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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

A Tragic Death and a Prayer for Peace

A Tragic Death and a Prayer for Peace

I’ve been asked this week for a copy of the prayer I prayed on Sunday. Here is an adapted (and thicker) version of what we prayed together this Sunday. May this prayer serve you as you pray this week. — Trent

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Dear Father,

A man died on the street in Minneapolis under the knee of a police officer and we saw it with our eyes. Our nation is in turmoil and our cities are on fire. Oh Lord, there are many emotions we should feel right now: sadness, anger, and grief. There are many things we should pray for this morning—for your justice, your peace, and your healing. There are also many people we should pray for.

Several come to mind.

We pray with heavy hearts for the family of George Floyd, a man made in God’s image, that you would give hope to his beloved family because of the gospel. It appears that George may have been a Christian. If his faith was in the cross the Lord Jesus, then his face is bright with his resurrected glory. Today he breathes just fine.

We pray for the officers involved in Mr. Floyd’s death and for their families. As they face the haunting prospect of a human judgment, we ask that you arrest them with the prospect of your perfect divine judgment so that they might find the full forgiveness of sins in the one who bore our judgment in himself on the cross. We do not know the motives of these men. Motives are easy for us to assign; they are far harder for us to actually discern. But you know every thought and deed. We tremble but we also take comfort in knowing that no motive will go unpunished by you.

We pray for our governing authorities, that your Word concerning human government would be honored by our nation’s president and governors, our mayors and our police chiefs. May each of them do their jobs, as hard as that may be. May they do their jobs well, as impossible as that may seem. May wise decisions win out and the best policing practices prevail.

We pray for law enforcement officers in our major cities, in particular. Protect them from harm, from disillusionment, from closing in on themselves, and from giving up on us. We thank you for the safety that we are so predictably afforded through the honorable work of these public servants. Yet they are sinners, and every instance of police-misconduct betrays our trust and undermines our peace. For this reason, we pray for the removal of problem cops from the profession, for the courage and for the policies to make that easier to do. In the face of these riots and risks to their own lives, Lord, use them to protect peaceful protestors and the vulnerable populations that need them most. Grant restraint where that is right. Protect their lives this coming night.

We pray for those whose communities are on fire. We think especially of the poor, whose pharmacies and grocery stores have been looted, who may have no means of transit. We pray for pregnant women, for single mothers, for the elderly, and for children. We think also of business-owners whose lives and livelihoods are on fire today. Make yourself known to all of these people through the tangible and timely love of churches down the street and neighbors down the hall.

We pray for those citizens entrusted with the responsibility of carrying out our process of justice, for attorneys and judges and for juries. We ask that your Word would be honored in the process of human justice that unfolds in the weeks and months ahead. Keep us mindful that while injustice happens in moments, the best of our human justice takes time. Because of our limitations as humans, and our sinful tendency to multiply injustices, help us see patience and due process as a means to the justice we rightly demand. May the truth concerning Mr. Floyd’s death be plain, and may justice be served.

We pray for minority communities who for any number of reasons—including tragic encounters with the police, past and present—know a troubled relationship with law enforcement. Lord we ask that vulnerable populations would have good reason to trust that their law enforcement serves their best interests. Restore trust wherever it has been broken in our community and abroad.

We pray for peaceful protestors, that they would be understood and heard, and that their goals would be noble and clear. We thank you, Lord, for our constitutional freedom of peaceful protest. While we may disagree on the cause of one protest or another, we pray that the importance of this freedom would not be among our disagreements.

We pray against those with nefarious purposes—those who kill, steal, and destroy. We have been confused and frustrated at the number and complexity of bad actors this past week. Some are organized and cruel, others are selfish and opportunistic. While so much is so unclear, we know who stands behind every menacing design.

We pray for our country and for peace between neighbors. The killing of Mr. Floyd has opened old wounds and enflamed old hatreds. May the truth that we are all made in your image prevail over every sinister idea that undermines our shared dignity as humans. May the truth the we are sinners humble us all to acknowledge our shared propensity to boasting, selfish ambition, envy, partiality, unlistening ears, and lying lips. When sin tears neighbors apart, remind us of the only one who can truly bring any of us together: Jesus.

We pray for the local church in the city of Minneapolis, and for the saints at Bethlehem Baptist Church in particular. Strengthen Jason Meyer who will preach this morning, and Andy Naselli, a friend of this church, along with the rest of their elders. Unite Bethlehem’s members in faith, hope, and in love as they organize themselves to care for their neighbors in tangible ways even this afternoon.

We pray for our church here in Greenville. We need your gentleness, your self-control, and your reconciliation. We need your joy, your forgiveness, and your faithfulness. We need your long-suffering, your patience, and your goodness. We need faith, hope, and love. Grow us in all of these things by your Spirit.

We long to see your justice, to know your peace, and to experience your healing. Even more, we long to see Jesus’ face. May it shine on us today, and may he shine forth from us until the day he comes.

It’s in his name we pray,

Amen

Hardship and Church Health: How This Could Be Good for Us

Hardship and Church Health: How This Could Be Good for Us

Editorial comment: As you read this piece, consider how you have found these words to be true in your life, or how you’ve found them true in the life of another believer or our church. Then email me at [email protected] I’d be so glad to hear and might circle around in a few months with a follow-up post.

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A few months ago I didn’t know the first thing about the coronavirus. Now, everyone knows the first thing about it. It’s bad. Let’s start there.

There are some real ways in which this whole thing is bad for us. It’s a killing machine, especially for our older population. That’s bad. We can’t gather and that’s bad. The economy is halting and that will be bad in ways that we are only starting to understand. Yesterday at 5 p.m., one of our members let me know he was not available Friday night. A friend was getting married. By 6 p.m., he followed up to let me know the wedding was canceled. Just try to imagine being that couple.

But then there is that famous promise we have been given. The reference, Romans 8:28, is as famous as the verse: And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Those are unqualified words. In fact, they are abundantly clarified words. “All things” here include all the “sufferings of this present time” (8:18), all the “futility” and “groaning” of this present creation (18:20, 22)—even “tribulation,” “distress,” “persecution,” “famine,” “nakedness,” “danger,” and “sword” (18:35).

We must not minimize the pain here. Our Lord never does that. But let us not miss the good in the midst of that pain. For our encouragement in hardship, and our prayers over the coming weeks and months, here are five reflections.

First, the coronavirus will be good for our faith.

I have observed you on social media, and we have talked here and there. Some of you might have bought too much toilet paper—that’s between you and God—but my read is that your hope is settled because your faith is genuine. There’s a reason for that. Peter tells us that we have been born again unto a living hope, and that our various trials serve a specific purpose: “so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1Pet. 1:3, 7). This trial, friends, will prove our faith and it will purify our faith. This trial will not let us be tricked into placing our hope in this perishable, defiled, and fading world. That’s a good thing.

Second, the coronavirus will be good for our Sunday gatherings.

Wait, didn’t we cancel our Sunday gathering? We’re hosting an online service (more on that tomorrow), but yes. Isn’t anything short of being together a big loss? Absolutely. But I’m seeing an upside: surely we will grow to value being together all the more. May we be all the more convinced that the church is not the platform on Sundays, but a people; not something to consume, but something we’re connected to. We are not customers on Sunday morning; we are partners in the gospel (Phil. 1:5).

We’re a strong singing church, but maybe we’ll give God more glory for commanding us to sing to one another (Col. 3:16). We’ll keep reading the Bible at home, but maybe we’ll see even more clearly God’s wisdom in his words to pastors, “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1Tim. 4:13). Hearing the Word is always a good thing. Hearing it in public is his plan for us. Our purpose in meeting digitally on Sunday isn’t an attempt to deliver on all that God intends for us in meeting. Some of that grace, yes. But it’s also to make sure we taste church in order to truly miss church.

Third, the coronavirus will be good for our relationships with one another.

But aren’t we supposed to practice “social distancing”? Absolutely. If the Lord is kind, this is one way we’ll save ourselves from the rates of infection and death that we’ve seen in Italy. It’s why we’ve discontinued our Sunday gathering for a time, and it’s why we canceled all of our other programming. All of that is a matter of love for neighbor. Here’s the upshot: now we’ll get to see just how much we love one another.

We have good plans and programs at Heritage. I think we’re deliberate about what we do and why and how. But if our well-laid plans can also make us spiritually lazy, then we’re about to get a workout. If our programs can lead us to equate busyness with fruitfulness, then we’re about to bear some fruit together. And that will be good for us. Be encouraged when our younger members go shopping for our older members, and when we labor to stay connected in ways that prove that really we do care. I don’t see why we can’t come out of this a closer family, even having been apart for a time.

Fourth, the coronavirus will be good for our pocketbooks.

A friend recently commented, “I’m concerned for our older population. A surprising threat to their health is the time they have on their hands to read the news and watch their portfolios.” I made my way to the local hibachi place for lunch a day or so ago. The owners—a sweet young couple, now familiar faces—were waving from inside. The sign on the door thanked us for our patronage, but said they were closed, at least for the time being. Even events like T4G and SXSW had to cancel their huge events. They had event insurance, but that insurance didn’t cover pandemics. Everyone is affected. It is already devastating.

Oh how Paul’s words are ringing in our ears right now: “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life” (1Tim. 6:17–19). Riches fly away. But that’s hard to believe until it happens. It will be a good thing if we can come out ahead with real treasure and true life.

Fifth, the coronavirus will be good for our neighbors.

I plan to write a bit more on this at a later time, but I can’t leave our witness off of this list. We have an opportunity here to show our community the glory of Jesus, and that can happen in two ways. The first way is less obvious and less appreciated, but it is central to Jesus’s strategy for the spread of his name. Remember what Jesus prayed, “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (Jn. 17:22, 23). How will our neighbors in Greer and Taylors and Greenville see the glory of Jesus? In the love and unity of the church. But, of course, secondly, we show the glory of Jesus through our good works, which includes doing good toward our neighbor (Matt. 5:16). I’ve already heard of one young mom spending her afternoon calling all her older neighbors to ask if they needed help. That was so good to hear.

So, the coronavirus is bad. Everyone agrees. But we’re the people who know not only the first and the last thing about this bug, but everything in between. And there are some good things going on there.

 

Coronavirus, Community, and the Cross

Coronavirus, Community, and the Cross

Update: On Sunday, March 15, our governor asked us to cease all gatherings of over 50 people. We’re glad to comply. See Coronavirus updates here

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Dear Heritage Bible Church,

Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. May the peace of Christ rule in our hearts even as the coronavirus rules the airwaves and, to a good extent, our lives for a season.

Yesterday evening we sent you a simple communication regarding our plans for services and ministry programming at Heritage in light of the COVID-19 virus National Emergency. Keep up with updates here. Here’s what we shared:

The COVID-19 (coronavirus) circumstances continue to evolve each day. Trent and I watched the President declare a national emergency this afternoon. He reiterated several personal precautions. Such news stories add to public concern about group interactions. Out of love for others, we have to err on the side of reasonable caution.

So for an indefinite period of time, we are cancelling all church programming except our weekly Lord’s Day gathering at 9:30 a.m.

Nursery, Pre-School, and Children’s Church will function as normal for this Sunday. However, we ask that no volunteers over 60 serve in these areas. If you are scheduled to work this Sunday, your ministry leader will be in touch with you. Parents: We ask you be extra careful that no child with a fever, cough, runny nose, etc. is brought to church.

While we will have the service, there is no judgment on you if you do not attend for personal safety reasons. Each of us needs to pray, keep monitoring CDC and SC DEHC updates, and consider how we serve others. Let’s be creative in staying connected and loving one another.

Several on the elder team are in frequent communication. We are getting input from a small group of HBC healthcare professionals. We would all appreciate your prayers.

We wanted to get that to you in a timely fashion. In this post I want to elaborate a bit and offer some of our thinking on this decision and other decisions we may have to make in shepherding in the coming weeks to months. In as much as we are able, we want to be in this together.

I’m not worried about grumbling about our leadership on these points, even though I know there will be different and evolving individual perspectives among us. You are a loving church and it is a joy to shepherd here. Praise God! I’m just eager to bring you in on the thoughtful and principled way we mean to go about this. We’ll all be better for owning these decisions as a church. Where we do make a decision that strikes you wrong—or where we may unwittingly over or under react—I hope this post will help us along together.

There are several priorities we’re pursuing. Here are the two big ones, and then some related considerations.

In terms of ministry programming, our first priority is that of our weekly Lord’s Day gathering.

It might at first seem backwards to cancel meetings in smaller settings but keep our weekly large gathering. This challenge of the coronavirus is something like a test question on a theology exam: how much can you take away from the church and still have the church? You can take away Bible Studies, as fruitful as those are. A collection of Bible studies may strengthen a church, but they do not make a church. Same with ministries to students and senior adults, and even Shepherding Groups, the main way we plan for discipleship.

But there’s only one occasion when we “come together as a church,” and that is on the Lord’s Day (1Cor. 11:18). That’s the one place where the reconciling power of the gospel is uniquely visible in the people the gospel creates. It’s the one occasion in which Jesus’ presence is with us in a uniquely powerful way (Matt. 18:15–20; 1Cor. 5:4, 5). It’s the context for our practice of the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper (1Cor. 11). It’s the one program, for lack of a better term, for which we have both a pattern and prescription in the New Testament: it’s the day Jesus rose, the day the church met, and the day our lives depend on until the Day Christ returns (Lk. 24:1; Jn. 20:19; Acts 20:7; 1Cor. 16:2; Heb. 10:24, 25; Rev. 1:10). There are many important things we’re about doing here. But for all these reasons, the Lord’s Day service is our priority.

Another priority is that of love for neighbor.

We’re socially embedded creatures. That’s how God made us. We live together and we make societies. The reason we have the command to love our neighbor is because we owe them love as those made by God in the image of God. We don’t have to love every neighbor in the same way or to the same extent. There are things we know about and things we don’t; things we should know about and things we reasonably can’t. The Good Samaritan would not have become so famous if he hadn’t happened to walk by. Neither would he have been guilty of neglect. There are also things we have more and less power to do something about, and we should use what power we have to do what things we can (Gal. 6:10). Christians in Rome didn’t have the same civic responsibilities as we do in a democratic republic. Then there are ways we must act individually for an individual neighbor, and there are ways we act together for the sake of our neighborhoods and our nation. All of this requires much wisdom.

It’s that last consideration that led us to close our non-essential ministry programming for an indefinite period of time.

How does that love our neighbor exactly? Why, for example, couldn’t we just advise our more vulnerable members to stay back from things like Women’s Bible Study or a Shepherding Group? The issue is not in the first place the vulnerability of specific individuals who might come to a meeting. Rather, it’s the cumulative effect of meetings like these in our community on the pace of the spread of the virus, and its potential to overwhelm our healthcare system.

Andy Crouch has invested considerable time in understanding the matter. You should read his entire piece, “Love in the Time of Coronavirus.” He puts it this way:

COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, is considerably more deadly than ordinary flu, especially for vulnerable populations: the elderly and those with existing medical conditions. They are generally dying of bilateral interstitial pneumonia, the signature worst-case outcome of COVID-19. Support of patients with this late-stage disease requires immense amounts of specialized equipment and medical expertise. At the same time, the disease can be mild in many people, even unnoticed. But this actually increases the risk to others, as “asymptomatic” carriers can transmit the virus to the highly vulnerable without realizing they are infectious.

Therefore there is a serious risk beyond the virus’s simple fatality rate: its potential to overwhelm our health care system, leading to many more otherwise preventable deaths from COVID-19 and other causes. In northern Italy, a region very much like the US in many ways (wealthy and culturally just as Teutonic as Latin), the health system, roughly comparable in resources to our own, is utterly overwhelmed. This is in spite of unprecedented quarantines, first at the city level, then at the regional, and now (with the results yet to be seen) the national level. Doctors in northern Italy report this week that they are resorting to wartime-style triage — simply not treating many who come to the hospital because they are too sick. This also means that people with “ordinary” medical issues, including critical ones, not related to the virus, may not receive even the most basic care.

Italy and the US are not apples to apples. Their population over 65 is 25%. But our 16% is still high. Let’s prevent what happened there and help our health care workers to help our vulnerable. Out of an abundance of reasonable caution, the community around us is accepting many burdens. In solidarity with our community, we joyfully sacrifice some of our normal graces for the common good.

In due time, once this has cleared or once we learn how to do this together, we’ll start Shepherding Groups back up. But for now, we don’t want our many leaders and members to have to negotiate the questions of whether to meet or not; or to have to navigate the socially sticky questions of food and hygiene. If you want to get your friends together who are in your Shepherding Group, by all means, wash your hands and have them over. Let’s keep loving one another, and let’s be creative and intentional about that. Let’s just not meet together as groups.

In what circumstances might we cancel our Lord’s Day service?

We are asking ourselves that question, so let me get ahead of it. It’s helpful to make a distinction between circumstances that are ordinary and those that are extraordinary.

Let’s start with each of us individually. In extraordinary circumstances, it’s okay for a person to miss church. Not everyone who misses church misses for the reasons threatening the Hebrew Christians, who were tempted to socially distance themselves, shall we say, from Jesus (Heb. 10:24, 25). In fact, sometimes we should miss church. If you’re throwing up, you should stay home. If you’re in law enforcement, we’re glad you’ll be on the streets on your rotation while we’re worshiping. If you’re trading off with your spouse to care for your elderly and immobilized parent, don’t let that bother your conscience. The Lord smiles on you. Every Sunday we have people who do not gather with us because they are doing acts of mercy at the hospital or in their home with a child.

When it comes to cancelling church for all of us, there are a few scenarios where we might do this. Certain kinds of danger, for example. If there is a blizzard and we have fourteen inches of snow overnight, sure, we could ask people to come if the roads are clear where they are, but we know many will come that shouldn’t. Better in some cases to just cancel church. If the church was on fire, you and I don’t need to feel guilty about getting out of there. None of this is in contradiction with trusting in our Lord and his resurrection. Neither, I would submit, is cancelling church when the President calls a National Emergency (which he has) and when state officials make a strong request for us to forego our meetings for a time (which they could). Though our situation is not as severe, the Spanish Flu of 1918 presented churches with this very decision. It’s an extraordinary situation.

I should clarify that it would be our prerogative to comply, a matter of honoring our governing authorities; not a decision from fear or coercion, or a matter of unqualified obedience (Ro. 13:1–7). The state does not give us our freedom to meet; the state acknowledges and protects our freedom to meet. Certainly, if the request is ideologically motivated to restrict of our religious liberty, our response must be different. Under God, no one has the authority to tell the Church she can’t meet (Acts 4:19). Ours is heaven’s king, and our meetings are heaven’s assemblies. But that is not the situation we’re in.

If we canceled our Lord’s Day gathering, what would we do instead?

I don’t know yet. One option is nothing. You can’t truly do church—a word that means assembly—apart. We’re a covenanted community and there are many means of grace involved in gathering that simply can’t happen when we’re in our homes.  So, one option is to accept our circumstances as an unusual providence, and embrace the trial of missing one another. Then we come together again as soon as possible. If that sounds absurd, consider an illustration. You can watch a basketball game from the stands or your couch. But you can only play the game by being there. We don’t watch church, we participate. It’s why we don’t livestream our services—for what it teaches about what church is. Yes, there are some benefits, but it’s a net-loss as a normative practice. So, that’s one option: embrace the trial for what it is.

As another option, we could bend for this extraordinary circumstance and livestream a service, led from one of our living rooms. I suppose we’d call it, our unassembled gathering! It’s not church, but it is the church doing its best under the circumstances to taste what it means to be together. And it sure would be encouraging. We’ll let you know our plan if and when the time comes.

Finally, and importantly: how can we love our neighbors next door?

We’ve considered our place in the community, but how about our places as Christians in our neighborhoods? Here are some suggestions.

  • Point people to Jesus in the midst of this uncertainty. There’s a palpable aura of trouble out there. That’s not a bad feeling. It’s a true feeling. We are dust and it is good to be sensitive to the dust. For those that don’t get sick, they may lose their job, or their business, or their senior year. Let us speak of Christ, this world’s only certainty. He has defeated death by his death, and that includes the coronavirus and a thousand other threats and thorns.
  • Convert worry into hand washing, and panic into practical expressions of love for the vulnerable. Some of us will be quarantined at home. All of us should wash our hands and practice social distancing. Others might watch someone’s children so a single mother can work. All of us should run to the sick when they need us. That’s what Christians have always done. 
  • Read up and keep reading. Reading is better than watching, by the way. The best place for information on COVID–19 is the CDC website. Here are some pieces I found helpful: “Love in the Time of Coronavirus,” by Andy Crouch (with a summary here); “Flattening the Curve for COVID-19: What Does It Mean and How Can You Help?,” by Kara Gavin; “Should Your Church Stop Meeting to Slow COVID-19? How 3 Seattle Churches Decided,” by Daniel Chin; “The Dos and Don’ts of ‘Social Distancing’,” by Kaitlyn Tiffany. Good reading will help you live wisely, and give the right advice. Stay current, but don’t miss the old stuff: C.S. Lewis’, “On Living in an Atomic Age,” or Martin Luther on “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague.”
  • Pray for and honor those in authority. Our public leaders are in a position to make excruciating decisions. They need our support and our cooperation. Let’s be easy to lead and protect. And let’s be filled with thanksgiving for this gift to us of God’s common grace in human government.
  • Let’s watch our words, especially the ones we type. None of us are as smart as we think. Suspicion of our institutions and the media is high, and there are arguably good reasons for that. Political calculations are likely present, yes, even in the decision making and reporting on the coronavirus. But none of us are in the best position to sort it out, certainly not in real-time. So, let’s engage these things, but let’s avoid throwing dirt or digging in. Remember, be a good friend.

This virus has brought the country together in a surprising way. Today in the President’s address, it brought together the heads of Target and Walmart, and of Walgreens and CVS. The political rhetoric has cooled a touch as well. It’s a Christmas miracle!

But way more powerful than a crisis like this is the gospel of Jesus Christ which brings us to him, and brings us together every Lord’s Day to celebrate nothing less than the resurrection from the dead. Let us not forget what we have. If we get the coronavirus, brothers and sisters, let us make sure everyone knows that our Lord got us first. We aren’t afraid. We’re already better than cured.

See you Sunday, Lord willing.

—Trent

The Grace and Grind of Shepherding Groups: What We Saw in Your Homes

The Grace and Grind of Shepherding Groups: What We Saw in Your Homes

On Sunday evening our family concluded our tour of all thirty-one Shepherding Groups. It took two years. We’re human beings and church members first, so we’re eager for the regular grind and grace of one group. But we’re glad we did this.

Let me tell you what we saw.

1. We saw you open your homes. 

Here is a hallmark of the Christian church: hospitality. Let me put some numbers to this. We have about 30 Shepherding Groups. Each group meets twice a month for about two hours. That’s sixty hours of in-home hospitality on the calendar every month. You can probably make that ninety hours if you consider the lingering conversation and eating that goes on at times well into the evening. Some of your houses are large and spacious. Some of your houses are smaller and more quaint. Some of you start on time (sorry for being three minutes late!). Some of you are more chill and trickled in (we wondered if we were at the right house). Some of you had chips and queso, and others fancy looking hors d’oeuvres. Jesus ate a lot of food in people’s houses, and so did the early church. Thank you and keep it up.

2. We watched you care for the least of these. 

There’s an interesting connection between hospitality and how we take care of one another. Paul writes in Romans 12:13, “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” These are different things but they are related. Jesus instructs us, “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:40). He speaks here concerning the least among his disciples. By meeting in homes, you have learned about one another’s needs and you have met them. You counseled a brother who was out of work. You helped a sister with transportation. You spent time with a lonely widow. I could go on, but get this: as our Shepherding Group ministry has matured, we have found that our church’s benevolence needs are being taken care of within the groups themselves. I have seen it: you take care of one another. Know that you’re doing it not just for but to Christ.

3. We observed leaders listening, loving, and leading. 

Here’s what elders are called to do: “shepherd the flock of God that is among you” (1Pet. 5:2). Shepherding requires proximity. I could not be more pleased to find our elders, deacons, and Shepherding Group leaders partnering for your spiritual oversight and care. It is a sacrificial thing for our elders to rotate between groups, growing in their knowledge of and love for you up close. I have not witnessed heavy hands, or arrogance that wants to be the center of attention. Quite the opposite, and true to the leaders I’ve come to know and love, I have witnessed tenderness and affection, Scriptural instruction and protection. This is Jesus loving you. This is Jesus loving his church.

4. We witnessed God knit your hearts together in love.

I don’t like knitting, but I love Paul’s words to the Colossian church: “I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you . . . that [your] hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love” (Col. 2:1–2). What’s the point? Relationships merely? No, but in order that we might “reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:2–3). The Colossian church had its different characters, Jews and Greeks, “barbarian, Synthian, slave, free,” yet together they could say, “Christ is all” (3:11)! Knit together, they experienced the one treasure that is Christ. So too our old and young, our single and married, our students and our educators, our employed and unemployed, our white collar and blue are brothers and sisters before anything else.

“It has taken time.” We heard that numerous times. “I love these people. This group really loves one another, but it has taken time. We never would have hung out together.” We know there are meetings where not everyone is there. Some meetings are boring, some are awkward, and some are tense. The burdens of others are burdensome. Grind isn’t a bad thing for Shepherding Groups. It’s part of what they’re for and we should say so. But let us say that there is grace for this grind, and there is grace in the grind.

Keep showing up. Keep putting in the time. Keep saying together, “Christ is all!”

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If you’re not in a Shepherding Group, now is a great time to get connected. Learn more and get involved at the Shepherding Group page