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August 2018

Posts from September 2018

The Blessing of Qualified Deacons Who Serve

It is the time of year once more in our church where the members will prayerfully nominate biblically qualified, faithful men to serve in the office of deacon. We recognize two offices within the church - pastors (elders) and deacons. 

It is at this time of the year I sometimes feel like Bill Murray in the movie "Groundhog Day." We have been nominating deacons to serve in our church for decades. This is something that has occurred every single year that I have been here (the past 25 years) and for many years prior. Yet, every year the same questions come up regarding qualifications, expectations, and responsibilities of the men who serve.

Each year, the answers remain the same. At least the core answers do, for those are based on the only passage in Scripture where qualifications of deacons is given (1 Timothy 3.)

So, as we prepare for this time once more, we must go back to Scripture to ensure we understand what is required for men who answer this high calling for the lowly position.

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Often when looking at the qualifications for deacons, we begin reading in verse 8 of chapter 3 while ignoring the qualifications for pastors (elders) listed in the first portion of the chapter. While these are two distinct offices, there is a connecting phrase in verse 8 that leads the reader to see that which is required of pastors is true for deacons as well. That phrase is "Deacons likewise must be..."

While the offices of pastor/elder and deacon have been affirmed in the modern church, the roles of the offices have often been misunderstood, if not fully modified. Based on the New Testament, the pastor/elders are the primary spiritual leaders of the local church. Pastors are to teach or preach the Word and shepherd the souls of those under their care (Eph. 4:11; 1 Tim. 3:2; 5:17; Titus 1:9; Heb. 13:17).

Deacons are to serve. The church needs deacons to offer practical, logistical support and service to the pastors and the church body so that the pastors may focus on the study of the Word of God and prayer. 

The Similarities of Offices

It is clear as one reads through the passage that character counts. Men who serve as pastors and men who serve as deacons are held to high standards of character. They are to be proven, Christian men who are dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy, holding to sound faith and doctrine, and blameless. They are expected to lead their families well and, if married, to have wives who are above reproach as well. Clearly, if a moral character qualification is listed for elders, it is expected of deacons as well. 

The Differences of Offices

The character qualifications are similar, but the roles and expectations of the offices do differ in some significant ways. The most distinguishing difference in the passage is found in 1 Timothy 3:2 where pastors are required to be "apt to teach." 

This has caused confusion for some in that some churches have required their deacons to be serving in a teaching capacity in the church. What deacons are called to do is "hold" to the faith (1 Tim. 3:9).  The office requirement is clear on holding strongly to the doctrines and mysteries of the faith. The passage clearly suggest that deacons do not have an official teaching role in the church.

Nevertheless, while a deacon may not actually be leading a small group or Bible study in the church, he must have the capacity to answer questions regarding biblical truth and doctrine. He must be able to share this truth with others. He should also be willing to serve where needed in the local church...and that may be in a teaching capacity (for various age groups.) 

Character & Doctrine Matters

The deacon is an office of necessity so that the members of the church are served well. The pastor ensures they are taught well. God has positioned these offices in his church for his glory and the good of the church. 

So, as the questions come, the answers remain consistent. There are interpretative variances on some of the qualifications. For example, while "husband of one wife" literally means "a one-woman man" some churches have read this to mean that a divorced man is not qualified for the office (this is our church's understanding.) Other churches have held this to mean a man should be married to only one woman at a time, which was an issue in the day it was written and will likely be again as marriage laws and redefinitions of acceptable relations continue to occur. Some hold that if a man became a believer after a remarriage, he qualifies. 

Our church also has chosen to refrain from the drinking of alcoholic beverages for all pastors and deacons. While we concur that drinking alcoholic beverages is not a sin, we acknowledge that in our culture the command to ensure we not be stumbling blocks to newer believers has led to the continuation of this guideline. 

While the "Groundhog Day" feeling continues, there are things that come up during this season of "deacon nomination" that causes me to reevaluate our guidelines, processes, and roles in our church.

Things We Need To Reconsider

  • GET RID OF THE TERM LIMIT - We have "inactive deacons" and I keep looking in Scripture to see where that is validated. Our practice, as with many legacy churches, is to call a man to serve for a "term" as a deacon. In our case, it's for three years.  It seems to me the concept of "inactive" is wrong. Now, there are cases where a man should step down from service. Obviously, the abandonment of solid doctrine, immorality, divisiveness, or opposition to pastors (who are leading biblically) would be reasons for a removal from office. However, a year off after three years on seems to be nothing more than a passive way to remove men from office without having to address personality conflicts or more importantly, issues such as those listed above.
  • STOP NOMINATING THE UNQUALIFIED - The process of nomination is challenging. Yet, there are men nominated by well-meaning church members each year who are not qualified for the office. 
  • STOP TRYING TO FILL A QUOTA - We have abandoned this, but many churches still are focused on having the right number of men as deacons a required by their by-laws. The church is better off having the right men, even if it's a smaller number, than a large group of men who do not qualify.
  • SELECT QUALIFIED DEACONS WHO ALREADY SERVE IN THE CHURCH - Calling a man who does nothing in the church with the hopes he will once he is called as a deacon is akin to giving a person who never attends small group a teaching position in hopes that he/she will start attending regularly. It's futile. It's wrong. It lowers the bar. 
  • CALL TO REPENTANCE THOSE THOSE WHO HAVE SERVED, BUT WON'T NOW - There are some who do not serve actively due to health or serious familial reasons. Then there are the men who refuse to serve for reasons that are less than godly. A deacon who has served in the past but won't currently due to differences with pastoral leadership, anger, laziness, or simply a desire to not serve within the church, must be called to repentance. Why? Because this is sin. If the man has disqualified himself from the office, that too must be addressed. However, it seems that at times, certain men are begged by other church members to serve again as they did prior to their refusal to be "active" once more, but to do so without calling them to repentance is to affirm the sin keeping them out of the office. 

The Bible charges pastors with the tasks of teaching and leading the church. The deacons role is more service-oriented. By handling such issues within the church, the pastors are freed up to focus on shepherding the spiritual needs of the church. Deacons are a blessing. They honor God through their service to him and his church.


When Everything Offends

We are now living in an era of offense. It seems that everyone is just one tweet or Facebook post from being totally offended at … well, everything. This age of offense seems to be leaving us with an inability to have discourse. It’s not that humanity had ever mastered this in the past, but the immediacy of posts with responses typed in anger and frustration now has seemingly become the norm.

Last week it was In-N-Out Burger that offended some, so a boycott was called (then quickly recounted when it became clear that not eating an “Animal Style” In-N-Out Burger when you have the opportunity (I live in Florida, so I only get these when I travel) was not worth boycotting. The boycott was called by the head of the California Democratic Party through a tweet because the restaurant chain had made donations to the state’s Republican party. However, it was soon disclosed that that the restaurant chain had also donated to the state’s Democratic party. Dakota Smith and Melissa Etehad wrote in their Los Angeles Times article [Read Here] about the politicization of hamburgers. They shared the quote from In-N-Out Executive Vice President Arnie Wensinger.

“For years, In-N-Out Burger has supported lawmakers who, regardless of political affiliation, promote policies that strengthen California and allow us to continue operating with the values of providing strong pay and great benefits for our associates.”

So much for just being able to enjoy a burger.

Calls for boycotts are not new. They’ve been going on for generations. These, in my opinion, were needed and valuable.

  • Back in 1769 Philadelphia merchants began boycotting Great Britain over a little thing known as “taxation without representation.” You may have heard of that.
  • In 1933 the American Jewish Congress boycotted Nazi Germany for what should be obvious reasons.
  • Throughout the 1950s and 1960s black Americans launched and participated in various boycotts due to the racial segregation issues in the United States. African-Americans were not the only ones participating, but definitely were prominent in turning a boycott of Montgomery busses into a movement.
  • In South Africa a boycott of South African universities was launched in the 1950s and lasted until the 1990s.

There are many others. Some were connected to sporting events such as the 1980 Olympic games when the US boycotted the Moscow games. Payback came in 1984 when the Soviet Union stayed away from the Los Angeles Games.

The list of historical and current boycotts is long. Just Google it or check out the Wikipedia page.

In Southern Baptist life, there have been boycotts. The most prominent one to come to mind was against the Walt Disney Company in 1997. The national news presented it as a mandated boycott, not understanding the autonomy of local churches and the role of resolutions. Eight years later the boycott was ended, but I’m not really certain of its effect. In fact, I don't believe it was effective at all. For SBC churches in Florida, we never really saw a decline in Disney annual passes or weekends at the park. Perhaps Universal Studios benefitted when Night of Joy (the Christian concert event at Disney) began losing attendees while Rock the Universe grew in popularity. Who knows?

Believe

Burning Nikes

Now we have another boycott happening. This one has to do with Nike and their recent decision to feature former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick as the face of their “Just Do It” campaign.

Boy, has this one blown up.

As I watch the vitriol flow online, I see a number of camps developing. These groups are dividing politically, racially, regionally, and in various other ways. Some are angry at  the NFL based on the league’s inability to address the anthem kneeling. Others are angry at Nike because they are paying Kaepernick. Some are stating the Nike promo is disrespectful (that’s the nicest way to put it) of those who have served our country in the military. Others are angry because of the disrespect from some to those who serve our communities in law enforcement. Still others are angry due to the accounts of police brutality that have occurred in our nation. Others are simply stating the reality of the dissolution of community and growing violence in our neighborhoods.

The lists of the angry are long, varied, and at some level are all valid.

Pastors are trying to find ways to address these issues. As varied as the responses above are the responses from pastors and spiritual leaders. Some are wrapping themselves in flags (figuratively.) Others are wearing their Nike shoes as a way to protest (or support.) Some are ignoring the issues. Others are ignoring the Scriptures (unfortunately, but not just due to the current newsfeeds.) Some sound more like political pundits for the party of choice than as proclaimers of the Word.

What are we to do?

The answer to that question is as varied as the personalities in our nation.

We can get angry and stay angry. That’s the easy thing to do.

We can ignore the problems in our society, hide in our church buildings, and talk (or post) about those “out there” who are the problems.

We can remain silent when wrongs occur, believing that it’s not our problem or our issue. However, here’s what happens when this is the response. When the church is silent, someone else will speak into the void. This is always the case and unfortunately, we (the church) have allowed this many times in the past.

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Maybe, these options would be better …  

We can pray for wisdom.

We can speak truth.

We can love our neighbors.

We can love our enemies.

We can engage the world for the sake of the Gospel.

We can be the church we must be.

Here’s the problem when we choose well – the world won’t like it. In fact, some in your church won’t like it. There will be pushback from all sides. Some will claim you’re being too political (even when you are seeking strongly to stand only on the truth of the gospel) while others will declare you’re not political enough. Some will call you a political conservative and align you with an agenda or person you did not choose. Others will state you are a political liberal and put you in a camp that you would not wish be in.

Outside of politics, you’ll be chastised for the shoes you wear or don’t wear, the games you watch or don’t watch, and perhaps even the fast-food restaurant you choose to eat at, or not.

Should Christians Boycott?

That’s a good question and rather than re-hash the subject, I recommend you click the link here and read Joe Carter’s post from a number of years ago on The Gospel Coalition’s website.

Does This Help?

Does this post fix everything? Does it fix anything? Well, probably not really.

Yet, it’s forcing me to have a conversation (at least a contemplation) about what we, as Christians must be doing, or at a minimum talking about. Consider this self-counsel.

At some point the concept of living missionally means we must actually be “in the world” while seeking to be not of it. Sadly, many seemingly have so strongly lamented being in the world that they have sought and accomplished the creating of  safe places that effectively leave them sequestered somewhere in a “Christian” version of everything while not being truly Christian in anything.

In the meantime, I would say that we as Christians, to change the Nike slogan just a bit, must truly believe in Someone (Jesus) who sacrificed everything so that we may have life. Then, we must live that life for the glory of God, knowing that will be for the good of His church and others.