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Plans for the Pulpit: Stops Along the Path

Plans for the Pulpit: Stops Along the Path

Just this last week several of us elders were talking about how strange and sweet preaching is. What other group is sustained over centuries by near hour-long weekly monologues? We couldn’t think of any. But for us preaching is more than just words from a man, but the Word of Christ for us, to us, about us, and even in us. “Him we proclaim,” Paul wrote, “warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Col. 1:28). Preaching is personal and crucial.  

I’m writing to give you a lay of the land for the pulpit over the coming months. Typically I’ll spread my time out of the pulpit more evenly across the year with a short break just after Christmas and a longer break in the summer. But given the contours of 2020 and our urgent need for continuity and connection, I’ve felt the need to hold down the pulpit for longer stretches than normal. I am not weary of preaching, but I don’t want to grow weary of preaching. So for your sake, for the development of other voices, and so I can put my attention on other projects, I’ll be doing a bit of tag-teaming over the coming months.

Here’s the plan. Keep this in mind as you prepare to hear the word and as you consider inviting your neighbors to join us.   

Continuing on the Path with Mark

We have been in Mark’s Gospel now since the end of March. We picked Mark for a few reasons. We had spent a year in the Old Testament in Genesis and Exodus. Mark’s gospel begins by building off of both of those books: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1). Genesis gives us the beginning, and Mark gives us a new beginning. Exodus teaches us of God’s purpose to bring salvation to the world through his son, Israel. Mark brings us the arrival of the divine and David Son of God who brings that salvation through a new exodus. 

We will keep pressing on with Mark until we’re done, but over the coming months we’ll take some strategic detours. Not an exit from our series so much as two flashbacks to enrich our hearing of Mark’s message. 

Behold, He Is Coming 

On November 1 and 8, Pastor Abe Stratton will preach a two-part series through the book of Malachi, titled, Behold He Is Coming. Mark opens his gospel account with a quote from Malachi, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way” (1:2). That way is the way of the Lord. Where does that way lead? It leads to the Lord’s temple, “And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple” (Mal. 3:1). If you were with us last week, you’ll know what happened when the Lord got there.

Which makes this a perfect time to stop for a flashback to God’s promises made through the prophet Malachi concerning his worship and the need for a pure priesthood. This is a perfectly planned stop, but we should give credit to the Lord for that. I asked Abe when and what he’d like to preach and he picked these dates and the book of Malachi. After this short two-part series, we will return to our series through Mark.  

You Are the Christ  

In the month of December we will take another break from our series through Mark, but again this is not quite a break but a sidebar. In Mark 8, Peter correctly identifies Jesus with the famous words, “You are the Christ” (8:29). Peter believed Jesus was the Christ promised in the Old Testament Scriptures. But Peter did not fully understand the the mission of the Messiah, who would come to suffer for his people.

Over four weeks in December, Pastor Abe Stratton and Dan Cruver will join me to preach a short series, You Are the Christ, in which we will draw from Old Testament Scriptures to preach the fullness of that confession, even better than Peter knew.  

  • December 6: “Son of the Woman,” Genesis 3:15 
  • December 13: “Son of Man,” Daniel 7
  • December 20: “Son of God,” 2 Samuel 7
  • December 27: “Suffering Servant,” Isaiah 53 

After that, I’ll take my annual two-weeks out of the pulpit after Christmas and Dan Cruver will lead us in a short series, which we’ll iron out later. 

Join me in praying for our preachers, that they would know Christ in the study and make him known to us in the pulpit. 

How We Appoint Elders Together

How We Appoint Elders Together

If you hang around Heritage long enough, you’re going to hear about elders. You’ll hear us talk about how there are three terms used interchangeably in the New Testament for this office: elder, pastor, and overseer. You’ll hear us talk about how some of our elders are paid and some are unpaid, some have special assignments or expertise, but our elders lead us together. You’ll hear us talk about the importance of biblical qualifications found in texts such as 1 Timothy 3:1–8 and Titus 1:5–9. We’ll tell you to know who your elders are, to pray for your elders, and to take our lead as elders (Heb. 13:17).

Elders are a given around here. But how are elders given to the church? Scripture says that Jesus “gave” pastors to the church (Eph. 4:11). How does he do it? Put differently, how do elders become elders? And what specifically does that look like here at Heritage?

That’s what I want us to explore in this post. This is a topic the elders have been discussing for many months. That work has also led to some changes in our process, which we’ve outlined at points across the last year or so. Most recently, we unhooked our process of appointing elders from a fixed point on the annual calendar each year. There are good reasons for that. Here in this post I’ll summarize the Scriptures we’ve considered and our process as it stands.

Scripture doesn’t give us a detailed process for appointing elders. But we are given some principles. Let’s start with those.

Three Principles

We’ve identified three principles in Scripture that should inform our process of raising up and appointing elders. Here they are:

1. We should appoint elders prayerfully

We want to say to our elders, “the Holy Spirit made you overseers” (Acts 20:28). That means we need to be submitted to the Spirit’s leading in our process of appointing elders. So, in addition to laboring over the Scriptures for guidance, we do what the early Christians did in these moments: we pray. “And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed” (Acts 14:23; cf. 6:6).

2. We should appoint elders patiently

This principle needs a little elaboration. The concern for patience comes from Paul’s admonition to Timothy, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands” (1Tim. 5:22). Apparently, there were reasons Timothy might have appointed an elder in haste: perhaps there was the practical need, or perhaps a man appeared ready and willing. But there are two dangers Paul specifically outlines involved with hasty appointments. First, hasty appointments multiply the effects of sin, and with it the responsibility for the damage, leading us to “take part in his sins” (1Tim. 5:22). Second, sin is sneaky and both character and doctrine take time to discern: “the sins of some people are conspicuous … but the sins of others appear later” (1Tim. 5:24). We feel the pressure to appoint men as well. But patience is an obedience we believe God will bless.

3. We should appoint elders together

Here’s an important question: from a human standpoint, who is involved in appointing elders? The importance of leadership in this process is straightforward in the New Testament. The Apostles “appointed elders” in every church they planted (Acts 14:23), and Paul exhorted Titus to “put what [remains] in order, and appoint elders” in Crete (Tit. 1:5). Less clear, but still there we believe, is the role of the broader congregation. The vocabulary for “appointment” in the New Testament is associated with voting in the context of civic assemblies. The appointment of the first deacons also points in this direction. In that instance recorded for us in Acts 6, there’s a clear sense of leadership but also congregational partnership (Acts 6:1–6). There is also a practical component to the mingling of leadership and the congregation in this process. It is not realistic for every member of a given church to have the same exposure to a prospective elder’s life and doctrine. But we can trust a process of examination together. Consider that the Jerusalem church was 3,000 strong. In summary, what we see in Scripture is a pattern of congregational agreement under elder leadership.

Four Steps in Our Process at Heritage

So, how do we intend to honor those principles we’ve just worked through? Heritage has been led by elders for most of our church’s history. But we have gone about the process of appointing elders in different ways over time.

Over the last few years we have been studying this subject and hammering out plans. In this process, we came to the conclusion that we were not adequately honoring two of those principles above. We were praying. But we are convinced that our process was not patient enough, and that we did not involve you, the congregation, thoughtfully enough. For example, in years past, our timeline allowed for two weeks between announcing a prospective elder’s name and a vote.

This period of study has led us to mature our process in some important ways. Today, our process involves four steps: cultivation, observation, candidacy, and appointment. Let’s unpack each of these in turn.

1. The first step, elder cultivation, involves nurturing a culture where men aspire to eldership, where boys grow up desiring to serve in this office, and where the congregation knows what to look for in a shepherd.

This involves instruction on biblical eldership from the Word. Formally, we do this through the preaching and teaching ministry to the church. Informally, we hope that our example and presence as elders holds out the office as a noble task. We want our overall ministry as elders to draw men to a godly life, and to godly men to the office.

In this step we also identify possible elders. As elders, we keep a look out for who the Holy Spirit may appoint to the office. We do this with your ongoing help. This invitation is always open to you: at any time, you can write to an elder or to the team at [email protected] to commend a man for the office.

2. The second step, elder observation, is a low-stakes opportunity for a man to observe and be observed up close with the possibility of eldership in mind.

This second step is what it sounds like. This is a low-pressure, high-exposure opportunity for both elders and a prospective elder to explore the appropriateness of eldership. It is not a no-expectation process, in that reading and meeting attendance is involved, but there’s no expectation for either party that the relationship must advance to eldership. Think dating, not engagement.

This period allows us to observe his qualifications for the office, but also a few other things. Our team is aligned in ways that are narrower than our statement of faith. How we go about biblical eldership is one example. So, is he a fit for eldering at Heritage? We are also considering his capacity for the work, whether he has the energy or the time. Desire is also a consideration here. After getting acquainted with the office, does he want to elder, or will this be out of compulsion?

This process is six months because that is realistically the amount of time it takes for a man to get comfortable with our team, and for our team to get comfortable with him. There is also a bit of work that needs to be done. He will read and write on several books and papers before observation is over, on eldership, doctrine, and our church’s key documents.

3. The third step, elder candidacy, is where the elders formally examine a man for eldership with the help of the congregation.

As a man’s observation period concludes, he may be invited to complete a questionnaire and interview process with the elder team. This involves answering thirty or so questions on doctrine and character. His wife reads this and engages this material as well. If we agree as elders to bring him into candidacy, we’ll announce his name to you on a Sunday morning or at a Family Meeting.

This step takes six months as well. Why six months? There are a few reasons we settled on this. First, it allows time for a feedback loop, as the congregation offers us input on the man. If an issue of character arises, we have time to search it out and come to a resolution. Second, this timeframe allows you to hear the candidate’s name and perhaps his teaching in several venues over time.

Importantly, this period also gives the elders time to more closely examine the man’s doctrine: “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (1:9). At the mid-point of candidacy, the elders will schedule a one-hour doctrinal examination. This is intended to be a serious step, but not a scary step, which is why we sometimes call it a “doctrinal interview.” This is a new part of our process, but we expect that this will be a clarifying, unifying, and encouraging step.

When all this is done and there’s one month to go in his candidacy, we’ll put his name before the church again with an invitation for any final input.

4. The fourth step, elder appointment, involves agreeing together in the Lord and formally appointing a man to the office of elder.

At the six-month mark we will join for a Family Meeting and vote to affirm a man to the office of elder. If we have led you properly, and if you have engaged the process carefully, then there should be no unexamined objections to a candidate on the basis of qualification by the time of vote. That bears repeating. We are not saying that there won’t be objections raised in the process. But that if we have all taken our role responsibility, there should be no known points of disqualification. If we put in this work together, this should make for confidence instilling appointments.

Once a candidate is affirmed as an elder, we will appoint him publicly at the next best opportunity. Here’s the kind of lofty language Paul got out when he wrote about the appointment of elders: “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you…” (1Tim. 5:21). This how we want to feel and speak when we appoint elders. In the pattern of Scripture, current elders gather around them, lay hands on them, and pray for them in front of the congregation (Acts 6:6; 14:23; 1Tim. 4:14; 5:22). This solemn and public appointment emphasizes the weighty role into which new elders step and reinforces the members’ responsibility to submit to and pray for the leaders God has given. As it was for the early church, we want this to be one of the most meaningful and memorable moments in our life together as a church family.

A Worthy Investment

That’s how elders are raised up and appointed at Heritage. Healthy biblical eldership involves a great investment of care on the part of our elders, and on your part to pray and engage in this process.

But thankfully there is one who has even more invested in our care than any of us, captured in Paul’s words to the elders at the church at Ephesus: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20: 28).

Let’s pray, let’s be patient, and let’s engage in the process together.

An Election Season Prayer to Heaven’s High King

An Election Season Prayer to Heaven’s High King

Once a month I will pray what we’ll call “A Prayer for the Church” in our Lord’s Day gathering. Periodically I will post this prayer to this blog. The following prayer is adapted from the Prayer for the Church, from Sunday, October 4, 2020.

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Father, you have given us a great story. The story we are a part of is incredible, beautiful, and true. We are more than parts of this story you are weaving, but the objects of your personal interest. We pray to you as those whom you have sought and bought. We pray to you, the one true and living God, heaven’s high king. We pray to you though Christ with boldness and confidence because of his blood and righteousness.

We give you thanks for the life of Bill Wood who has passed from this life at almost 96 years old. He looked to you in life, and today he sees Jesus face to face. We thank you for new life that you have given to Andrew and Kerry Redding in the birth of Luna Rose.

We’re a part of your great story, which includes the human story of the world inside which you are working and bringing about your purposes. You ask us to pray for “for kings and all who are in high positions,” and so we pray for our government and our nation.

In the book of Proverbs you instruct us concerning the relationship of our integrity and our welfare. “Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a rich man who is crooked in his ways” (Prov. 28:6). “Whoever walks in integrity will be delivered, but he who is crooked in his ways will suddenly fall” (Prov. 28:18). These proverbs are true for us personally, and they are no less true for the shared political life of any people.

We pray for the integrity of our government

We give you thanks that we can participate in a constitutional republic. Most of us can’t think of a better arrangement, except of course for life under that perfect rule of Jesus in a world without sin. That day will surely come. But until then we are glad for wise experiments in human government that bring the best out of us and restrain the worst. We are glad for expressions of human government that take into account the twin-reality of human dignity and human sin.

We pray for the integrity of our temporary and earthly arrangement. We pray for our legislative branch that they would fulfill their duty to make laws together. We pray that our laws would respect human dignity and promote righteousness. We pray that the executive branch and our executive, President Trump, would fulfill their responsibility to carry out and enforce the law with impartiality. We pray for the judicial branch that they would carry out their God given and our agreed upon responsibility, not to legislate but to interpret the law under the constitution.

We pray for the integrity of our electoral process

We thank you for a history of clear elections and peaceful transitions. We pray that this election would be clean of fraud and full of confidence. We pray for a process full of honest and energetic debate. We embrace this as a good thing and a unique responsibility. We are grateful for a system inside which we are expected to contribute and listen and persuade and reason and then decide these things together.

We pray also for ourselves, as citizen kings, that we would do our job, as those who delegate power though our electoral process. Where power is abused let us check it and curtail it. Where power is faithfully administered let us support it and maintain it.

We pray for the integrity of our nation

We are a nation of many contradictions. We are one nation, and yet we pit ourselves against one another. We are a nation of laws, and yet we are a people who at times celebrate lawlessness. We are a nation that has broad agreement on the basic human dignity of each person, granted not from the state but from God. And yet we are a nation whose laws have taught and advanced in times past—and thank God no more—the dehumanization of African slaves.

In our own day we are guilty of a sin, dare I say, more egregious than even those atrocities, for our laws teach and promote the dehumanization of innocent unborn children. Oh, we are a callous nation, and we are blind. Open the eyes of our neighbors and open our eyes to tremble at the number of 60 million babies slaughtered. Abortion is not just allowed among us but legally defended, funded, and celebrated. Judge a nation that uses its sword to commit evil and call it good, rather than to punish evil. Remove our leaders who lead us so. See that none are put forward who would celebrate this wickedness.

We pray in all of this for the integrity of Christ’s church 

Protect us from making too much of our vote as though it were a religious sacrament in which our identity is bound up with the individuals we elect. Keep us at the same time from making too little of our vote, discounting its real earthly importance for our neighbors.

Above all, while we pray for a process we can trust, we do not put our final trust in any process or prince. We trust and obey you first, for the state is not our god and politics is not our religion. We remember whose we are: we are yours. We remember who we are, a people of a kingdom not of this world. And we remember what we are here to do, to preach, and to spread the unsearchable riches of Jesus. The souls of our neighbors are eternal and precious, and we are here for their sake.

May we take our responsibility as citizens in this world as seriously as it is serious, for there are existential threats all about us. But may we take our citizenship in heaven all the more serious, for eternity is longer than time, our King is more beautiful than any earthly ruler, and his kingdom is surer than this world’s most enduring empires. His empire does not depend on any human movement or calculation or persuasion or vote.

Your kingdom come. Your will be done.

In Christ’s name we pray –

Amen