Seven Things to Know About Elders

eldersEarlier this week, I highlighted three things about elders in the New Testament: (1) the term ‘elder’ is interchangeable with pastor and overseer; (2) elders function as a plurality of leaders in the local church; and (3) elders may or may not be compensated, which is to say an elder may be vocational or non-vocational.

Today, I want to pick up where I left off and add to the picture of elder leadership in the New Testament. What follows are seven truths about elders—three concerning the title (presbuteros) and four concerning the function of elders in the New Testament church. Again, this list won’t cover everything, but it is intended to show what Scripture says about this vital office. Continue reading

What does the New Testament say about elders?

elders“Elder” (presbuteros) is not a very Baptist word. Or at least, it hasn’t been readily in our vocabulary since the nineteenth century, when the likes of J. L. Reynolds, pastor of the Second Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia, wrote, “The permanent officers of a Church are of two kinds: elders (who are also called pastors, teachers, ministers, overseers, or bishops) and deacons” (see his “Church Polity, or the Kingdom of Christ in its Internal and External Development,” in Polity: Biblical Arguments on How to Conduct Church Lifeed. Mark Dever).

Nevertheless, “elder” is a term used 76 times in the NT. Nine times it is used to speak of those advanced in age; four times of Israel’s forefathers; twelve times to refer to the heavenly elders in John’s Apocalypse; and the Gospels and Acts apply the word to the religious leaders of Israel twenty-nine times. The remaining uses of the word “elder” (20x) refer to leadership in the local church. (See Mark Dever, The Church: The Gospel Made Visible, p. 54).

While we can’t consider every facet of eldership, let me offer three observations about elders and their function, as found in the New Testament. Continue reading

Why Non-Pastors Should Read the Pastoral Epistles

pastoralsNext week I will begin preaching the book of Titus on Sunday mornings. Although Titus is only three chapters and forty-six verses in length, it contains a great deal of instruction for the church.

Titus is often grouped with two other Pauline epistles—1 Timothy and 2 Timothy. Together these three letters are known as the “Pastoral Epistles.” They are written to two of Paul’s sons in the faith (1 Tim 1:2; 2 Tim 1:2; Titus 1:4), ministers of the gospel sent by Paul to Ephesus and Crete for the purpose of building up those churches. As a matter of fact, Timothy and Titus are not so much pastors themselves but apostolic delegates who are called to confront error (1 Tim 1:3-7), preach sound doctrine (2 Tim 1:13; Titus 2:1, 15), and further the faith of God’s elect (Titus 1:2).

From this little synopsis, one might get the impression that the Pastoral Epistles are strictly for pastors, or at least for those working in the ministry. One might conclude they only have tangential relevance for the stay-at-home mom or the factory worker. However, such a conclusion would be premature, for the Pastoral Epistles have great application for all Christians. What follows are five reasons why every Christian should read them, study them, and apply them. Continue reading

Pastors, Teach Your People About Suffering

crossYesterday, I preached on the theme of suffering from Matthew 5:10-12, something that I had a chance to consider in the most recent Southern Baptist Journal of Theology. In that journal, I was asked to answer the question: How can a pastor prepare his people for suffering? My answer lists five things that pastors can do.

Below is an abbreviated response to that question.

First, pastors must highlight the theme of suffering in the Bible. Outside Eden depravity, disease, and death are normal. So, pastors must routinely address the origin of suffering, God’s solution, and the means of grace available to pilgrim saints. . . .

Second, pastors must give their people a theology as big as God himself. In other words, for people to suffer well, they must stand on sound doctrine. In particular, pastors must gird their people with a theology that strengthens faith in God’s sovereignty and hope in Christ’s victorious return. While the particulars of suffering are a human mystery, it is vital to reassure believers that their plight has purpose. . . .

Third, pastors must tie all suffering to Christ’s death and resurrection. To every form of suffering, the cross is the answer. On the cross, Jesus bore God’s wrath for our sins and he identified with humanities deepest pain—death. In this act of love, God dealt with the ultimate source of suffering and its deadly effect. For Christians, then, personal suffering is not God’s testimony against us, as it was perceived to be under the old covenant. Rather, in Christ, suffering indicates our fellowship with our Lord (Phil 3:9-10) and God’s fatherly love (Heb 12:3-11). Pastors must remind their people of this regularly. . . .

Fourth, pastors must inform their people about church history. The church victorious stands in heaven awaiting Christ’s return. The church on earth suffers and bleeds. In our Western context, Christians need to hear the stories of faithful saints. Names like Ridley, Latimer, Elliot, and Saint should be as familiar as Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln. . . .

Fifth, pastors must call attention to the persecuted church. In obedience to God’s word (Heb 13:3), pastors must lead the charge in praying for and supplying aid for persecuted Christians. Yet, the ministry of the persecuted church is not a one-way street. We must also champion the persecuted church because we need to see what it means to treasure Christ above life itself. . . .

For more on the subject of suffering, take a look at the new journal. For the rest of my answer, you can find it at the end of the SBJT Forum.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Teach the Bible Through in a Year: Tips and Tools

If you have or if you would think about teaching through the whole Bible in 2011 or in any year, let me encourage you to think about a couple things that I learned as I taught through the whole Bible in 2010.

First, if you are a rookie pastor or just entering a church, WAIT!  I did this in my first year and I would not recommend it for others.  There are many things that demand attention especially in the first year of ministry and this one took up more time each week than I thought it would.  With that said, I have benefitted much from teaching through the Bible this year in a way that I believe will bear fruit in the life of my ministry in the years to come.

Second, and this goes along with number 1, if you are going to teach through the whole Bible, let me encourage you to make sure that you have been reading and teaching the Bible through for a number of years.  It is a good rule of thumb, to avoid teaching something that you have not done personally, i.e. if you have never read through the Bible in a year, it would be unwise to try to teach through it.  Moreover, this point is  important because at some point, or at many points, you will rely on the accumulated knowledge of the Bible that only builds up over many years of Bible saturation.

Personally, as I taught through the Scriptures this year, there were many times when I was dependent on previous Bible reading to provide explanation and fill in details of the text.  My schedule did not permit me to study every book like I had first intended and/or desired, so there was much I were many times I was going from memory–from seminary, personal Bible reading, books, or messages I have heard.  But this is the beauty of Bible overview, more than intricate exposition.  You help focus on the big picture, showing the unity of the Scriptures–a unity that I argued was to be found in Christ (cf Eph 1:10).

Third, set a pace for the year.  If you are going to teach through the Bible make sure those you are teaching are reading with you.  This will motivate you and they will better be able to follow your teaching.  To say it another way: Aim to keep pace with a Bible reading plan.  In 2011, we used the plan laid out by Denny Burk.

Fourth, don’t get bogged down with the details.  This is hard, especially for detailed-oriented teachers.  Aim to cover the big idea, themes, and ways in which the book fits into the larger categories of biblical theology.  Don’t spend your time on source criticism, who wrote 2 Peter, or when Daniel was written.  I would touch on these things, but believing the Scriptures to be God’s word, I focused on what was in the text more than what was behind the text.  In this way, I would encourage you to focus on biblical theology more than scholarly disputes–though sometimes you cannot avoid the latter (e..g is Genesis 1 a myth? [no]; was Paul the originator of Christianity? [no], and things like that should be addressed).

Fifth, create space in your teaching schedule to go over.  I took two weeks on Genesis, Exodus, John, Paul.  The first two books were planned to go two weeks, the second two were not.  Having space in the schedule helped alleviate the stress of ‘fitting it all in.’

Sixth, use outlines and information from other sources to help you, but just make sure you give credit where credit is due.  In my notes, I aimed to footnote the places where  I was directly dependent on the ESV Study Bible or some other place.  (See reflections at The Gospel Coalition on preachers and plagiarism).

Seventh, let the Scripture be your guide.  Fill your notes (if you use them) and your teaching with Bible references and Scripture quotation.  My goal on Wednesday nights was always to read as much from the Bible as possible to prove my points.  I aimed to synthesize the main points and to show from the text how I made that point. Spending time in commentaries and theologies did not help this, only reading the Bible did.

With that said, let me confess: Some weeks as I taught, I would read lots of background material and biblical-theological commentary.  Other weeks I wouldn’t.  In preparation, the text always needed to be central and more often than not it was, but sometimes, I must admit, I spent too much time in the books and too little in the Bible.  The result was a less-stimulating personal understanding of the book.  So, for anyone going into it I would recommend finding a handful of shorter reflections on each book–maybe just one or two reliable resources–and then spend most of the time in the Scripture itself.  Make up your own outline if possible and ask God to help make the book come alive for you.

Eighth, pray!  It was only by the grace of God that I finished the course this year.  Many prayed for me and when I grew tired in some weeks, it was petitions for grace that were answered with time and thoughts to present God’s Word to God’s people.

If you are going to read or teach through the Bible in 2011, or in any year, let me recommend these resources.

First, the ESV Study Bible was a necessary resource that I relied on every week to give background information and to help me outline each book.  Zondervan’s Introduction to the Old Testament (Dillard and Longman) and Introduction to the New Testament (Carson and Moo) would also be excellent aids.  They supply a great deal of background information and will help field textual questions and scholarly disputes.

Second, I would urge you to consider Jim Hamilton’s biblical theology: The Glory of God in Salvation Through Judgment. Hamilton’s book pays keen attention to the literary structures of the individual authors while holding together two-fold unity that runs through the Bible–salvation and judgment.  Hamilton also highlights many important theological themes that emerge throughout the pages of Scripture.  I didn’t have this book when I started this study, but I wish I had.  The articles in the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology would also be helpful, but I honestly did not avail myself of these like I could have.

Third, as I prepared, I often listened to Mark Dever’s overview sermons.  They were edifying and regularly pointed me to Christ-centered interpretations of the texts.  These sermons were collected into his two books: The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made and The Message of the New Testament: Promises Kept. You could read these books, but I would recommend listening to them as you walk, run, workout, or drive.  I found that having a different medium to ‘hear’ the message of Christ was helpful.  It ministered to my soul and it allowed me to ‘hear’ how someone else presented the big picture of each book.  In addition to Dever, The Gospel Coalition’s website has a number of other pastor-teachers who have given book overviews.

Finally, if you have not read Graeme Goldsworthy and his approach to reading/interpreting the Scriptures, I would urge caution, or at least patience, before teaching through the whole Bible.  This may seem like an overstatement–for how could one man’s interpretive strategy be so important?  But I would suggest that he, more than anyone else I have read, aims to show the gospel of Jesus Christ from all the Scriptures.  In this way, he has provided modern teachers with an interpretive method that flows from Luke 24 itself.  His works include his Trilogy (The Gospel & Kingdom, The Gospel in Revelation, and The Gospel & Wisdom), According to PlanPreaching the Whole Bible as Christians Scripture, and Christ-Centered Hermeneutics. In my preparation for teaching through the Bible in 2011, these 4 books proved to be necessary prerequisites for me to read through the whole Bible and see how each epoch, genre, and author pointed to Christ as the Spirit inspired them.  Again this might be a little overstated, but Goldsworthy has been formative for my understanding of putting the Bible together, something that proved to be necessary before starting this biblical tour in 2010.

Overall, I would highly recommend reading through and/or teaching through the Scriptures so that you might see and show how all things are summed up in Christ.  It is amazing to watch the story unfold and to see how every story whispers his name, to borrow Sally-Lloyd Jones‘ turn of phrase. In the process of teaching this series in 2011, my faith was strengthened by reading the Scriptures this year and beholding Christ, and my heart was gripped with gratitude for God’s grace in helping me read and teach through the Bible in 2010.  Even more, I was grateful for the faithfulness of the church members who joined me each Wednesday night, hungry to learn more about Christ and his word.  It was a precious group who joined together each night to hear God’s word and to go deep and LONG into the Scriptures.  I praise God for them.

Next year, I will be doing something a little different–see here–but I pray that God will continue to help us read the whole counsel of God with eyes open to see Christ and hearts burning like the disciples on the road to Emmaus.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss