Mark S. Mitchell

Pastor, Writer, Follower of Jesus


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What Are You Waiting For?

One of the hard questions we often ask is, “Why doesn’t God answer many of our prayers?” Have you ever wondered that? Some point the finger at the one praying: “You’re praying with wrong motives.” Or “You don’t have enough faith.” I suppose sometimes either of those things could be the problem. But do we really have to prove ourselves worthy of answered prayer by perfect motives and unwavering faith? Don’t we all pray as fragile, broken, imperfect people?

This is a painful subject because over and over in the Scripture God invites us to pray. Why would he set us up for such disappointment when he doesn’t respond to our requests? We often turn to God in our most vulnerable moments with a desperate need only he can meet. Why does he sometimes remain silent?

One of the things I’m learning is that God’s silence is often a call to wait. I have also  noticed that good things happen in my heart as I learn to wait on Him.

Habukkuk was a prophet who learned this lesson. He served during troubled times. Israel had been split in two. The Northern kingdom of Israel had been taken into captivity by the Assyrians. Now the Southern kingdom of Judah was being ruled by a wicked king and they were being threatened by the Babylonians. In the midst of this, Habukkuk directs two questions to God. First, How long? How long will I cry out for help and get no response from you? I pray and pray but nothing seems to change. And then the second question: Why? Why do you let all this go on and on when you have the power to stop it? Why do you sit up there in heaven and not do a thing?

After he’s poured out his heart to God, he says, “I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint” (2:1). This is where his prayer ends. It’s like he runs out of breath and decides to be like the watchman who stations himself high on the ramparts, ready to report anything he sees to the people of the city. He decides to wait for God to sort it all out. The crisis isn’t over, but he’s done fighting and he is going to watch and wait to see what God will say and do next. That’s a good place to be, but it’s not easy.

Watching and waiting is hard. It’s hard because it takes time. We want answers now. It’s hard because we’d rather do something. It feels so unproductive to just wait. And it’s often such a lonely job; the watchman normally waits and watches by himself. It’s hard because we have to stay focused and there is so much to distract us. Waiting and watching is hard because it means we have to be open to correction. Our big problem is we want God’s thinking to be in line with ours, but when we wait and watch we learn to get our thinking in line with God’s.

It reminds me of something I read in a book called, Peace like a River, by Leif Enger. He tells the story of a family of four: Jeremiah, the father, and his three children ,Davy, Swede, and Rueben, who narrates the story. Davy gets himself into serious trouble. He’s arrested and put on trial. Knowing that the jury is about to convict him, he breaks out of a county jail and flees. A few weeks later the rest of the family piles into an Airstream trailer and goes in search of him.

Jeremiah, the father, is a praying man. He’s humble and discerning. But he can’t understand what God is up to. He senses God wants him to cooperate with a federal agent who is hunting for Davy, but he doesn’t want to betray his son. So he decides to have it out with God. He stays up all night and wrestles with God in prayer. While this was happening, a friend named Roxanna sat in the hallway and overheard the argument. She, of course, only heard Jeremiah. She wasn’t privy to God’s voice, though she sensed God was speaking and fighting back.

Enger writes: “At this Roxanna covered her mouth, for it occurred to her with Whom he wrestled. Having long ago accepted the fact of God, Roxanna had not conceived of going toe to toe with Him over a particular concern. Make me willing if you can, Dad cried, a challenge it still shakes me to think of. What Roxanna heard next was a tumble like man thrown.” The conflict between God and Jeremiah continued through the night. Roxanna eventually fell asleep in the hallway. When she awoke in the morning all was quiet. She went into the kitchen and found Jeremiah sitting at the kitchen table. He was at perfect peace.

Someone has said that prayer can do one of three things. First, prayer can change things. It really can make a difference in what happens. Second, prayer can change God. It won’t change his nature, but it can change what he chooses to do. But, finally, and perhaps most importantly, prayer can change us. One thing I’m certain about, waiting on God changes us.

Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.

Psalm 27:14


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What’s The Good of Prayer?

This is a question Oswald Chambers asks in his classic devotional, My Utmost for His Highest. I thought his reflections on this were insightful and helpful. Here are a few nuggets:

“It is not part of the life of a natural man to pray. We hear it said that a man will suffer in his life if he does not pray; I question it. What will suffer is the life of the Son of God in him, which is nourished not by food, but by prayer. When a man is born from above, the life of the Son of God is born in him, and he can either starve that life or nourish it. Prayer is the way the life of God is nourished.”

“We look upon prayer as a means of getting things for ourselves; the Bible idea of prayer is that we may get to know God Himself.”

“Give Jesus Christ a chance, give Him elbow room, and no man will ever do this unless he is at his wits’ end. When a man is at his wits’ end it is not a cowardly thing to pray, it is the only way he can get into touch with Reality. Be yourself before God and present your problems, the things you know you have come to your wits’ end over. As long as you are self-sufficient, you do not need to ask God for anything.”

“It is not so true that ‘prayer changes things’ as that prayer changes me and I change things…. Prayer is not a question of altering things externally, but of working wonders in a man’s disposition.”


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Mickey Mantle and Hearing God

While on vacation a couple of weeks ago I read two very different books. Each book dealt with subject matter I’m interested in. One was about God and the other was about baseball. It wasn’t until I was finished with both that I realized the connection.

The baseball book I read was a biography of Mickey Mantle called, The Last Boy, by Jane Leavy. Although I was a National League fan growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, I remember hearing a lot about Mickey and the Yankees. He always seemed to be the guy who had it all. Despite blowing out his knee his rookie season, he could hit with legendary power and run like a gazelle. But Mickey’s life was dark and tragic. He was both a helpless alcoholic and a chronic womanizer. For the most part, he left his four sons a legacy of abandonment and pain.

The other book I read was Dallas Willard’s, Hearing God. This is a book about developing a conversational relationship with God. Dallas deals with such questions as: Does God really talk to us? How do we discern his voice? How do we know we’re not just hearing our own voice? What part does the Bible play in all of that? This is a subject in which there has been much misunderstanding and debate. I must admit, I have been one of those guys who downplayed the idea that God speaks to us in very personal and specific ways. Willard’s book was a great corrective for me. I am now listening far more intently.

What does Mickey Mantle have to do with hearing God? Well, for one, at the end of his tragic life Mickey heard from God. While in the Betty Ford Center getting treatment for his alcoholism, Mickey got sober. Even better, Mickey heard from God and began a relationship with Jesus. His old friend and fellow Yankee, Bobby Richardson, wrote this, “Some years later in Dallas, Texas, he was in the hospital, already had a liver transplant. And my phone rang in the hotel, it was early in the morning. It was Mickey and he said, ‘I’m really hurtin.’ We had prayer together on the phone. Mickey and I talked together and as I was leaving to come back to South Carolina, I received a call that he’d taken a turn for the worst. Immediately we were on a plane flying out to Dallas. And one more time, I wanted to be bold because I wanted him to spend eternity with me in heaven – walked into Baylor Medical Center, he had a smile on his face. He said, ‘Come over here, I can’t wait to tell you this.’  He said, ‘I want you to know I’m a Christian, I’ve accepted Christ as my Savior.’” Bobby cried a little bit and helped Mickey to take his first steps as a baby Christian. A few months later Mickey died of liver cancer, but Bobby still looks forward to seeing his friend again. So do I.

Mickey’s biography also spoke to me on a personal level. His was a cautionary tale. I don’t want to wait until the end of my life to hear from God. I don’t want to leave my kids a legacy of pain. I don’t want to live in such a way now that I will die with more regrets than contentment.

Then Eli realized it was the Lord who was calling the boy. 

So he said to Samuel, “Go and lie down again, and if someone calls again, 

say, ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.’”

1 Samuel 3:8-9


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Growing Spiritually Strong Families

How can you grow a spiritually strong family? This is one of the questions our church is exploring as we began a series last week called, Building a Home: One Room at a Time. We’ll go from room to room in a typical house and talk about things like parenting, marriage, siblings, children, communication and conflict resolution. In my reading this past week I found a helpful little handbook by Dennis and Barbara Rainey called, Growing a Spiritually Strong Family. They had ten tips for couples who want their families to grow deeply in the soil of God’s love:

  1. Sink your roots: The best thing you can do for your kids is develop your own relationship with Jesus through the classic means of grace, like prayer, confession, reading the Bible and cultivating deep relationships with other believers. It starts with you. You can’t pass on anything you haven’t fully bought into.
  2. Pray with your mate: This may be the hardest yet most significant thing for couples to do. Less than 8% of believing couples pray together regularly and only 3% pray together every day. If you do this, I guarantee it will change your marriage! It’s hard to be mad at each other and pray at the same time. Find creative ways to do this. My wife and I have some of our best prayer times on long walks, and we’ve seen some remarkable answers.
  3. Give your children you: The greatest gift you can give your child is yourself. Carve out time for them. When they’re in the mood to talk, drop everything and give them your undivided attention. Give them lots of bear hugs, kisses and pats on the back. Give them you!
  4. Eat right: Find a way to read and discuss God, Jesus and the Bible as a family. Make this a part of your everyday conversation rather than a once a week mandatory sit down. Find creative ways to spice things up like discussing a movie that touches on some area of biblical truth, throwing out questions with no easy answers or letting one of your kids lead a devotional.
  5. Set the course: Determine what your core values are as a family. What’s non-negotiable? One day one of our daughters announced she would no longer be going to church with us. Yeah, right! Lynn and I decided early on that church wasn’t a negotiable activity for our kids as long as they were under our roof. She wasn’t a happy camper but her resistance didn’t last long and today she holds that value in her own family.
  6. Romance your mate: Go on regular dates together. Study your spouse and know her well enough to know what communicates love to her. By the way, there’s a high likelihood it’s different from what communicates love to you. Don’t be afraid to show physical affection to your spouse in front of your kids. They may act grossed out, but deep down they’ll love it!
  7. Train your disciples: One of the best things our family ever did when our kids were young was take a mission trip to Mexico. Experiences like this stretch our kids’ faith and give them the thrill of seeing God use them to change lives. Each of my kids has traveled with me on ministry trips outside of the country and it’s been a great way to instill in them a vision for something bigger than themselves
  8. Fight the darkness: You need to be aware of the darkness in our culture and how it threatens your family. What kinds of movies and TV shows will you watch? Who will your kids date? By the way, I’ve found that just because other “Christian” families allow their kids to do something doesn’t mean it’s right for your family.
  9. Rest and refresh: Every family needs to make time during the week to set aside the work and the chores and just be together. God created the Sabbath not as a noose around our neck but to bless us. Try to set aside one day a week that’s different from the others in that it’s not about “doing” but rather “being.”
  10. Keep your covenant: Your marriage is the foundation for your family. It’s a covenant relationship you entered into before God who has made you one flesh. There is no room for the “D” word in your vocabulary.

 

I appreciate the Raineys’ wisdom. We have no guarantees that our kids will follow Jesus as adults, but I believe these are the kinds of things God uses to draw them to himself. My wife and I have had seasons where we’ve done many of these well, and not so well. Perhaps you to go down the list with your spouse and ask how you’re doing in each area. Decide how you’ll shore up those weak areas. Families are always a work in progress and sometimes we just need some markers along the way to help us measure how we’re doing.


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Mentoring Young Pastors

men·tor  ˈmenˌtôr,-tər/
an experienced and trusted adviser. “he was her friend and mentor until his death”
synonyms: advisor, guide, guru, counselor, consultant

Many people are talking about mentoring these days. Last week I prepared a message that had a lot to say about this from the story of Elisha’s succession of Elijah as the lead prophet in Israel. Before Elijah’s departure, there was an “in-between” period in which Elisha walked with Elijah and received his invaluable mentoring. Whether it’s Elijah and Elisha, Moses and Joshua, or Paul and Timothy, there’s a lot to learn about mentoring from these biblical examples.

A couple of years ago I ran across a verse that has come to define what I feel my purpose is for the rest of my life. Here it is: “Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come” (Ps 71:18). Mentoring is all about declaring His power to the next generation.

I have the privilege of serving at Central Peninsula Church(link) church as Lead Pastor. I am going on my twenty-eighth year there. My greatest joy right now comes in mentoring some of the young pastors on our staff. God has blessed us with some amazing young men and women that are very much in their formative years of leadership. My own focus is on mentoring the young men. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned in mentoring them:

  1. Pick strong guys. Maybe this goes without saying, but some older men are threatened by strong, talented young men. But as long as this strength is tempered with humility and a teachable spirit, I’ll take a young stallion any day over a gelding.
  2. Take them with you. I have the opportunity to travel a good deal on ministry trips outside the country. I rarely go alone. Usually, I bring one of these guys with me. The experiences we share on these trips is worth a thousand staff meetings!
  3. Meet regularly. This sounds so simple and obvious, but I’m often surprised how few Lead Pastors take the time to sit down and meet one- on-one with the guys on their staff. I meet with them at least every other week, apart from regular staff meetings.
  4. Speak hard truth in love. David Roper used to say, “God’s men bounce.” The idea is you can hit them hard and they’ll bounce back. I have found this to be true, so I don’t hold back, but also try to do it in the context of committed love.
  5. Invest in their marriage. If the enemy is going to pick one of these guys off, he’ll often try to do it in the context of their family. My wife and I try to meet often with them as couples. We share our own struggles and challenges and encourage them to put their marriage before ministry.
  6. Share history. Every church has a unique story. Learning and honoring that story is part of being a good shepherd. Young guys have a tendency to want to change that story instead of honor it, and certain things do often need changing! But for change to be truly redemptive, it must be born out of a respect for what God has been doing there all along.
  7. Expose them to other leaders. I’m not the only one who they can learn from. There are areas in which they would be much better off learning from someone else.
  8. Let them preach. Most young guys want to preach more. I try to balance the responsibilities I have to preach with the need they have to grow in their pulpit skills. While some guys are naturals, most need time in the pulpit to hone their craft. As much as you can, give it to them.
  9. Talk them up. Talk them up to the church, elders and key leaders. They will lap it up like thirsty hounds. We all like encouragement, and the young men you mentor need to not only hear it from you, but to hear it from others who have heard it from you.
  10. Learn from them. There is so much I learn from the young guys on our staff. I’m way behind when it comes to technology, current trends in churches and the right kind of jeans to buy. I try not to say, “We’ve never done it that way.” Okay, sometimes I say it, but not too much.

I love mentoring. I love this stage in life where I’m “in-between” the call to mentor others and my own departure from the scene. What a privilege it is to declare his mighty deeds to all who are to come!


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AS THE MEN GO…

I’ve heard it said many times, as the men go, so goes the church. This is one reason I’m so happy about what happened a couple of weeks ago at Mt. Hermon Conference Center. The church I serve in Central Peninsula Church (CPC) held a Men’s Retreat there. We’ve been doing this at the same place for over 30 years. A few years ago we almost canned our retreat because our numbers were down. I’ve even been told from a good friend who works at Mt. Hermon that churches doing men’s retreats are few and far between these days. But in the last few years we’ve experienced a revival of sorts among the CPC men. At this last retreat we had about 250 men, which I think broke a CPC record for the amount of guys at our conference. This has always been a multi-generational retreat, with teaching, small groups, recreation, food and time to just hang out. None of that has changed, but what are some of the things that have contributed to this resurgence of men coming to our retreat? 

An extension of ministry that takes place all year long
Twelve years ago we started a men’s ministry at CPC called Men’s Fraternity. We didn’t hire anyone to start this. We did it organically with existing leadership. It started small; we kept it simple. We provided a hot breakfast. We taught on men’s issues and we set aside time for small group discussion. We met on Thursday mornings from 6:00-7:30 am, September through May, because most men are available during that time. We had about 25 men meeting at first, and steadily it grew. Today we have over 150 men who show up each week. We now have a dedicated staff person to lead it, but volunteers do the bulk of the work. A cooking crew even shows up at 4:00 am! I believe that Men’s Fraternity has been the foundation for a successful Men’s Retreat.

Don’t let money be an issue
There are a lot of men who see the price tag of a typical men’s retreat and just can’t justify forking out the cash for a weekend away with the boys. We decided we didn’t want money to hold anyone back from coming. Instead of charging for the retreat, we now take an offering during the retreat to cover the expenses. We know that some men can’t cover their costs, while other men can cover more than their own. Each year we’ve seen God show up and provide more than enough through this offering.  

Involvement from elders
As our elders discussed the future of our Men’s Retreat a few years back, we realized that many of us weren’t even going! How could we encourage our men to attend when we weren’t even willing to take the time to go ourselves? Our elders committed themselves to attending the retreat. We even held an elders open forum on Saturday night in which men could ask our elders anything they wanted. It was a huge hit! When our elders engaged, the men of the church followed!

Perhaps a men’s retreat isn’t the answer for all churches, but for us it has been a catalyst for genuine transformation among our men. One of our men emailed me recently with this testimony: “It was great to have dinner with you at the retreat on Saturday. Thank you for sharing your time. The retreat was amazing and I’ve walked away with a new peace in friendship and fellowship with many men in the CPC community. I am really in awe of what God has done within CPC and I have never fellowshipped and worshiped in such a deep and meaningful way as I have last weekend. I am hoping that as God continues to do His work in my life and that of my family’s, that I will be able to give back to the CPC community…” 

May his tribe increase!


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The Case for Expository Preaching

For the past three decades I’ve been committed to expositional preaching. Expository preaching is committed to explaining and applying a Biblical text to the audience. It begins with the conviction that all of Scripture was breathed out by God and has the power to change the life of a person who hears and obeys it. Most of the time, expository preaching means preaching systematically through books of the Bible. This is in contrast to topical preaching, which begins with a topic and then looks for biblical references that address that topic. I’ve found that there are several benefits to expository preaching.

Preaching through entire books of the Bible allows me to present truth in balance. As I preach through books of the Bible I’m forced to deal with the difficult themes of Scripture as well as the more appealing ones. I must deal with both grace and truth, wrath and mercy, theology and practice. In every biblical book, there’s a mingling of different themes that makes possible the apostolic goal of “declaring the whole counsel of God.”

Preaching through entire books of the Bible prevents me from worrying about what to preach next. Before I begin preaching through a book, I lay out the entire series of messages according to paragraphs. Each message will be an exposition of that paragraph, also allowing me to focus on a single theme which has emerged from my study. Every pastor knows the panic that can set in when he doesn’t know what to preach on next. I’m glad to say that this has seldom been an issue for me.

Preaching through entire books of the Bible allows me to model for people how to study the Bible. Every pastor wants his people to be able to feed themselves from the Word of God, but many people feel intimidated by the Bible and inadequate when it comes to how to study and interpret it. While not a Bible Study per se, expository preaching allows me to model sound interpretation and application of a biblical passage. People are able to observe how to move from understanding the biblical author’s intent to the application of that truth to the modern audience. I’ve seen how this rubs off on folks in both their small group Bible studies and their personal study of God’s Word.

Preaching through books of the Bible saves time because I only have to study one text instead of several. I’m always concerned when I hear a sermon that includes several different verses from all over the Bible. How in the world did he have the time to study all of those passages in context? Most often, I’ve found that he hasn’t, and he’s practicing what we call proof-texting. Proof-texting is when a person appeals to a biblical text to prove or justify a theological position without regard for the context of the passage they’re citing. As I like to say, they have a good sermon looking for a text! I have found that it takes me several hours to interpret a single passage. Expository preaching allows me the time to do that thoroughly.

I close with a wonderful definition of expository preaching from my late mentor, Ray Stedman, “Exposition is preaching that derives its content from the Scripture directly, seeking to discover its divinely intended meaning, to observe its effect upon those who first received it, and to apply it to those who seek its guidance in the present. It consists of deep insight into and understanding of the thoughts of God, powerfully presented in direct personal application to contemporary needs and problems. It is definitely not a dreary, rambling, shallow verse-by verse commentary, as many imagine. Nor is it a dry-as-dust presentation of academic biblical truth, but a vigorous, captivating analysis of reality, flowing from the mind of Christ by means of the Spirit and the preacher into the daily lives and circumstances of twentieth century people.”


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An Elder’s Authority

ELDERS LOSE AUTHORITY WHEN THEY SEEK POWER AND CONTROL

Authority is not power and control. Power and control may work over the short term but will eventually fail. Power is the use of gift, position, and opportunity to control others so they serve the elder and his aims. Often elders claim their power is from God and they seek to justify it by well-meaning claims, but their claims are marked by destructive attitudes that bring great hurt to our Lord’s sheep. Authority, on the other hand, is the use of gift, position, and opportunity to release others at the right time so that elders and others serve Christ together. Elders do lead people, but not for their own sake. They do it because of their concern for their growth. They don’t seek power. Henri Nouwen wrote about the dangers of power: “One of the greatest ironies of … Christianity is that its leaders constantly gave in to the temptation of power…. What makes the temptation of power so seemingly irresistible? Maybe it is that power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love. It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people … the temptation of power is greatest when intimacy is a threat. Much Christian leadership is exercised by people who do not know how to develop healthy, intimate relationships and have opted for power and control instead. Many Christian empire-builders have been people unable to give and receive love.”

The apostles were concerned about the misuse of authority. In 2 Cor 1:24, Paul reminds the Corinthians of his own apostolic authority: “Not that we lord it over your faith; we work with you for your joy, …” In the same letter he describes with disapproval how they reacted to certain leaders among themselves: “For you bear it if a man makes slaves of you, or preys upon you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face” (11:20). Peter, too, is careful to warn the elders not to govern by “lording it over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Pt 5:3). And John speaks strongly against Diotrephes “who loves to be first… even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church” (3 Jn 1:9-10). These first-century examples of church bosses indicate how easily churches can ignore the example of Jesus.

One of the ways we see in Scripture that Paul and others exercised their authority was that instead of giving orders they urged and appealed as fellow elders and brothers. In 1 Peter 5:1 he says, “I appeal as a fellow elder.” Then in Philemon, Paul clearly believes Philemon should set his slave Onesimus free, but he doesn’t deliver an edict. Instead he says, “…although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love” (Philemon 9).

Ray Stedman is now in heaven. I miss him. The church needs more elders like Ray today. Let me close with something Ray wrote several decades ago: “The task of the elders is not to run the church themselves, but to determine how the Lord in their midst wishes to run his church. Much of this he has already made known through the Scriptures, which describe the impartation and exercise of spiritual gifts, the availability of resurrection power, and the responsibility of believers to bear one another’s burdens, confess sins to one another, teach, admonish, and reprove one another, and witness to and serve the needs of a hurting world. In the day-to-day decisions which every church faces, elders are to seek and find the mind of the Lord through an uncoerced unanimity, reached after thorough and biblically-related discussion. Thus, ultimate authority, even in practical matters, is vested in the Lord and in no one else.”

Reference:
http://www.raystedman.org/thematic-studies/leadership/a-pastors-authority


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An Elder’s Authority

In 1979 I traveled with Ray Stedman to Brazil. Ray was in his prime. I was just a young man, very wet behind the ears, as they say. I saw Ray in action. I saw a man who exercised pastoral authority in wise and effective ways. He was a man who had innate personal authority. When he spoke, people listened, but he spoke only when he felt it necessary. He listened to others who differed with him, even when they were lowly interns. I learned more about authority from Ray Stedman than from anyone else, before or since. I learned from him that genuine authority doesn’t demand control or power. An elder or pastor is one who isn’t afraid to make mistakes, listens, doesn’t need to have all the answers, champions others, is humble and patient.

Elders have authority, and they can’t be afraid to exercise that authority. The responsibilities Scripture assigns to elders require that they have authority to accomplish them: teaching God’s truth, equipping the saints, exercising church discipline, and confronting false teachers. But where do elders get that authority to shepherd a church?

ELDERS HAVE NO AUTHORITY IN THEMSELVES

All authority in the church is derived authority. Even Jesus’ authority was delegated authority. He said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18). Authority isn’t an elder’s; it’s Christ’s, and elders have authority only as He exercises it through them. If an elder doesn’t rely on Him alone, they may have the title of elder, but not the authority. They may have the power to make others do what they want, but they’ll lack the moral leverage and respect that calls others to follow them. They may have control for a short time, but they’ll never have genuine authority. Being an elder doesn’t bestow authority on them; instead it gives them opportunity for divinely given authority to be recognized. They either walk with Christ or they fall on their faces. How then do they get authority?

ELDERS GET AUTHORITY FROM CHRIST

An elder’s authority comes from the Lord Jesus. He’s the one who makes a man an elder. In Acts 20:28, when Paul is addressing the Ephesian elders, he says, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” Not only that, but when others know they’re obedient to Him, they more willingly follow their leadership as their shepherds. His authority over their lives gives them authority in their lives. They gain authority the same way Christ did, through vulnerability, love, and self-sacrifice.

ELDERS GET AUTHORITY FROM BEING LIKE CHRIST

They also get authority from who they are, because knowing Christ makes them more like Him. Their authority comes from their person more than their position, from trust earned more than from power delegated or control exercised. They gain authority as they grow in Christ-likeness. Christ’s sheep know His voice and recognize it when they hear Him speak. If they hear His voice through an elder, their confidence in him grows and their trust in him deepens. They can tell, however, when Christ’s name is being masked by their own interests, and then they’ll resist authority at every turn. Ultimately an elder’s authority comes from their character tested over time.

ELDERS GET AUTHORITY FROM SERVING OTHERS

Elders get authority not only from who they are, but also from serving others. In Matthew 23:11 Jesus says, “The greatest among you will be your servant.” A spiritual man of high moral character who won’t humbly serve others will not earn authority from followers. An elder’s authority comes from caring for people, meeting needs, leading people to obey God and His Word, calling people to take a stand for Christ, calling people to be accountable before God, and organizing people to work together. If elders are to have authority, they must serve others well

ELDERS GET AUTHORITY FROM THE PURITY OF THEIR MOTIVES

Motives make a difference. Peter told elders to “shepherd the flock of God,” and appealed to them to be examples to the flock and not to use compulsion or seek sordid gain. They’re not to lord it over others, but to exercise oversight of them. Many people think exercising oversight means establishing control over others. But nothing could be further from the truth. The elder cares for his sheep; he encourages growth. Even when they must discipline the sheep, their concern for them should be care and growth, not punishment. They’re motivated to nurture, not to overpower.  An elder’s primary concern is his accountability to God, not authority, because their Chief Shepherd may return at any moment. When He returns, they’ll give an account of how well they carried out the job He gave them. He’s the owner and He’ll be concerned about the way they treated His sheep. Did they provide green grass and still waters for them when they were hungry? Did they protect them from wild animals and thieves in the darkness of night? Did they pursue them when they wandered off? They’re to care for them as Jesus cares for us. As Peter wrote, “For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (2:25). Oversight means loving care and concern, a responsibility willingly shouldered; it can never be used for personal gain.

Check back tomorrow for how Elder’s lose power and as I wrap-up these posts.


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Where in the World is Rwanda?

Ten years ago a movie came out that many of us saw called, Hotel Rwanda. Do you remember? It was about the genocidal mass slaughter of ethnic Tutsis by ethnic Hutus that took place in 1994 in Rwanda. Since that time there has been a great work of reconciliation taking place between these two groups, and Rwanda is considered one of the most beautiful countries in all of Africa. Today, my fellow CPC pastor, Neal Benson and I are off to visit this country. We will join fellow CPC’er, Chris Foreman there and speak at an apologetics conference sponsored by an organization founded by Chris called, Come and See Africa. I am looking forward to speaking on the question of how a good and powerful God could allow such horrific things as that which took place in Rwanda almost 20 years ago. It will be humbling to speak on this difficult subject to a group of people that have been confronted by this question at a far deeper level than I have. Please pray for both Neal and me as we seek to be God’s vessels in this beautiful land to these resilient people. Pray for our families while we are gone and pray that God brings us back safely on January 14.