Advantages Learned From Multiple Churches: The Bad Elder

As I said in an earlier post, a search committee asked me what advantage I had after working for multiple churches over a 22 year span. After giving it some thought, I realized that knowing a good session from a bad session was the key. I have had a lot experience with bad sessions, which are not always made up of bad elders. You can have a session of moderate elders and one bad elder and it is a bad session because the moderate elders do what most moderate elders do: nothing and the bad elder ends up running the show.

But this post is focusing on the bad elder.

Just to be clear, there are basically three kinds of elders in the church. The first is the man called as a believer, who is  also called as an elder (read about him here). The second is the man who is called as a believer, and is thrust into the position of elder because of mitigating circumstances, and ends up being a moderate elder. The third is the man who is neither a believer, nor called, but ascends to the position of elder simply because his heart heart has yet to give out, and he is the last man standing.

Sadly, this last case of an elder is far too common. Men with no biblical qualifications whatsoever, ascend to the position of being an elder simply because they have been around for a long time, or they have led in some prominent way in the community. Longevity, community prominence, or business savvy are never good reasons to make a man an elder in Christ’s church because the nature of the position is spiritual.

If the church would follow the qualifications of an elder given in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, much of this could be avoided. But far too often, a man is nominated (often by his wife), and no one has the courage to say or indicate that such a man is not qualified to be an elder. The fear of giving offense rules in the selection process. I’ve seen it first hand. A man is nominated and no one wants to say those words: “you are not qualified.” This is how the unqualified become elders.

The initial fear of offending far outweighs the consequences that the unqualified man will reap on the congregation. Yet it is much better to offend that one couple, than to turn the unqualified loose in a position of authority.

When unqualified men end up as elders, they fail because they do not understand the nature of the church. As I’ve alluded to, they feel like the church is just another organization to be managed and run like so many other organizations. This is because it is what the unsaved elder knows. He sees the church like he views the Rotary club, or like he views the local hardware store. One is a social organization, the other is a business. And those organizations run on business practices and business practices should be fine for the church as well.

But the church is not an organization. It’s a spiritual entity in need of spiritual shepherds. This is why the men who fill the role of an elder must be spiritual. They must be born again. They must have a clear realization of the gospel in their own lives and be able to make clear and real professions of faith. They should know their Bibles, because they know that the Bible is God’s word that leads to eternal life. They should have a true hunger for righteousness, and a true hunger to hear the preached word of God.

The man that has not experienced these realities should never be made an elder because he fails to see that Christ operates on a different level than the world. Christ works through humility and weakness. This doesn’t mean He is looking for elders who are weak in their knowledge of scripture, or who are not bold in standing for the truth. But they are weak in their own estimation of who they are. They have been confronted with the sinfulness of sin in their own lives and rest in Christ’s grace found in the gospel. The bad elder is clueless to these realities and thinks of such things as merely religious chatter. To him, the bottom line of finances is the standard for the church. Is the church making money, or going in the hole financially?

And that is why the non-spiritual elder is so deadly. There will always be times when the church ebbs and flows. There will be times when the body grows, and when it declines. There will be times when the money is tight, the giving is slight, and things look bleak. This is where the rubber truly meets the road, not because the church is dependent upon finances. The church needs money to function. But the real question is whether or not the elder will turn to the LORD and trust in Him during times of drought, or will he trust in his business sense?

The bad elder fails to see that God has placed such times of trial before the church as a time of testing. God does test His people. The test is basically the same in most given situations: will His church look to Him, and trust in Him, or resort to fleshly, man-centered solutions to the problem? The bad elder only has one choice: his own fleshly wisdom. This is why he is so dangerous. He never looks to the LORD because he has never looked to the LORD, therefore, he weakens the church by making worldly decisions about spiritual matters.

Given the scenario I have painted, the bad elder doesn’t look at the pastor and ask if the pastor has been faithful in this challenging time. He asks: is the pastor being successful, using worldly standards for “success?”

(The faithful pastor is successful in spiritual terms when he remains faithful to his calling regardless of the outcome or growth of the church because he knows it is the LORD who causes the growth, not his abilities).

The bad elder, given a decline in attendance and giving, sees only one solution: replace the pastor. He sees the pastor as a commodity, not as a shepherd, or a gift from Christ to His church. Therefore, if things don’t go as the elder expects, then the solution is to replace the pastor.

In doing so, he misses the greater opportunity for spiritual growth for the pastor, the session, and the congregation as a whole. It is in times of crisis that God matures His people, and the spiritually-dead elder has no room for such growth. He can’t. He has never tasted the power of the Spirit in his own life.

This is why the durations of a pastors at our churches today is so short. Far too many elders have no real understanding of God’s work in the church. The work of the Spirit is truly foreign to them, so they resort to all they know: reducing Christ’s glorious body to nothing more than a business. This cannot be done. Those in leadership need to take great care in whom they allow to become elders. The man who is not centered on the gospel, has not business being a shepherd to Christ’s people. Yes, let him do well in business. That is great. But unless he has tasted the grace of God in a saving way, he should be kept out of leadership in the church.

Advantages Learned from Multiple Churches: True Elders

In a recent interview I had with a search committee, the chairman asked me what advantage did I have after serving as pastor in multiple churches over the years. I have been the pastor of six churches since 1995. That might sound like a lot for a 22-year ministry. But most pastors who persevere in their callings experience the same thing. In fact, what I have been through is quite the norm. What is not normal is a pastor staying in one place for 15, 20, or 30 years. It is done, but it is rare.

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Signing the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel

I decided to sign The Statement on Social Justice & The Gospel. After hearing Dr. James White discuss it on his show, The Dividing Line, and reading some of the other statements by people I trust and admire, like Samuel Sey and Darrel B. Harrison, it is important to support the statement given what is at stake. Simply put, the social justice movement is an attack on the gospel itself, the Bible, and the church.

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Against the Generic “god”

“I am the way the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

John Calvin, in his commentary on John 14:1-6, points out that many people will mention God only, but never refer to Christ in their religion. In doing so, they will be easily blown about by every wind of doctrine.

Calvin writes:

Proud men are ashamed of Christ’s humiliation, and, therefor, they fly to God’s incomprehensible Divinity. But faith will never reach heaven unless it submit to Christ, who appears to be a low and contemptible God, and will never be firm if it (does) not seek a foundation in the weakness of Christ.

This reminds me of one woman who was facing death, who refused to actually look to Christ and be saved. It was gut-wrenching because both my wife and I tried to help her see the need to trust in Christ alone for salvation. She would not have Christ. She was far too comfortable with the generic god of her faith, even telling this god that she wanted to live for 10 more years. Sadly, she didn’t have 10 more weeks.

We tried to reach her with the gospel, but the moment that Christ’s name was mentioned, she did everything she could to put us at a distance. She was showing us her true nature. As Romans 3 tells us, no one seeks after God. This woman certainly was not. She had crafted a god after her own image, and was comfortable facing eternity with that god.

Far too many fail in true faith in this manner. They want a god that is unknowable, that is controllable, that is generic so that they can twist his nose anyway that they please. Yet, the living and true God will have none of it. Jesus will have none of it. In John 14:6, Jesus rules out any appeal to the generic god. He makes it clear that the path to the Father, is through the Son. This is His exclusive right as Creator. We must come via faith in Christ in order to have any hope of spending eternity in heaven. Jesus said before He made that exclusive statement that He was going away in order to prepare a place for those who believed in Him. He is going to prepare heaven and no one has any claims on heaven that will not humble themselves and enter in through the Son.

Machen: Definition of Paganism

From Christianity and Liberalism, J. Gresham Machen defines paganism as the following:

Paganism is that view of life which finds the highest goal of human existence in the healthy and harmonious and joyous development of existing human faculties. Very different is the Christian ideal. Paganism is optimistic with regard to unaided human nature, whereas Christianity is the religion of the broken heart.

Machen is not saying that Christianity ends with a broken heart, but that it starts with a broken heart because those who become Christians have a consciousness of sin, whereas pagans do not. We can see paganism all around us. We see it in the exaltation of the human spirit, and the self. We see the priests of it everywhere, from Joel Osteen, to Zig Ziglar, to Oprah, all proclaiming the goodness of man. It’s in our schools, universities, work places, entertainment, and homes. And in the midst of it all, we cover it up with our prosperity.

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Social Justice Seeks to Make the Gospel Relevant, Which is Why It’s Another Gospel

Darrel B. Harrison wrote in a Facebook post that Jesus doesn’t call us to become social-justice warriors in order to fix the problems of the world. Fixing the problems of the world was never Christ’s intent. It was His intent to save sinners. He will fix those problems, but not until His second coming.

While reading that post, it occurred to me that the reason so many are trying to latch on to becoming social-justice warriors within the church is because they think that it gives legitimacy to Christianity. No longer is Christianity an embarrassment to them. It’s now a religion that can fix the problem. But that is not true Christianity. It is simply the old whore of liberalism with a new dress and lipstick. It is another religion all together, as Machen showed in his book Christianity and Liberalism.

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Only “Orthodox” Would Do

It’s interesting that the original name for the Orthodox Presbyterian Church was actually the Presbyterian Church of America. Don’t confuse that with the denomination of today, the Presbyterian Church in America. The latter denomination would not arrive on the scene until the 1970s. The former was getting underway in the early 1930s.

But the new denomination, and the new name wasn’t to be. The former denomination, the Presbyterian Church USA, took the new denomination to court, saying that the name was too similar to the old name. The court agreed and the first PCA had to change their name.

They tossed around many names: The Evangelical Presbyterian Church (which now exists), The Presbyterian and Reformed Church of America, The North American Presbyterian Church, the Presbyterian Church of Christ, the Protestant Presbyterian Church of America, and the Free Presbyterian Church of America.

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“We Need More Programs!” Understanding the Theology of Glory

Those are words you often hear in churches that are in decline. It doesn’t matter what size the church is, when there is a perceived threat of extinction due to loss of numbers, the go-to solution is very often the creation of more programs. The theory goes that the more programs a church offers, the more it will attract people to the building, and the more evangelism will take place. This belief is centered upon the secularist mantra: “If you build it, they will come.”

Entire church complexes are built under this belief.

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Machen’s View on the Bible in Schools


It has been my belief for some time that the worst thing Christians can do in order to turn the tide in our country is to put prayer or the Bible back into government-run and private schools.

The problem with doing so, is that you give the atheist, the cultist, the pagan, the Arminian, free reign to do with prayer and the Bible as they see fit. Placing the word of God into the hands of the enemies of the faith is no answer to the problem of cultural decay in America. They will simply turn the Bible into a screed against Christianity. If you doubt this, see Satan’s treatment of God’s word in his temptation of Christ found in Matthew 4.

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The Sabbath and the NFL

Another great quote from R. Scott Clark. This time, he shows the NFL has been a danger to the Christian family longer than same-sex marriage. The NFL defiles the Sabbath.

The Sabbath is just as basic to the creational pattern as marriage (Matt 19:4, 8; Mark 2:27). In that regard, the NFL has been a threat to the family and to Christian piety rather longer than same-sex marriage. Before the 1950s, college football was king and professional football was more like a semi-pro league. In the 1950s, however, professional football moved to Sundays to fill television time and the rest, as they say, is history.

In view of that, I wonder if the LORD has given His church over to the problems of same-sex marriage because we were not faithful in the first things, honoring Him on the LORD’s day. Instead of engaging in the idolatry of the NFL, let us worship the Triune God alone.

Turning Away So Soon!

I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel (Galatians 1:6).

John Calvin writes in his sermon on Galatians 1:6 the following:

In fact, what Paul says here about the Galatians is far too much in evidence today. Those who have been taught the gospel become discontented after three years [or so] if they do not have some novelty or other, for they have ‘itching ears’. Many vain people backside because they are not content with the truth in the gospel. They always want to be moving house [as it were] because they need some new thing to feed their foolish imaginations. Others grow dissatisfied when they see that the gospel has not brought them any of this world’s goods. There are even some who turn away when they find that they may well be persecuted, and have many enemies. Thus, you can see how many desert our LORD Jesus Christ, not just as one generation succeeds another, but even as those who appear to be His followers turn and rebel after three, or perhaps ten years.

The question and battle for all of us: are we satisfied with Christ as He is presented in the gospel? Or do we want more?

Far too many are looking for one spiritual high after another, so that their religion, even couched in the context of Christianity, becomes idolatry. They are not looking to Christ for satisfaction and redemption, but looking to Him for one more miracle, one more fancy trick.

When the Jews came to Him, doing the same thing, Jesus called them “an evil generation.” This is one of those comments that Jesus made that you won’t find on some sappy T-shirt somewhere. They were evil because THE MESSIAH was standing before them, and they wanted fire crackers and cotton candy. Colorful, but quite empty.

The same is true in our generation. There are many people who run around trying to get another sign, another spiritual high, another mountain-top experience, never realizing that Jesus is it. He is the One that should be the center of our focus. Not some experiential moment. Trust in the risen Savior, in His resurrection, and no more. That is the gospel. Adding to it, only changes the gospel into heresy. Which shows us the deeper reality. The more we chase after novelty, the less we are being faithful to the calling God has placed upon us. This is exactly what the Apostle Paul was getting onto the Galatians about. They moved away from Christ, in adding to the gospel.

Paul told those who did so that they were cursed for doing. This was not some sort of backyard curse, but one that meant they had no hope of salvation. In moving away, what are we moving toward? Paul told them clearly: a different gospel, which was no gospel at all. This is the reason he will go on and write “O foolish Galatians.” To tamper with the gospel is utter foolishness.

Dying to Dreams: Living For Christ

When Christ calls us to follow Him, He really does have us die to everything we hold dear, every expectation, every dream, every desire. He will not leave any room for our own idolatries, no matter how noble they seem to us.

It matters not what the dream or desire may be, even when those dreams or desires are within the scope of biblical Christianity. This is because we have a tendency to take even noble callings, noble desires, and noble responsibilities and turn them into idolatries.

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Unbroken: Further Thoughts

The story of Louis Zamperini is that he was a man that would not be broken by his captors. In the movie, the climactic scene is when Louis is made to lift a large log over his head and hold it with the prospect that if he drops it, he will be beaten. Louis, in his grit and stubbornness, holds the log over his head for 37 minutes. It’s a remarkable feat of strength and determination.

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I finished reading Unbroken to our boys last night. Both of them loved the story, even though at times it was hard for them to follow with the Japanese names, some of the technical terms, and the multiple characters involved in the story. But we got through it, all 416 pages of it.

The hardest part of reading it to them, was the detailed abuse that Louis Zamperini endured while a POW. The book was far more graphic than the movie, and the boys got a real taste for the ugliness of war. (I told Heidi at one point that I don’t think I could ever read the book again as it was so gut wrenching.)

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Worse Than the First

In the Gospel of Luke, we find the following parable:

“When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first” (Luke 11:24-26).

In this parable, Jesus gives us insight into the life of a counterfeit believer. A counterfeit believer is one who is deluded into thinking he or she is a Christian, but is, in reality, not. Jesus is showing us what is taking place in that person on a spiritual level. It’s an insight only He can give us.

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Should Patriotism Have a Place in Worship?

Every Veterans’ Day, Memorial Day, and Independence Day, churches all across the country bring out the flag and patriotic tunes in a show of solidarity for God and country. But should they?

To many, it seems harmless to sing such tunes and wave the flag. After all, what could be wrong with showing pride in our country and in recognition of all those who have died in the preservation of this great nation? But when we worship, we enter into the presence of a holy God who is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29).  This requires that we enter with reverence and awe, and with holy fear.

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Cracked Pitchers

William Gurnall writes:

If the provisions were left in our own hands, we would soon be bankrupt merchants. God knows we are weak, like cracked pitchers–if filled to the brim and set aside, the contents would soon leak out. He puts us under a flowing fountain of His strength and constantly refills us. This was the provision He made for Israel in the wilderness: He split the rock, and not only was their thirst quenched at that moment, but the water ran in a stream after them, so that you hear no more complaints for water. This rock was Christ. Every believer has Christ at his back, following him as he goes, with strength for every condition and trial.

The truth is that out Father often brings us to a sense of need before He provides. He wants us to feel the want of not having, so we can see that He is the One who supplies our need. He wants us to ask Him to meet our need and trust in Him to do so. He may not answer our prayer immediately, but may use the need to keep us coming back to Him. He would much rather have His children returning to Him for their daily needs instead of blessing them with riches, and have them fall away.

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Dear Church, It’s the Pastor’s Job to Warn You of Savage Wolves

On Facebook, a fellow pastor pointed out the what celebrity pastor Andy Stanley was teaching about the Old Testament was “really wrong.” Of course, this brought out all kinds of comments from the enemies of truth implying how unloving, mean, and wicked the pastor was for doing so. Given Andy Stanley’s track record, of winking approval at homosexual couples in his congregation, and declaring that we need to un-hitch ourselves from the part of the Bible that Jesus, Peter, and Paul all preached from, every orthodox pastor in America should be warning their flocks against Andy Stanley.

This is, the pastor’s job to do so.

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