Be, Do, Repeat . . . That's It for Shepherds

What's an elder to be, or not to be? That was the question. Then we looked at What's an elder to do. Besides that, we prayed and laughed and ate and had a good time.

Thirty-eight men—from our FiveStone partner and supporting churches—joined in this year's multi-day Rock Conference. Our driving point: an elder can't rightly do the work of shepherding the Lord's people unless he's rightly walking with Him. That means pursuing the Lord's mind through the Lord's word and prayer and living in the sharpening that comes from shouldering the work with other men.

 

In light of these things, who are elders to be? They must be like Jesus, which is so commonly said these days that it sounds close to trite. The challenge from Romans 8 is being willing to be conformed into Him. As we looked at the context of Romans 8:29, it was clear that we must learn to respond to the difficulties of this world as Christ responded to them. His example is exemplified in the Servant-song of Isaiah 50:4-9. Shepherds are to be men of courage (Acts 4:18-20), men of faith (Hebrews 11), men of the gospel (Colossians 2:6-7).

We gave each man coasters of granite that were etched with the 5Stone logo. Stones in granite. He is our foundation rock. There must be no other. We are to be built into Him and on Him (1 Corinthians 3:10-11). I hope the men will keep those coasters in eye-view to remind them of their calling.

If He's called a man to do shepherding work, He will shape that man into who he needs to be in order to do the work He's called him to doHe promised that to Moses, and delivered (Exodus 3-4). That's His comforting promise to each of us. We need to be willing to be and then do.

Click here to see an album of photos from The Rock Conference.

Character - What You Do Under Pressure

It’s said that Character is what you do when no one is looking. The definition is too narrow. The other extreme and all things in-between should be included. What do you do when everyone is looking, or when only one is looking, or a few are looking? Character is not in the number, it’s in the response.

I knew a man who liked to apply Proverbs 27:21 to himself. Sometimes, when he would talk about character in shepherding the local church, he’d smile and say, A man is tested by his praise. The proverb says, of course, that a crucible separates silver and a furnace separates gold. In the same way, a man’s character is revealed in how he responds to praise. A godly man is to be humble when praised. People praised this man a lot. I think they praised him largely because he had a sweetness about him. But every time he applied the proverb to himself, I sensed that he was oddly proud of being humble . . . proud of his own supposed excellence. I didn’t think he was at all humble. He was annoyingly proud in his certainty that he both was great and humble. Despite this oxymoronic example of prideful humility, is it true that good character largely is about being humble in the midst of praise? Again, that definition is too narrow because it considers only one part of the whole described in the Scriptures.

The Scriptures teach that Character is what you do under pressure.

Character is tested, for example, when you ponder reneging on your word because circumstances have turned difficult or inconvenient or unpopular. Biblical principle says the godly man does what he said he would do, even if it hurts; Psalm 15:4, Deuteronomy 23:21-23.

Men often fold under the pressure of difficulty, inconvenience or unpopularity, and then justify themselves by applying a salve of excuses for their failures. Sleep comes more easily that way.

It’s easier to be righteous when there’s no one scraping against your weaknesses. The apostle Peter was a natural alpha dog. But a character crack was revealed when he ate non-kosher food with the Gentiles and then flipped when he was under pressure from the Jews. In Galatians 2:11-14, Paul rebuked Peter for his duplicity. The graceful and great news is that the Lord faithfully shaped Peter despite his failure. Peter’s two epistles—written at least 14 years after Paul’s epistle to the Galatians—reveal that Peter grew into a consistently powerful force for the good of the Lord’s church.

There’s much more to consider on the topic of character. Coming blogs will look at how Abraham, David and Paul responded to various types of pressure. Lastly, we’ll look at Jesus’ perfectly powerful character in His responses to incredible pressures.




This Good Elder Must Leave the Church

A church elder—I’ll call him George—is grieving the loss of the church he has shepherded since its earliest days. He and his wife wanted to know if they should leave.

Here’s a synopsis of how George described the problem:
The senior pastor no longer cares what the elders say and doesn’t want to hear what they think. He says he can do whatever he wants. He doesn’t need elders. He wants yes men, which I am not. Our relationship has soured. Continuing at the church is very difficult and quite uncomfortable. Face-to-face meetings have been unfruitful. If we stay, I’m a hypocrite and I’m miserable. If we leave, the church may be hurt, and we don’t want that.

We’ve always been taught that elders should not leave the church because the church would be hurt. At what point does that potential damage fade? I trust no one at the church and so I have no one with whom I can discuss these issues. How should I proceed? I’m all ears.

My response:
1.    It’s the Lord’s church, it is no man’s church. 
2.    The Lord owns you. You are not owned by any man.
3.    You are a follower of Jesus Christ first. You are not an elder first and you are not a small group leader first. Your service to the church is an outpouring of your commitment as a disciple of Jesus.
4.    You signed up to serve as an elder within a specific context and within a specific culture that included a plurality of elders who shared authority and responsibility. That culture has changed. You do not agree with the culture change and have argued against it.
5.    You are not obligated to continue serving within a context that significantly has been altered against your counsel and against your original commitment and against the original covenant relationship.
6.    If you and your wife do not support the new culture and have consistent heartburn against the new culture and its leaders, then you must leave. 
7.    How to discern that you genuinely do not and cannot support the new culture:

  • During a significant season, you consistently are frustrated, sad, even angry about the significant changes;
  • During that season, your counsel is regularly ignored or dismissed;
  • During that season, you are miserable;
  • During that season, you discern that the change is contrary to your significant conviction about biblical leadership;
  • You are forced out of positions of influence because of your disagreement;
  • You consistently feel alone, lonely in the church;
  • You are looked upon with suspicion;
  • You do not trust the leadership of the church;
  • You reluctantly or out of duty publicly support the church and its new culture, but not joyfully and not genuinely;
  • You do not—or you do not want to—joyfully, sacrificially and generously give out of your finances to the church;
  • You are distracted about these issues when participating in worship services;
  • You feel like a hypocrite for staying in the church.

8.    Yes, if you leave, your leaving will hurt some people, particularly if you kick and complain on the way out. If you stay despite agreeing with my above checklist, you will hurt yourselves spiritually and will risk becoming bitter and resentful and . . . hurting the church.

I know you are seriously pondering these things. If you leave, you must leave peaceably and quietly. Explain your position to the senior pastor, but do not fight with him or others. Simply stand by your convictions and leave well. It’s a large decision, of course.

George wrote me back: We’ve talked about every point you made. Sadly, we’ve experienced everything you described under point 7. We don’t want to hurt the church. Be assured there will be no kicking and screaming on the way out. We’ve been slowly drifting off.

So, this good elder and his wife are leaving, with good reason. They’ll land at another church, where they’ll surely continue serving the Lord well.

Diotrephes the Bully Versus Elder John - Round 2

The bully Diotrephes, noted in John's third letter, is headed for an unpleasant encounter with church discipline. Using what certainly was a prominent position in the church, Diotrephes diminished other leaders, spoke wickedly of them, bullied other believers to be inhospitable and, if they did not comply with his commands, prevented them from gathering among the congregation (3 John 9-10). The conduct of Diotrephes, repeated and cemented over time, should have disqualified him from shepherding leadership. But it did not. It would take someone such as the apostle-elder John to lead a flint-like, prophetic response to Diotrephes' abuses.

Given the list of his long-term sins, surely many witnesses could have attested to his behavior. In keeping with the requirement of 1 Timothy 5:19, the local congregation would have needed only two or three. Someone from within the congregation must have gotten word to apostle-elder John about Diotrephes’ abuses. The first accusations almost certainly would have been delivered to Diotrephes indirectly in a flanking approach. This indirect approach would have prevented Diotrephes’ from delivering a withering attack on his accuser. Despite the righteous accusations, Diotrephes persisted in his abuses. (I’m reminded of a friend who was stuck working with several bullies. In his misery, he said, These are the guys I hated in junior high school. Rightly said. My friend had painted a simple picture of the bully-tyrant Diotrephes and the relentless pain he and his ilk cause.) Apostle-elder John would lead the way in handling it. John’s pledge to speak of Diotrephes' offenses could rightly be assumed to include a public rebuke. A public rebuke, reserved particularly for unrepentant, sinning elders, would be in accordance with 1 Timothy 5:20.

As a good elder, John would have focused on protecting, cleansing and restoring the health of the church. He also would have looked with hope to the welfare of Diotrephes. In his third letter, John does not directly state concern for Diotrephes, but his concern is demonstrated in his promise to confront the sin. A crisis of confrontation sometimes is needed to break an entrenched pattern. Paul urges such a crisis of confrontation in 1 Timothy 1:3-7. He exhorts Timothy in verse three to stop those who are teaching false doctrine. In verses six and seven, he ridicules these teachers for their arrogance and incompetence. Sandwiched between these verses is his charge that love must be Timothy’s motivator as he confronts these teachers. Paul says in 1 Timothy 1:5 that the confrontation is to be done out of love that springs from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

Wayne Grudem, in his book Systematic Theology, argues that church discipline properly handled allows the sinning leader to begin the gradual process of rebuilding relationships and trust with the congregation. That truth is rooted in the biblical principle that church leaders are held to a higher standard than are other congregants. When leaders fail, they hurt the whole church.

Even so, could Diotrephes have a future in the local church? Given John’s emphasis throughout his letters on abiding relationships and fellowship, as well as grace, mercy and peace in 2 John 3, we can assume that even a persistently abusive leader such Diotrephes could be restored to fellowship after whatever disciplining rebuke John and the other leaders delivered to him. But Diotrephes would have been required to own all of his ugly sin patterns—not just a portion of it—that he had amassed over time.

A repentant Diotrephes seems a perfect fit for the person Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 2:5-8, If anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. Even so, if Diotrephes refused to own all of the sin he had amassed over time and be reconciled in fellowship with the church, he could be, as John describes in 1 John 1:6, a liar who does not practice the truth. 

Owning only a portion would be insufficient for Diotrephes. It also would be insufficient for the local elders, who failed to confront Diotrephes earlier, before his bullying metastasized like a cancer and severely harmed the church. Perhaps they were afraid of Diotrephes or were over-matched by his ability to bully. The reason does not matter. Owning their failure would be the elders' bitter fruit for feeding the growth of a bully-tyrant and for joining in his sin.

Forgiveness can be granted immediately, but restoration of relationships and position take time. Diotrephes took a long time amassing his sin list. An immediate or fast restoration of Diotrephes to authority and responsibility would be an egregious error. John and the other leaders certainly would not have accepted a spoken repentance of, Oops. Sorry about that. Glad that's over. Nothing more to do. Let’s move on. But re-building trust, responsibility and authority take time. Some sins are consumed like food. The eating of food cannot be un-done as if it never was eaten. The repeated and severe damage Diotrephes inflicted on other believers could not be paid back as if he had stolen a few measures of wheat. He could not un-do his actions like Zacchaeus, who repaid his financial victims fourfold to compensate for his sin (Luke 19:1-10).

In order to be restored to shepherding leadership, Diotrephes would need to demonstrate authentic, biblical repentance as a demonstration of his sincere grief for all of the damage he caused. That repentance would yield fruit to be harvested over time—of the type described in 2 Corinthians 7:9-13. That would be sweet, and would nourish an opportunity for restoration.

Words spoken do not by themselves prove repentance to be authentic. The words simply are an early step. Genuine repentance for Diotrephes would be a difficult process. That's why genuine repentance rarely comes from a Diotrephes.

Diotrephes the Bully Versus Elder John - Round 1

The letters from the apostle John, who refers to himself as an elder both in 2 John and in 3 John, have a lot to say about church discipline. In verse 10 of his third letter, John says he plans to bring up what he (Diotrephes) is doing. What was Diotrephes doing? Simply said, Diotrephes was a bully.

Handling a bully in the church is difficult, but handling a bully who also has immense and seemingly unassailable authority is a different level of difficult. The man with that kind of authority not only is a bully, he’s also a tyrant. He’s been allowed over time to build his own personal kingdom and becomes too big to discipline. Strong elders could have and should have dealt with his behavior far earlier, before it became a metastasizing cancer in the church. Now they have a major problem. Responding to it requires that the elders become a multiplied force of flint-faced prophets. Soft, feckless elders, failing to understand their job or lacking the courage or gifting to do it, unwittingly feed the bully and create the tyrant.

But, again, what was Diotrephes doing? In 3 John 9-10, John says that Diotrephes refused to acknowledge the authority of both John and of Gaius, who was referenced in verse one. John says in verse nine that he had written something to the church, but that Diotrephes disregarded John’s message. John says in verse 10, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to (welcome them) and puts them out of the church. Using what certainly was a prominent position in the church, Diotrephes demeaned other leaders, spoke wickedly of them, and bullied other believers to be inhospitable and, if they did not comply with his commands, also prevented them from gathering among the congregation.

The conduct of Diotrephes, repeated and cemented over time, disqualified him from shepherding leadership. It would take someone such as the apostle-elder John to lead a flint-like, prophetic response.

As I noted in the article, Church Discipline According to John, elders are to protect and nurture the church. They look after her, build her, strengthen her, sacrifice for her. In his book, The Church, Edmund Clowney rightly says that discipline advances nurture. When John in verse 10 of his third letter says he plans to bring up what he (Diotrephes) is doing, he obviously intends not only to rely on his own authority to address Diotrephes, but also intends to bring the circumstance to the local church’s authority structure, i.e. to the local elders, and then likely to inform the entire congregation.

In 2 John 2, John links himself with all of the brothers and sisters in Christ by noting that the Lord’s truth abides in us and will be with us forever. With those words, John includes himself with all other followers of Jesus and claims nothing special for himself. Contrast that with the sinning elder, Diotrephes, in 3 John 9-10. In pledging to bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us, John makes it clear that church leaders are to be held accountable for their behavior. If we presuppose that Diotrephes had an important leadership position in the local church, possibly as an elder, we can see that powerful church leaders are not exempt from the application of church disciplline. In fact, when a man has been allowed to become a bully-tyrant, the local church's elders eventually must gird up their loins to impose appropriate discipline against a most difficult target. Because of their authority and responsibility, elders are rightly more vulnerable to examination and public rebuke, as described in 1 Timothy 5:19-25. Diotrephes persisted in various sins, i.e. placing himself first, likely refusing to distribute an earlier letter from John, rejecting the authority of church leaders, sinfully talking about church leaders, refusing to welcome itinerant ministers, stopping others in the church who wanted to welcome itinerant ministers, and putting believers out of the church who refused to fall in the line Diotrephes had drawn. All of these sins are patterns that take time to cement and build upon.

John only says in 3 John 10 that he will bring up these matters. It seems clear, though, that Diotrephes is headed for an unpleasant encounter with church discipline. Next up: Round two of Diotrephes the Bully Versus Elder John.

Church Discipline According to John

I’ve never heard anyone talk about the apostle John’s views about church discipline. The topic always seems to lead people into Matthew 18. But John, in his three New Testament letters, has a lot to say about discipline that ensures the church is strong and healthy. Despite the view of a church leader who told me, with clear certainty, that the sole purpose of church discipline is to make forgiveness happen, I think theologian Wayne Grudem has it right when he argues that, at its core, church discipline is to keep sin from the church (Ephesians 5:25-27; 2 Corinthians 11:3), cleanse sin in the church (1 Corinthians 5:1-13) and restore individuals in the church into healthy relationships (Galatians 6:1).

John’s three letters do not directly address church discipline. But John refers to himself as an elder twice—in 2 John 1 and in 3 John 1—and his letters point to the elders’ responsibilities to protect, cleanse and restore health to the Lord’s church.

When John, in 1 John 4:1, tells his readers to test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world, what is the follower of Jesus to do when he believes that a particular spirit within a person is not from the Lord? Beyond his own discernment, to whom should he turn for guidance or assistance in rightly responding to this person? Is he on his own? Or, in 2 John 10, John says the follower of Jesus should not welcome a false teacher into his home or even greet him. Is that where the issue ends? Does John intend to leave a false teacher and his doctrine unaddressed within the congregation? In 3 John 9-10, John says that Diotrephes does not acknowledge our authority in the church, (meaning the authority both of John and of Gaius, who was referenced in verse one). Is that where the issue ends? Although John says in verse nine that he had written something to the church, John indicates that Diotrephes has dismissed John’s message. John says that Diotrephes does not acknowledge our authority, and I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. John continues in verse 10, And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to (welcome them) and puts them out of the church.

2 John.jpg

When John says he will bring up what Diotrephes is doing in the church, John seems to be understating his intent. John asserts that he will respond to Diotrephes’ words and actions. Using his prominent position in the church, Diotrephes has bullied other believers to be inhospitable and, if they did not comply with his edicts, prevented them from gathering with the congregation.

Diotrephes almost certainly held an important position in the church. Otherwise, how could he have exacted such strong-armed control? If Diotrephes held a position of authority in the church, perhaps as an elder, and the apostle-elder John pledged that he would speak of his behavior, to whom would John speak? Who within the structure of the church would have the authority to deal with a sinning elder? The Scriptures teach that elders are the Lord’s undershepherds and have authority and responsibility to shepherd the church. Given their role, the church’s elders would have primary responsibility to deal with Diotrephes. And then, after they discerned what would be appropriate for the health of the church, they could present the circumstances to the broader congregation.

Elders are to honor the Lord by protecting and nurturing His church. Elders are to honor the Lord by being more and doing more than other congregants in the local church. They have a bigger assignment. The Lord will hold each elder accountable for the quality of his shepherding performance (Hebrews 13:17). Elders are undershepherds of Jesus Christ as they serve the church (1 Peter 5:1-4). They must be strong enough to ensure that the Lord’s honor is the foundational commitment of the church. Elders are to protect the church. From what? They protect the church from anything that would weaken, sicken or hurt her (John 10:11-15; Acts 20:28-31).

As I listed in an earlier blog article, among the most common attacks on the church are personality cults, divisions over music styles, heresies, legalism, license, syncretism, Gnosticism and its forms, Judaizing and its forms, Docetism and its forms. Sometimes, though, attacks on the church come from bullies like Diotrephes. What do you do about a Diotrephes in the church? I’ll talk about that in my next article, Diotrephes the Bully Versus Elder John.

Bumblebees Cannot Fly . . . Don't You Know

Someone said that, according to the laws of aerodynamics, bumblebees cannot fly. But bumblebees, not knowing the laws of aerodynamics, go ahead and fly anyway.

Bumblebees go ahead and fly anyway. Real followers of Christ go ahead and follow Him despite all of their obvious impediments and natural inclinations to wallow in the dirt.

I really like that bumblebee quote, and read it aloud early on day two of last weekend’s leader retreat at City Centre Baptist Church in Mississauga, Ontario. I didn’t use it right from the get-go on Friday night, but waited until Saturday morning. We spent Friday evening looking at the awesome responsibility of rightly leading the Lord’s church. After letting the weight of it sink in overnight, I kicked off Saturday morning by answering the obvious question: Who is adequate for these things?

The fatso bumblebee with its tiny wings is completely wrong for flying. And, just to look at us, we are completely inadequate to shepherd the Lord’s church. But we go ahead and do it anyway. And, in the process, we try to get others in the church to lose the bumblebee excuses for failing to fly.

The retreat theme: Devotion, Motivation, Urgency . . . all with the Lord and all for the Lord. We wanted to get a grip on the leader’s requirement to love Christ in a deeper way, leading to greater motivation to work for Him, compelling the leader to serve Him with intense urgency.

Friday's focus:

Saturday's work:

  • Passion, Vision, Mission;
  • Jesus’ Vision for the Church;
  • The Worker’s Toolbox;
  • In the Slough of Despond, a.k.a. Sanballat, Demas, and Alexander the Coppersmith.

The weekend was exhausting and exhilarating. It was a blessing to be with others who don't just want to do more for Jesus, but first want to be more for Jesus so they can truly do more for Him. Check out some retreat photos here

A Divorced, Remarried Man Leading the Church?

The questions were raised to our Elders Council several weeks ago: Is a man who’s been divorced, or divorced and remarried, disqualified from the role of pastor, elder or deacon? Is he automatically out? Does he fail the one-woman-man test of 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6? May he serve the church just as any other man?

We believe the Scriptures say that No, he is not necessarily disqualified and No, he does not necessarily fail the one-woman-man test and Yes, he may be qualified to serve the church just as any other man.

I wanted to share our view. It's shown below. Our view also has been incorporated into our Principles of Doctrine, Governance and Practice.

*            *            *            *

The Bible teaches that marriage is designed by the Lord to form a lifelong, singular relationship between one man and one woman. Divorce is a human invention that was instituted because of the hardness of heart of both men and women. Divorce destroys the Lord’s vision for marriage and its benefits; divorce damages families; divorce destroys marriage’s illustration of the gospel (Ephesians 5:23); divorce weakens the fabric of society. Despite these consequences, the Lord also offers abundant grace and mercy to overwhelm the sin of men and women.

Although marriage is designed by the Lord to be a permanent earthly bond between one man and one woman, the Scriptures also teach that marriage is dissolvable. Death of one of the marital partners, for example, dissolves the marriage and frees the living spouse to remarry (Romans 7:1-3; 1 Corinthians 7: 39).

The Scriptures also describe two exceptions that allow for divorce:

1.    God allows a husband or wife to divorce and remarry if his or her mate has committed adultery. Divorce in that case is not required, but would be allowed. The marriage could be reconciled despite sexual unfaithfulness. However, reconciliation is not always possible (Matthew 19:3-12). 

2.    If a believer is married to an unbeliever, and the unbeliever divorces (abandons the marriage) rather than continues in the marriage, the marriage would be dissolved. The believer would be free to remarry (1 Corinthians 7:12-15).

In both exceptions, the innocent spouse has not committed adultery. Also, the innocent spouse either has not sinned in any way or has not sinned in a way that should destroy the marriage.

Despite the simple specifics of these two exceptions, it is clear that sinful men and women sometimes manipulate and posture in order to feign innocence and seemingly fulfill one or both of these exceptions in order to impersonate the innocent party. A spouse, for example, may use sinful means to drive the other toward an adulterous affair. Or a spouse may make it impossible to live peaceably at home, and thereby eventually drive the marital partner to abandon the marriage. Nonetheless, the Scriptures affirm the exceptions cited. Responsible pastors and elders must prayerfully, thoughtfully discern the specifics in each circumstance and reach justifiable and right conclusions.
 
The Bible requires a pastor-elder to be a one-woman man, but a man divorced and remarried under one of the two exceptions has not committed adultery. It is permissible for a man divorced and remarried under either of these two exceptions to serve the Lord in the local church as a pastor or elder or deacon.

In addition, a man who has been divorced outside of the two exceptions is not automatically disqualified from serving as a pastor, elder or deacon. If, for example, the man in question has remarried and has remained faithful to his wife, he could qualify as a pastor, elder or deacon despite a history that included an unbiblical divorce. If the man is repentant for his role in the original marriage's dissolution, has demonstrated repentance and is faithful to his wife, he could fulfill the qualification from Titus 1:6 as a one-woman man.

If a man is disqualified from church leadership because he was divorced or in other ways sinful before his salvation to Christ, then the Apostle Paul also should have been disqualified from spiritual leadership in the local church. Paul said of himself in 1 Timothy 1:12-14: I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Before his conversion, Paul certainly was neither peaceable nor self-controlled.

What about an existing elder whose marriage is falling apart to the point of divorce? The elders obviously must hear from both the elder and the elder’s wife and perhaps others regarding the details and specifics of the circumstances that have done such severe damage to the marriage. It is likely that the elder in question would be required to step down at least for a season in order to free him and his wife to save the marriage. The elders hold the responsibility and the authority to discern what is best for the church and, secondarily, what is best for the marriage and for the man serving in the elder role. The church elders’ first responsibility to both the man and woman is to help them preserve their marriage.

Each man who desires the elder role must be willing to have his life examined for qualification. The qualification of being a one-woman man may seem the sole focus in the issue of marriage, divorce and re-marriage. However, perhaps equally important is a discussion connected to the requirement that a man be a good manager of his own household (1 Timothy 3:4). As Paul notes in 1 Timothy 3:5, . . . if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? A man who has been divorced may need to consider whether his leadership of his family in the home contributed to the divorce. Did his sin drive his wife or his children away from relationship? Rather than presume the answer to be Yes, the answer must be discerned through thoughtful and compassionate examination of the man’s life and conduct.

The 12-Tool Toolbox

The Scriptures command that an effective spiritual leader—a worker in the Lord’s church—must skillfully use various tools in shepherding the Lord's people. That’s in keeping with the Lord’s exhortation in 2 Timothy 2:15: Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

There’s also no need to fear people when doing what the Lord wants done. If you’re about to fail to deliver because you’re afraid, then remember the Lord’s words in Jeremiah 1:17. My paraphrase: You’d better get ready and say what’s needed. If you’re terrified by people, then I’ll cause you to be terrified by people even more. So, if you let people-fear paralyze you, then you might have to reap—directly from the Lord’s hand—a multiplied fear of people.

Equally paralyzing can be a fear of failure. It's the fear of failing to rightly apply the Scriptures, to know what to say, when to say it and how to say it. Yikes, we don’t want any of that. Even so, rightly applying the word of truth is the high goal of the worker's best efforts.

With that admonition fresh in mind, here's a look into the 12-tool toolbox:

• Reprove, i.e. to present evidence that reveals wrong; to expose, prove, show fault, correct, convict. (Proverbs 12:1; 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Timothy 4:2; Hebrews 12:5; Revelation 3:19.)

• Rebuke, i.e. a type of reproof; a rebuke involves a stern command to stop; to censure, strongly tell, strike at. (Proverbs 27:5; Proverbs 28:23; Ecclesiastes 7:5; Matthew 19:13; Luke 17:3; 2 Timothy 4:2; Titus 1:9; Titus 2:11-15) Peter’s astounding rebuke of Jesus in Matthew 16:22 was personal, strong and scolding. Note that, in response, Jesus turned immediately to face Peter and delivered a withering rebuke: Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man. (Jesus was not nice, but that’s a different issue.)

• Refute, i.e. to prove wrong by argument or evidence; to show to be false or erroneous. (Job 33:5; Luke 21:15; Acts 18:28; Titus 1:9 in NASB and NIV)

• Exhort, i.e. to strongly urge to take an action; to make an appeal. (1 Corinthians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:10-12; 1 Thessalonians 4:1; 2 Timothy 4:2; Titus 1:9; Hebrews 12:5; 1 Peter 5:1)

• Admonish, i.e. to instruct with a strong warning so the hearer comprehends, understands. (Psalm 81:8; Romans 15:14; Acts 20:31; Acts 27:9-10; Colossians 3:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15; Romans 15:14)

• Confront, i.e. to challenge or resist; to stand as an adversary. (2 Chronicles 26:18; Titus 1:10-11; Galatians 2:11; Galatians 6:1-2)

• Encourage, i.e. to inspire with courage or hope. (1 Samuel 23:16; Philippians 2:1-2; Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 14:3; 1 Thessalonians 2:10-12; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; Hebrews 10:24)

• Edify, i.e. to build and strengthen; instruction that leads to strength. (Romans 14:19; Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 14:3; 1 Corinthians 14:12; Titus 1:9)

• Console, i.e. to ease grief or pain. (1 Corinthians 14:3; 2 Corinthians 2:5-11; Philippians 2:1-9; Hebrews 12:12-13)

• Comfort, i.e. to reassure those who are in distress, anxiety or need. (2 Corinthians 7:4-13; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18; Philemon 7)

• Implore, i.e. to testify as a witness regarding result, consequence; to strongly urge; to beg attention to an issue. (Luke 16:28; Romans 12:1; Ephesians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:10-12)

• Remind, i.e. to bring to mind something that was learned before, but perhaps forgotten or diminished over time; to bring to mind in order to stir to action. (Romans 15:15; 2 Timothy 1:6; Titus 3:1-2; 2 Peter 1:12-15)

Alcohol, Caffeine, iPhones and Elders

Now I’ve done it. Alcohol, caffeine, iPhones and elders combined. No way. Do elders need to think about more than just alcohol? (As if many are thinking about alcohol at all.)

Should elders look sideways at their morning coffee and their oh-so-close iPhone relationship? Do you love your alcohol, caffeine or iPhone? Literally? Whatever that thing is—alcohol, caffeine, the iPhone or whatever—if you can’t control it, gotta have it, can’t live without it or get cranky pants if it’s out of reach, then you’re a slave to that thing.

Elders sometimes debate whether it’s OK for them to have a glass of wine or a bottle of beer. Everybody knows that drunkenness is out, but there’s a lot of energy among solid men who feel strongly both ways about any drinking of alcohol. Is it harmless? Maybe, but maybe not.

Beyond qualifications and expectations cited in 1 Timothy 3-4 and Titus 1, several principles should guide freedom in the elder’s life:

    • Don’t let your personal freedom lead someone to stumble (1 Corinthians 8:9-13);

    • live by the high standard of what is best for you and the church, not the low bar of what is merely allowable (1 Corinthians 10:23; 1 Corinthians 14:12);

    • things not forbidden may be lawful, but they might not be helpful. And, if they’re not helpful, then don’t practice them (1 Corinthians 6:12; 1 Corinthians 10:23);

    • if I’m a slave to a habit, then I’m not free. And the Lord absolutely does not want me enslaved to anything (1 Corinthians 6:12). How do I know if I'm a slave to a habit? I can’t control it, I gotta have it, I can't live without it, I get cranky pants without it. Those are the marks of a slave. If you’re thinking, Ridiculous. What a joke. Well, you might be a slave to a habit and not even know it. A test: Put that thing aside for a few days or a couple of weeks. See how that works out for you. Maybe try decaf?

    • it’s not good for elders to place their judgment under the influence of alcohol or any other substances (Proverbs 31:4-5). An illustration of the principle: An elder took a night phone call at his home. The call came from a man of his church. The caller urgently needed the elder’s counsel and wisdom. As the caller later said: He must have had a couple glasses of wine in him because he went off and talked like I’ve never heard him talk before. I could tell he’d been drinking. Beyond the shrinking of that elder’s reputation in the heart and mind of the caller, an elder never knows when he’ll be needed and expected to offer biblical wisdom. He should be ready, in season and out of season. And if he's even just a little buzzed, he isn't ready.

Now, about the iPhone . . . an article in The New York Times titled You Love Your iPhone. Literally describes research showing that people without their iPhones feel stressed-out, cut off and somehow un-whole. The author also cites a study that found a flurry of activation in the cortex of the brain when subjects heard the ringing of or saw an image of an iPhone. The cortex is the part of the brain associated with love and compassion. The subjects’ brains responded to the sound and images of the iPhone as they would respond to the presence or proximity of a girlfriend, boyfriend or family member. That’s genuine affection. Is that OK? I know it's the seductively irresistible iPhone but, really, is that OK?

So alcohol, caffeine, iPhones and elders, tied together in a single string. Better to have the Lord in that first place, so that you can’t control Him, gotta have Him, can’t live without Him and get cranky pants if He seems to be out of reach. On the other hand, slavery’s easy. Maybe that’s obvious in concept, but it’s certainly not obvious in daily practice.

Oops, excuse me . . . got an iPhone message. (Ooooh, I do love my iPhone.) Need a caffeine fix. (Get a headache without it and got to have the energy bump. A mint or two covers the coffee breath.) Looking forward to a buzz at home tonight from that good wine. (No worries, no calls after 9 p.m.) Can't wait to win some big money from my elder buddies in Texas hold 'em this weekend. (How much can I win before I sin?)

No-stick Criticism and Smooching Women

Two discussion points from recent elder training regarding elder qualifications described in Titus 1:6: What does it mean to be ‘above reproach’? and I’m married, so obviously I’m the ‘husband of one wife.’

A man who is above reproach is one who, when a criticism or accusation is sent his way, has a life of evidence that ensures it does not stick. The criticism is inconsistent with the evidence of the man’s life. I ran into this just recently. Someone spread the word that I’m a lover of money. Not sure what spawned the accusation but, on the face of it, it was flat-out false. The men to whom I’m accountable at FiveStone Churches know my lifestyle and my salary and my behavior in ministry. And my wife handles money and possessions with extraordinary biblical fidelity and wisdom. So the accusation and criticism do not stick, and that's the end of it. I am above reproach in my handling of money and possessions. (And it better stay that way.)

Even though the accusation obviously was false, it still was thrown my way. Does the biblical standard require that accusations never are thrown at an elder? Of course not. In fact, accusations are certain to be thrown at an elder as he does the work of shepherding. Sometimes the accusations have some truth, but sometimes they come from people who simply don't like the counsel they've received or don't like the way it was delivered. Does the biblical standard require perfection, so that an elder never sins? Of course not. But the tenor of the elder’s life must be that he handles his sin biblically and quickly and continues to grow in godliness.

It’s common for men to pass by the qualification of husband of one wife and say, Well, at least I’ve got that one covered. The Lord’s standard of marital fidelity extends beyond the simple fact of being married only to one woman (Matthew 5:27-28, Ephesians 5:25-33). A one woman man not only remains married to the woman but also fights the good fight to be a one woman man in his mind and in his real-life relationships with other women. So, it would be a qualification problem if a married man has a reputation of speaking flirtatiously with women or has a habit of grabbing or nuzzling or smooching women. So a man's been married to the same woman for years, but he dishonors his wife—and displeases the Lord—with his words or by letting his eyes wander or by grabbing or nuzzling or smooching women. And, even if a man doesn’t overtly act out, women often have an innate ability to sense this problem in a man. They can smell it. A few of them may even like receiving that attention from a church leader. That’s just a world of trouble waiting to bust.

So what’s a man to do? Fight to be a true one woman man who not only legally is married to one woman, but seeks to honor the marriage relationship in all arenas with all women. Men would be wise to ponder the ways of Jesus with women. Look at how Jesus related to women. Think about the total trust and love with which women responded to him. That would make all the difference.

The Curious Case of a Sunday School Teacher

Here’s a case that came my way recently:

Benjamin serves in his church as a Sunday School teacher of middle school children. He is popular with the children and with the youth pastor. Benjamin has been at the church for several years, he’s been baptized at the church and is a member. He recently confided to the church leadership that he is a homosexual. Benjamin is aware of the biblical teaching on sexual activity and says he wants to live a holy life. He is committed to celibacy but is certain that he cannot change his sexual orientation. He asked the leadership for prayer and support as he pursues what he says is God’s call for him to be monastic. Meanwhile, George, a prominent elder in the church, says that he plans to leave the church unless Benjamin is removed from his teaching role. The situation has become known throughout the church. What are the church’s elders and other leaders to do?

I was surprised that almost all of the comments from the leaders were geared toward defending Benjamin, how to help Benjamin so he can continue in his role as a teacher and what should be done to rebuke elder George for his ultimatum.

Here’s a representation of the comments:

• What constitutes sin? Is desire a sin or is only acting on desire sinful?

• It’s obvious that elder George told the church about Benjamin’s situation. The elders need to rebuke George for gossiping about this.

• The church is a family, and not all family members are the same. We need to be tolerant and patient with one another.

• A substantial percentage of homosexuals cannot change, and we shouldn’t punish them for not being able to change.

• Why pick on homosexuality? I used to serve as a pastor at a church where quite a few board members had big problems . . . there were adulteries and divorces and re-marriages . . . all in the same church . . . and some of these people were on the board!

• Why should being gay be an issue? You don’t see people talking to others and saying, ‘By the way, I’m heterosexual.’

All of that makes powerful fodder for discussion. But begging for the asking are several questions that lead to important principles in church leadership:

• What are the most important concerns in the case? Is Benjamin's teaching role primary? Is George's role as an elder primary? No. The most important concern is the health and protection of the church. Whatever honors the Lord is best for the church. Even righteous, God-honoring decisions can lead to difficult consequences. The preferences and position of any individual are subservient to the health and protection of the church.

• If teaching is a role of esteem and influence in the church—and it is—then do we want Benjamin to teach the boys and girls in our church? I was surprised that no one stood on the conviction that an openly homosexual person—celibate or not—should not have a teaching role in the church. This springs not from a desire to persecute homosexuals, but from the conviction that homosexuality is a grave offense against the Lord’s natural order and is sinful according to the Scriptures. Benjamin should be cared for in the church and valued as one made in God's image, but giving Benjamin teaching opportunities is a different matter entirely.

• Is it right to single out homosexual desire for special rebuke? No, of course not. But people shouldn't be expected to respond normally to someone who confidently and publicly announces temptation toward sexual sin, such as, I desire to have sex with all of the blonde women in the church. I’m not acting on my desire because I want to be holy. Now, let me teach your children in Sunday School. Even the least discerning follower of Christ will suspect that that person has some serious problems, and that those problems aren't only about sexual desire. Yet, somehow, in this case, the church leaders gave Benjamin a free pass while they hammered George.

• Is leading in the local church a right for everyone who wants it or is it a privilege for those who are not perfect, but are qualified according to biblical standards? It’s strange that the leaders’ comments in this case were totally dominated by sensitive thoughts toward preserving Benjamin and by angry thoughts toward rebuking George. But why rebuke George? For the ultimatum he delivered? Sure, that’s a rebuke that seems warranted. We don’t know how the congregation became aware of Benjamin's situation, so George cannot be blamed for spreading the information through the church. But should George be rebuked for his energy to remove Benjamin from his teaching role? I don’t think so. Why? Because his conviction that Benjamin should not teach is easily defensible. George may have responded harshly out of anger, or maybe he’s just mean and small. Or maybe he’s afraid that the elders and other leaders will not do what’s required.

Among all the leaders who discussed this case, about 99 percent of their energy was directed against elder George and was protective toward teacher Benjamin. It struck me that many church leaders seem indoctrinated to tolerance and geared solely toward compassion so that they have no sharp edge of protection for the local church. Are they afraid of being accused of being small or harsh or narrow or phobic? Or are they so lacking in discernment that they don’t even know how far they’ve strayed from balanced strength? They may want to protect the church and many think they’re doing well by being tolerant and broad-minded. But church leadership ultimately is a privilege, and there are some sinful behaviors—and self-assured, public announcements of sinful temptations—that simply cannot be tolerated by those charged with protecting the church. In this case, the leaders’ sharp edge was turned to protect Benjamin and attack George, with no consideration of the church as a whole and the church's children in particular. The considerations needed to cut a path that was broader and deeper. That’s why good eldering is so difficult. Apart from abiding in Christ, who is adequate for these things?

The Uncrushable Deacon Brown

Many in the church were kicking against the elders’ leadership. Among them was a deacon—I’ll call him Deacon Brown—who was causing much grief. He spread dissention and assaulted the character of each of the elders. He said the elders were like Pharisees, accusing each of them of lording over people and refusing to hear criticism. He consistently leveled these charges, among others, during the five years he was in the church. (How he won the privilege of serving as a deacon is a mystery.)

Deacon Brown rejected the elders’ admonitions to live at peace in the church. He exasperated the senior pastor, who spent many hours absorbing his criticisms. He supervised the count of the Sunday offering and stood stiff, solemn and scowling at the rear of the worship center as the ushers gathered the offering bags.

And he had cancer. He hated his life and wanted to die, but didn’t. He lived alone with his atheist, hateful father. He despised his singleness and was bitter about a relationship with a woman that, 10 years earlier, ended badly. He was intelligent and articulate, smarter and more insightful than most in the church. There was wheat hidden somewhere in all the chaff he was throwing around. At least that’s what the senior pastor told me.

Every elders meeting included an hour-long discussion of how to handle Deacon Brown. In my exasperation, I finally said the man was sucking the energy and joy and vision out of the elders. The elders had tried patient endurance, exhortation and admonition. It was time for a strong rebuke. Deacon Brown was taking the elders away from others of the congregation who genuinely needed and wanted shepherding.

The Lord sometimes hurts a man to get his attention. This man’s been hurt several times, but he’s not getting better. The Lord can repeatedly hurt a man until he gets sick of himself. That’s when he might turn to the Lord in broken repentance. The elders need to help him understand that principle.

The senior pastor mocked the thought. In an excellent eastern European Arnold Schwarzenegger voice, he said, I will crush you until you love me. It was really funny. It also was pathetically wrong.

The Scriptures teach that people love their sin so much that they often refuse to come to the light. John 3:19 is one example, coming on the heels of the beautiful offer of John 3:16. They need to turn from love of their sin to a desperate sickness of it. How do they get there?

Isaiah 26:9-10 describes one way: My soul yearns for you in the night; my spirit within me earnestly seeks you. For when your judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness. If favor is shown to the wicked, he does not learn righteousness; in the land of uprightness he deals corruptly and does not see the majesty of the Lord.

But, sadly, the elders changed nothing. Deacon Brown continued his way and soon left the church. He kicked at all of us on his way out.

A Cheerful Leader who Gave Small

There we were, four elders of a local church trying to figure out whether George should become an elder. George, sitting with his wife and us, discussed his life and ministry. He turned the discussion to his handling of money and said: We’re not under the Old Testament law, so there’s no requirement for me to give 10 percent of my income to the church. I’m free to give what I want. God loves a cheerful giver. And I do that.

Right. 2 Corinthians 9:7. So tell us, what percentage of your income do you give to the church?

I give maybe 2 or 3 percent.

We’re free of the law, so why you don’t give way more than 10 percent? Why not 28 percent or 85 percent or whatever? You’re right when you said we’re free of the Old Testament 10 percent law. We can give what we want. So why not give more? Why give so much less than 10 percent?

Well, I’m free to give what I want. God loves a cheerful giver and I’m glad to give what I give.

Yes, that's right. We’re free to give whatever we want and we need to be glad to give. But George, it seems that a lot of people who give very little financial support to the church use their freedom in Christ as the reason. You’re free to give less, but you’re also free to give more. Why is it that your freedom in Christ leads you to give so much less than 10 percent? Shouldn't your joy in your freedom lead you to give more than that?

I don’t know. No one’s ever talked to me like this before. I need to think about it.

George thought about it and, to his credit, started giving more generously to the church. After strenuous discussion among the existing elders, George was affirmed. But George was not an effective elder and, within two years, blew out of the church.

Here’s the leadership principle: An elder must give generously to the church. You cannot have an elder who does not give generously.

George wasn’t giving small because he was enduring a tough patch in life. He was giving small as a matter of personal principle. He simply liked giving small and used freedom from the law as his defense. A probe of his giving pattern revealed his spiritual problem.

Giving, especially for elders in the church, is to be generous, sacrificial and willing. If a man’s not willing, then he shouldn’t give. But if a man won’t give generously, sacrificially and willingly, then he should not seek the office of elder. After all, a man who wants the office must grasp the importance of sharing the burdens of the congregation and serving as an example to the congregation; 1 Peter 5:3.

This Passion's for You

A church leader told me this week that it’s really good for pastors to gin up their Passion, Mission and Vision. But, guess what, it’s not just for pastors. Anyone leading in the local church must have the three. If any one of the three is missing, then the leader better look for something else to do in the church. All leaders--vocational and non-vocational--must be fired up about their individual ministries. They must have internal Passion, a clear Mission and an intended Vision. The three are contagious to others and are core to dynamic ministry throughout the local church.

As they inspire others, pastors and other leaders should take care they don't mimic the guy in this pic: A Leader too Passionate. They need to lead the congregation to be passionate, mission-oriented visionaries for their individual ministry assignments . . . just like Jesus, or like the apostle Paul.

So . . . an effective leader knows what drives him (Passion), knows what to do (Mission) and sees the picture of the future (Vision). The Scriptures have many examples of the principle of Passion, Mission and Vision. Check out the example first set by Jesus, followed by the example set by the apostle Paul.

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Passion of Jesus
• Jesus’ passion was for His Father; it was rooted and based in the purposes of His Father. Jesus’ passion for His Father drove Him to do whatever the Father wanted. Matthew 26:39 and Matthew 26:42 and John 8:28-29.
• Jesus’ passion was in direct opposition to the passion of the leaders who opposed Him. John 12:43.
• Jesus had no passion for the approval of people. He had supernatural  love for people but, unlike his opponents, He was not driven by a desire to win their approval. John 2:23-25; John 5:41-44.

Mission of Jesus
• Jesus was called to make the Father known. John 17:3-4; John 17:25-26.
• Jesus was called to seek the lost, endure the cross and rise from the dead. Luke 19:10; Matthew 16:21; Mark 10:32-34; Hebrews 12:2.

Vision of Jesus
• Jesus envisioned the church (the called-out ones). Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 5:25; Ephesians 5:29.
• Jesus envisioned the relationship the called-out ones should have with one another. John 13:15 ; John 13:34; John 15:12.

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Passion of Paul
• Paul had an intense desire to know God deeply. Philippians 3.
• Paul had an intense desire for others to come to salvation through Jesus Christ and to live for Him. Romans 9:2-3; Colossians 1:3-14.

Mission of Paul
• Paul relentlessly worked to fulfill the Great Commission by planting life-giving churches. Matthew 28:19-20; The Book of Acts.

Vision of Paul
• Paul envisioned disciples of Christ who would honor the Lord, bear fruit, and grow in their relationship to Him. 1 Corinthians 1:12-13; Colossians 1:9-12.

Grid Q5: Relational Ability

Staff ministry leaders need to rightly handle all kinds of people, even the dull, boring, angry and annoying. They also must be effective in various working environments—solo, one-on-one and in various types and sizes of groups. Everyone has favored and best-suited working environments, but it’s important to get an advance sense of a candidate’s abilities and preferences before he ends up in a key staff leadership position. Why? To see if he’ll mesh in the church’s culture and if he’ll grate against the requirements of the ministry leadership position. Also, of course, to discern a sin problem that will undermine his ministry and cause him to outright fail or to damage the church. Relational ability is deeply connected to integrity, spiritual maturity and godliness.

Here are a few items that help get at the root of the issue:

• Describe a circumstance when you’ve successfully solved complex people problems.
• Are you an empathetic person, i.e. Can you authentically weep with those who weep and can you rejoice with those who rejoice? (Romans 12:15)
• Are you partial—or are you tempted to be partial—to those who are financially wealthy, powerful, influential, prominent or physically attractive? (Proverbs 24:23-26; Acts 10:34; James 2)
• And the flipside of partiality, but equally harmful: Do you disdain—or are you tempted to disdain—those who are financially wealthy, powerful, influential, prominent or physically attractive?

Oftentimes it’s not possible to know what a man will do until a tough reality stands before him. Is the church in a financial crunch? Is there something to be gained by laughing at a coarse joke told by a powerful person in the church? Then playing in partiality for the wealthy and the powerful is an ugly temptation. Has a wealthy or powerful person from the past hurt you or caused immense harm in the church? Then there may be an overwhelming temptation to disdain warm relationships with people who enjoy wealth, power, influence or prominence. Only one who is unusually principled and strong can discern the motives of his own heart, clearly foresee the fruit of his own actions and turn away from the temptation.

But until someone demonstrates deep integrity that proves authenticity, you never know what that person will do in extreme difficulty. For the book, Auschwitz, author Laurence Rees interviewed many former Nazis and those who survived the death camp in Poland during World War II. Rees repeatedly noted that extraordinary circumstances and their accompanying pressures squeeze out the reality that lurks in a person’s heart, revealing either a horrific ugliness or a golden excellence.

Rees wrote: Just as water exists as water only within a certain temperature range and is steam or ice in others, so human beings can become different people according to extremes of circumstances. And, while interviewing a formerly devoted Nazi, Rees pressed the man about why so many people went along with the horrors of the regime. The man’s annoyed response: The trouble with the world today is that people who have never been tested go around making judgments about people who have.

That’s why, in the church, it’s crucial to ask the right questions, in the right way, with a thoughtful discernment, to get the right person in church leadership.

Grid Q4: Integrity

Everybody likes the idea of integrity. Not as many like the reality of the quality’s requirements. You can point to a success or list a position of influence but, if they haven’t been gained and maintained through integrity, then those successes and power points are no better than wood, hay and stubble.

Integrity is a key measure of a person’s qualification for ministry leadership in the local church. Integrity is a big deal because it’s a principle—a basic belief that governs behavior—in the Christian life. Integrity can be tough to discern because some people are very good at pretending to be more than they are.

The cool facts of integrity prove the authenticity of a claim. A plastic cup, for example, is not a crystal goblet. How do you know? A crystal goblet has specific characteristics that prove its authenticity. Crystal has a certain weight, a distinct ring when flicked with a finger and a specific look when held up to the light. Crystal is appreciated and cared for in a way that is distinctly different from plastic. A plastic cup lacks the characteristics of a crystal goblet. It lacks the marks of integrity that prove authenticity. It must not matter that a plastic cup loudly and persuasively claims to be a crystal goblet. It lacks the traits of crystal and, when added to the traits of plastic, mark it as an authentic plastic cup.

It’s much like that in a man of integrity, except he’s not inclined to claim crystal for himself (Proverbs 27:2). There’s a certain solidity demonstrated when you bump up to him in discussion, in matters that reveal heart and mind and spirit. He bears the marks of integrity that prove his authenticity as a mature and close follower of Christ. He’s authentic. He’s described in Psalm 15.

Getting a glimpse of a person’s integrity can be gained by asking a few key questions and listening thoughtfully to the answers. The person of integrity will have no worries about opening himself honestly in a discussion about integrity. He already knows Proverbs 10:9.

Here are several example questions:

  • Do you do what you say you will do, even if it hurts you or causes you difficulty or pain?
  • Do you ever pretend to be more than you are?
  • Describe a difficult failure in your life.
  • Do you accurately describe past successes or are you prone to exaggerate in order to impress others?
  • What is the condition of your finances and your handling of money and possessions?

These answers to these questions and similar questions reveal whether a person is genuine and authentic, shades the truth to his advantage, is trustworthy or cunning, mean-spirited or charitable, or has allowed the Lord to teach him in failure.

Grid Q3: Emotional Health

Before entrusting someone to a key staff leadership slot in the local church, be sure to look for indicators of the person’s emotional health. No, it doesn't include probing into the hidden psychological ramifications of the candidate’s relationship with his father. It’s looking at specific behaviors, beliefs and attitudes that bring the greatest opportunity for ministry success that pleases the Lord.

Below are a few discussion points that can help determine how the person’s emotional health will affect the church’s ministry:

  • What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses? (Can the candidate honestly and openly reveal himself? Discern whether there’s sinful pride in discussing strengths, or hiding for self-protection, or sinful self-deprecation—a reverse pride—in discussing weaknesses. Boasting about gifts and talents is like boasting about the color of your hair. 1 Corinthians 4:7.)
  • Describe a circumstance where you exhibited self-control in your speech in relationship with others. (Although some people in the church spout off whatever criticism happens to be on their minds, Proverbs 18:2. A ministry leader does not enjoy the luxury of freedom of speech. Why? Because he has immense power to either preserve unity or cause dissension in the church through what he says about the ministry. He must exercise self-control in his speech and reserve more difficult discussions for those leaders who can make a healthy difference in the church.)
  • Do you rejoice in the success and progress of others? Do you affirm someone else’s contributions to a project’s success? (A leader who fails to rejoice in the success of others is not worthy of followers. A leader who takes credit for the work of others is not worthy of followers. Those failures lead to simmering resentments that build over time and lead to a multitude of sins. Paul’s selfless leadership and generous commendations should be standard practice for leaders in the Lord’s church: 1 Corinthians 16:15-18; Colossians 1:3-8;  2 Thessalonians 1:3-4.)
  • Can you forgive a person who has wronged you? How do you know whether you’ve forgiven a person? (It’s easy and proper to say, Of course, I forgive. Much harder to live forgiveness in daily difficulties. I like the answer from a senior pastor about how he knew he forgave an offense: Don’t wish ill will. Do something good for the person.)

The best results on the assessment grid’s Emotional Health scale comes from those who consistently—not perfectly—demonstrate personal discipline and Spirit-led self-control. They have excellent self-knowledge so that they accurately see themselves and their effect on others. They discern what’s motivating their own feelings and actions. They receive criticism and seek to grow in godliness. They freely affirm the strengths and successes of others. They can speak of their own strengths and weaknesses in leadership and in the Christian life.

The worst results: undisciplined, low self-control, weak self-awareness, highly defensive, secretly or overtly hostile to the success of others, inflated view of personal strengths and small understanding of personal weaknesses.

Most people, of course, are somewhere in between the best and the worst. But significant, and sometimes hidden, emotional health problems can torpedo a leader’s ministry and damage the church.

Do yourself a favor. Lead with wisdom and discernment. Get a handle on the candidate’s emotional health before handing over the keys to ministry leadership. Acts 20:28.

Grid Q2: Doctrine and Ministry Compatibility

Each church and each church network is steeped in a culture. That culture includes assumptions that define acceptable and rejected behaviors, beliefs and attitudes. Some of the specifics are never spoken but they’re easily observable. A pastor friend, who didn’t fit with the culture of behaviors and attitudes of his church’s key leaders, sadly complained to me, These are the guys I hated in junior high school. That’s says it all. He didn’t fit with the culture, he failed to influence any element of the culture, and he’s out.

Before hiring a man or woman into a key leadership slot, it’s honoring to the Lord to take care in the process. Leaders are not dealing with car parts carelessly and thoughtlessly placed and then ripped out and tossed aside. The Lord expects his leaders to be strong and decisive, but leaders also must handle his people respectfully and thoughtfully; Luke 22:24-30.

That’s where process is key.  An assessment grid is a useful tool in the process of staff hiring. But Hey, the guy is a gifted communicator or Wow, he’s an amazing worship leader.

Leaders anxious to fill long-empty slots in their ministry team might be seduced into thinking that a candidate’s up-front gifting proves under-the-surface development and depth. Of course, no leader wants to admit that gifting dims discernment. So, just to be sure, it’s wise to create a biblical—not psychological—assessment process to get to know a candidate. A thoughtful assessment should include many categories. A primary category: Doctrine and Ministry Compatibility with the specific church or church network.

Here are some of the 16 topics included in the Doctrine and Ministry Compatibility category of the FiveStone Churches Pastor Assessment Grid:

• Open Theism versus Omniscience
• Creation versus Theistic Evolution versus Evolution
• the Blessed Hope (Titus 2:13)
• Sovereign Election versus Human Choice in salvation

Include discussion of other arenas for anyone in a vocational, pastoral position in the local church. Example: Describe the pastor’s role and other individual roles in leading the local congregation, i.e. plurality of leaders model versus Moses model.

From these topics and others, the church’s leaders should get a good handle on how well the candidate fits the doctrine and ministry culture of the local church. An individual’s public gifting must never blind the leaders to the price that will be extracted from the church if the candidate’s doctrine and ministry commitments do not match the church’s culture.

Future articles about assessing candidates will look at topics such as emotional health, relational ability, personal integrity and vision.

Grid Q1: Relationship with the Lord

I’m working with a pastor to help him get a better picture of himself . . . and to help him serve most effectively in the local church.

What do you look at when you’re measuring a man and his ministry? Try an assessment grid. But there’s a guiding principle in using such a grid: Never use it as an adversary, but use it as a fellow brother in the fight for the good of the church and the building up of the Lord’s servant leader.

Below are core categories taken from the FiveStone Churches Pastor Assessment Grid:

• Relationship with the Lord
• Doctrine and Ministry Compatibility (with the specific church and church network)
• Emotional Health
• Relational Ability
• Marriage and Sons and Daughters Relationships
• Personal Integrity
• Vision and Philosophy of Ministry
• Spiritual Gifts and Natural Talents
• Knowledge and Understanding of Church Planting and Church Growth
• Concluding Inferences (garnered from all of the previous information)

Relationship with the Lord
Listen closely to the man’s salvation experience. How clearly does he tell the story
and what is revealed when he tells it? Does his experience square with the Scriptures’ teaching on salvation? A man who can clearly and joyfully tell share own salvation likely can share the gospel with an unbeliever. Listen as he describes his personal devotions in Bible study. Consider factors such as frequency, intensity, systems and study tools. Ask him about his life in prayer and meditation. Is meditation OK? What’s the difference between prayer and meditation? Ask him to describe the hardest, breaking experiences that he’s been through as a believer and as an unbeliever and ask him to explain how they have affected his relationship with the Lord and with others. How does he serve others as a result of his relationship with the Lord and the knowledge of His ways. Does he have a heart for the poor and the disadvantaged? What does he do that reveals he cares for the poor and disadvantaged?

If handled skillfully and thoughtfully, those few discussion points can paint a pretty good picture of the man’s relationship with the Lord.

Some men seem to have an uncommon closeness to the Lord that is revealed in the fruit of regular and deep devotions. That man exhibits large evidence of communion with the Lord. How? The Scriptures are not merely spoken from his lips but they are imbedded in his thinking, in how he processes the everyday activities and common problems of life. He exhibits the fruit of the Spirit not perfectly, of course, but consistently. When he falls, he gets back up and goes on to be better. He’s driven by His relationship with the Lord rather than what many in church world might describe as Success. He has an obvious understanding of and reliance upon the Lord’s ways.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are others (even in pastoral ministry or in leadership of a local church) who cannot clearly and biblically articulate their own salvation experience. Or sometimes their testimony is mechanical and cold. They have irregular and perfunctory devotions, what I call 10-minute Croutons. They seem to have little communion with the Lord. The Scriptures do not drive their thinking or, of course, their behavior. They often are strong in themselves. There’s little or no understanding of and reliance upon the Lord’s ways.

Most of us range in the middle portion of the spectrum in our relationship with the Lord. But it’s crucial to know. There’s nothing good in self-deception. It never fails that, as I assess others, I always end up assessing myself. James 1:22-25.