Pastors and Elders III: What Paul taught the Elders

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I said in the first post in this series (https://benjaminconway.net/2014/05/19/pastors-and-elders-ii-the-elders-conference/) that we would find out what Paul taught the elders at Miletus.  And I give you my word that before this series is over we will look at Acts 20.  But due to emails and questions that have arisen from the first post, I am going to answer some more questions first, laying a foundation to what we will say later.  In Acts 14.23, it says that Paul ordained elders in the churches.  Part of being a healthy New Testament church is having elders ordained by a pastor or apostle.  In fact I would go as far as to say that if you do not have ordained elders, then you are not going to a church.  Certainly the apostle Paul did not know a church without pastorally ordained elders!  So elders are vital to any discussion of church health and leadership.

Today, I want to answer the question what is an elder.  Great question – glad you asked, and glad the answer is in the Bible!  Every church should have several elders.  In James 5.14, sick people are told to call the elders (more than one – notice the “s” at the end) of the church (just one church, notice the lack of “es” at the end!).  So a church should have some elders, and everyone in the church should know who they are.  Eldership should not be a secret! Titus was told to ordain elders in the church as well.  If you read Acts 15.1-2 you find out that the early church had apostles and elders.  There was a plurality of elders in Jerusalem and they worked with the apostles.  They had a discussion on the role of the law in the church – and Peter was the spokesman for all the apostles (see v. 7) but James (see v. 13) was the spokesman for the elders.  Apostles – along with prophets, teachers and evangelists – are travelling ministries.  Elders – along with pastors – are local ministries.  James, functioning as the chief elder, was the pastor of the Jerusalem church.  Later in history, you find James takes the title of pastor of the church of Jerusalem.  And we can see that role developing here in Acts 15, and in Acts 21.18 when Paul visits Jerusalem with the phrase “James and all the elders”.  That’s how a church should be run with “Pastor, and all the elders”.  To meet Paul, James brought all the elders.  They were all elders, but James was in a different role and office: James was the pastor – ruling over and shepherding the elders.  Pastors are appointed by Jesus (Ephesians 4.11) but elders are appointed by pastors or apostles.  Elders are to help the pastor oversee the church and love and disciple people.

The Bible tells us: Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation. (Hebrews 13.7).  The elders are supposed to rule over the people – not in an arrogant hard-hitting way, but in the way of leading them to the Word, helping them be disciples, inspiring them to dream and challenging them to life the dream.  They are supposed to teach in their house groups and they are supposed to both teach the Word, based on the apostle’s or pastor’s teaching, and then set an example for the faith.  That is the role of an elder in one verse:

  • Rule – through love and grace, make disciples. 
  • Teach the Word of God to people, based on what the apostles and pastors are teaching
  • Set an example of faith for people to follow

That is what a Biblical elder should look like.  They are not necessarily preaching – that is the role of the pastor and the 5-fold – they are not necessarily running the show, but they are looking after people in their house on a regular basis, showing love, setting an example, ruling in love and teaching the Word.  

Next week: what are the requirements of being an elder

Role of the Pastor 5: Feeding the Sheep

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Shepherds have to feed the sheep.  That should be obvious, but there are a lot of pastors who are not feeding the sheep.  You cannot exaggerate how important it is for the pastors to feed the sheep.  You just cannot overestimate how important this is.  Your preaching to the gathering of the saints is so important – it is one of your primary roles, your key functions as a shepherd, to ensure the sheep are fed.

Earlier we discussed leading the sheep and how important that is, but you cannot lead people you do not feed.  Some people are trying to lead people they don’t feed, and they become controlling and harsh.  If you feed people, they will follow and your church will grow.  If you give people good food, your church will grow.  Some people might not like the food, some people aren’t sheep they are goats – let them go, but keep feeding the people and you will attract a flock.

Parents have authority over their children because they feed them.  When you leave home, get a job and feed yourself, your parents authority diminishes.  Feeding is so important for leading, so important for pastoring.  Jesus told Peter three times in a row: “Feed My Sheep”.  Feeding is vital.

Every pastor must be a preacher and your preaching is where you feed the sheep.  This is key. And we are living in the age Paul warns Pastor Timothy about:

I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.  For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. (2 Tim. 4.3-4)

People seem to rather go to a service where they are anointed with oil, where they are given a prophetic word, where there is gold dust and barking dogs, where they are taught about secular psychology and fables made up by men rather than listen to the Word.  The temptation to reduce the preaching of the Word and replace with entertainment.  Some pastors are preaching less than 6-10 minutes on a Sunday morning.  That is not feeding the sheep a meal, that is a bag of Doritos!  That is not a meal!  That will not give the sheep strength to receive healing, to advance the kingdom, to enjoy their career, to love their families.  You need to feed the sheep. You must preach the Word!

Here are three things I believe are vital to a successful feeding ministry:

1. Preparation. You must prepare what you are going to feed to ensure the sheep get a healthy, living and balanced diet.  You cannot just walk into the pulpit and say what you like.  There has been a move recently to see notes as fleshly, but taking the time to prepare is never fleshly – it’s godly.  I preach in months – each month has a theme that fits into the theme for the year.  I am all about building something into people’s minds.  Me just shouting about my hobby horse is not good enough.  You need to plan, research, prepare.  What Scriptures are you using, in what order, what is the point you are making.

2.  Keep to the point.  People like rabbit trails and side points occasionally.  Imagine they are like salt and pepper.  Just a little to give it flavour, but if you are continually going off point you haven’t prepared enough.  It takes me a whole day at least to prepare a message.  Lazy preachers and lazy pastors don’t prepare the food and don’t season it.  They are feeding their church Iceland frozen chicken nuggets and wonder why the church are spiritually malnourished. 

You are called to feed the sheep.  You are called to prepare the best for them.  Choose your points, meditate on your points, consider how the sermon is structured.  Introduce the sermon by telling the people what you preached last week and how it links to this week, tell the people what your points are and where you are going with the message – it’s a good habit to help you keep on track.  Then preach.  Then conclude well.  Prepare and plan how you are going to end.  Will you end with an appeal to change, will you end with an illustration that they are going to take away?  You need to decide before hand.

Of course, someone will tell you that planning is not spiritual, that you should just open your mouth and let it flow.  There are times when that is what to do.  There are occasions when the Lord will lead you a different way.  But mostly when people do that they ramble, they drift, they make no clear point, but rather a hundred different little points none of which impact anyone’s life for the better.  Here’s a revelation: the Holy Spirit can guide the planning!  Let your planning be Spirit-led and you find you don’t have to “go with the flow of the moment” in the pulpit so much any more!

I think some preachers need a big sign at the back of the church that says “WHAT IS THE POINT?” so when they are preaching they know they are making a point!

3.  Let the sheep feed from you.  Jesus said something that requires a lot of consideration: if you don’t eat my flesh you are not part of me.  Sheep need to feed on the shepherd.  What do I mean?  You need to let them see and let them hear that the Word works for you.  If you are teaching healing, talk about a time you laid hands on someone and they got healed.  Let the people see you are talking about what you know.  When you preach on loyalty and are calling for a commitment to the church, let the people know how committed you are.  You need to be careful doing this because your goal is to preach the gospel and teach the kingdom, but principles without practical application wash over people’s head.

At our summer conference once, we raised an offering and it was very low.  It was just under £300 which was very low for the amount of people in the room, and low compared to the costs we needed to pay.  In addition, I was the one who put in £200 into the offering.  So I got up and I told people that I believe in this conference and that if I could put in more money than the rest of the room put together there was a problem.  We received a second offering that came to a lot higher, and I have heard many testimonies of people who received a great return from that offering.  By showing people that I work the Word, I am encouraging – which literally means giving courage to – people to work the same principles.

Remember your examples are not the message: they are the encouragement to get the message.  You teach the Word, but in teaching the Word you have to show that you believe it’s integrity and you are not preaching what you do not practice, but rather you preach what you practice.

Role of the Pastor 3: To Divide Seas

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Part of your ministry as a pastor is to lead the people to green pastures and still waters.  You need to take your people out of the wilderness and into the land flowing with milk and honey, a land of abundance and peace.  This is part of being a shepherd to your people.  If you don’t have a destination, you don’t have a destiny.  The word “destin-y” means the path to your “destin-ation”.  At the Tree of Life Church, we talk about dreams, schemes and themes.  Dreams are our destination – where we are going.  Schemes are our plan to get there, and themes are the plan to take the next step.  We can’t sit down and dream, we have to dream while we walk.

However, sometimes leading people somewhere is hard for them.  There are obstacles in their way – wild seas that they cannot cross. As a pastor, you are called to be like Moses: “But you, lift up thy rod and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea” (Exodus 14.15 and 16).

Part of your role is to ensure the path to the promised land is visible and tangible to the people.  A true shepherd loves the sheep and wants the sheep to have abundance and success, and so they find out from God what actions make a way for people to get into the promised land.

You must learn how to make a way for people where there seems to be no way.  This could cover all sorts of things – once a man in our church said he was going to leave our church and find another one.  I asked why, and was there anything I could do to change his mind.  He told me no because his house was too far from our church.  So the next day, in the evening I jumped in my car and drove to his house.  I knocked on the door and when it opened I said “it’s not that far”.  By making that journey, he saw the journey wasn’t that far.  As a pastor, I made a way where he couldn’t see a way.  If you can visit them, they cannot think that their house is too far for them to come to you!  If people realize they are not too far for you to visit, they will feel safer at the church.

You need to split the seas that stop people from getting married in your church.  Don’t just look at someone all sad when they complain about their singleness – teach them how to find a marriage partner.  Teach them what kind of person to look for.  Teach them the warning signs that show they are about to marry a loser.  Help people notice one another in the church as well!

Teach people that they can find good marriage partners within the church, it brings great stability when people marry in the church. I’m not saying play Cupid, I’m not saying force people to get married, I’m certainly not saying prophesy marriage, or even promise a happy marriage.  Marriage is hard work, and if you force people to get married they will hate you!  But seriously, make a way – part some seas.

You need to part seas when it comes to finding work for people.   Teach your people how to find work, how to work hard, how to succeed in a job.  You also need to help people find work – if someone in the church is an employer, then talk to them about a sheep that needs some employment.  Sometimes the person you recommend will embarrass you, but don’t let that get in the way of you being a sea-splitter!  It’s not enough for you to preach about crossing seas, you have to make a way!

You need to part the seas of attendance.  You might have to change a meeting time or a rehearsal time for one person.  We just changed the dates of our summer conference for just a handful of people – it’s called being a sea-splitter.  The year before the conference wasn’t during the school holidays of every London borough and so certain people could not attend, and I failed in my sea-splitting ministry.  At the end of the conference, I vowed not again – and now I am embracing making a way for people to attend.  Make things convenient for people.  In London you have to start meetings a bit later because some people work later.  That is a sea splitter!

If you struggle with this: try having less meetings.  Meet your people on Sunday.  They are there anyway, so have your leader’s meetings, your deacon’s meetings and your children’s workers meetings on a Sunday after church rather than make people come out another time in the week.  Don’t make someone travel twice when they could travel once.  It took a while for me to see this clearly, I will admit, but this is part of your ministry as a pastor: make a way.  

Listen – people always make excuses.  Deal with them:

“Your church service is too long” – “How long is your favourite film?”

“The church is too far from my house” – “How long is your daily commute to work?”

“I don’t have shoes” – “I will buy you some shoes”

You need to part seas when it comes to growing up.  Everyone in your church needs to know there is a pathway forward for them growing up.  Teach them how to read the Bible for themselves, give them a place where they can ask questions, point them in the direction of good articles, good teachers, good books.  I am always giving books to my leaders – because I want them to grow.  I want people to see a clear path.  How to flow in the gifts, how to behave in church.  It all needs to be made clear.

You need to part seas when it comes to a place of significance.  Everyone in your church needs to know there is a clear path for them to be a significant part of the church.  Encourage people to join small groups, to serve on the rota and to give generously to the church.  Explain that doing these things makes the people pillars in the church – people who the church cannot do without.  And whenever people get saved and healed – they made it happen!

You need to part the seas of ministry as well.  Don’t hold onto the ministry too tightly.  Delegate.  Have a short mini-preach before the sermon so people can get used to standing up in front of people, give people small groups to run, let people preach in the satellite churches (and lead worship) so they can get used to what they are doing.  Make a way for people to enter into their ministerial dreams. We have invested so much in ensuring Charis Bible College London happens for example, not just because it’s great to have a Charis on the doorstep (hence, being a sea splitter for people who want to go to college) but so that the people who run the college are now walking in their dreams, being a sea splitter for them.

If you are a pastor, you are a sea splitter. Get used to it, and get doing it!

Assimilation

 

No – we are not talking about my favourite Star Trek baddie, the Borg.  We are talking about the process that must be in place for making new people feel welcome when they visit a Sunday service.  In the Tree, we call that process “assimilation” – people moving from coming to a church service but feeling “not us”, to coming to a church service and feeling part of “us”.

80% of families who move area and are looking for a new church just go from church to church until they find one that is friendly.  That is all they are looking for – not healings, not miracles, not an accurate exposition of the hypostatic union, not an all singing all dancing youth ministry, but for a church that is friendly.

When I heard that statistic, I thought – I know that’s true.  People come to the Tree who disagree with grace and the complete work, but they know we love them so they keep coming.  Other people would agree with us line by line, but maybe they wanted a leadership position or pulpit or something we were not going to give them, so erroneously feeling unloved they left us.

People have to be allowed to belong to our group before they will believe what we believe.  They have to experience our unconditional grace and love before they will believe in God’s unconditional grace and love.

In Luke 7.11 it said that Jesus was followed by His disciples and the crowd.  We have to allow there to be a crowd – people do not instantly decide to become disciples.  It’s healthy to have a fringe of people in your church still trying to work things out – but while they are working out their response to God and His grace, if they are responding positively to you and identify with you then you need to ensure that they feel part of your church.  That will not happen by accident – or if it does, it will not happen as well as if you do it intentionally and on purpose.

So what is our process of assimilation at Tree of Life Church?  And as I share this – don’t try and copy it wholesale – it won’t seem authentic and people will quickly pick up on that.  A lot of churches suggest getting new people to stand up in the service and give them a round of applause or a small present.  That would not work in Dagenham.  I don’t believe it at all – the church is too variegated for people to feel at home and have that happen.  So we need to be more low key.  

So we have a three fold process, which is working well.  I am also going to suggest two changes that I am considering making in the near future to help us grow.

Firstly, we have a postcard called a Connection Card.  On the front it has a whole bunch of tick boxes that say things like “I want to know Jesus”, “I want to help on Sundays”, “I want to be water baptised”, “I am a first time visitor”.  All our ushers hand these out to anyone.  On the other side, you put your name and address and how you heard about us, and if you have any prayer requests or praise reports.  

Now anyone in our church can fill them out at any time – as the church grows it is difficult to communicate with people all the time, and this means that anyone in the church can write a note that the pastor is 100% guaranteed to read.  

People can then put them in the offering bucket as the offering bucket is passed around.  Now, the 1st or 2nd time visitor can hold onto theirs and hand it in directly to our information desk in exchange for a small gift (chocolates, a book).  This means the person staffing the information desk (who has to be an elder) can make sure that their email address is legible and also spend some time listening to the persons making them feel at home.

Then I read every card personally on Monday.   At the moment, we average between 6 and 20+ cards every weekend across the network, often with five or more from new visitors.  I read everyone, pray for everyone, email everyone and send a postcard to everyone.  That is my number one priority on Monday.  Before I process the counts for the weekend (please please tell me that you do at least a headcount each service as a minimum – if you don’t measure how can you know how well you are doing), before I process the offering, before I do anything.  

Get out of the idea that a pastor should rest on Monday.  Monday is your single most important day – apart from Sunday.  That is the day you deal with what the stirring on Sunday revealed.  Do not rest – strike while the iron is hot.  You can rest on Friday or Saturday, and be able to hit Sunday with full energy and life and smash that service.  On Monday there is work to do!

Those postcards instantly double our retention rate.  The truth is that the average church in the United Kingdom has 4% MORE new visitors per year than the size of their average congregation.  That is a gift from God!  Think about it – if you have a church of 100, you will have on average 2 visitors per week.  That’s 104 per year – MORE THAN YOUR WHOLE CONGREGATION.  Keep 10% of those and you will grow.  We keep 15-16% of new visitors at the moment which means we are a growing church.  Keep 5% and you will stay the same.  If one postcard to every new person and one email to every new person turns your church from a surviving church to a thriving church then this is the single most important decision you will make as a pastor – to build a healthy process of assimilation into place!

So many pastors get hundreds of people pass through their doors per year – a personal gift from the Father to that pastor.  And they let all of them slip through their hands.  Ouch!

Secondly, to ensure their experience from door to service is a positive one, every single service we have 2 people in place whose only job is to deal with new people.  The first one waits outside the front door with our first usher.  But whereas the usher stays in place and greets everyone, the greeter (Greeter 1) takes new people through the path way to the auditorium.  They introduce them to everyone they meet, explain how church works and then pass that person to our second greeter (imaginatively titled Greeter 2) shows them around the auditorium, helps them find a seat, makes sure they have a connection card and shows them love.

Meanwhile Greeter 1 is running back to the front door to do it all again.  We ask people we are not sure about if they are new – because we know regulars won’t mind because they know why we are doing it.  We then smile as big as we can – we want people to know that we are genuinely chuffed they came to church.  They start as guests, but we want them to feel like family.

This is a new procedure for us.  I developed it on purpose.  The first week we introduced the greeters we had a completely unprecedented 15 new visitors.  It was the middle of the holidays, a quieter than normal Sunday with no special programme or special speaker.  But as we put the procedure in place, people just came.  God is looking for churches that will welcome people.

Our third and final piece of the assimilation process is our information desk.  It’s just a table opposite our teas and coffees where new people can ask any questions.  There is always a leader of the church at the information desk and they can answer any question – double check we have people’s details, and just show kindness and grace.

That is how we do it, and that is partly why we are a growing church.  How we deal with new people is process and purpose driven – it is done deliberately not by accident.  We are a friendly church, the Assimilation process just lets us prove it.

Right now I am thinking about assimilation as I want our procedures to be even tighter.  One thing I notice is that people normally sit in the same places in churches.  So if a new person is in your zone, you notice if you are even a little observant.  I am considering appointing 6 zone monitors (if anyone has a better phrase let me know!!!) sort of front left, front middle, front right, back left, back middle and back right who will have some cards and a mission to welcome and make welcome any new looking people in their zone.  Even if the response is “well I used to sit over there but…” it’s still nice to make people feel welcome.

My second plan is to start the assimilation process from the car park not the front door.  That’s wrought with difficulties because we are in a cinema and about half the people arriving are for the cinema, but I thought if we baked some freshly baked brownies or muffins then people wouldn’t mind us handing them out and asking if they are here for church, and then walking them to the usher and greeter.  We have set up our “I’m New” page on the website for people to put their car license into so we can go and visit new people, but I am just thinking it through at the moment.

Our goal: to be the singe most welcoming church in London.  We will only achieve it if we do it deliberately and in Him.  But it can be achieved.  And we can mend the nets and ensure no fish escape us!