Deacons serve a critical role in the church of Jesus Christ. In 1 Timothy 3, we see the two primary offices of the church: pastors (also called elders, overseers, and bishops) and deacons. Tonight we look at how deacons are a partnership of courage and care.
Good morning, all! It’s the Lord’s Day, where churches all over the world gather around the Word to proclaim Christ boldly. Pray for your pastors. How? Let’s talk about that!
Christ is moving and working in His church even now. He has promised this. He is the one to build His church. Men may believe it’s ultimately up to them, but Christ builds His church. Book after book is written that can, at best, serve as supplements–only the Bible carries the substance of how Christ personally and intimately builds His church.
How though, does Christ build it? For now, let’s just see two ways that parallel the original creation. By the Word of God, creation came into being in general; and by the Word of God the church (meaning, His organization and His people). In 2 Corinthians 4:6, Paul writes: “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
Hearts and minds are changes and galvanized by His glory that shines in us and by His Word that transforms. When Jesus told His disciples, “All that the Father gives to me shall come to me” (John 6:37) and all through the first part of Acts that, through the preaching of the gospel to all who would listen, that “The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:39). When we realize that the word ‘church’ comes from the Greek word ‘ekklesia,’ which means ‘called out ones,’ it is Christ who is calling out those whom God has chosen unto Himself. It will happen. He’s building His church.
MacArthur rightly said,
By human reason, persuasiveness, and diligence it is possible to win converts to an organization, a cause, a personality, and to many other things. But it is totally impossible to win a convert to the spiritual church of Jesus Christ apart from the sovereign God’s own Word and Spirit. Human effort can produce only human results. God alone can produce divine results.
It’s His church. We are not simply projects, but are people, souls that Christ is intimately personal with. Recently, I watched an interview with Brett Favre, former Green Bay quarterback. He holds most every QB record in the book when he retired. His father was a football coach–and His Father never told him how proud he was of him. He told others, but never Brett. Brett understood his father loved him in his own way, but never saw it demonstrated.
Daily, Christ is showing us how much He loves His church, which we will see in a bit. But He loves you. Not your religious activities, but your relationship with him, from which those activities arise.
Christ will build His church. And we know that when Christ makes a promise, He never fails to follow through. In Titus, Paul by the Spirit says that God cannot lie (your versions may say does not lie, as if he had a choice to lie or not, but the Word is an absolute–He cannot lie).
Do we truly believe He will build His church? Do we really take God at His Word as to what He wants His church to be? What would happen if God moved in our hearts and spirits by His Spirit and we said, “Lord, I trust you to build your church your way, not mine.” The way we would know where we stood is if He told us to move something that’s a favorite away. It could well expose some idols that need toppling.
My friend and coach, Dave Howeth who serves a Church Planting Catalyst with NAMB here in Colorado, sent me an e-mail recently reminding me that trust is the currency of change. He sent that to encourage my associate pastor and myself about the Great Commission direction we seek to take the church.
Here’s what I’ve gleaned in how and why trust is the currency of change–and how it can be lost.
- Transparency. Communicate frequently, clearly, and passionately about the next steps with your key people. Also, allow feedback in giving permission for them to be transparent with you. (See Galatians 2:11-21.)
- Loyalty. Trust comes when those around you know you love them and have their back. This may mean you stick with someone longer than others believe you should, but you do all you can to help them succeed. (Think of Barnabas with John Mark in Acts 15:33ff.)
- Integrity. Align what you say with what you’ll do and vice versa. Hypocrisy is a high crime in our culture. Integrity is still a high virtue, even in the business world. (Look at Proverbs 10:9.)
- Care. Engage people around you and ‘under’ you (in regards to chains of command). Showing you care about them personally and genuinely will go a long way in developing a culture of trust. (John 13:34-35).
- Learn. Admit your mistakes, and actively seek to rectify the situation. I’ve found that if you own your mistakes and learn from them for the future, you’ll gain even more trust from others. If you fail to own them and blame them on people, situations, etc., trust wanes. (“Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. — Proverbs 28:13)
- Reconcile. Admit when you’ve acted out of line. Jesus said, “First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly” (Matthew 5:24b-25a).
- Self-aware. Trust is an emotional bank account. When numerous changes need to take place, “mutual trust and good relationships are sometimes the only things to hold on to.” (Source) Trust serves as an emotional bank account through which you can make deposits or withdrawals. (Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.–Proverbs 28:26)
- Appreciation. When someone is helpful or shows a nice gesture to you, say thank you. Never let a good deed or word go by without showing appreciation. (See Philippians 1:3-6.)
Yesterday at the church where I pastor, I shared one characteristic of what C. John Miller calls an ‘ingrown church.’ Below are a synopsis of all seven characteristics from his book, Outgrowing the Ingrown Church by C. John Miller(Zondervan, 1986) pp. 27-40.
1. Tunnel Vision
Members of the ingrown church body are characterized by tunnel vision that limits potential ministries of the church to those that can be accomplished by the visible, human resources at hand. These possibilities are often further limited by recollections of past negative experiences and perceptions of present obstacles. At bottom, this is unbelief based on a secularized ignorance of the Spirit’s power—His ability to supply us with God’s goals for the church and the supernatural means to reach them.
2. Shared Sense of Group Superiority
This visionless church is often characterized by a sense of superiority to “the others.” Many smaller congregations and their leadership have become egocentric because of their fear of extinction. Struggling churches are likely to exaggerate points of superiority they actually possess as means of compensation for their limitations. . . . This assumed positive feature leads to an unconscious elitist attitude. If we are proudly clinging to an ecclesiastical tradition and making it our hope, we may have secured our status in our own eyes yet failed miserably with the Lord.
3. Extreme Sensitivity to Negative Human Opinion
The members of the ingrown church are also likely to feel inferior and shrivel up and die at the first sign of opposition. A world of disapproval from a “pillar” of the church is enough to rattle the ecclesiastical squirrel cage and send everyone running for cover. . . . The sad truth is that one negative critic with a loud voice who speaks from within the inner circle of the ingrown church usurps the role of Christ, wielding the power to make or break programs. . . . An ingrown church has given in for so long to intimidation that its fears have obscured vital contact with the promises of God.
4. Niceness in Tone
The ingrown church has the shared desire to be seen as “nice.” What is often wanted in the local church is unrelieved blandness: a “nice pastor” preaching “nice sermons” about a “nice Jesus” delivered in a “nice tone” of voice. . . . It is likely that those who are walking with Him in close fellowship will not always be nice and predictable. But the introverted church wants to secure the church doors against divine surprises and unannounced entrances by the King.
5. Christian Soap Opera in Style
In the introverted church we find that the members use their tongues a great deal—not to witness or pray or praise or to affirm one another, but to publicly review on another’s flaws, doings, and sins. We all know how easy it is for church members to go home after hearing a sermon and have “roast pastor” for lunch. Why does this happen? . . . . Unbelief and fear characterize the mental outlook in the ingrown church. The members of the church do not see themselves as living, praying, and talking in partnership with Christ and one another through His indwelling Holy Spirit. There is often a failure to cultivate among leaders and people a spirit of forgiveness, mutual forbearance, and love.
6. Confused Leadership Roles
In many churches the members of the congregation do not want officers who are trying to be pacesetters for God’s kingdom. This is especially true of the small church, where fear of change runs high. In the typical self-centered church, there is a hidden determination to eradicate enthusiasm that disturbs the comfortable routine dictated by self-trust, self-exaltation, niceness as a defense mechanism, and the rights of gossip. . . . In this system elders also lack great convictions about God and His gospel and have little active role in the daily lives of church members.
7. A Misdirected Purpose
It is clear from the foregoing that the controlling purpose in the ingrown church has to do with survival—not with growth through conversion of the lost. We can recognize this misdirected purpose by noting what goes into the church budget (and what is left out) and how visitors to the church services are welcomed. No planning is devoted to finding ways to assimilate visitors into the fellowship.
Read through Romans 1, Psalm 95, and Matthew 28:18-20 each day for a week. Ask God to show you how to prevent or to overcome being an inward, ingrown church.
Did you know that the moment you surrendered to Christ, you became a partner in the gospel with every other believer on the planet? God sent the apostle Paul to plant and establish churches all through Asia Minor, into Rome, and likely into Spain. As he won many to Christ who rescued them from their sins both now and eternally, what God used him to do is acquired more partners in the gospel.
So Paul leads off his prayer with thanksgiving. Dear Lord, every time I think of these believers in Philippi, I am grateful and have joy because of having them as partners! I wonder, would Paul be able to say that of me? Would he be able to say that of our churches here in Denver? Would he be able to say that of Arapahoe Road Baptist Church. As we see from the Ephesian church in Revelation, Christ told them they had lost their first love. The essentials had moved to the peripherals, and the peripherals move to the essentials.What are the essentials? Albert Mohler helps us out:
First-level theological issues would include those doctrines most central and essential to the Christian faith. Included among these most crucial doctrines would be doctrines such as the Trinity, the full deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, justification by faith, and the authority of Scripture.
While we could spend weeks on each of these issues, what we do see if that if a Christian or churches compromise on any of these doctrines, we undermine the gospel. The gospel is not simply believing a set of facts, but it is a surrender to all that Christ has revealed about His nature, His work in rescuing us, and how He aims to work in us! That’s the good news—God will not hold us according to our sins, but will rescue us according to His grace.
We are partners in this and because of this. And the apostle Paul modeled this partnership. Look at the first three words of this letter: Paul and Timothy. Paul was Timothy’s spiritual father. Paul was 12 years older than Timothy (Paul born in AD 5, Timothy born in AD 17), making them 45 and 33, respectively. Regardless of their backgrounds, they were partners in the gospel,servants of Christ Jesus, and saints.
It’s here we revisit the issue of surrender. Go back to verse 1 again: The word for ‘servants’ is the word doulos which means a bondservant, or a full-fledged slave. Slaves had no rights, but willingly surrendered them to their Master. We hear of slaves and automatically hearken back to the black eye of our history, in the race-based slavery found in our country in the 18th and 19th century. Here, slaves could be found in all strata of Roman life, and serve that way willingly in order to pay off a debt.
Saints come from the understanding of being set apart for His use. In fact,the word church many times in the NT comes from the word ekklesia, which means called out ones. A partnership in the gospel means that we have surrendered our rights to his, we are saints who are called out from the world while still in the world.
He also calls out the overseers and deacons. Overseers (from the Greek presbuteros) are the spiritual overseers and leaders of the church. Deacon are the ones in charge of the physical matters of the church. As the saints are the called-out ones from the world, the overseers and deacons are the called-out ones of the church (ordained, if you will). They are called out to be leaders in the church, as Hebrews 13 identifies,the ones who delivered the Word to you. The Word brings joy and unity, something that the leaders bring with the Word. Ephesians 4:11-13:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
You see, the unity that your leaders are to model and provide is a unity not just in being welcoming and friendly, but a unity in the Word of God— which makes us alive in the Spirit but also kills the flesh!
Let’s partner in the gospel, finding our joy in Christ and unity with one another. The gospel brings joy in Christ, and the more we pursue Christ, the more unified we’ll be with each other.
Over Christmas, my wife and kiddos bought me some presents that I absolutely treasured. (Notice I said ‘wife and kiddos’—a big step for me, since I only quit believing in Santa at the age of 38. But, I digress!) My family knows well not only what I like (anything Cincinnati Bengals, Colorado Rapids, or Arsenal) and what I need. I know I was a grown-up when I started enjoying getting clothes for Christmas! The people who know you best, also are the ones who know your heart.
Do we believe that this church belongs to Jesus? Sometimes, I overhear people saying that ARBC is “my church.” That statement is good—if you realize how God has called you to invest in others. But that statement can be bad: “This church belongs to me and what I say, goes!” Goodness, just typing that statement gave me the chills, for Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”
Now we come to the hardest question any organization (church or otherwise) could ask itself: “Why do we exist?” That can stop you in your tracks, right? It’s the type of question that you think you know and take for granted that you have the answer… until you realize that you have trouble articulating it clearly.
We may say, “Well, we exist to win others to Christ!” If you get down to it, that’s a ‘what’—it’s what we do, but this sentence doesn’t clearly state why. You may say, “We come to grow in the Word and to love each other.” This may split some hairs, but that’s actually a how, not a why. It’s more behavioral. Helpful, but not quite it!
I’ve struggled for four years—four years—begging God to give me a why that each and every one of our people can rally around. In our day, when the world is unraveling at the seems, what can help the Christian focus. Then it happened as a result of a conversation I had about this very subject with Jim Misloski, our State Missions Director (East Side) for our Colorado Baptists.
The why is this: we exist to glorify God (Psalm 115:1). Now, were you like me, having that V8 moment when you hit yourself square in the forehead?
The what is this: make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). Our ‘Gather to Go’ serves this purpose, gathering as disciples to go and make disciples.
The how: our grow in the Word, love one another, serve our neighbors, and go to the nations behaviors serve this purpose.
On the plane ride back to Denver from Kentucky, it hit me. Hard. Between-the-eyes hard. A vision is a preferred future. What’s mine? What’s God’s? What should be ours?
Where every heart in Denver believes that Jesus is enough. That’s it! The sufficiency of Christ. We live in a city where the majority say, “Enough of Jesus!” We (metaphorically) scream back, “No, Jesus is enough!”
This speaks to our church as well, where Christ is assumed and peripheral issues come to the forefront.
This speaks to our culture, where Christ is erased from the collective conscience.
This why fuels the what and the how. The sufficiency of Christ as we preach, sing, go to Sugar City, work in our cubicle, drive down the highway, write that letter, serve that neighbor. We must want this for our city! It’s not about us anymore. God has given us a present on a tree named Jesus. What He did was enough to secure our salvation, our walk in Him, and our eternal life. He is enough—He’s more than enough. You know it…
… don’t you want your city, your state, your nation, your world to know it, too? God know what we need and what our world needs!
I just finished Matt Perman‘s book What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done. This stands as one of the best, if not the best, book I’ve read on productivity. It’s building on David Allen’s Getting Things Done, but putting a gospel-centered productivity aspect to this. I love how he showed that being productive is not just about doing things for you in a self-centered way, but is an act of loving your neighbor. That chimed with me, and may well be the final catalyst for being productive. Below is a choice quote from the book (p. 303) about why being effective and productive is not for selfish ambition, but actually is about ‘loving your neighbor.’
How does individual effectiveness lead to the greater effectiveness of the organization? It’s not simply that by doing your work better everyone around you gets more done and thus the organization gets more done (though that is true).
It is also because personal effectiveness has an impact on the spirit and culture of an organization, creating an environment that calls forth the best from everyone. This raises the sights of everybody and creates an environment that calls forth their best. This is good for everyone individually and for the organization. As Drucker puts it, “As executives work toward becoming effective, they raise the performance level of the whole organization. They raise the sights of people —their own as well as others. As a result, the organization not only becomes capable of doing better. It becomes capable of doing different things and of aspiring to different goals” (Drucker, The Effective Executive, p. 170-71).
Thus, “executive effectiveness is our one best hope to make modern society productive economically and viable socially” (Drucker, 170).
This book will stay close by on my desk for the foreseeable future. It provides concrete measures to help you sort through various actions and projects that will come your way.
I couldn’t recommend this book highly enough. Blending the purpose of preaching, pastoring, and productivity is what this blog is all about–and will help all leaders lead their organization more joyfully and less stressfully. Who knows? We may spend some time going through this book chapter by chapter.
So let’s get started with a key question: What steals your joy as a leader? Low numbers for your events? Criticisms? Too many meetings? Preparing a sermon (or three) each and every week? Concerns about the future?
I understand completely. In talking to my buddy and NAMB representative Dave Howeth, he shared that pastors often look at the blade of grass rather than the entire forest. Sometimes, those blades of grass loom awfully large the closer you are to that issue.
The apostle Paul expressed an anxiety that he has over his churches (2 Corinthians 11:28)–this after expressing how much physical torture and suffering he faced in his day-to-day ministry. Concern for the health and future of churches brought an anxiety that equaled or even surpassed the physical issues he endured. Quite telling, wouldn’t you agree? But all who serve as pastors of their local churches understand this acutely.
Reading through Hebrews 13:17, we see that church members are to “Obey [their] leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over our souls, having to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Keeping watch over their souls? My, no wonder Paul felt such anxiety!
Leaders have an industrial-strength calling: to keep watch over the souls of those to whom God has entrusted them. Why? We’ll have to give an account. So the Spirit tells the congregation to “let them do this [watch over our souls] with joy and not with groaning.”
In looking at this passage, pastors and leaders could put all the onus on the congregation: “OK, people, obey me and submit to me. I gotta watch over your souls and give an account for you. So don’t make this difficult. The better you obey and submit, the more joy I will have. That’s what God says. Amen.”
So, is it all on the congregation? Does the call of God to lead the church give us a bulletproof vest? No! No! No! Joy comes to the leader when they see God’s children walking with Christ. The apostle John in his third epistle notes, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4).
So this leads to the question: what steals our joy? Is it the congregation that refuses to “obey and submit?” Is it your own personal expectations that rob you? What other things at play?
What steals your joy? According to Scripture, what may steal our joy is the inversion of what John wrote: few heartbreaks exist like seeing those in our churches not walking in the truth. This is why Jesus instituted church discipline (Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Corinthians 5:9-13) in order to bring about repentance of sin and restoration to Christ and His body. We must desire to pour ourselves out to help others walk in the truth. And that we ourselves walk in the truth.
What steals your joy? Share with us in the comments section.
John Kotter’s book Leading Change outlines eight steps in breeding and accomplishing change in an organization.
The first step? Increase urgency! An organization that stays content in the present or connected to the past will struggle to find urgency to face the future. “Now wait, Lead With Joy Guy, are you saying it’s wrong to stay content? Are you saying we shouldn’t stay connected with the past as a body of believers?”
All excellent questions! Let’s look at these quickly:
- Do not confuse contentment in Christ with contentment with status quo. Christ gives so many imperatives: Love, go, preach, teach, share, tell, equip, send, bear one another’s burdens (along with 60+ one anothers in the NT). We stay content with Christ and Christ alone for our justification, sanctification, and glorification. He is enough! But when churches refuse to move forward toward obedience and Christlikeness, leaders must present an urgency that the reality entails. Patient urgency is needed, depending on the age of the church or organization.
- Don’t confuse connection with the Bible (written in the past) with connection to a preferred era gone by. We spend our time connecting with the past every time we preach–because we preach from the Bible, a book written 2000-4000 years ago. We have an urgency to connect people to what God has said. What we do not want is, as mentioned in a previous post, elevating a preferred era or any personal preference to a test of faith. We all see the time of our youth as an idyllic time, which is why many senior adults hearken back to the days of the 1960s, why many boomers look back to the church growth era of the 1980s, why I tend to move back to what I experienced in college in the early 1990s, and so on.
The problem? Many millennials are coming into the church with our churches with the same tendencies that we all do. And we must recognize that, but that’s a blog post (or video cast) for another day.
Contentment with Christ, and connection to the Word is what we help others come and connect to in regards to Christ. Let’s make sure we find our contentment in and our connection to the right things, rather than our preferred things.