Mark S. Mitchell

Pastor, Writer, Follower of Jesus


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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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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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Family Business or Body of Christ?

The word “nepotism” originated in the Middle Ages, when some Catholic popes and bishops, who had taken vows of chastity and therefore usually had no children of their own, gave their nephews (sometimes illegitimate sons) positions of preference in the church. But this isn’t just an old problem in the Catholic Church; it’s also a problem in the Evangelical church. Many churches are rampant with nepotism. A brief look at the names of the staff on a church’s web site or Sunday bulletin reveals far too many people with the same last names!

Nepotism is favoritism shown by somebody in power to relatives and friends, especially in appointing them to good positions without regard to objective evaluation of skill or qualification. Nepotism is natural in that almost everyone wants to help out those close to them. Especially in a small, close knit operation, or a family business, it’s normal. There’s nothing wrong with the desire to help your family out, but what happens when there’s a better qualified candidate? What happens when that family member doesn’t carry his or her weight or commits an indiscretion? What happens if the job outgrows their skill and abilities?

Robert Cubillos, business administrator at Rolling Hills Covenant Church in, Rolling Hills Estates, CA writes, “The consideration and hiring of an employee who is closely connected—by a blood relation—to another employee can cause a great deal of concern for churches…Nepotism can create a group of people who are insular and self-referential; they are insulated from outside scrutiny and opinion and are allied together by powerful allegiances to each other.”

Some of the problems associated with nepotism are even seen in the Bible. The spirit of nepotism is seen in the mother of James and John who lobbied Jesus to let her two sons sit at his left and right in his kingdom. The dangers of nepotism are seen in Eli, a priest in Israel, who failed to deal with the incompetence and indiscretion of his two sons serving in the same position (2 Samuel 2). It’s interesting that Jesus didn’t appoint one family member to be among the Twelve. James, the Lord’s brother, did become a leader in the Jerusalem church, but not until after the ascension.

Certainly this isn’t a black and white issue. There are no clear biblical commands against hiring family members, although there are warnings against showing partiality (1 Timothy 5:21). Furthermore, spiritual gifts are not passed down through families but sovereignly distributed by the Holy Spirit (Romans 12:3-8). Paul encouraged Timothy to appoint elders according to godly character rather than family connections (1 Timothy 3:1-7).

Here are some of the problems associated with nepotism in churches: First, we could end up hiring someone who is unqualified for the job and therefore doesn’t perform well. When we do that, it certainly doesn’t help our relative! We should ask if they would be hired in a similar position at a similar church. Second, nepotism can create frustration and disrespect towards church leadership when they perceive that favoritism played a part in either hiring or advancement. Third, there can be a lack of freedom among coworkers to honestly express their opinions about the spouse or child of a senior leader or elder. Fourth, it’s human nature to favor our own family and it’s near impossible to be completely objective about your own spouse or child. Fifth, the perception of favoritism and/or a financial motive behind the hiring of a family member can hurt a leader’s credibility. At the very least, the practice of nepotism gives the appearance to outsiders that the pastor is building a family kingdom at the church’s expense. In regard to the stewardship of a financial offering, Paul wrote, “…taking precaution so that no one will discredit us in our administration of this generous gift; for we have regard for what is honorable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men” (2 Cor. 8:20-21).

I believe it’s important for many churches to rethink their staffing policies. At the very least, they should establish clear policies at the elder level about fair hiring processes and operating procedures. They should avoid having family members report to family members. If they do hire a family member, they should start them at the bottom. There’s a story in Hollywood about a legendary talk show host who brought his son into the company, but he didn’t start him out in management. He started him out in the painting department as a set painter. That generated so much respect both for the host and his son, that story is still being talked about today.

The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability has established a very helpful sample policy for churches regarding nepotism: “XYZ Ministry permits the employment of qualified relatives of employees, of the employee’s household, or immediate family as long as such employment does not, in the opinion of the Ministry, create actual conflicts of interest. For purposes of this policy, ‘qualified relative’ is defined as a spouse, child, parent, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, aunt, uncle, first cousin, corresponding in-law, ‘step’ relation, or any member of the employee’s household. The Ministry will use sound judgment in the placement of related employees in accordance with the following guidelines:

  • Individuals who are related by blood, marriage, or reside in the same household are permitted to work in the same Ministry department, provided no direct reporting or supervisor to subordinate relationship exists. That is, no employee is permitted to work within ‘the chain of command’ when one relative’s work responsibilities, salary, hours, career progress, benefits, or other terms and conditions of employment could be influenced by the other relative.
  • Related employees may have no influence over the wages, hours, benefits, career progress and other terms and conditions of the other related staff members.
  • Employees who marry while employed, or become part of the same household are treated in accordance with these guidelines. That is, if in the opinion of the Ministry a conflict arises as a result of the relationship, one of the employees may be transferred at the earliest practicable time.”


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The Cost of Non-Discipleship

Several years ago I compiled a devotional book from Ray Stedman’s writings called The Power of His Presence. I’m delighted that these devotions are now being sent out to over 7,000 people each day on their email through an excellent website called raystedman.org. I am currently writing a second devotional on Ray’s writings that will be available in 2014. I’m constantly amazed at how relevant Ray’s writings still are. As I was reading some material from a sermon Ray did on Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17, I ran across this quote that identified for me some of the concerns I have about more than a few best-selling Christian books today:

There are a great many books written about the so-called “cost of discipleship.” They declare, in one way or another, that to have power with God we must pay a high price. In various ways they state that to become a victorious Christian, an effective Christian, requires a difficult and demanding discipline… I must say that I am not impressed with this type of literature at all…. We have gotten the cart before the horse… I do not mean that such an approach is untrue, for the fact is that obedience to God does mean saying, “No” to a lot of other things. You cannot say, “Yes” to the Spirit of God without, at the same time, saying, “No” to many other things: it is simply inherent in the process of decision. Therefore, I do not mean that power with God and living for the glory of God does not indeed cost us certain fancied pleasures and relationships which perhaps we want to hold onto. But the cost of discipleship is not the cost that really ought to concern us. The truly costly thing is the cost of disobedience! There is where the emphasis should be put. I would love to see a book on the cost of rebellion in the Christian life.

How well we know that cost. What a tremendous toll our rebelliousness, our disobedience, our unwillingness to give of ourselves, takes in our lives in terms of frustrated, restless spirits, the shameful, degrading acts that we hope nobody discovers, the skeletons that rattle around in our closets for years, the irritated, vexatious dispositions that keep us in a nervous frenzy all the time, the weak, spineless, crowd-following ways that we frequently exhibit, the self-righteous, smug, religiosity which we call Christianity that is a stench in the nostrils of the world and an offense unto God and men. Where do these things come from? Are they not the terrible price that we pay for a rebellious spirit, for an unwillingness to yield ourselves to the Lordship of Christ? We are not our own, we say, but we still cling to the right to run our own lives and make our own decisions, to choose our own pleasures and to go where we will and do what we want, and we cover it over with reserved, pious religiosity! We say we want to do God’s will — as long as it is what we want to do. At the center of our lives Self is still king, and that is the problem. Our own glory is in view. We still want what we want and we are not willing as Jesus was, to walk in glad obedience.


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How Faith Grows

I’ve been reading a book by Andy Stanley called Deep and Wide. The sub-title is Creating churches unchurched people love to attend. I don’t agree with everything in the book, but it’s a good book that I’ve found helpful.

Andy is the Pastor at North Point Church in Atlanta. Their mission statement is: to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. After much thinking and praying, they also decided that faith is what grows in a growing relationship. Specifically, confidence in God. Confidence that God is who he says he is and that he will do what he has promised to do.

But then they took this even further and came up with five faith catalysts; five things that God uses to grow a person’s faith. Everything they do in that church revolves around at least one of these catalysts. They are:

  • Practical Bible Teaching: The emphasis here isn’t on knowing the Bible but understanding how the Bible affects the way we live our lives. Stanley believes topical sermons achieve this the best. I happen to disagree and believe expository preaching is more effective when done well.
  • Private Spiritual Disciplines: When people develop a private devotional life (prayer, reading and memorizing the Bible, etc.) they experience intimacy and accountability in their faith walks.
  • Personal Ministry: When people overcome their fears and step into personal ministry such as a short term missions trip, leading a children’s small group or sharing their faith story in front of a group of high school students, their confidence in God grows. Few things stretch our faith like jumping into a ministry environment where we feel unprepared and seeing God come through.
  • Providential Relationships: When people tell their own faith stories, they always share about the individuals that God placed in their path to help them grow. When we hear from God through someone else or when we see God in someone else, our faith gets bigger.
  • Pivotal Circumstances: We often call these “defining moments”. These include times of blessing as well as times of trial and disappointment. The key here is learning to interpret these events through a biblical worldview.

Take some time and think about how each one of these has contributed to your own faith journey. I find these five catalysts very helpful in thinking through what we do as a church to help people grow. Are we providing a context in which these five things are nurtured and experienced?


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Guidelines for Sexual Purity Among Staff

At the church I serve in, we’ve carved out some basic guidelines for our staff to encourage purity and to avoid even the appearance of evil. While we want to avoid legalism, we came up with the following parameters. By the way, these are not addressing any specific situations that are taking place right now. Most of these apply to both married and single people, but there’s probably some variation in how they are applied in each case:

  1. A church leader should not travel alone in a car with a member of the opposite sex, other than a spouse, except in cases of emergency.
  2. When at a restaurant or coffee joint with a member of the opposite sex, try to make it with at least with three people.
  3. Counseling members of the opposite sex should be limited to three sessions and should never be done at night or any time that another adult is not in an adjacent room. If the nature of the meeting allows it, keep the door open.
  4. Never enter the home of a member of the opposite sex when no one else is present. (The very sick or elderly are an exemption.)
  5. Since most affairs begin with conversation, avoid suggestive comments and any discussion of intimate subjects with members of the opposite sex. This includes email, texting and social media.
  6. Avoid inappropriate touching or suggestive hugging of members of the opposite sex. Use wise judgment to discern what is proper.
  7. Avoid suggestive clothing. 1 Timothy 2:9 tells us our clothing should be respectable and modest.
  8. When traveling out of town, try to avoid going alone, and don’t travel alone with a member of the opposite sex. Stay accountable with at least one other person about your conduct during the trip.

 

These guidelines may seem rigid, but I can’t help but think of what Paul wrote, “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving” (Ephesians 5:3-4).