Wednesday, October 31, 2012


The number one reason I think elders quit

There it is. The number one reason I think elders give it up and quit. Or maybe it is the one thing that will drive me to give it up some day.

I think church politics are different than power struggles. Church politics are what you do when you can't win the power struggle. They are what you practice when you cannot convince everyone to do what you want. Or it is what you do to work around the system so your idea wins.
It is when elders, ministers, or members decide that the ends justify the means. That is the only reason I can imagine that would lead someone to play church politics in the kingdom of God. They are so convinced that what they want is right that they have to do whatever it takes to get their way.

So they work around people who do not agree with them. They have secret meetings and talk about issues in small groups while making sure not to discuss certain items in any setting where they might not prevail.

Church politics make use of scare tactics:

"If we do -- or don't do -- my certain idea then all the givers will leave, and we can't meet our obligations."

Or, "all the young people will leave and we won't even have a church in 20 years."
Church politics are manipulative, deceitful, and secretive.

And church politics will destroy a church.

They cause tension, division, and heartache.

And I believe God hates it.

It is why elders, or preachers, get ulcers. It is why they can't sleep at night. It is why they dread going to meetings.

I know lots of good men who were called to lead their flock who will not because they cannot stand the church politics. They quit because they do not want to be tempted to use the same tactics. They quit because they will not be part of dividing the church.

Or it could be I hate church politics so much because I am no good at it. And I am glad.

And it is why someday I will quit.

Monday, October 29, 2012


My trip to El Salvador

Here are some of the things that touched my heart while preaching in El Salvador last week.

Around 30 different congregations participating in a project to tell their country about Jesus.  Every church did not do everything, but all of these did something together.

I love packed buildings with 20 - 25 % of the crowd being visitors.

The church I was preaching at was in a neighborhood where the water was shut off.  We had a man who wanted to give his life to Jesus.  The whole church walked six blocks to an auto body repair shop.  He was baptized in the concrete tank where they test radiators for leaks.

Hearing them pray for the Sunday combined worship.  Knowing they expected a crowd of over 500.  Seeing over 750 show up.

Watching 45 or so people ask for additional conversation about Jesus.

Traveling with Tim Archer.  We work together at Herald of Truth.  The man is a powerful servant of God.

Working with Julio, Alexander, Jorge, and many other great men of faith.

Fellowship meals with the young people.

Knowing my grandkids were praying every night for Pops to help people know Jesus.

Eating pupusas.  All I know is that they are some kind of fried tortilla stuffed with cheese, beans, and meat.

Hearing my translator Julio pray that God would help him communicate Jesus.  

Getting stung by a bee in the middle of a youth meeting.  I survived.  The bee did not.  What touched me was  how concerned the young people were.  Of course, I kept hearing the words "old man".  Evidently there was some concern that old people might not handle stings well.  But, hey, they cared.

Finally, I was reminded that people everywhere need Jesus.  And that Christians everywhere are more alike than different.

And I now know more of my family that happens to live in El Salvador.

Go God.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Power struggles will drive men from the eldership...

I was talking to a good friend a while back who served a short time as an elder and is seriously thinking about quitting.  He felt called by the flock to lead.  He wants to help people and he wants to make good decisions for all the congregation.  He wants to be sure all his flock make it to heaven.  I have sat with him thru some horrible situations.  We have taken abuse together.

It is none of these that make him want to quit.

It is the power struggles.  He was not prepared to watch men who are the leaders of the flock engage in power struggles.  Sometimes it is overt, when ministers or elders ask to be in charge.  Sometimes it is more subtle as people manipulate and work to accumulate power.  But it makes him sick to know that every meeting is a war in the struggle to be in charge.  Elders at odds.  Ministers and elders bickering over who gets to be in charge.

I get it.  I hate it too.  It starts when some men lobby to be selected as an elder.  Or friends work to get their buddies selected.  Or when certain agendas become a litmus test for approval.

It has always been that way.  Moses faced it.  David faced it.  It happened in the congregations in the New Testament.

And it will kill a church if it is not stopped.

None of us are in charge of the church.  Not really.  And everybody says the right thing:  Jesus is in charge.  But don't listen to the words.  Watch the actions.  People that want to be in charge should probably never be in charge in the Kingdom.

And if you have to ask for power, you will never really have it.

And I do think we are all subject to this temptation if not careful.  So here is the test for all of us.

If people follow you, you have power.  You won't have to ask.  If they do not follow you, it is a fruitless exercise anyway.

But it is exhausting to dread going to an elders meeting.  Or meeting with the ministers and knowing there will be a power struggle.

I hurt for my friend, but I understand.  If I ever quit as an elder, it will be because I am sick of the power struggles.  Eventually that will divide and destroy a church.

And I won't be a part of that.  I can't.  And I know it happens everywhere.

So how do solve it?  Or can we?  I don't have an answer, but I do know that I talk to a lot of elders around the country who quit over power struggles.

I get it.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


When elders quit: to be or not to be

I shared yesterday that I do not believe most elders quit because they can't take the pain of hurting people.  They do not quit because of hard decisions.  They do not quit because they get tired.

But before I get to the things that really cause elders to resign, let me touch on some reasons that are individual specific.  That is, things that have to do with individuals and not with church life.

I am not going to deal with things that disqualify a man from serving as an elder.  I think the need to resign in that case should be self-evident.  Nor am I thinking of the natural aging process.  That happens to every elder.

A change in job situation requiring much more time than usual.  It may be more responsibility.  It may be working out of town for the foreseeable future.  If a man really does not feel he has the time to be available to his flock, he should follow his conscience and resign.

Family situation that is going to consume the majority of his time and energy.  I do think a man's family is more important than his church family.  I would not serve as an elder until my kids were grown.  So I am not thinking so much of raising children.  They always demand time and attention.  And we should give it.  I am thinking of things like aging parents, sick spouse, or something like that which changes your life situation dramatically.

A decision by the overwhelming majority of the elders that you cannot in good conscience support.  I would rather see an elder resign than undermine the decisions of the entire eldership.  Notice I did not say a decision you do not agree with.  I am a believer that elder votes do not have to be unanimous.  But elder decisions must be unanimous.  In other words, if outvoted... support the decision.  If you cannot, have the integrity to resign.

I do have a couple of suggestions that might help clarify some individual situations.  If there are several men in the eldership, try a leave of absence.  Work may settle down, or the family situation might change.

The other suggestion is to do elder selection every 3-5 years.  This lets a man have opportunity to serve again if the circumstances change.  By the way, I believe every elder ought to go thru the selection process.  Getting away from the"once an elder, always an elder" might make it easier for men to step aside for a season of life.

If not sure about your mental, physical, and emotional fitness to serve as an elder when aging ... ask someone.  Ask your family.  Ask your fellow elders.  Ask your flock.

Next time I will start in on what I believe are the real reasons that cause elders to quit.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


When elders quit...

I talk to elders all over the country, and even in many parts of the world, and one of the most common topics of discussion is about whether or not to resign.  Or, in congregations that periodically have the elders go thru a selection process, how many wonder if they want to serve again.

I serve with a group of 19 elders, and at any given time, almost half of them wrestle with this.  I do.  Constantly.

So I thought I would think thru why elders quit.  Or want to quit.  Or think they should quit.  

But I want to spend this post talking about why elders do not quit.

They do not quit because it is too time consuming.  Most elders I know spend an amazing amount of time shepherding and leading the congregation.  I would suspect most average 20 hours a week at least.  And many of them still are working to make a living.  But that is not a reason I hear very often.

It is not because of the pain of shepherding hurting, messed up people.  That's what we signed up for.  Of course it is painful.  But one thing has helped me to cope with helping hurting people.  They are talking to us because they want to follow Jesus better.  They want to heal their marriage, or they want to conquer their addiction, or they want to get advice on how to teach or help others.  In an odd sort of way, that is exciting and energizing.  

It is not because of hard decisions.  We know we have to make hard decisions.  Decisions about doctrinal matters, personnel decisions, resource allocation.  While sometimes emotional, sometimes frustrating, sometimes hard to come to agreement... most elderships eventually make decisions.  Most of the time they are a clear majority decision.  And most of the time they are right.    

It is not even because of criticism or complaining.  Of course that hurts, but it rarely causes us to decide to quit.  Most of the time it is only a small minority who do this, and you will not make them happy anyway.  We know that.

It is not because we realize that we are not worthy to lead.  Of course we are not worthy.  Only Jesus is.  Believe me... every elder I know is very aware of his sin, his weakness, his unworthiness.  But we serve because our flock and our Savior called us.  And we answered.

So I am fairly confident that these are not what makes elders wrestle with whether or not to continue to lead.

Next post I will talk some about what I think are legitimate reasons to consider stepping aside.  But these are rare and easily understood.  And then I will share what I think are the real reasons elders quit. 

And I recognize how personal this may be.  So let me say that the reasons above have not caused me to think about quitting. Maybe others, but I really don't think so in most situations.  But eventually I will share the ones that do.

In the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts.  

Thursday, October 04, 2012


Still learning from Tom Olbricht...

Tom Olbricht.  He's 82 now, but I had him back in college at ACU for Old and New Testament theology.  Except it wasn't called theology then, it was called Great Doctrines.  Still the same material.  A couple of weeks back, he and I spoke at the Upper Midwest Preacher's Retreat at Fallhall Glen camp near Black River Falls, WI.

I really enjoyed Tom's sessions. He spoke on "Great Restorationist Leaders Worthy of Emulation."  Here are some things I learned.

Those of us who are part of the Restoration movement sometimes seem to think all great heroes of faith are outside of our heritage.  We have incredible men and women of faith in our heritage.  Here are five.

T.B. Larimore.  I always admired this preacher because of his strong emphasis on evangelistic preaching.  Said to have baptized over 10,000 people.  I had forgotten how much he opposed the drawing of lines based of differing opinions about what Scripture says about various doctrines.  Very inclusive.

Andy T. Richie Jr.  I really did not know of this man except as a musician and choir director at Harding University.  He was very involved in camps and campaigns.  His students mostly recalled his spirituality.  Impressive.

J. N. Armstrong.  I may have remembered he was President of Harding at one time.  I did not know he was instrumental in founding a number of colleges.  He was also intent on getting brothers and sisters to get along even when they did not agree on every issue.

Sarah S.Andrews.  Missionary to Japan.  Would not leave during WWII and stayed there under house arrest.  Very inspired by her story.

LeMoine Lewis.  I knew him personally.  He taught undergraduate church history and was a major reason I got a Masters in Restoration History.  Brilliant man who studied at Harvard and stayed faithful.  He asked to teach undergraduates.  Most men of his stature would only want to teach graduate courses.  Very humble.

And back to Tom Olbricht.  Very smart.  Funnier than I remember.  Of course, he wasn't grading me this time.  Loves God deeply.  Loves the church.  Loves the stories of those who have gone before us.

I do want to emulate these heroes of faith.  And that includes Tom.

So thanks  Dr. Olbricht for being my teacher once again.  And this time I stayed awake for every session.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012


My Friend Foy Oliver Jackson is home...forever.

I don't remember meeting Foy.  All I know is that it was in the nursery at the old Trinity Heights Church of Christ building.  Foy, Richard Blaisdell, and I were together from nursery thru college.

We saw each other baptized.  We sang together, prayed together, and learned to preach together.  Some of my fondest memories of Foy are the times he led singing for me when I preached.  He was with me the day I bought my first gift for Marsha.  It was a giant stuffed turtle.  Yeah, I didn't say anything about our common sense.  But it was fun.  He told me I was going to marry her.  He was right.

We tried to help each other stay off of tough roads.  Different paths, but hard times.  After college, we would drift in and out of each other's lives.

Everybody loved Foy.  He was funny, likable, made friends easily, and was loyal to his friends.  He loved Jesus.  He wanted to be the man God wanted him to be.  But it was always a battle for Foy.  Sometimes he would be losing the battle and I wouldn't hear from him for months ... or years.  Then he would start fighting for his faith again and he would call or come over late at night.  And we would talk about grace, forgiveness, and restoration.

Foy's health has been declining over the last year.  Our last conversation was about faith, ministry, and helping others to know Jesus.  He was proud of my ministry.  Proud of me.  And I was proud of Foy.  Proud because he wouldn't give up on his faith.  Proud because he repented of bad choices.  Proud because he wanted to be God's man.

And last week he died.  And I'm glad.

Satan can't tempt him.  The intense fight for faith has ended.  Foy won.  He is home with his folks and with his sister.

I have lots of great Foy stories.  And lots of painful Foy stories.  But I am glad I grew up with him.  Glad for his encouragement.  Glad he fought till the end.

So to my oldest friend Foy.  Love you and glad you made it home safely.  Tell your folks hello and I'll be along shortly.

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