Six Things We Must Get Right, or It's All Over
- Joe McKeever
- 2011 21 Jun
In the Lord's work as in anything else in life, there are essentials and non-essentials. There are the loadbearing features and cosmetic for-appearance-only aspects.
If we don't know which is which, we're in big trouble.
In the late 16th century, the mayor of Windsor engaged architect Christopher Wren to design and oversee the building of a town hall. When it was completed, the mayor refused to pay the bill, insisting that it needed more than the few columns Wren had designed. No matter that it was pointed out to him that the columns were holding up the building just fine. He wanted more columns and would not pay until they were installed.
Christopher Wren had several more columns added to the building. Each was identical to the first ones he had installed, with one exception. Each lacked one inch going all the way to the ceiling.
Some of those columns were load-bearing and others were cosmetic.
It's a wise church leader who knows which is which in the Lord's work.
Here is my list of "six load-bearers," six essentials which we must get right in the Lord's work or it's all over.
Please let me point out up front, these are not arranged in the order of priority. This is to ward off letters I sometimes get from debaters and arguers that B is more important than A, that C should be higher. I suggest, somewhat impishly, that he should have read the article more fully, because I said in the body that there was no particular order, that they are listed as they occurred to me. Anyone who writes learns quickly that some people prefer to skip the reading of the material in order to get on with criticizing it.
"...be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. (Ephesians 5:21)
"...Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account...." (Hebrews 13:17)
Yes, followers are to submit to leaders. But -- and pastors should not miss this -- leaders are frequently to submit to their constituents.
To submit means that when you and I disagree, one of us willingly and freely gives in to the other. No coercion, no pulling of rank, no holier-than-thou lording it over the other.
A pastor submits to his members when he has been severely hurt by something a member does, but when that member is in need, he shepherds and nurtures him/her as though he would rather do this than anything in the world.
A pastor submits to his members when he has a grand vision but he can see that they are not ready for this, that he has to drop back and scale down his approach.
A pastor submits to his members when he puts his personal plans on hold in order to act in the best interest of the Lord's people.
In other places on this website, we've written of the Sons of Diotrephes (see III John), those leaders who refuse to submit to anyone or anything, and the trouble they can cause.
"...being diligent to preserve the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace." (Ephesians 4:3)
In the Garden, Jesus asked the Father, "That they all may be one... that the world may believe that Thou didst send me" (John 17:21).
When a church -- much less the larger body of Christ! -- is not unified, everything grinds to a halt. Evangelism is forgotten, nothing gets done, members spend their time bickering and fighting, the godly among them are exasperated, the hurting and needy are neglected, the enemy rejoices, the devil has a field day, and the name of Jesus is blasphemed among the heathen.
When a church is unified and everything else is in order, the work goes more smoothly, people are ministered to, Christ is honored, God is exalted, and the enemy is defeated.
In deacon-training sessions, I remind these leaders that one of their prime functions is to preserve the unity of the congregation. That means staying on the alert and dealing with dissension and rebellion when it occurs.
This principle (of deacons nipping rebellion in the bud) can be abused, of course. There is a proper time and place for criticism of leaders. It takes a Spirit-filled diaconate to know what time it is.
"That the leaders led in Israel, and that the people volunteered, O bless the Lord!" (Judges 5:2)
Someone has to stand out front and say, "This is the way."
When Joshua led Israel's multitudes across the Jordan River, the priests went before them carrying the ark of the Lord. According to the specifications God sent, they were to stay some 3,000 feet ahead of the people. This was so that every man, woman, and child could see them. They were not to follow the persons in front of them like lemmings dropping off a cliff, but each was to keep his eyes on these holy men and to follow them.
As the priests approached the waters of the Jordan, they might have had a minor crisis of faith. The waters had not receded! Only when their feet hit the water, did the Jordan divide. (Joshua 3:4,15)
That's the problem with being a leader: you have to lead.
Show me a church where the pastor is a follower, where he refuses to exercise courage and stand before the congregation and declare, "This is what God wants us to do," and I will show you a church that is doing nothing.
"And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." (Acts 2:42)
Every once in a while, we will read where the members of Congress takes a break and all of them take a retreat. The idea, we're told, is for them to play games together, relax together, and get to now one another not as opponents but as the human beings they are. By establishing such ties, they begin to respect each other more and work together better.
Fellowship is sometimes called "Body Life." The idea is the members of the congregation know one another and work together, both formally and informally. There are scheduled times for fellowship, such as a mission trip when members spend a week or more together. Informal fellowship occurs when they sit in the bleachers and watch the church softball team play or enjoy an ice cream social after church. In the first, they work together, in the second they hang out together. Both are absolutely essential.
If a member of my body hurts, the rest of my body stays up all night out of sympathy. (See 1 Corinthians 12:12-31)
If disease or infection invades my body, the rest of the body sends resources to fight it.
It isn't for nothing that Scriptures call the church "the body of Christ" (see Ephesians 1:23).
"So then, each one of us shall give account of himself to God" (Romans 14:12).
"...and you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous" (Luke 14:14).
A healthy church builds in proper accountability, both for the laity and the leadership. Sunday School teachers must be accountable to leaders as to what they teach; otherwise, disaster looms. The teacher who builds himself or herself a following -- their own miniature congregation -- from their class becomes a trouble for the church as a whole.
Financial workers must be subject to regular inspection and proper accountability. Without it, no good thing will happen. For that reason, systems should be installed for double checks and such workers should rotate often.
Pastors are accountable generally to every member and specifically to certain leaders in the church. Whether it's a formal group or an informal collection of the mature, no pastor should be allowed to spend freely and commit the church to projects without the support of the larger team of leaders. If his preaching begins to be questionable, some group--preferably not an individual--has to be the proper ones to approach him on behalf of the congregation.
The church that does not have such a structure in place is asking for trouble.
"And He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to quit" (Luke 18:1)
Pray or quit. Get the church to praying or forget about making any kind of decent impact on this world for Christ. Enlist and train the members in prayer or mark the church off as existing in the flesh and insignificant in the work of the Kingdom.
"How is your church doing?" my friend asked a pastor. "We're on life support," came the answer." "Oh? That bad?" The preacher said, "Far from bad, that's the norm. Every church worth the name is on life support -- the 'life' being the Holy Spirit. Unplug the church from the power of the Spirit and it dies."
How's your church's life support system?
Being retired from the pastorate, most Sundays I'm in a different church. One of the first things I notice on entering a sanctuary is what we call the altar area. Is it conducive to people coming and kneeling for prayer? Sometimes, that area is so cluttered with tables and chairs that anyone needing to kneel and pray is out of luck.
These are not the only essentials in the operation of the Lord's church. Each of us will have our own list. These are mine.
Dr. Joe McKeever is a Preacher, Cartoonist, and the Director of Missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. Visit him at joemckeever.com/mt. Used with permission.
Publication date: June 21, 2011