|Vol. 14 No. 6 June 2012
Now, I thought that would catch the eye of you English majors when it should have been “And he had gone…” to the store or wherever. Recently, I heard a newscaster using that very phrase. I was talking with a public accountant just the other day and lo and behold, he used the same expression. It is good that we can laugh at ourselves. We need some humor along life’s way because of the great amount of seriousness we deal with in writing articles involving subject matters that often cause our hearts to be saddened. As a writer and public speaker, I have often used the wrong verb in a sentence. I still remember the time I inserted an adverb where I should not have done so. This occurred some 40 years ago, but this experience still lingers in my mind. I was preaching during the Sunday morning worship assembly, and I was speaking about the time when Peter denied the Lord. You know that Jesus had predicted he would and that something would happen when he did. Well, Peter did in fact deny the Lord and then I said, “And when that cock had…” It was then I began conjugating the word “crew” in my mind, and in that very moment I knew I was in trouble. The problem was I just did not know how to conjugate the word. A good friend who was a schoolteacher was sitting on the second pew knew I was in trouble, and she was enjoying every second of my dilemma. Say, have you ever tried to conjugate the word ‘crew’? Well, I backed up in a hurry and then I said “And when that cock crew…” Flawless in English grammar, I am not, but I still smile when I remember this experience.
Several years ago, I was on the campus of Alabama Christian College and was standing in the Rotunda talking with several friends. It was during the first week of the school year, and there were many new faces on campus. A young married couple came walking up to where I was standing, and we spoke. I had known the young man since my high school days. Brother Eris Benson asked him if he was going to take English, and the young man replied “I guess so. I ain’t got none.” Well, I wanted to say something but I didn’t. Now, all you who knew the late brother Benson also knew how he conducted his English class and that he required much of his students. Brother Benson did not crack a smile or say anything negatively. I said to myself, “Well, brother you are about to get some English.”
I was working in the yard one day, and a brother in Christ, a member of the congregation where I was then preaching many years ago, stopped his truck and walked up to me. The first words that came out of his mouth were, “The church ain’t doing nothing.” He did not understand that by using a ‘double negative’ he was actually saying the church was doing something.
Now, let us consider some serious matters. Question, “Have you ever read a sentence, and as you processed in your mind that it was saying one thing, but when you read it again, you understood it differently?” Perhaps we all have found ourselves making a sentence mean what we wanted it to mean rather than what the writer had intended. It may have been just a word left out of the context or perhaps you added a word that was not there. Sometimes, what we have been taught over an extended period of time will cause us not to understand a passage of Scripture as to its original meaning. Permit me to give a couple of examples.
While working in a campaign many years ago in the city of West Monroe, Louisiana during which time brother Harvey Starling was doing the preaching under a big tent, brother Charlie Boddy and I were conducting a home Bible study with a family who had attended the nightly services. We discovered that the students present believed in immersion; however, since they had been taught that water baptism was not essential to salvation, we encountered a serious problem that was preventing us from convincing them what the Lord would have them to do in order to make their salvation as sure as possible.
In attendance was a man who was not mentally stable and all of a sudden he spoke out and said, “I know a verse that tells us what to do in order to be saved and that is Acts 2:38.” Well, I could hardly believe my ears. I thought the Lord was going to use this mentally defective person to help his friends to understand the purpose of baptism. I told him to go ahead and quote it. He began slowly saying, “Then Peter said unto them repent and …believe.” I nearly dropped my Bible. He was a member of the same religious organization as the rest of the group. He, like the others had been instructed by their preacher that when a person ‘repents and believes’ there is nothing else needful for salvation from past sins. Oh yes, baptism would be required for church membership but not for salvation. I then turned to Acts 2:38 and read it. I am sorry to say that we did not receive a positive response from our study.
My long time friend and brother in Christ, Roger Dill, tells of the time when he was discussing the Bible with an individual, and they were dealing with the same subject regarding scriptural baptism being necessary for the remission of sins. So Roger had the man to read 1 Peter 3:21 from the King James Version of the Bible. The man proceeded to read: “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also not save us…” It was then that Roger knew he had a problem, and he asked the man to begin reading the verse again and he did: “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also not save us…” My friend asked the gentleman to read the verse one word at a time. When he got to “…even baptism doth also now save us,” the man stopped, his face turned red and he was embarrassed because he had always thought the word “not” was in the verse.
Often prejudice and a deep seated bias will prevent a person from accepting the truth whether it is spoken or written. The Master Teacher, Jesus Christ, used a passage of Scripture taken from Isaiah 6:9-10 and applied it to the majority of His hearers when He said, “Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, And seeing you will see and not perceive; For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them” (Matthew 13:14-15). During the time the apostle was a prisoner, he used the same passage from the prophet Isaiah when he applied it to the spiritual condition of the unbelieving Jews (Acts 28:26-27). Someone has said that there is no blindness like those who will not see. Paul used the passage found in Isaiah (29:10) when he said of those who would not believe in Jesus, “God has given them a spirit of stupor, Eyes that they should not see and ears that they should not hear, To this very day” (Romans 11:8).
When we study the Holy Scriptures, we should do so with clear glasses and not with ones that are discolored by preconceived ideas. It is a real challenge to interpret what the inspired writer meant rather than understanding the passage according to our culture, customs or our prejudices. Paul commended the citizens of Berea for a couple of reasons, namely, hearts that were receptive and their diligence in searching the Holy Scriptures (Acts 17:11). It is so needful today to have an ‘open heart’ and an ‘open Bible’ in order for us to be submissive to His will.
In conclusion, “Obey” is a verb that all of us should have in our hearts and in our lives. Hebrews 5:8-9 reads, “(T)hough He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (NKJV emphasis added).
There have been a lot of changes in my life. Few, however, rival the change that took place on December 21, 2003. After sitting in on elders’ meetings and being with elders for well over twenty years, I became one. “They” and “them” quickly became “we” and “us.”
As a preacher, I had been as close to being an elder as one could possibly be for all of those years without actually being one. As elderships in three different congregations had asked me to meet with them almost every time they met, I had seen godly men pray, plan, deliberate, discuss, question, rejoice, express sorrow and do a host of other things “up close and personal.”
As the work of the church in general and the work of elders in particular were discussed, I had listened to members of those congregations as they expressed support for or concerns about what “they” did. I had heard what the members liked and what they did not like about “them.” In fact, I had my own opinions about these matters. While I did my best to keep these opinions to myself, I still had them. I could see (or at least I thought I could see) all kinds of ways that the work of the Lord could be done better if “they” would handle their responsibilities differently.
Now that “they” is “us,” I hope you will indulge me as I share some things I have learned firsthand. Hopefully, these thoughts will provide some insight into something that looks a whole lot less difficult on the outside than it does on the inside.
The term “elder” is not synonymous with the term “infallible.”
Nobody knows this better than the men who try to serve the Lord and a local congregation as elders. There are times when the judgment of elders could be better – sometimes a whole lot better. At those times, please be patient with us, communicate with us and work with us. We are, after all, all on the same team. Please accept our “humanness” and realize that we are doing the best we can do. Most importantly, please pray for us. Until and unless you have been here, you will never know how much we need your prayers.
It would help to be a trained juggler.
While our primary concern is to please the Lord, elders constantly feel the pressure of trying to juggle the needs and desires of various age groups and people of various economic, educational and social levels. In addition to these factors (and many others), elders are constantly dealing with people who possess different levels of spiritual maturity. When it appears that a ball has been dropped, maybe, instead of pointing that out, it would be better to help pick it up. Better yet, how about helping us carry the load so that the ball is not dropped in the first place?
The Maytag repairman would have a heart attack in his first month as an elder.
If the commercials are correct (and who would ever doubt the information in a commercial?), the fictional Maytag repairman does not have much repairing to do. I wonder what he would do if he had to try to “fix” relationships, feelings, consequences of sin in people’s lives, programs, budgets, etc. He might not look quite as relaxed as he normally does. In fact, we might be visiting him in the Cardiac Care Unit of one of the local hospitals.
When you have seen one, you have not seen ‘em all.
This one is a two-way street. Sadly, some members of a congregation think that everything is “settled” when they talk to only one of the elders. The responsibility is in the hands of an eldership, not just one elder. Please do not ask one of us to “carry the water” for you. We all want to hear what you have on your mind, and we need to hear it from you. There does not need to be any misunderstanding.
At the same time, the eldership has not made a visit, expressed concern, spent time with somebody who needs to be encouraged, etc. when only one elder has done these things. All too often, one man becomes the “head elder” by default because he is the only one the members of the congregation see at hospitals, funeral homes and at other times when they truly need a shepherd.
Shepherding is a wooly job.
I have not been around many (make that any) shepherds, but if I met one, I would not be surprised to find traces of wool on his clothing. Shepherds are in contact with the sheep. Effective shepherding cannot be done at arm’s length. It is my firm opinion that the shepherds of God’s people today should regularly read and faithfully seek to apply the information we read about the Good Shepherd in John 10.
Sheepdogs cannot do the job of shepherds.
A corollary to the last point is that elders cannot hire a preacher to do their shepherding for them. All too often, the modern “system” looks like the one in which shepherds (elders) obtain the services of a sheepdog (preacher) to keep the flock safe and where they are supposed to be. I often wonder how much more evangelism an “evangelist” could do if he was not expected to be the sheepdog.
Boardrooms are not as effective as living rooms, family rooms or dining rooms.
Decisions are made in boardrooms. People’s lives are touched in living rooms, family rooms and dining rooms. I have some very strong opinions about what criteria the Lord will use to judge elders. Those strong opinions have absolutely nothing to do with most of what goes on in boardrooms. They have to do with how well the shepherds know the flock and how important souls are. On the Day of Judgment, I seriously doubt that there will be any “extra credit” given to those elders who had an impressive budget and who met it every month.
It is almost impossible to push a string.
Whatever the elders’ dream for a particular congregation is, we need to take the lead in that. We do not need to be making assignments, checking flow charts, etc. If we want the church to be more evangelistic, we need to be more evangelistic. If we want the church to give sacrificially, we need to give sacrificially. Whatever it is that we would like to see the church doing, the members need to see us doing.
You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink.
Are there verses or parts of verses in God’s Word that trouble you? Here’s the one at the top of my list since the day I became an elder: “…they watch for your souls, as those who must give account…” (Hebrews 13:17). I live every day with the realization that I am accountable to the Lord for the souls of scores of people, and that I can do nothing to force, coerce, cajole, threaten or entice them in such a way that I can guarantee that their relationship with the Lord is as it should be. Try living with that one for a while and see how many sleepless nights you have.
She is not behind me; she is alongside me.
While there is no particular order to these thoughts, I did save the best until last. The well-known saying is that “behind every successful man, there is a good woman.” Elders’ wives are not behind them. They walk alongside them and make the journey much easier by so doing.
While I do not believe that it is appropriate to put the elders’ wives behind them, it is also wrong for her to walk ahead of him and “do the job” for him. Believe me, this is a real temptation. There are times when it would be very tempting to “pass the buck” or let somebody else “take the heat,” but it is neither the loving thing for a husband to do nor is it scriptural. It is altogether appropriate for the wife of an elder to accompany him on any number of his visits, to assist him by having people into their home and to find other ways to support him. However, he needs to be the one doing the shepherding, not her.
While you are praying for elders, please do not forget to pray for their wives. Very often, their husbands cannot let them know what is troubling them because they would be betraying a confidence and/or causing her unnecessary pain. Often, all that an elder’s wife knows is that the man she loves is hurting or troubled in some way, and she is doing all she knows how to do to help him. You might even consider putting your prayers into action and asking one or more of the godly women who serve “in the shadow” if they would like to have lunch, go shopping or “just talk.” You might be an answer to her prayer.
So, there you have it – at least for now. I am sure that, given enough time, my list will change somewhat. I just thought that it might be beneficial to read one person’s thoughts about what he has learned in the past few years. I pray that I will keep learning and will be a more effective servant of the Lord in whatever capacity He and His people allow me to serve.