Tuesday, October 06, 2015


So what about EKs (elder kids)?

Still thinking about elder selection.  Today I am thinking thru what it means that an elder should have faithful children.  So let me offer a few thoughts on where I am today.

It seems really hard to invite your congregation to take a look at your kids.  In some ways it even seems as if you are inviting others to judge you kids.  Or to judge your parenting.

But I think there is a good reason for this.  Well, of course there is a good reason or God would not have put it Scripture.

First, remember that faithful is not the same as perfect.  There has only been one perfect child and he came to earth and died for our sins.  I certainly think faithful leaves room for strugglers, battlers, and those who have failed in the past.  But are they following Jesus?  Are they walking in the light?  Are they trying?  Have they quit on Jesus?  Given up?  These are how you look at elder's kids.

But I do think if your child has rejected Jesus, or is clearly living as a prodigal in a far country, perhaps now is not the time for you to lead others.

Most congregations know our kids anyway, so I not sure they are judging.  Just observing.

And parenting is great training for being an elder.  Forming faith, understanding priorities, different personalities, intentional discipling, loving discipline, praying, and giving spiritual counsel.

I Timothy 3 even indicates that looking at a man's kids gives you insight into the kind of elder he would be.  I think your kids are your portfolio for being an elder.  Looking at your family is a snapshot of what the church would look like under your leadership.

And yes, I am one of those that thinks your kids ought to be grown before you serve as an elder.  One reason is that being a Daddy is incredibly time consuming.  So is shepherding.  And frankly, you don't know how faithful my kids are until they are out on their own. They are certainly not a finished product before.

As for my two, Julie and Joe Don, my greatest joy is to know that they are Jesus followers.  Not perfect, but faithful.  It is no secret that I gave them both a lot of baggage to overcome.  But Marsha and I did one thing really well... we managed to give them Jesus.  And he is bigger than all the baggage they got.

So I always ask my kids about how they feel about my serving as an elder.  They know the Scripture and they know me as well as anyone other than their Mom.  Julie and her bunch are even part of my church family.

If they don't think I am elder material... then I am not.  If they think I am... well, they should know.  After all, I shepherded them for all their life.

So thanks God for my kids.  I am grateful every day that they love you and seek to follow you.  Help me to "raise" my flock with the same love and passion that I put into raising Julie and Joe Don.  And thanks God for giving me the right partner in Marsha to mold them into followers of your child.  In his name...

Thursday, October 01, 2015


So do we want to be an elder?

So thinking about elder selection and today I want to talk about practical aspects of an elder and his wife.

I think it is a couple selection.  I do not believe "husband of one wife" is just a requirement that elders be married.  Or some kind of disguised commentary of divorce and remarriage.  I think in very real and practical ways a church is selecting a couple to lead them.

Let me be clear.  I am not advocating women elders.  I do not think that you are selecting two elders.  But I also believe that in practical terms my work as an elder is not sitting in meetings with other elders.  Shepherding happens in the lives of people and Marsha is just as important in that as I am.

Our marriage should be a model for other couples.  Not perfect.  But making it work and getting better every day.  In our case, we are great models for wounded marriages that get healthy.  Our scars are living proof that Jesus redeems, restores, and heals.

I do not keep secrets from Marsha.  Part of that is our personal commitment for our marriage but it is also because we function as one.  When people use the word confidential when talking to me, I tell them that Marsha will know She may choose not to hear some things and I may tell some things generically but she will know.  I value her judgement, I trust her advice, and the burdens are too heavy to carry alone.

And frankly, most shepherding I do needs a woman's touch.  I believe men and women bring different gifts and strengths to shepherding.  Maybe that is why God said elders are to be married.

People will talk to Marsha that will not talk to me.  Abused women, women whose husbands have crossed lines, and woman without Christian husbands may feel much more comfortable talking to her.

And if you are a woman in my flock seeking spiritual counsel and advice, you cannot talk to me unless Marsha is there.  Protects you, protects me, and stops gossip.

Being an elder takes up a lot of time.  Your wife better buy in.  Elder wives hear a lot of things and they have to be discreet.  Lots of people in and out of our home.  Lots of meals cooked and served.  Lots of prayers prayed.  Our house is stocked with Bibles, Kleenex, coffee, and cokes.

It takes both.

The first time I became an elder -- over ten years ago now -- I had one of the current elder's wives tell me she was putting my name up to be one of the shepherds.  When I thanked her, she said it was not about me.  She said it was because Marsha would be a great elder's wife.  She was right and there was a lot of wisdom in her statement.  Churches need good elder's wives.

So I think selecting an elder means looking at the couple.  Marsha has to be every bit as invested as I am.  She has been a great elderess.  Better wife, Mom, and Mimi.  But a great shepherd's wife.  Together we make a good team.

So God... thanks for Marsha and her love for your people, especially those who are disenfranchised, lonely, and overlooked.  Thanks for her passion for lost souls.  And thank you that she lives out every day the truth of your grace extended to others.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


Why Would Anyone Want to Be an Elder anyway...

Southern Hills is in the midst of our elder selection.  Since all current elders go thru the process each time, I am once again thinking about what it means for Marsha and me.

So I have been thinking about motivation.  Why would anyone want to be an elder anyway?

I am going to start with the wrong motivation to be an elder.  So I try to spend some time in self-examination -- something I admittedly am not good at -- to be sure these things are not driving me.

Do not be an elder for the ego.  Lots of men are conditioned to climb the ladder at work, so they translate that to church and climb the ladder all the way to elder.

Do not do it for the power.  There are elders who "lord it over the flock".  Peter warned you about that .  Don't.

Don't do it because you need it.  It is not about you.  It is not a substitute for career failure, or being emasculated at home, or validation about your popularity.

Don't do it so people will follow you.  If they are not following you already, that will not change just because you become an elder.

Do not be an elder to further an agenda.  Shepherding is not about keeping things the same or making sure they change.  People first.  Not agendas.

So why should a man want to serve as an elder.

Because he really, really loves his flock.  If you do not love people, you will not make it as an elder.

Serve because you are invested in getting everyone safely home to God.

Do it because your life in Christ has shaped you into someone uniquely qualified to help others.  Your faith battles, raising faithful children, seeing the evil in this world and learning how to rise above it.  These things make you a shepherd.

Because you love God and are asking him what to do.  I pray for wisdom.  I ask for signs (are people seeking me out for guidance, am I making a difference, are people thanking me because I made a differnce in them and in their family).

Serve because your flock asks you.  I listen carefully to how they ask.  Are they seeking a shepherd or an advocate for certain programs?

Serve because you already are a shepherd.  Do people follow you now?  Do people seek your spiritual advice?

Do it because you know your people.  Because you were there at the birth of their kids, you were there in the hospital room with them or their loved ones, they have cried on your couch,  you helped them come to Jesus, you waded into the gutter and helped them climb out through the blood and mess of a broken life.   Because you were there when loved ones went home to Jesus. Because you have prayed with them and for them.  Cried with them and for them.  Rejoiced with them.  Because they are yours.

Serve if you would be who you are whether you have a title or not.

Just things I am thinking about as we go through the process.

 So thanks God for the years I have led your people.  Help your church to know if I should keep leading them.  Help me to know if I am one of their shepherds.  Let me have a heart focused on you first, your people second, and on all those who do not yet know you.  

Thursday, September 24, 2015


Yes I Had a Birthday

I turned 64 back on September 11.  I always talk about my family members on their birthday so I thought I would share a few of my thoughts on turning 64.

No Beatle references.  Marsha still loves me and needs me.  And I love and need her.  Even when I am 64. Besides, I was more of a Creedence or Stones kind of guy.

If most people live to 80 and life was like a football game, I would be early in the 4th Quarter.

People always want to know what you would change if you could start all over.  Obviously, I wish I had not sinned but I am not Jesus and I am forgiven, so...

And I just don't dwell on the past.  Never have seen the point.  Not ever going to live in the past.

I am doing exactly what I want to do in life and what I think God made me to do.

Still healthy as far as I know.

Blessed way beyond what I could ever have imagined.

Don't really see much I would change about my life or my future.

Being Pops to my five grands is the best.

Proud of my kids.

Still in love with Mimi Marsha.

If I knew I was dying tomorrow I don't think I would do anything differently than I am going to do anyway.

I do notice that what I think is really important is a shorter list as I get older.  Faith and family.  That is pretty much it for me.

But I am more fanatical about sharing Jesus every year that passes.  Maybe it is because I sense that time is running out.  Or maybe I am just focusing on what is important.

I like where my life is.  Happy.

So thanks God.  I know I will see you sooner than later but I promise to finish strong.  And I do know you have blessed me so far beyond what I could ask or imagine.  love you.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


The Greatest Day of Anna Claire's Life

Our granddaughter Anna Claire Ridgell was baptized by her Mom and Dad last Sunday morning.  Here are some of my thoughts.

There is something incredibly emotional about watching the first one of your family's next generation obey the gospel.

Listening to her Dad, Joe Don, talk about her journey and take her confession was something I will never forget.

I talked to Anna.  I read her statement of faith.  She gets it.

Anna has loved God for all of her life.  She has been able to talk about Jesus for a long, long time.  But it was so meaningful to watch as she made Jesus her faith choice.

She believes not because of her parent's faith, but because of her faith.

It is pretty cool to listen to -- and to tell -- baptism stories of parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and great grandparents.  Anna has a long heritage of faith on both sides of her family.  But she also has a lot of conversion stories, especially from our side.

Watching Anna's pure and passionate faith, seeing the incredible love of her parents, surrounded by family and friends ... well, it is easy to see why church is the best family ever.

And it was a great testimony to our belief that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.

I have no doubt God will use Anna in great ways.  I have no doubt that Satan will attack her and that her hardest fighting for her faith is ahead of her.

I also have no doubt she will be faithful to the end.

Joe Don and Jamie are really great parents.  I think it is because they each love Jesus more than anyone or anything else.  I also think it is because they love each other more than their kids.  But they have let God do a great work in raising Anna Claire to this point.

So Anna Claire, as you heard over and over last weekend.  Mimi and Pops love you and are so proud of you.  We have prayed for this day since we first knew you were coming in to our family.  We are so excited to see what God will do thru you for the Kingdom in the days and years  to come.

You are smart, pretty, athletic, and fun.  None of those things make us as proud as your passion for Jesus.

So God, thanks for Anna Claire.  She was and is a gift from you.  All of us have committed her to you from the day of her birth.  And now she has committed herself to you.  Thank you.  Protect her, use her, strengthen her until the day your Son comes back to take us all home.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015


My church is selecting elders again, so...

Southern Hills is in starting another Elder selection process, so I have been thinking again about the kind of man who should serve as an elder.  I have served now at Southern Hills for ten years but I have to think about it again.

Part of that thinking is because all of our current elders go through the selection process .  So I have to decide if I want to lead as an elder.  I believe it is a healthy thing to have to think through being an elder.  It gives Marsha and I a chance to recommit or to step away.  It lets the congregation speak to my leadership.

And part of my thinking about elders at Southern Hills is because these are the men who are going to be leading me and my family to heaven.  These are men who will influence my grandkids.  These are men who will set the tone and direction for my church family.  This is a big deal.

I have been reading Titus 1 and I Timothy 3 frequently.  These passages talk about the kind of man God seeks to lead his people.  While I do not think these two passages form some kind of super checklist, I do think there is clear truth there about what kind of man an elder should be.

I have also been reading I Peter 5.  It is written from an elder to elders.  In some ways, I think it is the most pointed message about who elders are.

So I am praying and reading and talking to people.

I am looking at what God asks of his elders.  I am looking in the mirror.  And, at least for me, I am looking at ten years worth of eldering evidence.

So over the next few weeks and months, I may write some about what I am thinking about being one of God's elders.  But for today, here are a few thoughts I have.

Maybe others are having these same thoughts.  Or maybe it is just me.


I have to decide if being an elder is good for my spiritual life or not.  Speaking truth as a spiritual leader does not always make you well-liked.  I mean-- they crucified Jesus, so... what price am I really willing to pay?

Do I really make a difference for the people who are in danger of not making it home?

Can I put with the politics?  More important, can I resist the temptation to play church politics myself?

And if I am willing to serve, isn't it really more a decision for my flock than for me?  After all, if no one is going to follow me, am I really a leader?

So feel free to pray for me.  And for Marsha.  And for Southern Hills.

And feel free to pray for the men God is calling to shepherd his people.

So God, I ask you to let me know.  Make it clear like you always have.  I promise I will try hard to listen to You and to your people.

Thursday, August 20, 2015


Jack, Bill, and Me: An elder legacy

Jack Qualls, Bill Merkel, and me.

This picture was taken on the Sunday we kicked off our 50 year anniversary celebration at Southern Hills.  I love these two men.  Jack was an elder at Southern Hills when I first came there, when Marsha and I got married, and when I was the Youth Minister/Song leader.  Bill was the Deacon over the Youth Group.  We ate a lot of meals with these two families.  We looked up to them.  We wanted to be like them.

But here is the most special thing about this picture.

Jack and Jenny Qualls not only were a great elder couple, but they mentored and influenced Bill and Hymonda Merkel.  Jack encouraged Bill to be an elder.  Jenny told Hymonda what an outstanding elder's wife she would be.

It was because of their example that the Merkels were such a great elder couple for so long.

And it was Bill who encouraged me to be an elder.  Hymonda told Marsha what a great elder wife she would be.

It was because of their example that Marsha and I have been serving Southern Hills as and elder couple for so long now.

Jack to Bill to me.

I learned so much about how to shepherd from these men.  It is a legacy of shepherding that has made an incredible impact on Southern Hills for 50 years.

Jack and Bill are two of my spiritual heroes.  I cannot imagine where I would be without their love, encouragement, and discipline in my life.

Sometimes you just need to take a moment and say thanks.

So thanks God for men like these who went before me.  Thanks for their example and encouragement.  Thanks for their lives.  

And yes, I realize we should have gotten a picture of Marsha, Hymonda, and Jenny.  Prettier and more spiritual too.

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