Tagged: leadership

The Church Isn’t a Corporate Ladder

I’ve been preaching through Ephesians and stressing a movement in the letter between chapters 3 & 4. In the first three chapters Paul dwells on the believers understanding of God. He describes God. He describes God’s vision for the church. He reminds the disciples what God, through Christ, has done for them.

In chapter 4 the letter transitions to discussing more practical issues for the church to implement. In the first part of the chapter the emphasis is on unity: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father.  But unity doesn’t mean uniformity and the chapter moves to describing differences among members of the body.

corporate-ladderVerse 11 contains a list of apparent roles or positions within the church:

  • Apostles;
  • Prophets;
  • Evangelists;
  • Pastors; and
  • Teachers.

We need to clearly grasp that this verse doesn’t describe a career path. Too often I feel there’s an expectation that people work their way up this ladder and that becoming an elder or deacon is a perk of congregational longevity. Rather, Paul here outlines the functions the early church needed to become mature. The gifts and roles listed here are not comprehensive and all served a function in equipping the church and promoting unity and peace.

Apostles were witnesses to the resurrection: since the resurrection is the foundation of the church, the testimony of those who had seen the risen Jesus was the first Christian preaching. Early Christian prophets spoke in the name of the Lord, guiding and directing the church especially in the time before the New Testament was written. Evangelists announced to the surprised world that the crucified Jesus was risen from the dead, and was both Israel’s Messiah and the world’s true Lord. Pastors looked after the young churches ; teachers developed and trained the understanding of the first churches.
N.T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters (2004, p49)

The images of unity in Ephesians 4 explain why at Lawson Rd we make a big deal when people place membership in the local congregation. It’s exciting when people respond to the calling of Christ in baptism and a commitment to live for God, but Scripture consistently describes new converts participating in local congregations committed to each other. It’s possible that God’s given someone the gift of teaching described here, but when people don’t commit to the other Christians they worship with, they leave uncertainty about their commitment to unity.

Or on the other side, placing membership in a local church lets the elders, deacons, pastors and teachers know the person wants to be equipped by them. It’s difficult to challenge people to grow in Godly maturity when the leaders don’t know clearly who they’re leading. In 1 Peter 5:2 elders are told, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them…” Who is the flock under their care? It’s not defined, but membership is way of knowing whether a person is under the care of Lawson Rd elders, or leaders at another local congregation.

While there’s nothing specific in this passage distinguishing between the local church and the universal church, we need to remember that this letter is written to a local congregation, so the teaching it contains is to be applied in that context unless otherwise noted.  The call for unity applies to the Ephesian church and the various tensions they experience to divide. The spiritual gifts and leadership roles listed here apply to the local church. Life as a Christian is not about having the right birth certificate, being baptised in the right way, at the right place or by the right person. It’s about living as healthy part of the body of Christ.

While some church leaders (such as Paul) traveled from congregation to congregation, in general, the leaders at one congregation did not have responsibility for the Godly growth of another congregation. Their task of equipping God’s people for works of service relates to those who are part of that church family.

My last blog post asked, “Who benefits from your faith?” or  “Who were you saved for?” This week the text builds on that thought. God has gifted you for the work of equipping others so that the unified body of Christ may be built up. Are you exercising your gifts and talents for the benefit of others?

Jesus the Son of God

Jesus’ Parable of the Tenants (Mark 12) really summarises the message of Mark’s Gospel. In the story the farm hands recognise Jesus as the son of the landowner. Their response is to kill him. How do we identify Jesus, and how do we respond?

  • Read Mark 12:1-12 here.
  • You can listen to the related sermon here.

Mark opens his writing with the statement “The beginning of the Gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” From his opening the other three accounts of Jesus’ life took their title. They were not histories, or biographies, they were Good News written to persuade people to believe and trust the person of Jesus.

As Mark introduces Jesus to the world, he elects to use the title, “Son of God” to describe Him. We find this title not only in 1:1, but also at other key events in the book. Jesus is described as the Son of God at his baptism (1:11),at the transfiguration (9:7), and at the cross the centurion after observing his death observes, “surely this man was the Son of God.” (15:39)

The Gospel of Mark pivots on 8:29. Jesus asks his disciples “Who do you say that I am?” and the apostle Peter replies, “You are the Messiah.” Finally, someone accepted Jesus’ message about who he is in relationship with God. In a sense, it’s mission accomplished, but Jesus immediately changes the mission. “He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things… and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.” (8:31)

Having established his claim to the title of Israel’s promised Messiah, Jesus immediately emphasises humility, service, and death. It’s fascinating to see the apostles response move in the exact opposite direction. Three times Jesus predicts his death and the apostles respond by arguing about who is the greatest among them.

Mark 8:31-34 “He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things…” Peter arrogantly rebukes Jesus and tells him that he’s wrong.
Mark 9:31-35 “The Son of Man… will be killed.” “…on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.”
Mark 10:32-41 “The Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests… they will condemn him to death…” James and John ask to sit at the left and right hands of Jesus’ throne in glory. This upset the rest of the disciples.

The apostles slowly learned that it’s one thing to intellectually recognise the Lordship of Jesus, but another challenge altogether to submit to Him.  Finally, in 10:45 Jesus laid it out for them in very plain language, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Mark is very concerned that people acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God, as Messiah, as Lord. The first step is to learn and believe this truth. The second step is to allow that truth to transform our lives. Knowing the truth of the majesty of Jesus makes us servants, not superiors.

So I don’t want this article to just be an interesting intellectual blog post. Let me close by posing three questions:

  1. Who is Jesus to you? (Go ahead, write it down. It’s harder than just thinking it.)
  2. Who in your life could you serve in a meaningful way in the next two days?
  3. Will you?

On an academic note, here’s a brief note of caution by NT Wright on how to understand the title “Son of God”. It’s part of a much longer essay available here.

‘Messiah’, or ‘Christ’, does not mean ‘the/a divine one’. It is very misleading to use the words as shorthands for the divine name or being of Jesus. It is comparatively easy to argue that Jesus (like several other first-century Jews) believed he was the Messiah (see JVG, ch. 11). It is much harder, and a very different thing, to argue that he thought he was in some sense identified with Israel’s God. In this context, the phrase ‘son of God’ is systematically misleading because in pre- and non-Christian Judaism its primary referent is either Israel or the Messiah, and it retains these meanings in early [53] Christianity (e.g. Rom. 1:3-4) while also picking up the overtones of Paul’s early, high Christology. It seems to me, in fact, that the title was perceived very early on in Christianity—within the first decade or so at least—as an ideal one for Jesus because it enabled one to say both ‘Messiah’ and ‘the incarnate one’. However, its subsequent use simply for the latter meaning, coupled with its too-ready identification with the virginal conception story, make it in my view difficult to use without constant qualification in contemporary in systematic discussions.

There’s another short and helpful summary of Wright’s understanding of the title “Son of God” here.

Gifts of Leadership

I’m very happy to share with you some comments by Dr James Nored on the topic of spiritual gifts/roles found in Ephesians 4:11-16. James is the minister at the High Pointe Church of Christ located in McKinney, a northern suburb of Dallas. He is also the founder of the Missional Outreach Network, and designer of the Spiritual Gifts Inventory and resources found at www.YourSpiritualGifts.com.

James, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.

In his books, The Shaping of Things to Come, and The Forgotten Ways, Alan Hirsch emphasizes the five fold gifts of Ephesians 4:11–apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher.

Apostle – the entrepreneur or mission leader who is asking, where are new mission fields?  Who has not been reached?

Prophet – the questioner of an organization or church who is probing, pointing out what is wrong, calling the organization/church back to its purpose/God.

Evangelist – the salesperson of the organization/church, who asks, who can I share the good news with?

Pastor – the HR, caretaker person of the church/organization, who asks how to bring peace and stability and healing to the organization/church

Teacher – the systemitizer of the church/organization, who seeks to deepen understanding, asking, how does all of this fit together and make sense?

Hirsch theorizes that the five fold spiritual gifts draw upon these parallel natural gifts found in any healthy organization. It is an intuitive argument that I agree with and have witnessed. I believe that it also has a biblical/theological basis. I would love for someone to do more statistical research on this.

Hirsch advocates that a healthy church will have each role represented in its leadership team. He also says that it is the nature of institutions–and churches–to be dominated by the pastor-teacher role. The apostle, prophet, and evangelist roles all are “disruptive” to the system, and the nature of pastor-teacher roles is to keep peace and prevent disruptions, making sure things get back to “normal.”

On the organization side–who in the record business wanted to have a prophetic voice telling them that they might soon be out of business with the advent of tape cassettes? Or who at Blockbuster wants to hear that it would go bankrupt unless it changed its business model? Think how hard it is for Microsoft to think beyond its cash cow of Microsoft Office on personal PCs to a cloud based Office model that might be less profitable–but in the end, might allow Microsoft to survive the Internet age.

On the church level, think of the bus ministries of the 1970s. They disrupted the local church, and despite the fact that they did reach a lot of people, many local churches were too disrupted by these ministries to continue them.

Hirsch says that the APE gifts (Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist) of the APEPT Eph. 4:11 gifts become marginalized in the local church. They have little voice in leadership and the “system” pushes them out due to the disruption they cause. So those with this gifting usually go overseas on mission trips, go into church planting more recently, or become a part of para-church organizations that focus on feeding the hungry, taking care of the homeless or battered women, reaching out to minority groups, etc.

If those with APE giftings are not “in the room” when decisions are made (which historically, has often been the case), then the PT giftings (Pastor, Teacher) will dominate and always advocate the least disruptive path–which will inevitably lead to the church’s or organization’s slow decline and eventual death (businesses do fail and individual churches do close, even if the Church will always continue).

So what do you think?

  • Do you agree that church leadership lives with a natural tension between disruptive and soothing voices?
  • Have you seen people with APE spiritual gifts squeezed out of leadership, or at least have their voices muffled?
  • How can churches launch and maintain “disruptive” ministries while still keeping “peace” within the congregation?
  • What characteristics must a church adopt or emphasise to support these “disruptive” leadership gifts?

Matthew 11-12: The Real Slippery Slope

  • Read Matthew 11-12 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (20 February) you can listen to it here.

In Matthew 10 Jesus gives a lengthy warning to his apostles regarding the opposition they will experience as they share the message of Good News.  In giving this warning Jesus presents a key principle in v24, “The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master.”  The apostles should expect opposition because they are not greater than Jesus, and Jesus will encounter opposition… to state it mildly.

Matthew uses chapters 12-13 to give examples of the opposition that Jesus experienced.  He also demonstrates that it gradually escalated.

1. John the Baptiser – After earlier “preparing the way” for Jesus and pointing him out to his followers, John finds himself in gaol.  As he sits reflecting upon his ministry, he decides to seek reassurance that his efforts weren’t wasted.  H sends messengers to Jesus asking, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”  This may seem like a harmless question, but it contains the seeds of DOUBT.  Doubt is the precurser to the subsequent degrees of opposition Jesus encounters.  Jesus doesn’t reprimand John for having questions, but he answers him and warns him not to let his doubts undermine his faith and his reward.

2. Chorazin, Bethsaida & Capnernaun – Jesus spent most of his years of ministry around the shores of the Lake of Galilee.  These towns were right in the epicenter of his ministry circuit. Many people from each town would have heard Jesus teach, seen his miracles, and experienced his healing.  Yet the population of these towns overwhelmingly rejected his message.  Jesus responded to their REJECTION by condemning them.  Their rejection of Good News in the face of the overwhelming presence of God reveals a hard heartedness that excludes them from the kingdom of heaven.

3. Eating grain on the Sabbath – Although the previous towns rejected the message of Jesus, there’s no indication that they attempted to hamper his ministry.  In fact, the seem to have enjoyed the benefits of his presence.  However, in chapter 12 the religious leaders begin criticising Jesus and his disciples.  I believe that in Matthew’s Gospel this is the first time that Jesus has received CRITICISM.  The opposition is increasing as in v10 we’re told that the religious leaders were “looking for a reason to accuse Jesus.

4. Plotting to kill – There’s really not a lot to add to this heading.  In v14, after Jesus has answered their questions without giving them reason to accuse him, they escalate the CONFLICT by plotting to kill him.  Their animosity towards Jesus is no longer hidden.  The battle lines have been drawn and the sides chosen.  There can only be one victor.

5. Blasphemy – Just when you thought there was no way to escalate the opposition to Christ’s ministry any further, Matthew presents the ultimate sin.  As if scheming to assassinate the Son of God wasn’t depraved enough, the religious leaders next attempt to convince the crowds that Jesus actually conducts his ministry and casts out demons by Satan’s power, not God’s (12:24).  Jesus describes this false attribution of power as BLASPHEMY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.  In v31-32 he describes this as a sin that will not be forgiven.

Although we could discuss each of these events in a lot more detail, I hope this summary clearly illustrates the escalating nature of the opposition Jesus experienced.  Truly, students are not above their teacher.  Jesus didn’t preach one thing and live another.  He lived a life of purity: a life of consistency.  He experienced opposition.  We will also experience opposition as we continue his mission in our lives.

  • I like to encourage people to question their faith rather than “blindly” believing.  How can we do this while avoiding the dangers of doubt?
  • It amazes me that the first challenge to Jesus identity (in this passage) comes from a fellow-ministerHave you ever witnessed Christians promoting doubt within a church?
  • What can the church learn from Jesus’ response to John about the best way to build and restore faith in those who doubt?

1 Timothy: Women in the Church Pt. 5

  • Read Ephesians 6:1-4 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (20 June), you can listen to it here.
  • Follow the rest of this discussion here.

My Father’s Day sermon discussed how to apply the lessons we’d discussed in the series on “being the Church OF Christ”.  My basic point was that while the formal responsibility for leading church culture change falls on the elders, ministers, deacons, and ministry leaders of the church, they can only be as effective as the leadership coming from the homes.  Specifically, God gives men the responsibility for the spiritual leadership of the family (Eph. 6:4) in partnership with their wives.

I thought this topic provided a good opportunity to finalise my series on the roles of women in the church that I posted back in February.

I believe we often err in this conversation by only discussing the roles of women, while neglecting to discuss the roles of men.  Significantly, chapter 3 immediately follows the discussion of the roles of women with the character traits of elders and deacons.

Men do not assume leadership in the church because they have randomly received a biological blessing.  God gives the responsibility of shepherding his flock to men who love Him, and will serve others.  Too often we men assume leadership as a God-given right, equating it with power and authority, rather than viewing it as a calling to greater servitude.

It’s my opinion that when the men in the church pursue God, love people, and take their responsibilities seriously, much of the tension between gender roles is removed.  But when men demand to run the worship service, but don’t practice the readings, don’t arrive on time, don’t give thought to the song selection, or haven’t prepared a devotional thought over the Lord’s Supper, then it’s natural for women (or anyone) to think, “I could do a better job of this than those guys”.

Some Biblical examples seem to establish a principle that of God expects women to fill the void when men neglect the responsibilities He’s given them.  Granted, the list of examples is short and familiar, but also undeniable:

  • God gave the honour to Deborah & Jael, in Judges 4, when the male leaders of Israel declined to trust God and lead the Israelites into battle.  (see Judges 4:6-9)
  • When Nabal foolishly insulted David and endangered his family, Abigail, his wife, took the initiative (leadership) to approach David seeking forgiveness for her husbands insult.  God punished Nabal and rewarded Abigail with marriage to David, even though you could argue that she “usurped her husbands authority”.  She did what was right and responsible.  (see 1 Samuel 25)
  • In the NT, Timothy’s father was known within the church as a Greek, meaning he worshiped the Greek gods.  So in the absence of a Godly father, his Jewish mother and grandmother raised him in Judaism and influenced him to follow Jesus.  (see Acts 16:1-3, 2 Timothy 1:5)

Basically, I believe that any teaching on the roles of women should be accompanied by teaching on the responsibilities of men. Do they take their faith, and responsibilities seriously?

I do not agree with the concept of men’s business meetings as they reward anatomy, not spirituality.  Yes, men may need training as many of the responsibilities of church or worship leadership do not come naturally, but choose those men on the basis of their character, not their gender.

I understand that determining whether men are pulling their weight is a subjective call and that having that conversation may create more conflict, but that probably indicates that the Spirit of God isn’t being given much room to work anyway.

Okay, there’s probably lots to discuss there, and I may have even overstated a couple of points to prompt discussion. 😉

  • What are some ways that men leading worship can demonstrate that they take the responsibility seriously?
  • Do you agree that men genuinely serving the congregation will remove some of the impetus for women to take a more active role in the worship service?
  • Is it better to have a few men genuinely leading worship every week, or to involve as many men as possible hoping they’ll “grow into it”?
  • How can we develop younger Christians into leadership roles, while maintaining the quality of the worship experience?

The Church OF Christ: Part 2

  • Read Hebrews 4:14-16 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (16 May), you can listen to it here.
  • Follow the rest of the discussion here.

In this series of posts I intend to examine the implications of claiming the title “Church of Christ” for our fellowship.  I don’t recall having ever heard a church emphasise the significance of the name other than making the point that it’s take directly from Rom. 16:16.  So this discussion is not an explanation of it’s current significance, but rather an exploration of how this name could shape our identity if we take it seriously.

The points I choose to highlight appear in no particular sequence.  The earlier ones should not take priority over the latter ones, although you might choose to prioritise them for your own benefit.  They are simply some of the implications I see of acknowledging that we belong to a church that belongs to Christ.

The Church of Christ should also be The Church of Prayer.

When we acknowledge that The Church of Christ really means The Church Belonging to Christ, we should adopt an attitude of humility.  We acknowledge that submitting to Jesus for forgiveness and reconciliation started a process that continues today.  We never reach a point where we attain a status of sufficient righteousness and godliness that we can stop submitting to Christ.

Since the church belongs to Christ, we need to seek his will for the church.  In general, we do this through the study of Scripture.  In specific circumstances, we do this through prayer.  The very act of prayer assumes a posture of submission.  In prayer, we acknowledge our lack of answers and our dependence upon God for those answers.

Prayer declares that we serve a risen and living Saviour with a vested interest in the well-being of his church.  Hebrews 4:14-16 (cf. Rom. 8:34) describes Christ as actively representing us before the throne of God.  Verse 16 states that by turning to God through Christ “we receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” How tragic if The Church Belonging to Christ passes up opportunities to appeal to Christ: opportunities to receive his mercy, grace, and help.

In practice, I often find myself trusting my own wisdom and experience rather than submitting to Jesus.  When someone shares a concern with me, I listen to them, consider the issues and the Scriptures, and then share my advice, and if I remember, finally take time to pray together.

I believe that The Church Belonging to Christ should make prayer such a central part of its identity that it becomes our first and automatic response to difficulties we encounter.  Rather than problem solving and then praying, The Church Belonging to Christ should develop a culture that bathes a dilemma in prayer and only then begin problem solving in the quest of God’s will for the situation.

A Church of Christ, that doesn’t make prayer a central part of its identity quickly becomes The Church of US.

  • Can you think of any church/denomination that has a reputation as a “church of prayer”?
  • Does your church already emphasise prayer?  How does it do this?
  • Do you agree that the urge to problem-solve rather than pray is widespread and natural?  Do you have tips to help overcome this urge?

1 Timothy: Women in the Church Pt. 3

Read related posts here.

This part of the discussion will seem strange to those outside Churches of Christ, but it was a question I was asked to address in my class so I’ll include it here also.

The autonomy of individual congregations has long stood as a core tenet of belief within Churches of Christ.  The basic argument proposes that the New Testament describes no church organization above the local congregations.  In fact, the only instructions for church governance detail the appointment of elders and deacons in local churches.  The elders in each location are responsible for the teaching and faithfulness of their congregation. (1 Tim. 5:17; Heb 13:17)

Thus Churches of Christ insist we are not a denomination, which would be unscriptural, as we have no overseeing administrative offices.  There is no hierarchy of clergy, nor any requirement to pay dues to use the name “Church of Christ”.  Theoretically, each congregation is free to make its own decisions on belief and practice.

However, a traditional competing doctrine muddies these autonomous waters.  Through the middle of the 20th century many churches of Christ developed the logic that if there’s one Bible and we all read it with an open mind, we should all come to the same conclusions.  Therefore, churches across the US (world?) should share the same doctrines and practices.  This line of reasoning excluded opinion and cultural values/customs from the church.  Anecdotally I have been led to believe that a general uniformity of teaching and practice appeared and churches that didn’t measure up were disfellowshipped.

I find it really quite remarkable that such a broad fellowship of autonomous congregations could ever develop a significant degree of uniformity.  Apparently no one gave much thought to the innate contradictions of these two beliefs.  The doctrine of autonomy was applied only to church leadership to exclude the possibility of formal church hierarchies involving offices such as bishops or synods.  As long as this type of congregational autonomy could be maintained the churches could continue to distinguish themselves from all the other unBiblical (sinful) denominations.  Yet there was very little scope given for doctrinal autonomy.

I pointed out in my first post on this topic that many of the possible applications of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 are pretty subjective.  So who makes the decisions?  In the traditional Church of Christ practice, a degree of “conventional wisdom” supported by  teachers or publications well-known within the movement established the orthodox beliefs.

I believe that in issues with this level of subjectivity the best people to make decisions are the elders at each congregation.  They can take a word like “authority”, consider the cultural values of their community, and decide what roles within the church comply with Paul’s teaching in this passage.  As a consequence, different churches will reach different conclusions and practices.

Is saying a public prayer an act of authority or of service?  While I believe we serve one another through prayer, I can understand how some people might view anyone that stands before the congregation as automatically possessing authority.  However, since neither of us can prove ourselves right or the other wrong our churches will probably have different practices as we exercise our autonomy and our elders “watch over the souls” of each congregation to the best of their ability.

These two doctrines raise a lot of questions about the balance between congregational autonomy and cooperation, between the local church and the universal church.

  • How do you believe you should respond when you see a “sister congregation” teaching or practicing something with which you disagree?
  • I suggested in my class that although God is the ultimate judge we each make practical decisions about who to fellowship with and support, both individually and congregationally.  Some practices should have no impact on our relationships (eg. Lord’s Supper before or after the sermon) while others are vital (eg. deity of Christ).  In your eyes, how important is the role of women in the church in determining who you fellowship with?
  • If anyone has some more insight into the origins of these two doctrines (congregational autonomy, and uniformity of practice) within the Restoration Movement, I’d love for you to leave a comment. (Please don’t just leave a list of Scriptures. I’m aware of those.)

1 Timothy: Women in the Church Pt. 2

Read the rest of the series here.

As I grew up in the church I often heard about the importance of reading a verse in context.  I came to understand this to mean that we need to read the verses immediately before and after the verse we’re studying to get a bigger picture, but that was about as far as we went.  Maybe we sometimes considered the paragraph as a whole, or the section between the headings.

I’ve now appreciate that often we need to step back even further to truly see the big picture and the context of a particular verse.

In the case of 1 Timothy, Paul begins the letter by stating his purpose in writing.  He writes to refute false teaching and to promote faith (vs3-4) because,

The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Tim 1:5)

Somehow, the church has managed to make 1 Timothy one of the most divisive books, rather than one that produces love.  We accomplish this by focusing on individual issues and verses rather than considering the message of the book as a whole.

The false teaching at Ephesus clearly concerns Paul and he warns against it regularly.  The letter also bursts with spontaneous praise to God.  Consider,

  • 1:12-17
  • 3:16
  • 4:10
  • 6:13

In these verses Paul’s not content just to say “God” he has to keep going and describe the “God who…”.  He encourages faith and love by continually reminding us of the hope and forgiveness that God has given us through the sacrifice of Christ.  It’s the antidote for false teaching.

In their NT Introduction, Carson, Moo & Morris note that the letter is a protest against needless controversies and the emphasis is on character and conduct. (1992, 376)

How ironic then that chapters 2 and 3 have been some of the mostly debated and divisive passages in the whole Bible.  In our quest to get every detail “right” we’ve missed the central message of the letter.  We define “love” in some quirky way that allows us to treat our brothers and sisters badly.  We focus on the verse and lose the context.

I’m not suggesting that 1:5 etc. presents a reason to simply ignore chapters 2 and 3 because they’re controversial.  We have to continue to work at understanding and applying them in our cultural context.  But when chapters 2 & 3 are used to oppress people, accumulate power, or are the basis of bitter arguments, perhaps there are some higher priorities we should study and discuss before returning to study these chapters.

  • How important do you think it is for Christians to have a grasp of the overall message of Bible books?  (of course we could extend that to the overall message of the whole Bible, which I guess is the ultimate context.)
  • What have you found helpful as ways to teach, learn or remember the themes of particular books?
  • How does the theme of 1 Timothy influence your understanding of 2:11-15?

1 Timothy: Women in the Church Pt. 1

READ the rest of the series here.

I’ve taken a couple of weeks away from the blog as I’ve been celebrating the birth of my daughter, Sophia Grace.  Perhaps it’s appropriate that my “baby-cation” interrupted a discussion in our Wednesday night Bible class on the role of women in the church as taught in 1 Timothy.  What opportunities for church involvement and service will my daughter have?  (Of course that’s a relevant question for my wife, sisters and all other women out there too.)  As she grows what gifts should I encourage her to develop and how can she use them in God’s service?

The topic of the “Role of Women in the Church” could obviously carry on for months and still not reach a conclusion that pleases everyone.  We could look at different passages in the Old and New Testaments.  I’m only raising this topic because you can’t teach 1 Timothy without addressing it, not because I’m trying to initiate a debate.  I expect to post 3 or 4 blogs on this topic.

My final precursor is to let you know that after a lot of study and thought, I generally adopt what has been described as the complementarian view of gender roles in the church.  Which basically holds that men and women have equal value in God’s eyes, but different roles within the church and family.  [You can read a brief description here, or a book on the topic here.]  So I’m not wanting to debate the merits of that view.

In 1 Timothy 2 the key restrictions placed upon women are found in v12, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be quiet.”  I find that churches often muddy the discussion by using the term leadership rather than the biblical terms teach and have authority over.

Perhaps at first glance we might say that the meaning of these terms is obvious, but church life provides so many opportunities for people to involve themselves, that it’s not always clear where these restrictions should apply.

I’ve composed a list of different teaching and leading scenarios for women.  Please read through the list and consider how many are NOT RESTRICTED by the terms “teach and have authority”. PLEASE do not comment on every single item.  I’m interested in seeing how easy it is to understand these terms and how much our understandings differ, so all you need to do is give a total number and some general comments.

In future posts I’ll explore more the methods of how we come to these conclusions.

Possible Areas of “Teaching & Authority”

  1. Teaching a ladies Bible Class
  2. Teaching a children’s Bible Class
  3. Teaching a children’s Bible Class with baptized boys in it
  4. Teaching a teen Bible Class
  5. Asking a question in Bible Class
  6. Answering a question in Bible Class (offering an interpretation of a verse)
  7. Co-teaching (with a man) a Bible Class on Christian parenting
  8. Teaching an adult Bible Class on serving people with addictions.
  9. Teaching an adult Bible Class on the book of Ezekiel.
  10. Writing a book on God’s grace, that may be read by men
  11. Writing songs
  12. Singing songs
  13. Leading congregational singing
  14. Sharing in Bible Class how God has worked in her life
  15. Reading Scripture in Bible Class
  16. Reading Scripture in a worship service
  17. Participating in a congregational reading in a worship service.
  18. Saying “Amen” and “That’s the truth” in a worship service.
  19. Making an announcement during a worship service
  20. Preparing powerpoint slides for a worship service
  21. Running the powerpoint slides for a worship service
  22. Managing the audio/visual system for a worship service
  23. Passing communion trays during a worship service
  24. Serving as an usher at a worship service
  25. Saying a prayer during a worship service
  26. Presenting thoughts prior to the Lord’s Supper
  27. Preaching at a worship service
  28. Serving as a ministry leader for church fellowship meals
  29. Serving as a ministry leader for children’s education
  30. Serving as a ministry leader for missions or benevolence
  31. Participating on ministry committees
  32. Standing before the congregation to report on a mission trip

Can you think of some more situations that are difficult to define?  Leave a comment and add them to the list.

BONUS: Interestingly, David Lipscomb, an early american Church of Christ pioneer, had no problem with women teaching men in Sunday Bible Classes.  You can read one of his quotes on the topic at this blog… just scroll down the page a little bit.

Church Core Values

My previous entry on core values for the church has proved to be one of my most visited postings, so I though I’d expand on that discussion a little.  I expect this will also be a topic I come back to in the future.  There seem to be a lot of people searching for core values.  With that in mind I must apologise that the values listed previously (and again below) are more measures for leadership than core values.

In my mind core values would include things like evangelism, tolerance of differences, openness, generosity to those in need, unselfishness, faithfulness to Scripture, love, justice, forgiveness, grace and holiness. (Obviously this is an incomplete list.)

The difficulty churches face, is condensing the whole NT definition of discipleship into 3 or 4 points.  On the one hand this makes the 3-4 points superficial, but on the other hand it’s incredibly helpful to concentrate on just a few things at a time.  To help with this we also have an annual theme (the plus one) that emphasises another aspect of our faith.

The three core values (or measures) that our elders came up with are listed below.  These reflect the priorities and life stage of our church currently and may change in the future and will probably be different to other churches.

  1. Personal Spiritual Growth – leading to increased involvement in the work of the church (2 Peter 3:17-18);
  2. Establishing a Godly Leadership that works together as a team (Acts 6:1-6); and
  3. Growing Numerically – by demonstrating love and sharing the Gospel (Acts 6:7).

These three points are used by our elders to look back on the year and ask questions.  EG. Are we as leaders seeing spiritual growth among our members?  Are our ministries encouraging spiritual growth?  Are we as elders demonstrating and encouraging spiritual growth among our members?  And similarly for the other two points.

Although numerical growth seems a bit crass when put in a list like this, after all God’s more interested in transformed lives and relationships than numbers, I believe it’s healthy to question what sort of job we’re doing of carrying out the Great Commission.  Sharing the Gospel needs to be one of our priorities as a church.

Particularly if your a visititor just browsing this site, I’d love for you to leave a brief comment sharing your thoughts on core values for God’s church.