some action as well, let’s go beyond both me and you and consider the biblical account of Jesus asking Peter three times if he loved Him.  Even as the three probings by our Lord on the shore immediately take our minds to the three denials of Peter in the courtyard, consider what Peter must have feared would be his albatross as he watched His Savior die on a tree without having the chance to make right his wrong.  Ever since Peter tried to defend Jesus in the garden and cut off an official’s ear, things had gone downhill fast.  Even the surprise appearances by Jesus to the sequestered disciples evidently had little effect on the psyche and spirit of Peter.

But now, after a miserable night of unsuccessful fishing, seemingly birthed out of the frustration of waiting for God-knows what, Peter gets what his heart has been aching for.  Jesus turns all of His attention to him, and releases him from the demons of guilt and remorse that may have haunted his every waking moment.  Forgiveness, love, restoration, and purpose all came flooding in to wash away whatever it was that was eating away on the inside of Peter.

And this silent, internal, slow death is what makes regret and unresolved issues so devastating.  It is a weight unshared that crushes without anyone else knowing.  But it doesn’t have to.  All it takes is one step.  But you have to take it.  As He did with Peter, Jesus has reached out and offered peace.  Even when He appeared behind those locked doors, Jesus offered peace.  But Peter did not receive it.  But on the shore, Peter admitted his need and Jesus was gracious.  He always is.  He wants to restore you.  He wants you whole.  You are His child and He loves you infinitely, boundlessly, sacrificially.  If you are living with regret, take the step towards peace.  You will not regret it.

Rich Holt

Laying it on the Cross

Recently I had a friend say to me in referencing an unresolved issue with another, that they decided to “leave the matter at the cross.”  I was drawn to the language employed as it is rich in theology and metaphorical imagery.  So I wanted to investigate this thought and give some biblical explanation and underpinning to the idea of leaving an offense “at the cross.”  Specifically, when the offender never acknowledges or confesses to wrong doing.  What is the role of biblical forgiveness of the injured person to the wrongdoer?  We as forgiven people, are called to unconditionally forgive each other, regardless of the offender’s lack of efforts to make right the wrong.

First, as we all are sinners and live with sinners it is wholly normal to have complaints against each other.  We will be tempted to think that we can be exempt of loving someone because our complaint is grievous.  No reasonable person should be tasked with love or forgiveness for such a calloused sinner, right?

Second, as believers – if we allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit – will forgive one another and we will bear with one another.  This is in contradiction to normal living, thus requires a wholly different strength, that of the Holy Spirit.

Third, the motivation to forgive someone will be the fact that God has chosen us, loved us, and called us holy in contradiction to our own selfish ways.  I am always helped and humbled when I consider how I may have performed the same offence against God.  Therefore the measure of our forgiveness for each other will be that of God’s forgiveness of us. The application of God’s love is the Holy Spirit, who “sheds abroad the love of God in our hearts” (Romans 5:5).

In instruction consider Colossians 3:12-14  Put on then, as  God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13  bearing with one another and,  if one has a complaint against another,  forgiving each other;  as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. ESV (By the way the staff is memorizing this verse so feel free to ask them about this).

I find it challenging that the Colossians passage does not seem to put conditions on the forgiveness such as the offender’s acknowledgment of wrong doing to the offendee.  (Now understand, there is a role for confession from the offender to the offendee, but it is in the step of reconciliation, not confession. This may be discussed in another article) Reconciliation does require confession and repentance, whereas forgiving another believer does not seem to have the same requirement.  So what do we do when matters go unresolved and our sense of justice is not satisfied?

I would commend Romans 3:23-26 for instruction.

Romans 3:23 for  all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24  and are justified  by his grace as a gift,  through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God  put forward as  a propitiation  by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. ESV

When Jesus died on the cross He satisfied God’s wrath of justice over our sin, this is the idea of “propitiation.”  Sometimes we don’t want to forgive, because we believe that the offender will get away with a punishable evil.  It is healing and faith producing when we realize that we are not the judge and “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord.”  We take comfort in a Holy God’s vengeance and in an eternal punishment.

What do we do, if that offender finds forgiveness with God through Jesus Christ?  By faith we are to realize that Jesus became the offense on the cross and it was enough to satisfy God’s perfect justice.  I am to trust that that is enough.  I believe in the divine forbearance that passes over the sin of someone else, so I can now bear with them and forgive as the Lord has forgiven.  When we struggle with this action, we are struggling with the belief that God’s justice is perfect and that our justice is better than God’s work.  Remember it is God’s law that was broken and not our law.

2 Sam 12:13-14 David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. ESV

Consider how God could pass over the sins of King David, a man after God’s own heart.  Yet he was guilty of lust, coveting, abusing of power, adultery, lying, “despised the word of the Lord,” and “scorned God.” Yet, the Lord “put away (his)sin.” If you were Uriah’s father, how could there be forgiveness for David?  Where did God put the sin when it was “put away”?  These sins were put upon Jesus on the cross, so no wonder Jesus was forsaken.  We would be instructed to project our anger to Jesus, since Jesus became that sin.  But we can’t be angry at Jesus for all that He has done for us.  By faith in Christ, we have to choose to surrender our anger and receive God’s grace.  Pray with me for this grace, to leave offences “at the cross.”

Jarrod Scott

Shades of Gray

Lately I have been reflecting more and more on a principle that faces us every day. I mentioned it briefly at the end of the second Q&A and yesterday during the Sunday School hour. It is the reality that we live in a world of “shades of gray”.

It is true that the Bible gives the born-again believer, through the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:12-14, Acts 6:9-10), wisdom to cope with this world. Of course, this is taught from the pulpit and the Sunday School podium on a regular basis. However, hidden behind this absolute is a reality, evident in our sin cursed world, which is often understated and, at times, ignored.

As Christians, we are left with the impression that if we are mature enough in our beliefs we will be able to perfectly discern God’s will in all matters, and ‘know in our hearts’ the right course of action to take in every circumstance. We are told it is not only possible but expected that we humans can find, and remain in the center of God’s will, regardless of the trials and tribulations He may put us through. In that place, we will find peace and comfort, regardless of our decisions and their outcomes. Admitting we don’t have clear, Holy Spirit direction on a matter can make us feel we are immature in our connection with God.

Yesterday we voted as a body on an important matter of church governance. To unpack all the elements of that process and its outcome is far beyond the scope of this blog. I would, however, like to offer a central thought, using the vote as a real-life illustration.

The vote we all took yesterday was an example of being forced to make a ‘black and white’ decision in a world made up of “shades of gray”. Each of us, before an omniscient God, had to decide in his/her heart to either accept or reject Elders based on an overwhelming flow of data. For those who reviewed the Biblical evidence, there was little question that some form of Elder governance (vs. a Church Council) was supported by Scripture. However, were (1) the innuendos and reported past actions of the Elders too indefensible or, (2) the By-Laws too autocratic, such that God was calling us to make a major change?

Prayer… asking questions…. seeking God’s will…. weighing the pros and cons…. inspecting the evidence…. reading God’s Word…. sensing the Holy Spirit in each of our hearts…. trying desperately to separate our sin nature from, “what would Jesus do” were actions being taken by many, as Sunday morning approached. These are all good things, Scriptural things, that God calls us to do as we are to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves”.

Trying to filter through all the “shades of gray” while being forced to make a “black and white” decision that is honoring to God was, for many, not easy. This is the reality of life on this earth. It’s due to our sin nature, Satan’s influence and the interactions of one sinner with another. In the Garden of Eden (before the Fall) and in Heaven to come, the questions we grapple with on this earth don’t exist.

Perhaps I am being too simplistic but I think sometimes God is more concerned with the way we make decisions, more than the decisions we make. It is from that perspective that we all need to pray for soft hearts and a welcoming Spirit to all our brothers and sisters who desire to worship at Green Pines, regardless of how they voted. I would also say that we, as Elders, need to recognize that the “black and white” decision to maintain our existing church governance was, in fact, a “shades of gray” decision for many in the congregation who voted NO, much less to the 33% who voted YES. I know I speak for all the Elders when I say that we need to not only recognize, but respond kindly and quickly, to that reality.

Jeff Hilles

What Elders Might Look Like at Green Pines

Part 5 of a 5 part Series…
Please refer to archived post for previous blogs. This is from a document written by a pastor from 4 years ago.

Who are Elders?
We need to understand that when the Bible teaches about the office of elder, it is not a question of younger people versus older people.  The term of elder is referencing a spiritual maturity and not a biological age.  The word from which “elder” is taken, occurs seventy-five times in the New Testament.  Only nine times does it refer to the chronological advanced years.  Twenty-nine times the word is used to refer to Jewish leaders in the Sanhedrin or the local synagogues.    Twenty times it refers to elders in churches of various towns.  So when we are seeking elders the question is not “are they young or old?” but are they spiritually mature?  Are they seeking Christ-likeness?

So an elder is a spiritually mature man who is knowledgeable in the scriptures and able to teach them.  He has been officially recognized by the local church for the purpose of oversight and shepherding God’s flock.

The definition and criteria of elders given in Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3 are challenging enough.  We do need not to add criteria concerning a set age of an individual to the list.  However, it would be unusual for an individual to be so trusted and known as a shepherding elder apart from experience.

The “elder” term is interchanged with “pastor” and “overseer.”  In other words, we are talking about one group and not two or three different groups in a local church.  As the pastor of Green Pines, I am also an elder and an overseer.  Acts 20 makes this clear, when Paul meets with the “elders” of the church in Ephesus and tell s them to watch over themselves and the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made them “overseers” and to “be shepherds” of the church of God.  In 1 Peter 5:1-2, Peter writes to the “elders among you,” and tells them to pastor God’s flock and to do so by “serving as overseers.”

Elders in a church may not necessarily be full-time vocational pastors.  In fact, lay elders in a church would provide an important variable in church leadership.  The New Testament seems to include or at least allow lay elders.  Nor does an elder group exclude full-time vocational ministers.    It would be apparent that the lead elder would be paid as he serves as the leader in teaching and vision for the church.  This would be the person recognized as the lead or senior pastor and by definition of his task and qualification be considered an elder.  The Bible has nothing to say about staff positions and associate pastors.  Simple a person is either an elder or deacon or they are not.  There are no hybrid positions with semi-authority.  I would not recommend that current staff positions be assumed that they are elders.  If a staff member is made an elder than they will go through the same process as a lay elder.  Hopefully, if a person presently has the title “pastor” we know they already meet the scriptural guidelines for an elder.   Members in our church should no longer bear the title “pastor” or “elder” unless they are recognized as such by our church.

The primary characteristic for elders would be a shepherding heart for the church.  These individuals are driven by what is best for the church to be under Christ authority.  A shepherding heart will also possess a compassion for the church.

 The purpose of church voting?
As should always be the case in regards to church votes, the chief question is “What is God’s will?”  The church is not lead by the will of the people, as might be a democratic government, but by Christ through his Word and Holy Spirit.  As people filled with God’s Spirit, we are to surrender our desires and actions to the will of the Holy Spirit who indwells our lives as believers.   There is a sense where God’s people can mutually sense God’s direction and it is made evident by the working of God that we see in each other.  Therefore, the church vote is not to vote for someone or something, but to affirm or deny a course of action as God’s will.   The idea of voting for a successful person or a popular person because they are willing to serve on the board does not regard God’s word or His Spirit.

What will Elders do?
It may be helpful to know that there are different models of Elder direction in a church.  One model is called “elder rule”  In this model, the elder body is the final authority under Christ in a church.  This appears not to recognize the role of the Holy Spirit among the church nor practically allows the church to be the final authority.  This model is not consistent with Baptist theology as a congregational church.

The second model is called “Elder leadership.”  This model allows for the church to recognize and set aside their leaders for God-given roles.  The church is the final authority as is consistent with Matthew 18.

The third model, I would advocate is really a variety of “elder leaderhip.”  This is called “shepherding elders.”  The authority roles are the same as “elder leadership,” but there is more emphasis on the type of heart and work of the elder.

The elders work together to provide oversight, teaching for the church and shepherd God’s flock.  It is a picture of feeding God’s word by teaching, exhorting, and refuting when necessary.  These jobs are not necessarily practiced among large groups but can include personal or small group opportunities.  The elders pray for the physically ill (James 5:14) as they do for all the church (Acts 6:4).  They are to disciple younger men and train some to be future leaders (2 Timothy 2:2).  They are to gently exhort and encourage others by giving not only the gospel, but also their own lives (1 Thessalonians 2:7-12).

They are to work together for a spiritually healthy church.  This may include guarding against spiritual or doctrinal error, determining church policies, overseeing church finances, ensuring pastoral care of members, giving guidance to ministry leaders, ascertaining the need for new ministries or to end past ministries, discipling potential leaders and ensuring a discipling culture, overseeing the corporate worship of our body, working to resolve conflicts among members when needed, and making decisions about the needs and direction of the church.  Certain responsibilities such as finances or personal may be assigned to certain elders or committees to oversee and give a report.

The previous mentioned duties would require at least monthly meetings for elders to give a report and discuss each of these issues.  These meetings should also involve group prayer for our church concerning these questions.

The role of the senior pastor among this group of elders is to take responsibility as the primary teacher as well as giving overall vision to the church.  The other elders are to recognize the unique calling of one elder among the group of elders to perform these task.  The senior pastor only has one vote as do all the elders so he is equal with them as brothers under Christ.  The pastor is in a sense subordinate to the elders as they oversee the employee aspects of the church.  In another sense, the senior pastor is the leader among the equals and the first among equals concerning the vision and teaching of the Word.   There is a mutual submission among this group in these different areas.

These responsibilities will involve making decisions for the church that will demand spiritual insight.  These men are not so much looking into the interests of the people as the dominant factor for decisions, but they are considering the interests of God to determine decisions.  God has given the Holy Spirit to guide the church into the truth for decisions.  In consequence, decisions of this group should be of unanimous consensus in most cases to demonstrate the submission to the Holy Spirit.  If there is a differing viewpoint, the dissenter should be able to explain the spiritual reasons for the difference.  The intent of the explanation will be for the other elders to understand, think through, and pray over the reason.

There may be some decisions that the elder group will recognize the need to present matters to the entire church for consideration.  This seems to be understanding in regards to extreme church discipline cases as taught by Jesus in Matthew 18:18-20.  Guiding principles for when this option is taken should be based on the harmony of the church and the particular matter at hand.   For example, the approval of the budget is a matter that should include the entire body as it is a way to approve of a vision and doctrine that is the basis of the church’s identity.

How will Elders relate with the congregation?
Shepherding Elder model recognizes that the operating authority was given to them by Christ through the work of the Spirit in the congregation.  All of the duties the elders possess are given by the congregation.  An elder is installed and removed by the congregation.  The congregational model is not perfect for we are in this fallen world and will be as good as the congregation submits to the Holy Spirit.  Yet, the word of God in Hebrews 13:17 commands the church to obey their leaders.  This command does not imply that leaders will be perfect and always lead right and wise.  However, elders will give an account to God.

Once elders are recognized and chosen by the church, the congregation is to obey those leaders as an extension of obeying Christ.  When a person has problems with authority they are also having problems with God’s authority.  The mandate and enforcement of obedience is done by the Spirit of God and not the leader.  Ultimately, the elders can lead only by teaching and persuading the congregation.

How will Elders relate to the staff?
There are varieties of relationships between the elders and staff among elder-led churches.  However, in a model where the elder group is consistent of paid pastors and lay elders, the staff serves to follow the directives given by the elder group.  The title “staff” is not coincidental for it relates to the shepherd function of elders.  This paid group serves the shepherds in the overseeing task for the church.    This paid group serves as the “shepherd’s staff” as the elders are ministering to the church by leading.  The elder group may assign the overseeing responsibility over the staff to the senior pastor or to another elder at their decision.

How will Elders relate to the deacons?
Presently, our deacon body serves as a hybrid model of both a plural, non-staff elder leadership and as a group of leading servants working to preserve the unity of the church.  Though this model has been a help to me the last few years it still has problems.  For one, we need two groups dedicated to two different purposes.  The deacons are a group of leading servants who are working at the practical needs of our body to ensure the unity of our church.  These needs include building needs, shut-in ministry, technical needs of our body, pulling the budget together, preparing for baptisms and communion, benevolence, and a multitude of other needs.  In many ways, the deacons are helping to communicate needs of unity to the elders and the elders communicating to the deacons.  Deacons care for the physical and fiscal needs of the church, help create unity in the body, and support the work of the pastors and elders.  In general, the deacons serve as helpers to the elders.

The elders are servant leaders who serve our church by humbly leading and overseeing our church.  One of our church members gave the illustration of a restaurant manager and a waiter.  Could a person be both a manager and a waiter?  Yes, but they would tend toward only one of the functions.  Chances are that a person doing both would not be great at both.    So could a person be a deacon and elder at the same time?  If they are qualified, yes, but both areas will suffer and that person will burn out faster.    It is most likely that future elders will come from the present pool of deacons since they have already been recognized for their spiritual maturity.  However, once a deacon is recognized as an elder they will depend on other deacons to perform serving tasks as their new responsibilities demands their time.

Another important detail is that the scriptural qualification is different concerning elders.  The primary difference is found in the familiarity with scripture and the ability to communicate God’s word. Scripture knowledgeable brothers are the ones we should most naturally acknowledge and trust as leaders in the church.  So as we are now operating, we are surviving, but it comes at a cost of deacons not giving full attention to serving.  Another cost comes in the form of deacons being asked to oversee and lead, while not qualified for the task.

Conclusion:
These are details for our consideration, discussion, and prayer.  This document should not replace your own search in scripture for these questions, but to aid you.   Deciding in favor of shepherding elders will not change our denomination, or make us more conservative.  It does provide a helpful level of accountability and counsel for the church leadership.  It does not answer all the problems that exist or may come in our church. Yet, it does establish clear authority for our church.  It will not guarantee Holy Spirit leadership in our church.  However, it goes in the right step of faithfulness and obedience to God’s word and a more likely model of Holy Spirit leadership.

Green Pines, I love you (even through my frailty and sinfulness).  Thank you for your love as we pursue Christ together.  May we be as holy as saved sinners can be.

Jarrod Scott

What Past Leadership has Looked Like at Green Pines

Part 4 of a 5 part Series…
Please refer to archived post for previous blogs. This is from a document written by a pastor from 4 years ago. 

Up until now the church has been governed constitutionally by a Council of Deacons and a single pastor who may serve ex officio on all boards and committees.

It may help to know some history of our church, Green Pines Baptist Church. Our church has been in existence for 43 years, beginning in 1970.  We have a constitution that is much the same today as it was when it was first voted by the church, with some exceptions.  Basically, it sets up a government of the church which is managed primarily by committees.  In the very beginning of our church’s history, decisions were made with the committees and a lot of it was done by church business meetings.  As time went on, deacons developed a board mentality or council of deacons.  From the very outset, they would handle many decisions by church business in the business meeting.  Around  15 to 20  years ago, the church decision process seemed to go through some changes.  These changes were not official or constitutional, but was influenced by the teaching of a mixture of 2-3 pastors. The deacon group moved away from a “board of deacons” or a council of deacons mentality to a body or fellowship of deacons.  As well, decisions brought to the church business meeting were reduced for the sake of unity.  These evolutions brought more authority for the decisions to the committees and the pastor.

As we read in the Scriptures, there are two offices in the church: elders and deacons.  From the teaching of the Bible, the deacons understood they should be a ministering and serving group.  So when I came in 2005, this was a topic of conversation among the pastoral search committee.  In the search committee, we talked about who are the elders of the church.  We cannot deny that in the Bible there are such things as elders as included in Titus chapter 1, verse three.  In the discussion about the identity of the elders of the church, the question was asked of me, “who do you believe the elders are?” at that day and time I said, “those who are pastors in the church are elders.”   So what does that looks like in a church like Green Pines?  They could very well be the pastor and any pastoral staff the church might add into the fellowship.   This group of pastoral staff were to be the group of elders and that was my thinking at the time.

So here’s what I’ve come to discern after eight years.   There is a portion of our church that agrees that the pastors (including the pastoral staff) are the elders.  However, there is another group that is not in agreement with that model.  This leaves our church in a state of confusion regarding authority.  One group rest the authority on committees with the pastors as an ex officio member of the committees.  Then there’s some so who believe authority rest with the deacons.  Another segment places the authority with the pastors.  While others in our assembly believe people who are of influence should have the say, though they are not deacons or on committees.   There is not one predominant model, but a mixture of authority models.

The valuable quality of this varied approach will be a good supply of input and contribution.  When churches are in their “honeymoon” periods with staff members and people join the church then we feel good and do not need to deal with our views of authority.  However, when things get difficult and there is confusion in the ministry of the church then we will have problems.  The years 2011 and 2012 were marked with tension and difficulty in our church body and the authority question was pronounced.  I have had many sleepless nights and times of broken heartedness during these years. I confess that there were actions and decisions I could have and should have done differently.  I have asked forgiveness and am depending on God’s Spirit in repentance.   My desire as a pastor is to make Green Pines better and faithful to Christ.  We must be able to deal with problems outside of having leaders and members leave the church.  When asked about the benefit of the plurality of elder leadership, one benefit is that there is a clear understanding of authority in our church.  It is an understanding that conforms to the biblical teaching, appreciates congregationalism, and gives support and counsel to imperfect humans acting as God’s stewards in church.  Understand, there will always be problems within a church, it does not deter problems.  However, it provides for a wise and God-honoring leadership to address church problems.

Why this concept was not brought up earlier in Green Pines history?

I cannot fully answer that question, but I could make some observations that might explain this timing.  The church’s formative years was influenced by the church climate of our region and denomination.  In those years, there was not much attention given by SBC leaders about elders, the “Inerrancy controversy” was gaining much attention and there just were not as many resources available to those involve in our church formation.

The second observation would be that there were not many pastors who stayed long enough to observe the church’s dealing and make suggestions.  I acknowledge that my pastoring here for almost nine years is for no other reasons but God’s grace and the gracefulness and patience of Green Pines.  For that, I am grateful to the Lord and to you.   Prior to our time together there had never been a pastor who exceeded five years at Green Pines.   This is hardly enough time to know a church and contribute to the leadership questions.

This would lead me to my third observation and that is God working within my own heart and mind.  I have stated that my perspective at coming to Green Pines have changed concerning elders.  Plurality of elders is a concept I acknowledged while at seminary, but have seen the wisdom of the involvement of lay elders while pastoring in the last three to four years. In the last two years, I have had read dissertations of dear friends in Christ as they have also researched this subject.  Jerry White’s presence among us last October was an immense encouragement to me as he was able to share first-hand experience in leading in an elder led Baptist Church.

Jarrod Scott

The Congregational Leaders of the Early Church were Elders

Part 3 of a 5 part Series…
Please refer to archived post for previous blog. This is from a document written by a pastor from 4 years ago. Truths 1-4 were in the previous blog post.

5. The leaders in the congregations of the early church were elders.

The eldership was not one alternative leadership form among many in the early church. It was wide-spread as far as we know, and it seems there  were always more than one in each church. Consider these texts that show how widespread was the practice of having elders in each church.

  • Jerusalem: Acts 15:22, “Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church to choose men and to send them to Antioch.”
  • Ephesus: Acts 20:17, “And from Miletus [Paul] sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church.”
  • All the towns of Crete: Titus 1:5, “This is why I [Paul] left you in Crete, that you might amend what was defective, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you.”
  • All the churches James wrote to when he said, “To the twelve tribes of the dispersion” James 5:14, “Is any among you sick? Let him call the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (assuming that there are elders in every church).
  • All the churches in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia that Peter wrote to:1 Peter 5:1, “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ as well as a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed.”
  • Finally, all the churches Paul founded on the first missionary journey (and presumably the other journeys as well): Acts 14:23, “And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting, they committed them to the Lord in whom they believed.”

The universal extent of elders in the early church becomes even more obvious when you realize that the term “elder” is the same person designated by “bishop” or “overseer” (cf.Titus 1:5,7 and Acts 20:17,28) or “pastor” (Eph. 4:11; cf. Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:1-2where elders are given a shepherding function). It is hard to escape the conclusion that God’s will for the local church is that it have a group of elders as its primary leaders.

As we consider the early church model of leadership, it might be helpful to compare and contrast this with current trends in church leadership.  Nathan Finn has helpfully categorized the popular models of church leadership common today in his blog “Between the times” on January 13, 2013.

Option 1 is pure democracy. In this polity, the whole congregation votes on nearly every decision. The pastors and church staff are often treated as mere employees of the church who direct various ministries, but who have no real authority in the church. All of the authority rests in the whole congregation assembled in a church conference or members meeting (often called a “business meeting”).

Option 2 is committee-led congregationalism. In this polity, the church uses democratic processes to make key decisions, but the real authority rests with certain key committees or similar small groups that are comprised of influential church members. In many Southern Baptist churches, the committee that runs the church is the so-called church council. In others, it might be the personnel committee, since these are the folks who keep tabs on the staff. A very common variation of this polity is deacon-led congregationalism, where the deacons function as the chief committee in the church’s hierarchy.

Option 3 is single-pastor-ruled benevolent autocracy. In this polity, the solo or senior pastor is called by the church, but after that, he wields most of the authority. In a larger church, he typically hires and fires all ministry staff, including other pastors. The lead pastor is as much a CEO as he is a shepherd. Members meetings are kept to a minimum; in some churches, only once a year. The pastor is the leader and the people follow his lead.

Option 4 is plural-elder-ruled benevolent oligarchy. In this polity, which is not as common as the others, a plurality of elders rules the church in much the same way as the single-pastor-ruled option. The difference is that the authority is vested in a small group rather than a single individual. In many ways, this polity could be called “poor man’s Presbyterianism.” The church is ruled by her elders, but there is no presbytery or classis beyond the local congregation. This polity also frequently makes a Presbyterian-like distinction between teaching elders and ruling elders; only the former are considered pastors.

No doubt these are simplistic summaries of the various polities found in our circles, but I doubt they are overly simplistic. I’m personally acquainted with many (sometimes tons) of SBC churches that hold to each of these polities pretty much exactly as I’ve described them. Options 1 and 2 are very common among traditional-minded, small and medium-sized churches in small towns and rural areas. Options 3 and 4 are more common in contemporary-minded, larger churches in suburban areas, as well as newer church plants.

Plural-elder-led congregationalism differs from each of these polities in various ways. Unlike Options 1–3, there is a plurality of pastors. Unlike option 4, all of the pastors are elders, and vice versa; the terms are synonymous. All may be paid staff, or some may be paid and some may be voluntary. Unlike Option 1, the elders/pastors have the freedom to exercise biblical pastoral authority over the congregation in matters of teaching and shepherding. Unlike Option 2, no committees or deacon “boards” are elevated to an unbiblical level of authority in the church. Unlike Option 3, all pastors are equals, even if, based upon prudence and giftedness, different pastors have different roles within the leadership team. Unlike Option 4, the final earthly authority still rests with the whole congregation as it corporately seeks God’s will under the lordship of Christ as it is revealed in the Scriptures.

  1. The function of the elders was to feed and lead.

Or to say it another way, the elders are responsible for teaching and governing the congregation. As leaders they give guidance and direction to the church. As teachers they oversee the life of the church to preserve its biblical faithfulness. They are wardens of the Word of God.

Titus 1:9 says that the elder “must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it.” The elders are the trustees of the truth in the life of the church.

And they are the governing overseers. 1 Timothy 5:17 says, “Let the elders who rule well (govern, or oversee, or manage well) be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” So it is clear that there is a diversity of function among the elders. All must be able to handle the Word of God and be able to recognize false doctrine and correct error; but some “labor especially in preaching and teaching.”

Jarrod Scott

Basic Truths of Any Church

Part 2 of a 5 part Series…
Please refer to archived post for previous blog. This is from a document written by a pastor from 4 years ago.

As the pastor serving Green Pines and teaching the word of God, there seems to be an understanding in Scripture of church authority that I don’t see in this local expression of the church.  And so I want to  present some statements to you that are right there in Scripture.  These are not statements original to me, but are clearly connected to the verses included.  John Piper was instrumental  in helping me see the simplicity of these statements.  I bring this Scripture to you to consider and pray together.
1. Jesus Christ is the head of his church.
So the church is like a body that gets its leadership and its nourishment from its head, Jesus Christ. The church is not a mere human organization. It is not a mere organization because it is an organism, a body. And it is not merely human, because its head is divine; the life he gives is supernatural life. So the way a church is run should not simply copy the way a human organization is run. There should be structures and practices that let Christ the head govern, lead, and nurture his church. Our structures should flow from who Christ has declared us to be.  He has declared us as His fellowship, body, flock, and bride.  Therefore the structure should point to unity, operate by Spiritual gifting, be led by shepherds, and revolve around Christ.  A bad structure may emphasis differences and restrict ministry changes, and revolve around tradition.

This governance was given through the authority of the apostles and their close associates (Ephesians 2:20; 1 Corinthians 2:12-13; 7:17; 14:37-38; 2 Thessalonians 3:14). Today Christ still rules through the words of his apostles as they are given to us in the inspired writings of the New Testament. Therefore, we want to conform the structure and procedures and spirit of church governance as closely as possible to New Testament guidelines.  The end goal is to promoting the glory of God and the proclamation of the gospel (1 Corinthians 10:31; Philippians 1:25).

This governance is also mediated through the Holy Spirit.

2. All the members of Christ’s body are Priests and Ministers.

1 Peter 2:9, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

Revelation 1:5–6, “He loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever.”

The New Testament does not teach the priesthood of the clergy. 1 Timothy 2:5, “There is one God and there is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.” We all go directly to God through Christ, not through professional priests nor through Mary. Every Christian is a priest under Jesus Christ.

And every Christian is a minister. The word “minister” does not define my pastoral office in the church. It defines my function. And it defines your function. Ephesians 4:12 says that pastors and teachers exist to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry.” You are all ministers (cf. 1 Peter 4:10–11). And you are all priests (cf. Matthew 23:8–11).

A good church structure will free the members to the primary ministry of the church, which is to make disciple-making disciples of Christ.  Therefore secondary ministry (those which support the primary ministry) should be kept minimal to allow more time on the primary ministry.

3. Under Christ the local congregation is the final authority in the church.

I don’t mean that the congregation is above the Scriptures, because the Scriptures are the word of Christ. We submit to Christ by submitting to his word in the Bible. Nor do I mean that the congregation is above the Holy Spirit, because the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. We submit to Christ by submitting to his Spirit in the church.

What I mean is that under Christ—his Word and his Spirit—the congregation, and not church officers, is the body that settles matters of faith and life. This is not only implied in the priesthood of all believers, but illustrated in Matthew 18:15–17 where the church is the last court of appeal in church discipline:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 5:4–5.)

So the church—the congregation—is the final court of appeal in matters of church discipline where decisions about membership are made. Since this is the most basic authority in the church under Christ, this shows that the congregation as a body is the final authority in the local church. This does not mean local churches shouldn’t form associations and fellowships for mutual encouragement and guidance and ministry. It only means that the local congregation decides its own matters under the Word and Spirit of Christ.

So far then, Christ is the head of the church. All members of his body are priests and ministers. And therefore these members, as a congregation, are the final authority in the church under Christ, that is, under his Word and Spirit.

4. God calls some members of each congregation to feed and lead the church as servants of Christ and his people.

In other words, even though there is equality before God as children and heirs and priests and ministers, some, and not all, are called by God to serve as leaders. For example,

Hebrews 13:7, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life and imitate their faith.”

Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account.”

1 Thessalonians 5:12, “We beseech you, brethren, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.”

Acts 20:28 (speaking to the elders of Ephesus), “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God.”

So the congregation, under Christ and by his Word and Spirit, uses its authority to recognize and affirm leaders whom God calls. And then the congregation puts those people in positions of leadership and voluntarily supports that leadership by learning from their teaching and following their initiatives.

This may sound to some like a contradiction—to have an authoritative congregation submitting to leaders that it puts in place. But it isn’t a contradiction. Because there is a great difference between leadership that inspires and models and mobilizes and teaches and persuades and points the way in ministry and mission, and the corporate authority of the congregation that puts doctrinal and moral boundaries around that leadership and holds it accountable to serve the good of the church. Congregational authority and strong leadership under that authority are not incompatible. They are biblical, and they are vital.

Jarrod Scott

Why Elders Now?

(Note: This will be a five part blog series on the role of elders )

In response to this question, we can speak about this generally in regards to Baptist churches and about our church specifically. For most of those living today, elder leadership seems like a new phase or fad. However, for most of the church history, including Baptist history, there has been a form of eldership leadership that begins with the New Testament. When we look at the plain reading of the New Testament, the concept of elders is hard to overlook.
There are many samples and evidences of Baptist acknowledging an office that is titled both as elder and pastor. Some samples include: The Charleston Association’s 1774 Summary of Church Discipline; W.B. Johnson, the first president of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote “each [New Testament] church had a plurality of elders” in The Gospel Developed and he developed the duties and benefits of a plurality of elders. In 1849, J.L. Reynolds, pastor of the Second Baptist Church of Richmond Virginia, supported a plurality of elders in his Church Polity or the Kingdom of Christ. Other notable advocates of plurality of elders include: C.H. Spurgeon and J.L. Burrows pastor of First Baptist Church, Richmond in his book What Baptist Believe. There are other evidences that plurality of elders were normal up to the
beginning of the twentieth century. (Most of the above research comes from Mark Dever’s book, By whose Authority? Elders in Baptist Life)

For most of the twentieth century, Baptists have seen church leadership influenced more by the rising business corporate environment of the twentieth century as well as the military leadership culture. The corporate business world and military chain of command have utilized and shaped many of our men and church leaders for the last hundred years. In both of these environments, the authoritarian ruler or the
trustee board takes prevalence. The popularity of these leadership models has affected congregational churches.

In the late 1970’s the Southern Baptist entered the “Inerrancy controversy “ or conservative resurgence. The leadership of churches, convention, and seminaries were debating the role of the Bible among the churches and seminaries. This period lasted 15 years until all of the Southern Baptist seminaries were led in a Biblical inerrant direction. Once this issue was resolved, Seminaries were free to continue in the teaching and application of the Bible for the future church leaders. More students were focusing on what the Bible has to say about church leadership. Now that most pastors in our seminaries are not debating the inerrancy of the Bible, there is a freedom to reevaluate leadership and apply the Bible.

It was in the late 1970s and early 1980’s, that I began to hear about elders in church leadership with the start of Providence Baptist in Raleigh. The popularity of teachings by men like John MacArthur, John Piper, and Mark Dever and their view on elders began to impact a generation of church leaders. Today, there are growing numbers of Southern Baptist churches, even in our area that are led with a plurality of elders. Some of those other churches include not only Providence but also North Wake Baptist, Christ Baptist, First Baptist Durham, Central Baptist in Wendell, Imago Deo, Treasuring Christ, Summit Church, Open Door Baptist, as well as many other churches. While I was in Seminary, the elder question was one I wrestled with since my tradition was that of a committee led church with a single pastor. I came to conclude that the New Testament did acknowledge a plurality of elders, but I defined that group of
elders as the pastors in a church.

Jarrod Scott