Tuesday, 24 December 2013

He is there and He is not silent

The essence of the Christmas story is this:

God is not silent

God is not distant

God is not aloof

He is up close and personal.

The Christmas story is much more than a baby in a manger, it's the story of salvation for the world. It's a story of love. The Son of God enters our mess and deals with it because He loves us.

The Triune God did not just write a message in the sky, keeping His distance from us. The Father sent the Son and the Son willingly came to live amongst us. He was seen, heard, witnessed to and proclaimed.

At Christmas we celebrate Jesus coming to earth to identify with us, live the life that we couldn't live, die the death we deserved to die and rise again to give us life to the full now and forever.

Jesus comes to draw us into fellowship with Himself and the Father through the Spirit and that fellowship is like the welcoming, relaxing, joyful occasion of a family meal, it is intimate and wonderful. 

The Christmas story is for our joy and for the glory of God. 

Happy Christmas! 

Monday, 2 September 2013

From Donny with Love - September 2013

Here's the prayer update for the Oliver Family.

A lot has happened since the last update in March, not least the birth of Charis, and most of it is crammed into this edition of the prayer letter. Thank you to those who pray and partner with us. God continues to be very good to us.

You can read it here.

Friday, 7 June 2013

What does the Bible say about leadership in the local church? Part 3

The third and final part, which includes thoughts on the area which is a hot potato. I have sought to present my thoughts with care and grace. If I have failed in that please let me know as I believe I have genuinely written what follows from a correct motivation.

Women in Leadership

It seems clear that women can’t hold the office of elder, but can hold the office of deacon. Elders, as already discussed, are to be men. But, that does not mean women can’t lead. They are able to be deacons, presuming they meet the criteria of character in the Bible, and they are meant to teach, train and encourage other women (Titus 2). It also does not mean that women can’t be prophets, evangelists or teachers for example. We quite clearly read of prophetesses in the OT and NT. 

The following verses all show women leading in some way whether it be teaching, deaconing, missionary work etc. (Luke 24:10; Acts 18:26; 21:9; Rom 16:1-16; 1 Cor 11:5; Php 4:2-3; 1 Tim 3:11; Titus 2:3-5). So there is absolutely a place for women in leadership in the church.

I found Andrew Wilson’s blog posts on this issue very helpful (http://thinktheology.co.uk/blog/article/the-presumption-of-complementarianism and http://thinktheology.co.uk/blog/article/twelve-words-twelve-interpretations-1-timothy-212) and I will refer to some of his content as we go.

We are called to obey scripture and, in 1 Timothy 2 and 3, it is stated that women should not teach with authority or be elders. We don’t have time to flesh out exactly what “teach with authority” means in this essay. But, I think it ties very closely with being an elder and being the teacher or pastor giving sermons weekly in a local church. 

Back to the idea of obedience to scripture, if we believe that is the case then we should read 1 Timothy 3 and unless there is an obvious reason that it no longer applies, or was only relevant to one church at one time then we should believe it holds true today. Not only that, but 1 Tim 3 and Titus 1 are the only two places in scripture where the criteria for elders are spelled out explicitly. Surely that gives them greatest weight in the argument, unless we think God somehow forgot to tell us something. They are also very different contexts, city on the one hand, villages on an island on the other.

We can’t base all we believe on history and tradition, but for nearly all of the last 2 millenia, churches were structured with male only elderships, presbyteries etc. We cannot be chronological snobs and think we are somehow more enlightened or spiritual, that would just be arrogant and show more about our cultural blindness than we care to admit.

Here is a quote from one of the posts above which I think also backs up the argument very well.

“If Paul felt able to (a) commend women deacons and co-workers, and celebrate the truth that in Christ there is no male or female, and yet also (b) urge that wives submit to their husbands, and women not teach or exercise authority over men, then it would appear that he did not see (a) and (b) as incompatible.”

The burden of proof must lie with those wanting to have women elders as scripture seems to point the other way.
I will end this sub-section by stating that I would not go to the stake for this, although I do believe it to be what scripture teaches, and that I also have some good friends who love scripture too and would totally disagree with me.

Here are a couple of things that people like me need to think through to make sure we are being consistent:

1. If we have men who are not elders (in ours or any other church) preaching in our Sunday gatherings, then why will we not have women? It seems that preaching/teaching is the job of an elder. If we argue that men who are not elders sit under the teaching of the elders when they preach and so we allow it, then why can't women do the same, because what seems to be excluded in Scripture is women teaching with authority not teaching full stop?

2. If we argue that women can teach in other contexts such as Sunday School or Women's meetings, but not in the Sunday gathering, are we not somehow making the teaching of children and women less important?

3. How do we help women who are obviously gifted by God to fully realise and practice those gifts?

Maybe I will blog more fully on some of these one day.


Leadership in the church is a role not to be taken lightly. It carries with it great responsibility and many challenges. But, it is a role for which there is much grace in Christ. Church leadership should be done in humility, with a servant-heart and desire to know and love the Lord more.
Leaders should be seeking to see the church grow numerically and in spiritual maturity.

I believe churches should be structured with a team of elders and a team of deacons. I also believe (as per previous essay) that decision making ultimately lies with the elders. The only office and function in a local church that I believe to be male only is the office of elder. I would whole-heartedly encourage and expect churches to have female deacons.

The qualifications for these elders and deacons is quite explicit in Scripture. These should be taken seriously. Men and women should be tested accordingly before taking up either office; their relationship with the Lord, their family, the world and their self-awareness all come into that.
I would expect that the regular preaching in the church be done by the elder(s) who is/are the pastor(s), with the other elders taking up the rest of the responsibility. 

A book I heartily recommend for those in leadership is "Fruitful Leaders" by Marcus Honeysett.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

What does the Bible teach about leadership in the local church? Part 2

Here is part 2.

The structure of leadership in the local church
The biblical structure of church leadership seems to be elders and deacons and then the rest of the church members. We can see this in the way Paul often opens his letters to the churches and we can see it in his instructions to Timothy, and Titus, about the qualifications for elders and deacons. I believe that elder, overseer, shepherd and bishop are interchangeable terms in the NT, so what we call them doesn’t massively matter. How they function is much more important.

It might be worth making a distinction; I would call elders and deacons ‘offices’ and the apostles, prophets, pastors etc as ‘roles’. The only reason I crudely define them is because a prophet could quite easily be an elder or a deacon or any church member for that matter.

In Acts 20 Paul gathers the Ephesian elders together to encourage them, say goodbye and leave some instructions. He doesn’t call the whole church congregation, therefore, we can assume that the elders were to lead and pass on the instruction.

The elders are predominantly responsible for the teaching and direction of the church. In Acts 6 the Apostles need to devote their time to preaching and prayer and so they appoint deacons to meet the needs that have arisen. They then oversee the ministry that will meet the needs and get church members to help out.

When Timothy and Titus appoint elders, they are people who will be overseeing the spiritual well-being of the church in terms of doctrine and teaching.
Practically there needs to be accountability. Ultimately, the elders are accountable to Jesus for how they shepherd His church, and they will be judged accordingly. But, on the ground week by week, elders need to be mutually accountable, watching their own lives and doctrine closely, as well as each other’s.
Deacons should also be accountable to the elders for the leading and serving that they do. Deacons will have a level of autonomy, it is no good if the elders micro-manage, but the buck will stop with the elders if something goes pear-shaped.

How frequently elder teams and deacon teams meet will vary from church to church and context to context. I would think that they need to be regular and it would be helpful if deacons fed back information and updates to elders so that they can oversee the church well. If teams are small then they could all meet together as times, but as churches, and therefore these teams grow, that will become practically impossible.

The qualifications of leaders (elders and deacons)
There are two main places for the qualifications of elders (1 Tim and Titus) and the lists are almost identical. 1 Timothy 2 is slightly fuller so let’s take it and see what the essence of it is, and then what those things may look like practically today.

The list covers relationship with God, family, self and the community at large. The whole list, except for ‘the ability to teach’ which we will come to later, is a list relating to character. Being an elder is not about having a particular personality type, a wonderful array of skills and not even necessarily about gifting, but it is about character, Christ-likeness.

If a man desires to be an elder, he desires a “noble task”. Those being considered for church eldership need to have proven themselves in their relationships (as mentioned above). Being an elder is not a small task, or one to be taken lightly, but a serious commitment to love and leading the Lord’s people.
In relation to God, an elder must be a mature believer, not a recent convert and he must be above reproach (v2, 6). This does not mean that an elder must have reached some kind of sinless perfection. It means that an elder must be a person who is becoming more like Christ each day, his character to should be displaying the fruit of the Spirit and he must live out hid identity in Christ. There must not be obvious, major character flaws that he is not bothered about or is not seeking to change in the power of the Spirit. Does he love Jesus? And doe he desire to know and love Him more? Then he is good candidate to be an elder.

The sign that a man might make a good elder lies not only in how he lives out his relationship with God but how he has and is looking after his family (v4). Paul makes it clear to Timothy that if a man can look after his own family, he can’t look after God’s (v5). An elder is to be a one-woman man. He does not have to be married (a la Paul of Jesus) but he needs to be sexually pure in this way. Not only that but it needs to be evident that he loves and leads his wife. His children too should respect him and listen to him and his love for them should be obvious.

On top of this, elders need to be self-aware and well respected by outsiders. Tying in with the desire to be changed by the Spirit to be more like Jesus, an elder needs to be aware of His weaknesses. An elder need to be clear-minded, able to make good and wise decision. He is not to be addicted to anything, be it alcohol or something else, he is to know and find all he needs in Jesus. He needs not to be argumentative, but gentle and gracious. He should in control of his mind and body. He should financially content and wise and, I would argue, generous, because if he does not love money he will quite happily give it away and he is also to be hospitable (v3, 7).

The main difference between elders and deacons seems to be the ability to teach. But also, women can be deacons. I am saying this for 2 reasons. If verse 11 refers to the wives of male deacons, then deacons are being held to a higher standard than elders, which would be strange. Also, the word likewise in other places often refers to a new group of people. Phoebe in Romans 16 seems to be called a deacon too! There’s a lot more technical discussion on Greek that can be done, but that is my summary conclusion.

From the fact that deacons are not required to teach, their role must be primarily more administrative, practical and organising. Things like church finances, website management, mercy ministries etc. Having said that, although deacons are not required to have the ability to teach, I wonder if they do some teaching anyway. It is practically impossible for the elders to do all the teaching that is needed in a church. Not only that but Colossians 3, for example, speaks of all believers “teaching” one another.
If this is the case, that in some way, all believers “teach” then the teaching that an elder is required to be able to do must be something particular. My conclusion would be that the teaching elders do is, in most modern churches, what takes place during a Sunday gathering, or in different contexts, the place where the doctrine and direction of the church is proclaimed authoritatively. Other places for teaching, such as home group Bible studies, Sunday School etc are not solely the responsibility of elders, although elders may well be involved in them.

Deacons, as with elders are to have certain characteristics. It is not for anyone to decide to be a deacon. Deacons are also to be exemplary believers who are seeking to love the Lord Jesus and practically live it out. They are to be tested according to the criteria mentioned, much like elders.
There is great benefit in being a deacon too; confidence in Christ will grow and it provides a good place to serve and build a good foundation.

Monday, 3 June 2013

What does the Bible teach about leadership in the local church? Part 1

The 4th essay. I completed this a while ago, but have been waiting to post as I wanted to edit the latter sections after some discussion and further thinking. Here's part 1.
I will aim to tackle this under various sub-sections, but there will be overlap, inevitably, as we go through. Unfortunately that means there may be things I take for granted or mention early on, which don’t get a definition or clarification until later.

What does leadership look like?
The obviously place to start a discussion on leadership is with Jesus. He is the head of the church (Colossians 1:18), He is the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4), He is the Bridegroom, and He called the 12 to ‘follow’ Him. Jesus is the perfect leader and as such the Apostle Paul calls believers to imitate him as he imitates Christ.
Christ is Prophet, Priest and King; which are the primary leadership offices we see in the OT.
So, we look to Jesus as the model of leadership. In Him we see love, humility, service, boldness, clarity and the list goes on. But, as we are looking at what is specifically said about leadership in the Bible, we can look to specific passages that lay out details of character traits, and also how leadership is to work, and what its ultimate purpose is. Then we can apply it to the church today.

Romans 12:8 tells us that leadership is a gift and therefore implies that not everyone is a leader. The rest of the New Testament backs this up as we read of elders and deacons leading churches. There are also “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers” who are given by God to build the church (Ephesians 4), although these are more gifts and roles than leadership positions.

The individuals or groups who led God’s people in some way, are very different throughout the Bible. Moses, Joshua, David, Nehemiah and Isaiah for example all had different strengths and weaknesses. Some messed up in hugely public ways, others doubted privately. What they had in common was that they sought to listen to God and to direct His people to love Him. Moses often reminded the people of what the Lord had done for them in the past as the foundation that He would look after them in the future. David acted courageously in battle, led the people in song and celebration and sought to keep his own heart desiring what God desired. Nehemiah led rebuilding works, took initiative and wanted to restore Jerusalem and bring honour to God.

Those who lead in the Bible are all called by God for a specific time and task. They are also gifted by God to do it, and it’s not just those who are prophets, priests, kings or judges, think of Bezalel and Oholiab in Exodus 31, who lead in the construction of the Tabernacle.

Paul often spoke to the Thessalonians of caring for them like a father and a mother. Leadership should be like this. Leading a family. There should be real love, care and concern. Jesus spoke of wanting to take Jerusalem under his wing like a hen does with her chicks. There is love and protection in that too.
Timothy was commanded to teaching in accordance with gospel he had learned and to pass it on to other faithful men. He was also called to lead like a soldier, a farmer and an athlete. Timothy was to be well-trained, diligent, hard-working, read for a battle, running for a prize.

Leadership is not a popularity contest and it is not about building an empire for yourself. It is about loving God, loving His people and seeking to serve wholeheartedly and unreservedly for the sake of His Kindgom. All is evidenced in the lives of Jesus and His disciples as well as OT leaders. They were often maligned, lied about, rejected etc. all for the sake of God’s Kingdom.

There are those who speak of prophetic, priestly and kingly leadership. Prophetic is mainly based around preaching and teaching. Priestly is much more pastoral and personal. Kingly is about having good structures and methods in place. Taking this as a helpful but overly simplistic model, we can see that a church needs people whose strengths lie in each of these different areas involved in their leadership.

Outside of the qualifications for elders (looked at later), they are spoken of doing the following things in the NT (this list is taken from “On Church Leadership” by Mark Driscoll); praying and studying scripture (Acts 6:4), ruling and leading the church (1 Tim 5:17), managing the church (1 Tim 3:4-5), caring for people in the church (1 Pet 5:2-5), giving account to God for the church (Heb 13:17), living exemplary lives (Heb 13:7), rightly using the authority God has given them (Acts 20:28), teaching the bible correctly (Eph 4:11, 1Tim 3:2), preaching (1 Tim 5:17), praying for the sick (James 5:13-15), teaching sound doctrine and refuting false teaching (Titus 1:9), working hard (1 Thess 5:12), rightly using money and power (1 Pet 5:1-3), protecting the church from false teachers (Acts 20:17-31), disciplining unrepentant Christians (Matt 18:15-17), obeying the secular laws as the legal ruling body of a corporation (Rom 13:1-7), and developing other leaders (2 Tim 2:1-2).

The purpose of biblical church leadership
There are numerous verses and stories from the Bible that state or illustrate the purpose and end goal of biblical leadership.

Skimming very briefly across some OT passages we can see leaders were called to direct God’s people to God’s place for them (Moses and Joshua most clearly). Other leaders help the people to fight against their enemies, resist temptation to worship false gods and continue to trust the LORD. The aim of all of this is for the LORD to be worshipped, for His name to be made known and for His glory to be seen.
When David goes out to fight Goliath he is leading a scared people in place of the king who was supposed to lead them and he does it to show that the LORD is the One True God. He stands up for truth, he hates the mocking of God by Goliath. He loves the LORD and seeks to honour him and lead the people to do the same (1 Samuel 17:45-47).

In Isaiah 8 the prophet writes and teaches his disciples to fear the LORD, he wants them to stand firm and trust the LORD, waiting for Him to act as He promised He would. As prophet he is covenant watchdog and his leadership points people to the LORD.

Paul works for the Philippians’ “progress and joy in the faith,” (1:25) he states that he wants to “present everyone mature in Christ,” when writing to the Colossians (1:28), and he speaks in Ephesians 4:12 of roles being given to people to “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ.” On top of that, if the purpose of the church as a whole is to fulfill the great commission of Matt 28:18-20, then the purpose of church leadership is to facilitate that.

The purpose of church leadership is to build the church, numerically and in maturity so that people come to know and love the Lord and grow in both of those things more and more.
The reputation of the gospel in the world at large and the health of the church spiritually are at stake with church leadership.