Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Church Leadership: Jesus Christ, Elders, and Deacons

Jesus is the Head of the Church:
Jesus Christ is the Head of the church. He loves her, died for her, sustains her, and will one day return for her. All authority has been given to Him (Matt. 28:18, Phil. 2:9-11). He has designed the church to be led by a plurality of elders who are biblically qualified to shepherd the flock of God. Alexander Strauch writes, “According to the New Testament, elders lead the church, teach and preach the Word, protect the church from false teachers, exhort and admonish the saints in sound doctrine, visit the sick and pray, and judge doctrinal issues. In biblical terminology, elders shepherd, oversee, lead, and care for the local church.” (Biblical Eldership, 2003). This is clear and to the point. Elders are not to lord their authority over the flock; rather they are to lead by humble example (1 Peter 5:1-3).
An elder-led church means each elder equally shares authority and responsibility. In other words, there is not a culture of pastors and elders. Instead, the elders all function as pastors. However, there is not equal giftedness among elders. Biblical knowledge, background, leadership abilities, communication skills, etc along with other factors leads us to the principle function of “first among equals” as revealed in 1 Timothy 5:17. Peter functioned this way among the other apostles in the context of the early church.

Qualifications of Elder:
"If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders..." - 1 Timothy 3:1-7

Elders are broad overseers who must:
     - Know the Church (Pastor/Shepherd)
     - Feed the Church (Teach)
     - Lead the Church (Vision)
     - Protect the Church (Discipline)

A Snapshot of Elder Responsibilities from Acts 20:28
"Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with His own blood.” 

The book of Acts gives us an understanding of how deacons can effectively assist elders in ministry. Deacons hold the second-highest office in the church as they serve as helpers to the elders as caretakers of God’s people and in service to those in need. Scripture is clearer about the responsibilities and duties of the elders as overseers and shepherds than that of deacons. However, we can infer deacons handle church money, manage church systems, meet mercy needs, and will be trusted with intimate details of people’s lives. The specific qualifications of this office is found in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. These qualifications are as follows: dignified, not double-tongued, not a drunkard, not greedy, sound doctrine and convictions, tested, blameless, not slanderers, sober-minded, faithful in all things, not a polygamist, and be good managers of home and family. The standard is high and impossible without the Holy Spirit. Yet, we know He is faithful and powerful to work in His people.

Deacons are focused specialists:
     - Facility Leaders
     - Community Group Leaders
     - Finance Leads (Income & Expense)
Responsibilities of both Elders and Deacons:
Maintain the required Scriptural criteria for Elder/Deacon 
Seek God’s will for the church 
Care for the church and seek its growth as disciples of Christ 
Teach and counsel from Scripture 
Be an example in fulfilling the responsibilities of church partners 
Guard against false teachers (elders)
Exercise church discipline when necessary in grace and love with the intentions of reconciliation and restoration (elders) 

How to Become an Elder at Advance Community Church (Gibsonia, PA):
1. Seek God intently regarding your potential call to this role.
2. If you’re married, make sure your wife is supportive.
3. Complete and submit the Elder Assessment. (30+ page document) 
4. Meet with existing elders (and another Acts 29 pastor).
5. Complete follow-up predatory "conditions". 
6. If elders approve, your name will go before the church for 2 weeks. This will give the congregation an opportunity to respond to your elder candidacy.  
7. If no significant issue arises, the elders will then welcome you into active service as an elder.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Why We Don't Offer Church Membership

* Disclaimers: We love the Lord and the Church. We deeply revere the Bible as the 
revealed words of God.  We also long to see churches work together as children of God 
for the fame and glory of Jesus Christ and the furtherance of His Kingdom.

The Church is profoundly special to God. Consider these verses from Ephesians 1:3-14 as they describe what He has done on our behalf. Specifically focus in on His sacrifice for our reward. Clearly, His affections and purposes for the Church are beyond our full understanding and far beyond our ability to earn such undeserved favor.

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory."

The Church (Ekklesia or Ecclesia = "assembly"):
 - is the Body of Christ (1 Cor.12, Col.1, Eph.1)
 - is the Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor.3, 2 Cor.6, Eph.2)
 - is the Bride of Christ (Eph. 5)
 - is the People of God (1 Peter 2)
 - is a Royal Priesthood (1 Peter 2)
 - is the Light to the World (Matthew 5)
 - is the Ministers of Reconciliation (2 Cor.5)
 - is the Children of God (1 John 3)

These descriptions of the church are lofty and very real as a result of God's incredible grace, mercy, and love. He has made us "members" of His family and thus "members" of His Church upon salvation. When a person comes to faith in Jesus Christ, he/she receives the Holy Spirit as an adopted child into His eternal family - this cannot be taken away (Acts 2:38-39, Ephesians 1:13, Romans 8:1-2, 37-39, and many more). 

Why We Don't Offer Membership
     We, as a local church, don't offer church membership, because God already has! The beauty and wonder of the Gospel transcends the local church. Genuine followers of Jesus Christ (Christians) are members of His Body regardless of their local church affiliation. The reality of the 21st century is that it is rare for any believer to stay in one local church for their whole life. People move due to career, needs of extended family, climate preference, and so on. Our membership within His Kingdom doesn't waver during these transitions.
     Instead of a "membership covenant", we offer a "partnership commitment". A covenant in biblical context implies a lifelong promise. For example, marriage is designed by God as a covenant of 'til death do we part. The ancient wedding ceremonies involved symbolism of this strong covenant where both the bride and groom fully knew their intentions were for life. 
     Therefore, the leadership of our church has intentionally stated a person's relationship with the local church will not likely be a lifelong relationship. We believe everyone who is a member of God's Church due to His grace through faith is more than welcome to partner with us while they live in our community. By doing so, they are committing to pour their time, talents, and treasures into this local fellowship for the work, mission, and vision of the Gospel.

Committing to a church is a “localized and concrete way that I give myself to the larger work of God’s Kingdom...I give myself to the work of this church, I submit myself to the leadership of this church, I commit myself to the ministry of this church - it’s all very specific and concrete...Why wouldn’t a person associate themselves with a solid, Bible-believing, ministry-committed local church? This is actively seeking the Kingdom of God.” ~ Paul David Tripp

This is what it looks like in the local church I pastor:
Advance Community Church (Gibsonia, PA) is an elder-led local congregation where its "committed partners" profess active and maturing faith in Jesus Christ and have voting authority in 5 distinct situations. 

These FIVE votes of Partners involve:
1. appointing a new senior pastor 
2. an increase of debt in excess of 1/12th of the previous year’s annual operating budget 
3. Advance’s denominational affiliation
4. any proposed change to the Bylaws that would revoke or otherwise reduce a right granted to the Partners in the then-current Bylaws of the church 
5. other actions deemed major and extraordinary by the Elders

The Responsibilities of Partners:
1. Affirm and protect unity regarding the church's core Beliefs & Doctrines 
2. Grow in individual and corporate spiritual disciplines 
3. Consistently steward time, talents, and treasures 
4. Believe the best and pray for church leadership
5. Appreciate and respect for church discipline
6. Pursue holiness, confess sins, and love others
7. Get involved in the Mission and Vision of the church

There is no such thing as a perfect local church. Yet, God has chosen it to be unlike anything else on earth. The collective whole of all churches that submit to the Headship of Jesus Christ and live under the authority of His Word are Plan A for a world living in darkness. 

"But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his 
own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you 
out of darkness into his marvelous light." (1 Peter 2:9)