Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail
In Luke 14, Jesus gives a couple of short parables about counting the cost of discipleship. He prefaces them by saying, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be my disciple” (26-27). If we drink deeply of this statement, we see exactly how challenging it is. The choice is always between Jesus and everything and everyone else. How badly do we want what only Jesus can give? Think hard, then decide!
Then come the parables. The first is a construction parable, of one building a tower. He first sits down and calculates the cost in order to be able to finish and avoid ridicule (28-30). The second is a military parable, of a king going into battle. He first sits down and considers whether or not he can win (31-32). The common denominator in both parables is to first sit down and deliberate. Ultimately, there is action which follows, but the planning precedes it.
In how many congregations do elderships or men in the absence of elders never get proactive and formulate a plan for the immediate, intermediate, and far off future? Leadership must cast the vision and deliberate about where that congregation is going and how it will get there. What will be done to grow? How can we get more members active? How can we best utilize the collective resources of the congregation? The Bible reveals all the answers, but it is essential for the church’s leaders to gather around the drawing board.
It was exciting to spend a few hours at the Lehman elders’ 2019 retreat to discuss the short-term plans of the congregation. These men are convicted about the stewardship of the work they eagerly consented to do as our shepherds. They want us to be more effective, but they are determined to set the tone and example for us. I’m amazed at how deeply they care about us and the growth they want us to collectively experience. Words like emphasis, accountability, and purpose continually came up. Building a biblical culture, which works against our contemporary culture of consumers rather than producers, is foremost in their minds. They desire for us to “grow together” as a church, drawing those outside of Christ to our spiritual family.
I cannot wait to see what God will do through such capable leaders in 2020 and beyond. We are blessed with such godly, conscientious elders. Please don’t miss a day praying for Russell, Riley, Kevin, John, Darrell, and Bobby and their families. Also, please never miss an opportunity to express your love, encouragement, and support of them as they strive to do their best to fulfill their God-given duty. Or, as Paul put it, “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another” (1 Th. 5:11-12).
They are first sitting down this weekend, but then they will challenge us all to “rise up and build” (cf. Neh. 2:18).
I met him 20 years ago, the man with the twinkling eyes
He and his wife opened their home to me, and I could recognize
Their love for Christ and Christians, and how well they’d harmonize
Those loves in all their actions, it was there in those twinkling eyes
He shepherded me for several years, the man with twinkling eyes
He had a tenderness so deep, he’d often maximize,
His laugh infectious, his insight savvy, so tough to criticize,
He loved Bear Valley with all of himself, this man with twinkling eyes
I visited many members here with the man with twinkling eyes
Spent hours in meetings and planning, trying God’s will to realize
He was youthful and spry for his age, his resources he’d optimize
A steward of stewards in every way, the man with twinkling eyes
A servant’s heart with savvy hands, the man with the twinkling eyes
Involved and willing, helpful and hopeful, we couldn’t help but idolize
When hearing and memory faded, you still could characterize
This man of God, through ups and downs, by those twinkling eyes
I saw him last week, he greeted me with joyful, twinkling eyes
So hard to believe this morning he gained his heavenly prize
While his long life is fresh in my memory, I’ll try hard to memorize
As kind a face and heart as I’ve seen, the man with the twinkling eyes
He was appointed an elder during the Reagan administration. At the very time he was appointed, the congregation was reaching the climax of a very traumatic incident. A man who was a charter attender, but not a member, when Bear Valley began meeting, he has seen every great work this congregation has dared to do, walked through its every valley, and he has done so with as even-keeled and unflustered way as I have ever known. I have heard him preach both here and abroad, watched him do short-term missions, make difficult shepherd visits, hug and encourage more people than I can remember, and seen his kindness and humor generously displayed. He was not usually the first to speak when elders conversed, but his insights have always been profound. He always did what he did with class and compassion.
I was crestfallen when I recently heard Maynard Woolley tell the eldership that he was ready to step aside as an elder after nearly 30 years of service. Only Harry Denewiler served more years in that role for the Bear Valley church of Christ. He stayed on a couple of years after five great men were appointed to this work in 2016, helping them to acclimate, learn, and grow under his, Ernie Barrett’s, and Dave Chamberlin’s tutelage. A telling tribute to the breadth of his leadership was the collective, deeply respectful, regret that he was going to resign. Maynard is a man who one appreciates more and more the longer one works alongside him. His faithful wife, Donna, has both encouraged him and endured, as an elder’s wife for so long, what not many women living have.
Some men impress with refined oratory, outspoken and charismatic ways, and larger-than-life personalities. Others live more understated ives, but their value cannot be overstated. Maynard Woolley is such a man. We will miss his formal oversight, but we look forward to his continued faithful service and loving example. Thank you, Maynard, for what you’ve done and for who you are. Bear Valley bears the imprint of your bearing.
He shouts at his TV with a mouthful of Cheetos. “I can’t believe you! Four receivers downfield and you throw it behind the line of scrimmage to a man who’s double covered! You’re pathetic. Must be nice to get millions of dollars to make awful decisions. Where do I sign?” After several additional one-sided conversations with the TV, Mr. Potato (first name: “Couch,” aka “Armchair Arnie”) dusts crumbs off his potbelly with those trademark orange fingertips and limps into the kitchen, stiff from sitting three hours, to get another snack before the second half of the NFL doubleheader.
Water cooler wide receivers. La-Z boy linebackers. The game’s true experts do not prowl the sidelines with headsets, nor do they actually suit up, strap on, and sweat it out. The guys with all the answers are the ones who would crumble with fear if placed on the same field with the athletes they so roundly criticize for bungling with the ball.
I have observed that the same temptation can occasionally strike some with regard to elders. Whether it be their judgment or painstaking decisions, their handling of a member’s problems or needs, or their overall “job performance,” elders get taken to task more often than they realize by pew chair presbyters. They may criticize elders for what they did or for their failure to act, for being too strict or too lenient, for showing favoritism or trying to please everyone, for being too conservative or too liberal–all with the regard to a single action taken or decision made.
There is a striking similarity to the “armchair quarterbacking” done by unfit, unqualified spectators at sporting events. Those who can’t are apt to criticize those that can and do. It is far easier to question and condemn the actions taken by elders without the benefit (and angst) of wrangling with problems and decisions oneself. How we can eloquently outline the plan of action we would take absent the pressure and responsibility of being in the position.
Let’s pray more for our elders and pass judgment less! Let’s support them with might, not scrutinize them under a microscope. They need our cooperation and submission (Heb. 13:17). They could do with less backbiting and murmuring (cf. 1 Co. 10:10).
That’s not to say that elders are beyond reproach and rebuke (1 Tim. 5:20). Occasionally, an elder or eldership may be deserving of question–particularly in the area of doctrine or their personal qualification. As a longtime Falcons fan, I had to endure the likes of Scott Hunter, Pat Sullivan, and June Jones! They were terrible quarterbacks, though much better than I could ever have been. Elders will answer directly to Christ for their shepherding of the local flock. We, as embers, will also answer for how we cooperated with and supported them. Let’s all resolve to get out of the chair and join them on the field (cf. John 4:35)!
We are blessed with seven wonderful elders here! They span in age from 48 to 81, are of varying backgrounds, personalities, and skillsets, but collectively they reflect God’s wisdom for a plurality of godly men shepherding the flock. With the magnitude of the work and workload here, I cannot help but stand in awe of the great job they are doing. To watch men like these, I’m reminded of the powerful good done by apt, able elders. Far from an exhaustive list, they:
Have you seen what a great job these men are doing? Have you taken the time to stop and let them know? Many churches veer from the straight and narrow path because of ungodly elderships. Thank God for the shepherds at Bear Valley!
Our elders, like faithful elders everywhere, do a lot that is unseen by the majority. It is hard to quantify the time and effort each of these godly men put into their work, but God sees it. What is more, God rewards it. My prayer is that righteous elders everywhere will take heart at what an inspired elder once wrote: “Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”
I want to preface this story by saying that, of all my siblings, I probably got away with more than the other two combined. However, on at least one occasion, I was punished for something I did not do. My brother was about four years old, and he, some neighborhood buddies, and I were playing war. Brent had a toy Kentucky rifle, while I was toting my new, unloaded Daisy B-B gun. Perhaps my parents had worried that at nine years old I was too young for such a potent weapon, but they allowed me to own it. In the heat of battle, Brent and I converged around the corners of our house. I aimed and fired. He fell down to play dead for the obligatory “five Mississippis,” but he fell on the sight of that Kentucky rifle. This led to perhaps the quickest peace treaty in the history of boys playing war. Brent had a nasty gash under his eye and very nearly did permanent damage to himself. When Dad and Mom asked what happened, he said, “Neal shot me!” You, Brent, and I know what he meant, but seeing things from their point of view they concluded I had fired a B-B that produced the gaping wound. These were the last moments between my Daisy and me. Soon it was a mangled heap of metal. Dad felt terrible when he understood what Brent meant.
Before you wag your head in disbelief at how this was handled, consider a few facts. The Sunday before, another buddy and I had been putting Easter eggs on the chain link fence at our property line for target practice. We did pretty well, though we were oblivious to the fact that we were putting small dings in my buddy’s stepfather’s new 1979 customized Chevy van. It was another thirty feet beyond the eggs. I escaped any punishment for that one. Dad had shown me how to safely use the gun, but I had my own ideas. The target practice example was my worst but not my only. I was destined for a date with a demolished Daisy. My track record caught up to me.
Paul deals with “track records” and character with his son in the faith. He had been teaching Timothy about how to deal with sin in the latter part of 1 Timothy five. Public sinners were to be rebuked publicly (20). Yet, dealing with others’ sins was to be done prudently to avoid sharing responsibility in their sins (22). The rebuking one was to keep himself free from sin (22b). Then, Paul ends by writing, “Some men’s sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later. Likewise, the good works of some are clearly evident, and those that are otherwise cannot be hidden” (24-25, NKJ). In context, Paul is guiding Timothy in the investigating of those who would serve as elders. Prudence and deliberation, in looking into their character, was vital. Jumping to conclusions too quickly, whether too charitably or too severely, was unwise. To help Timothy, Paul emphasizes that character often becomes apparent after sufficient examination.
By way of broader application, isn’t the same true of all of us. As Jesus once put it, “Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children” (Luke 7:35, NASU). John and Jesus had been wrongly rejected by the Jews, but time and fruit would eventually exonerate the character of each. That is, those converted through their work would prove the rightness of their teaching. This would require the test of time and sufficient proving grounds.
Is one preaching for fame, glory, wealth, or power? Look long and hard, with a good and discerning heart. You will often see. Is an elder serving through selfish ambition, to wield power, or out of materialistic greed? It often comes to the surface. Why are we Christians? Why do we serve God? It so often comes to light in this life. Yet, whether it does in this life or not, it will ultimately. Let us strive to keep watch over our hearts (cf. Mark 7:20-23). Let us constantly purify our motives (cf. Eph. 6:5-8). Remember that character will be tested. Strive to do what is right even when you are not seen by others, and character will usually be apparent.
Sermons preached on the qualifications of elders often, rightly, emphasize the importance of selecting men who qualify to serve. In the Lord’s church, covetous, inhospitable, intemperate, cold, imprudent, biblically ignorant, pugnacious, and newly-converted men (among others) have been appointed to that important work who should not have been. That hurts the local church! Many times it has been said that “bad elders” are worse than “no elders.”
Harboring unfair expectations of men who would serve as elders is another hurtful trend that occasionally surfaces. A hypercritical spirit is a quality of human nature, though a quality the spiritually-minded ought to fight to personally eliminate. Let us briefly consider what God does not expect of elders.
Did you realize members have qualifications to meet with regard to the elders?
As we examine who would serve as elders, let us not forget to examine ourselves (2 Co. 13:5). How spiritually fit are we? Jesus’ words about beams and specks apply to our relationship with elders, too (cf. Mt. 7:3-5). Let us have high expectations of elders, but let us have only those expectations God has!
“That grass is greener,” so he thought,
The sheep who wandered from the fold
Watching carefully the shepherd caught
The wanderer, so soon in the overseer’s hold.
The roaring waters so dangerously near
Forms a hazard for the trembling herd
But the herdsmen is wise, his vision is clear
With his guidance their safety is assured.
Surveying the cliffs or helping them rest
His vigilance is timely and needful,
For the sheep he labors to give them the best
For their well-being the shepherd is heedful.
The Lord chose imagery, graphic and vivid
To illustrate how His church should function
Lackadaisical leadership leaves Him livid
He urges them have compassionate compunction.
Watchful shepherds who tend with care
Are assets in the heavenly realm
Who carry, calm, who steer and spare
Who are willing to assume the helm
Stewards for the Great Shepherd of the soul,
They lead as they point out the way
And help us keep our sight on the heavenly goal
And prepare us for the Great Judgment Day!