Brothers, We Are Still Not Superstars: We Are Servants

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[Editor's Note: This post originally appeared on Between the Times on October 30, 2012.]

Jesus summarizes the purpose of his incarnation in Mark 10:45 when he says, “Even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  This profound and crucial statement, which weds the “Son of Man” title of Daniel 7:13–14 to the “suffering Servant” of Isaiah 52–53, and redefines what kind of Messiah-Savior our Lord would be, comes on the heels of James’s and John’s request that Jesus would give them seats on his right and left in Glory (verse 37). James and John are crystal clear in their intentions and goal: they want status, not service. They want the position of a king, not the calling of a slave.  They want to be looked up to, honored, and revered. They wanted to be superstars, not servants.

Tragically, today, when it comes to the ministry, the standards and criteria for success are too often culled from the world, and not from the Word of God. To deny this is to play the ostrich, stick our head in the sand, and simply ignore the massive evidence that swirls around us. Allow me to share what I see.

Evangelicals have their cult-heroes and cult followings. This is true both inside and outside the local church. We have our groupies who pine after their “Christian rock stars.” Such stars are given almost infallible status, at least by their devoted fans, and if they are not careful, they may begin to believe what blogs, fans, and fellow superstars say.

Suddenly, the green monster of pride sneaks into their lives and an attitude of entitlement begins to transform a once gracious and humble servant into a hulk-like prima donna who less and less resembles the simple carpenter from Galilee. Subtly, over time, I convince myself that I deserve a six-figure salary. I deserve to live in a big home and drive an expensive car. I deserve to have people wait on me hand and foot and respond immediately to my every request. Furthermore, they can expect to receive a quick and painful tongue-lashing if they move too slowly or fail to meet my exalted expectations. Why, I may even fire them for not measuring up to my personal expectations.

I become too important and my time is too valuable to meet with common people, people who cannot help me further my agenda. I am too busy in “my ministry” to respond to letters, answer emails, return phone calls or schedule appointments. And amazingly, I become almost self-righteous in defending my lifestyle, all my perks, and my prideful behavior because what I do is valuable to the kingdom and I’ve earned the right to be treated as one of its kings.

I wish what I have written to this point was theoretical or at least hyperbolic. Sadly, it isn’t. As someone who has been in the Christian ministry for 35 years, and who battles daily the green monster of pride, I have seen and continue to see this superstar mentality and lifestyle far too often among a number of current day pastors. You see, I am now a seminary president who, if not careful, can get caught up in all of this “malarkey.” I am easily seduced by the sirens who feed a superstar mentality that knows nothing of the way of Jesus.

So, what biblical counsel and wisdom can help keep our heads out of the clouds and our feet on the ground where “real people” live? Let me offer one avenue of Scriptural exhortation that may help.

Keep continually before you the biblical model of leadership. We are not CEOs. We are not professionals. Brothers, we are shepherds — and under-shepherds at that. We are servant-leaders. First Peter 5:2 instructs us to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you.” The word “shepherd” is an imperative receiving the force of a command. Shepherds who follow in the footsteps of the “Good Shepherd” (John 10:11), the “Chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:4), the “Great Shepherd” (Heb. 13:20), will love and lead their sheep. They will not drive them and use them and make ungodly carnal demands of them. They will continually remind themselves that they tend over “the flock of God” and not their own.

They also understand it is the “flock of God among you.” That means they live with their sheep, they spend time with their sheep, they know their sheep, they care for their sheep. I once heard a famous and well-known pastor brag about the fact he had never had a single meal in the home of one of his members nor had he ever invited any of his members into his home for one. When I asked him why, he simply responded, “I never wanted to get that close to any of my people.” Words cannot express how this broke my heart. It still grieves me to this day.

Brothers, we never have been and never will be superstars. We are lowly shepherds, servants of the “Great Shepherd of the sheep.” One day we will give him an account for the souls we are keeping watch over (Hebrews 13:17). May we by his grace and for his glory do so with joy and a clear conscience, serving him and his sheep “honorably in all things” (Hebrews 13:18).

(This was first published yesterday at the Desiring God blog.)

SEBTS to Launch Spurgeon Center for Pastoral Leadership and Preaching

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Chuck Lawless

The Charles H. Spurgeon Center for Pastoral Leadership and Preaching, which is expected to launch this fall, will be a means by which Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary equips Great Commission-minded pastors to preach God’s Word and lead healthy churches.

Charles “Chuck” Lawless, dean of graduate studies and professor of evangelism and missions at Southeastern, will assume the directorship of the Spurgeon Center, which will be run out of his office.

“I envision the center promoting practical leadership training for local church pastors,” Lawless said. “We want to help church planters as well as pastors who are working to revitalize a church.”

This center has a board of advisors composed of Edgar Aponte, director of Hispanic leadership development at Southeastern; Dennis Kim, senior pastor of Global Mission Church, Silver Spring, Md.; Johnny Hunt, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Ga.; Sam Rainer, senior pastor of Stevens Street Baptist Church, Cookeville, Tenn.; and A.B. Vines, senior pastor of New Seasons Church, Spring Valley, Calf.

The board will help guide the center in assisting pastors in excelling within their daily ministries. Alongside of growing healthy churches and revitalizing dying churches, the center plans to encourage and resource church planters. It also will seek to build strategic partnerships with other Southern Baptist Convention entities, such as LifeWay and the North American Mission Board, that also work with pastoral leaders.

“I am excited about the blessing this center will be to the churches,” said Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern. “We will attempt to serve pastors in fulfilling this noble work given to them by King Jesus.”

A primary goal of the center is to help churches become Great Commission churches. Lawless said, “We’re partnering with local churches to make them more effective in areas such as leadership so that the gospel can penetrate local communities and ultimately extend to all nations.”

Lawless emphasized that the center “wants to provide the best advice and necessary tools for pastors of local churches.”

“Because of the world we live in today,” Lawless said, “we have to offer multiple media. I would like to bring individuals to campus as well as send our faculty to those local churches. Alongside of these traditional avenues, I think we also have to be ready to provide training online.”

The center plans to utilize the experience of Akin, Tony Merida, pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, and Jim Shaddix, pastor for teaching and training at The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., to assist the center in helping equip churches.

“God calls and raises up pastors to feed, lead, protect and reproduce sheep,” Akin said.

“Those under-shepherds who labor for the glory of the Great Shepherd need to be equipped and well trained for the weighty assignment that has been laid upon them.

“And we want to equip and train ministers well through the Spurgeon Center at Southeastern.”

 

 

On Plural-Elder-Led Congregationalism

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For nearly a decade, I’ve been convinced that the most faithful contemporary adaptation of New Testament polity is a plural-elder-led congregationalism. Since January 2012, I have been a part of the elder team at my local church, First Baptist Church of Durham.  I’m thrilled to be able to serve the Lord and His church as a full-time seminary professor and a voluntary pastor.

I’m convinced that plural-elder-led congregationalism is a healthier alternative to four polities that are very common among Free Church evangelicals, including Southern Baptists. Option 1 is pure democracy. In this polity, the whole congregation votes on nearly every decision. The pastors and church staff are often treated as mere employees of the church who direct various ministries, but who have no real authority in the church. All of the authority rests in the whole congregation assembled in a church conference or members meeting (often called a “business meeting”).

Option 2 is committee-led congregationalism. In this polity, the church uses democratic processes to make key decisions, but the real authority rests with certain key committees or similar small groups that are compromised of influential church members. In many Southern Baptist churches, the committee that runs the church is the so-called church council. In others, it might be the personnel committee, since these are the folks who keep tabs on the staff. A very common variation of this polity is deacon-led congregationalism, where the deacons function as the chief committee in the church’s hierarchy.

Option 3 is single-pastor-ruled benevolent autocracy. In this polity, the solo or senior pastor is called by the church, but after that, he wields most of the authority. In a larger church, he typically hires and fires all ministry staff, including other pastors. The lead pastor is as much a CEO as he is a shepherd. Members meetings are kept to a minimum; in some churches, only once a year. The pastor is the leader and the people follow his lead.

Option 4 is plural-elder-ruled benevolent oligarchy. In this polity, which is not as common as the others, a plurality of elders rules the church in much the same way as the single-pastor-ruled option. The difference is that the authority is vested in a small group rather than a single individual. In many ways, this polity could be called “poor man’s presbyterianism.” The church is ruled by her elders, but there is no presbytery or classis beyond the local congregation. This polity also frequently makes a presbyterian-like distinction between teaching elders and ruling elders; only the former are considered pastors.

No doubt these are simplistic summaries of the various polities found in our circles, but I doubt they are overly simplistic. I’m personally acquainted with many (sometimes tons) of SBC churches that hold to each of these polities pretty much exactly as I’ve described them. Options 1 and 2 are very common among traditional-minded, small and medium-sized churches in small towns and rural areas. Options 3 and 4 are more common in contemporary-minded, larger churches in suburban areas, as well as newer church plants.

Plural-elder-led congregationalism differs from each of these polities in various ways. Unlike Options 1–3, there is a plurality of pastors. Unlike option 4, all of the pastors are elders, and vice verse; the terms are synonymous. All may be paid staff, or some may be paid and some may be voluntary. Unlike Option 1, the elders/pastors have the freedom to exercise biblical pastoral authority over the congregation in matters of teaching and shepherding. Unlike Option 2, no committees or deacon “boards” are elevated to an unbiblical level of authority in the church. Unlike Option 3, all pastors are equals, even if, based upon prudence and giftedness, different pastors have different roles within the leadership team. Unlike Option 4, the final earthly authority still rests with the whole congregation as it corporately seeks God’s will under the lordship of Christ as it is revealed in the Scriptures.

If you are interested in reading more about the ins and outs of plural-elder-led congregationalism, including the biblical justification for the view, I would recommend the following books.

Thabiti Anyabwile, Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons (Crossway, 2012).

Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, 2nd ed. (Crossway, 2004), especially chapter 9.

John Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology (Kregel Academic, 2005), especially chapter 7.

Benjamin Merkle, 40 Questions about Elders and Deacons (Kregel Academic, 2007).

Benjamin Merkle, Why Elders? A Biblical and Practical Guide for Church Members (Kregel Academic, 2009).

Phil Newton, Elders in Congregational Life: Rediscovering the Biblical Model of Church Leadership (Kregel Academic, 2005).