Pastors and Elders II: The Elders Conference

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In Acts 20.17 Paul travels to Miletus, and calls all the elders of the Ephesian church to him.

And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church

There were a lot of elders in the church in Ephesus.  Paul decided he wanted to separate the elders and teach them the Word – this was the first pastors and elders conference ever.  In it, Paul gave some great instructions to the elders that all elders need to consider today.

According to historians, each of the elders in Ephesus would have looked after a group of Christians that met regularly in their house, they would have been appointed by the pastor of the church and put in place by the pastor.  Notice: Paul didn’t go to Ephesus to address the elders, he went to Miletus.  It’s 63 miles from Ephesus to Miletus, that’s not a short journey when you don’t have a Toyota and have to make the journey by foot or donkey.  And Paul calls the elders.

The first amazing thing that has to be mentioned is that the elders came!  Paul called the elders to make a 63 mile trip to a conference and they came.  You see being an elder in a local church, hosting church in your house, is a sacred trust and requires people who love God, love God’s Word, and love the people of God.  The essential quality of an elder is an attitude of humility that is prepared to travel to the elder’s conference.  These weren’t people who struggled to get to the church meetings on a Sunday.  These were people who knew they needed input and continual education and training to do their task.  These were people who were fanatics.

If you take on the role of an elder in the local church, you have to be a bit of a fanatic.  You have to be the kind of person who is willing to travel 63 miles on foot to be at the elder’s conference.  Now I know a lot of people would say – of course I would travel 63 miles to hear Paul.  But that’s only after 2000 years of knowing how successful his ministry was.  The Ephesians saw Paul as the bloke who started the church, the travelling apostle who seems to get more attacks and more criticism than actual results.  Yet, they knew he was worth travelling to hear because they were people who were spiritual fanatics.  Good elders love their pastors and apostles, and they weren’t sitting around going “surely it’s easier for Paul to travel to us, rather than us all having to go to him… who does he think he is”… they were too busy thinking of the adventure of going to Miletus to hear the Word.  That’s a good attitude for anyone to have, but it is essential for elders.  Grumbling, selfish attitudes in elders will destroy a church.  I wonder if Paul held the conference that far away just to see who would come.  I think part of the reason was to get these guys away from the church to give them a rest as well as a conference, but I also reckon part of the reason was Paul was finding out where the elder’s hearts were.

When they arrived, Paul didn’t open up the Scriptures to them but rather started reminding them about his ministry and his life when he planted the church (vv. 18-19):

And when they had come to him, he said to them,

“You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time,serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews;

I find this a staggering opening to the conference.  Paul gets in the pulpit and basically preaches on his humility and what he did for the church.  To the elders – who Paul appointed.  The elders would have no influence, no ministry, no life – a lot of them wouldn’t be Christians without Paul coming to Ephesus to plant the church.  They would not be doing what they were doing, and through Paul’s teaching and ministry they have matured and they have become who they are.

Why would Paul then need to remind them so strenuously of his ministry among them and how he served the Lord.  He goes on to tell the Ephesian elders the following:

how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul is telling the elders he put in place that his ministry was good for them.  (As an aside, notice when Paul planted the Ephesian church and was the pastor of the church, he taught publicly and from house to house.  In other words, there was a public meeting and house meetings and Paul visited both.  That’s how church should be done: a big meeting where the pastor preaches and teachers, and then the house meetings run by elders with the pastor going from meeting to meeting to encourage and support and teach.  Many people today are finding the value of house meetings and ditching the big meeting – no Paul did both, the church in Jerusalem did both, and healthy church in the 21st century needs both.  People who are not involved in local church in both large pastor preaching meetings AND house meetings are alien to the New Covenant).  I find it amazing that Paul told the elders about his ministry – they were there, they knew it, they witnessed it.  They owed their ministries to Paul planting the church.  They surely didn’t need reminding of that – even after travelling 63 miles to hear it!

But they did.  The elders of the church needed to be reminded that their ministries are appointed by the pastor, and that they should be reminiscent of the pastor’s ministry.  They needed to be reminded that their message should be his message, that their heart should be his heart.  They needed to be reminded that they need to preach repentance and faith like he preached repentance and faith.  Their role as elders was to take his apostolic message and reproduce it to the people, not sit in their house and go “I’m not sure about this repentance stuff”, or “faith isn’t really necessary today”.  And there are elders in churches that don’t even understand repentance and faith, and the role of elders.  And Paul is taking these guys and reminding them!  That is good pastoring.  That is great wisdom.

If you are a pastor, take your elders away and remind them of your life and ministry.  Let them know the heart of the message you preach.  Take a leaf out of Paul’s book and plan a leadership conference.  That’s what I am planning now – to take our elders deeper into the Word, to get them aligned better with the core values and culture of the church.  Elders – not people with a title but people who are discipling people in their house on a consistent and supervised manner – are the heart of your church.  Get the heart right and everything else will be right.

If you are an elder, get with the programme.  Realize how much you owe your pastor and appreciate him or her.  Grasp the core values of your church and give those.  Make sure you know what repentance and faith are!  Be ready to travel!

NEXT WEEK: what else did Paul teach the elders.  Essential information you need to know!

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Role of the Pastor 6: Training

Part of your role is training the sheep.  You will be loved for feeding them, and hated for training them.  You are responsible for training the sheep to embrace and understand the culture of your church, how to behave at church, and how to live the Christian life.  The worst pastors are the pastors that let anything go – their churches are not safe places to be.  Things will get out of line if you just leave them to their own devices.  That is a fact!

Paul asked the Christians in Corinth this pertinent question: “Shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?” (2 Cor. 4.21).  Most of the time you come to the sheep in love and with meekness, but there are times you have to lay down the law.

You have to purge certain tendencies and ideas out of your church.  If your sheep think you are a weak leader, then you will be exploited by your church, and taken for a ride more than once.

Many years ago, I was at a church once where the pastor called a young man to the front of the church.  It was a mid-week meeting, and I didn’t really know the church.  I thought they were going to honour the guy in some way, and to be honest, the guy looked like he did too.  But the pastor said “This young man is a thief and a liar, he has conned several people in the church by doing this and that.  Look at him, and do not be conned by him.  He has seduced several ladies in the church and blackmailed them and stolen from them.”  I was stunned, but the church applauded – they knew people that had been hurt by this man, and who had lost property to his con.  There as a young man, I learned the power of strong leadership to protect the sheep. You cannot let people come to your church and just do whatever they want. 

I was once physically removing a young man from a youth meeting for continually making sexually offensive comments to the young ladies, I was the youth pastor in that church.  The senior pastor saw me doing it and told me to be a bit more gentle.  When I explained what the young man had done, the senior pastor told me to be a little more rough!

1 Cor. 5.6-7 is clear: Know ye not that a little leaven leaventh the whole lump?  Purge out therefore the old leaven.  This is so important – people will corrupt people.  Negative, whining, complaining people will infect people.  You need to train your people to reject gossip and reject whining, and reject negativity.  

To some people in your church you need to be strong, and tell them that their behaviour was disappointing, was destructive, that was not healthy behaviour.  You need to have a statement of culture that you can refer to and let people know “this is not how we do things around here”.  In doing this, you do not humiliate people.  You don’t tell people off in public unless their behaviour is destructive and they have been warned privately several times (as happened in both above illustrations) – you don’t humiliate people.  Sometimes you have to be hard with people, but you never have to be harsh.

“Cast out the scorner, and contention shall go out, yea, strife and reproach shall cease” (Proverbs 22.10).  Sometimes you have to correct people right out the church.  But when you do, strife and reproach stop and it is the greatest feeling on the planet.  Some people just need to leave the church, their presence is nothing but disruptive and unhelpful.  It is that simple sometimes!

But for most people, training is a much more positive experience.  Correction is one side of training, but discipleship is the other side. Three things your church should have to help train people:

1. An obvious path of training.

2. An obvious place of training.

3. An obvious reward to training.

An obvious path to training means that let’s say someone gets saved in your church, or comes from another church, they should know immediately what to do if they want to be discipled.  For us in the Tree, it’s join a small group.  We also have a 5 week course called Vision and Values where we explain our vision and values to people and that ends with us making sure that we open to door for people to be discipled.  For me, the three main areas of discipleship for new Christians or Christians that aren’t growing are: how to read the Bible yourself, how to flow in the gifts of the Spirit and how to relate to a local church – so we do training on all of that.  The courses are offered as often as we can – ideally I’d like to offer them about twice as much as we do, but that’s ongoing development of the church.

An obvious place of training is that people know where they can go if they need help.  Again at the Tree that’s our small groups – the Living Churches.  You go there and you are trained, and taught the Word and encouraged.  You can receive prayer if you need and you will grow.  Any problems and the elder running the group can help or get help.

Finally rewards for training – people like to be noticed and acknowledged, so we celebrate training, we have a pathway for becoming an elder and we have a way into serving and helping and significance in the church.  People need to feel that they are growing.

Keep a strong handle on the church, and make sure that you are making disciples.

Mentors and Mentoring

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I am going to take a tiny reprieve from our current series on The Reality Gap (parts 1 and 2 can be found here and here respectively, and next week we will discuss part 3 – The Pursuit of Excellence) and talk a little bit today on mentoring.  I haven’t really gathered my thoughts, so this may come across as a little stream-of-consciousness and a little idiosyncratic.  That may suit some of you and may not suit others – it doesn’t suit me, I prefer to be prepared, but I wanted to get a post on this blog this week and this is a topic a lot of people have been asking about lately.

The first thing you need to know is that being mentored is a good thing.  An exceptionally good thing.  A good mentor can be worth years of experience.  George Hill says it like this: “the best way to get somewhere is to find someone who has been there and follow them”, and I have definitely found that to be true in my life.

I know some people don’t like the word mentor, some people find it too business-like, too secular or whatever.  If that’s you, just substitute the word “discipler”.  The fact is I like the word mentor – it gives the right connotation of someone who is helping you with a task.

So the first thing you need to know is that God has mentors for you!  God has put leaders into the body of Christ to lead.  That sounds so simple, but people misunderstand it.  Some people want to be part of a church for example, and not get involved with the church’s programmes and structure, and try to create their own programmes or build their own little structure.  Other people think they know better than anyone else, when the fruit of their life shows that they don’t.

God has ordained leaders to lead us forward.  People who have done what we dream of doing, who can through their experience and wisdom take us forward.

If you don’t know the names of your mentors, your leaders, your disciplers: the people who have gone before and are helping you through their wisdom and experience, then you have a problem.  I guarantee progress made in your life is slow and an uphill struggle.  You can keep going like that if you want, but there is a better way.  The way of God-ordained mentors.

You will never have above average levels of wisdom if you fail to recognize the leaders that God wants to place in your life.  That is a fact!  You will never rise above mediocrity if you can’t name your mentors.  You need mentors.

Now the world and its dog will want to be your mentor – especially if you are young, passionate and starting to see success.  The denomination that turned me down twice suddenly knocked on my doors when we had about 60+ people on a Sunday… but be WARY, many people are only interested in what they can syphon from you, and basically in controlling you and sharing your success, they don’t want to invest in you.

Remember a mentor is there to lead you somewhere you haven’t been.  So the first step is to realize: if they haven’t been where you want to go, they are not your mentor!

This sounds so obvious, but I have seen pastors join up with networks that don’t do anything.  A pastor of a church of 300 who was given that church at 350 and lost 50 people is not the same as a pastor of a church of 150 who has built that church from nothing.  They will not have the wisdom you need to take your church from 150 to 300, but if you are swayed by size alone, you might take that person as a mentor and then wonder why your church now has 100 people – because all they know is how to lose people!

If you are 36 years old, people in their late 50s will want to be your mentor – because they have more “experience” than you.  If they haven’t done what you have done, they haven’t got the experience you have.  It’s that simple.  Paul told TImothy when telling him to tell the elders what to teach and ensure the elders are living right not to let anyone look down on him because of his youth.  Sometimes elders think they have more experience than the pastor, and the pastor can think the same because the elders have more years.  No!  Years are not experience, and an elder is not going to give you the wisdom to get where you need to go because they have never been there.

A guy once came to me and asked for a paid job at Tree of Life Church.  I had met him once before.  I said “as what?” He said “as your coach.”  He was 60-something, I was 30-something so he assumed that he knew more than I did.  Turns out that 10 years previous he planted a church and in ten years took it to 30.  Now I am not knocking that, that’s an achievement.  That’s 30 people with a shepherd, moving forward.  But in the last 3 years we have gone from 11 to 150+.  The problems you find in a church of 30 are not the same problems you find in a church of 30.  In the same way parenting teens is not parenting toddlers!  He had zero experience of what I was and am facing, and yet wanted money to pass that zero experience onto me.  I declined.

Another couple approached me and offered to pastor me and give me advice about how to properly plant churches.  So far we have planted 3 churches, all growing, all healthy. Not one of them is perfect, but they are great places to be.  I asked this couple how many churches they had planted.  Zero.  Again, I am not going to waste time listening to zero experience.

You need mentors who have been where you are and who have been where you want to go.  For me, the call of God on my life has always been to plant churches founded on the complete work of Christ and to build disciples who dream and dream big.  So, I have had to find people who have planted successful, healthy churches to find out how they did it.  To learn from a mentor is to avoid learning from mistakes.

When I find someone who has planted from nothing a successful, healthy church my eyes are on them.  When I find that the church is built on the complete work, I follow them.  When I find that the person is raising leaders with big dreams, I know that’s someone I want to emulate.  Not become – I am me and he is he, but I know they have gone the path before and know stuff I don’t know.

Now this is the important bit.  Although God has prepared mentors for you, and although many people will try and mentor you and have never been where you want to go, when you meet a true mentor (and this is the key:) you have to pursue them.  You have to chase them, they will never chase you.

Yesterday I had lunch with one of my mentors (I have three – that’s a good, healthy number, too many cooks spoil the broth and all that, and you can’t purse much more than that.  One or two is fine as well, three is just because I am greedy).  I drove well over an hour to him for a meeting that lasted an hour and a half, then drove back.  I contacted him and arranged the meeting.  I asked for his time.  I treat his time as sacred.  His name is Robert Maasbach, and I first met him at a healing meeting where my son was healed.  I since have been to his church many times, just sitting at the back getting refreshed and have sat at his feet learning from him again and again.  I invited him to preach for me one time, we had dinner and I found this stream of wisdom which I just tapped into.  Since then I try and meet him once a month.

I treat his advice as sacred too.  Every idea he has given me I have implemented and everyone has brought success and growth to the church.  That’s because he pastors a church that is pushing 1000 people on a Sunday and knows what he is talking about.  The advice he gave me yesterday has helped me re-frame an issue we have been dealing with for a few months.  I thought it was a minor issue, but he told me no – in three years time this will explode in your face.  So I have made plans to deal with it and deal with it quickly and firmly.  He helped me strategize in dealing with that as well.  I have confidence in his wisdom because by their fruits you will know them.  I know that yesterday afternoon in one hour with my mentor has saved me thousands of headaches.

Some mentors are lifelong mentors, like Robert Maasbach.  Others are for a season or for a particular issue.  Recently I had the joy of driving George and Hazel Hill around when they were in the UK.  They have planted thousands of churches.  So I asked them lots and lots of questions.  By serving them, I had earned time with them, so I used it to pull on the wisdom in them.  

They run a network of churches with several churches in the UK.  To be honest, I thought I would have to fight for their time with all the pastors in their UK network, but they didn’t volunteer, didn’t pursue, so I did and I got to spend time with them.  Now they started in Canada and started planting churches on the other sides of their city from their main church – exactly where we are now.  So I found out from their mistakes what will and won’t work, and just driving them from one airport to another has saved me hours of agony over a difficult decision because George Hill clarified my priorities and imparted his wisdom to me.

I drove them up to a pastor’s conference, and they gave me some advice on creating a special service to attract people.  I took their ideas, and started crafting.  When George Hill was preaching at the conference he mentioned the conversation and I mentioned I have started planning it already.  That impressed him – you see people with a great deal of wisdom and experience know what works and what doesn’t.  What grieves their hearts is dispensing wisdom and seeing it ignored, then people walking into hurt and difficulties.  What lifts their heart is seeing lives changed, the kingdom advancing because their wisdom is received.  

Now I am in a position of favour, and now I am receiving more wisdom from them.  But I still have to pursue them.  That’s the key here – you have to chase your mentors.  You have to value their wisdom.  You have to make some life adjustments to ensure you get the time to draw from their wisdom.

Making initial contact can sometimes be the hardest step.  The thing that keeps more people away from their dreams and success is a failure to take the first step.  So, don’t delay take the first step today.

Write an email to someone who has done what you want to do.  Ask them for some wisdom.  Go to a conference where someone you want to emulate is going to be.  Humble yourself a little and admit there is more to life than what you know and ask the Lord to show you who is going to help you take the next step.

Grace and peace,

Pastor Benjamin Conway

Lead Pastor, Tree of Life Network