A Tech-Wise Parable, Part 1

There was a young Student Pastor, named Blake Jorem. And he had an idea for a student summer trip. Blake gathered all the parents for a special meeting to discuss the trip and go over the details. His plan was simple, he thought.  He would take the students from Church of the Biblical Community on a trip to New York City. The trip’s purpose was to give the students, 6th-12th grade, a chance to experience different cultures, visit Rockefeller Plaza and Broadway, see the Statue of Liberty and Central Park, to eat exotic foods and ride the exotic smelling subway.

The trip would be perfect. Every pre-teen and teenager had lamented to anyone who would listen that they hadn’t had a chance to see the Big Apple like all their other friends. Blake thought this trip would be a no-brainer, homerun for the parents. Their kids would get to be included in what all the other kids were doing, it would be a learning experience, and it would afford the parents a break from their children for a while. It would be perfect.

So, the meeting was had, the idea was out there, and it was now time for questions from the parents.

Many of the parents sat quietly for a few moments, letting the announcement of this trip wash over them like the smell of a foreign, open-air market.

And there came a man whose bewilderment could not be squelched any longer.

“Blake”, he said “this trip sounds like it would be fun. How many students are you hoping to take?”

“As many as want to come.  I hope over 40.” Blake explained.

How many chaperones are you thinking about taking?” another Mom quickly asked from the back.

“Chaperones? I hadn’t planned on taking any chaperones. This is a trip that will allow your students to find their own way through New York City.” Blake explained a little puzzled by the question.

“Their own way!” exclaimed several parents in unison.

“Their own way.  We are talking about New York City. There is no way I am letting my 6th grade daughter finds her ‘own way’ through a city like that,” said one of the father’s whose calm, but wavering tone was not enough to hide the now bulging vein from his forehead.

Blake could see things had made a turn in a direction he hadn’t fully anticipated. “Listen, Listen,” he explained while trying to quiet the talking amongst the parents.

“I think I have a pretty good idea about the heart and state of your students. We will have a list of all the good places they should go and only those places. We will need to trust our students to make the best decisions. These students need the opportunity to prove they can handle something like this. Other children are doing the same thing. If we don’t give them this opportunity now, don’t you think they will feel deprived later? We have kept the cost of this trip low, so it won’t cost you that much. AND, this trip is sure to keep your children entertained.”

One of the parents had finally had enough. Allen Martin stood up from the back and began to speak calmly, yet resolutely;

“Trust. This is not an issue of trust. This is an issue of parental protection and care. I agree with you that there are many great things to see in a city like New York. But to send my child out into a city like that without me with her would be dangerous and confusing. Yes, it’s first and foremost about protection. There are dangerous places in New York City. There are things that happen in that city that a child cannot un-see. There are things that could happen to her or him that could shape them for the rest of their life. I, frankly, don’t care if every parent in this room thinks it’s okay to send their child to NYC alone. It’s not happening in my house. So, one of my goals as a parent is to protect my child from things I know to be unsafe. New York City has a host of amazing things to see and do. But the rewards are not worth the risks, sending my child there alone with only their peers.

It’s not only about protection, it’s also about interpretation. My child is still growing, still learning, and still figuring out the world. They don’t just need protection from things. They need an adult to help interpret what they are seeing and doing. How are they to know the significance of a place like the Statue of Liberty or the 9.11 Memorial site? They can’t do that on their own. They need us as parents to help them, whether they are 6 or 16.  And lastly, they need a mentor to guide them through what an experience like that means for them, at their age and for their own context.  I want my child to understand that while NYC is an amazing city, it is also expensive. What if they come back to Low Point, South Carolina believing the false narrative that their life here is boring and mundane in comparison to a life in NYC. That would set them up for a lot of failure and grumbling. 

When my oldest daughter learned to drive she learned in stages and is still doing so. She had to study the rules of the road, she had to pass a test, she had to drive only with an adult that could teach her, she had to pass another test, and only then was she able to drive herself, and even then, she had restrictions put on her from the state and from us. It took her several years before she was able to drive by herself.  We didn’t just take her to the interstate and turn her loose.

So, Blake, after all that I have said, what makes you think that us parents would go for a trip like this where you left our children alone in a place like New York City?”

 

Blake stood there for a moment, taking it all in and then simply said,

“I didn’t think any of you would have a problem with this trip after observing the way our students are allowed to use the internet, their smartphones, or social media.”

 

To be continued…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be Still

I struggle with being still. Even in the moments that I do “nothing,” my mind will race with all the things I need to be doing, deadlines I need to meet or things I need to plan. I’ll find myself scrolling Pinterest to plan the next meal, texting a friend to catch up, or over-thinking every possible outcome to a situation I’m facing, all while I’m supposed to be resting. In a culture where there are things to occupy our time right at our fingertips (and a baby that likes to have a ninja party every time I sit down), there isn’t a lot of silence or stillness in my life right now. I’d be willing to bet many of us feel this same struggle every day.

Many times, over the last couple of months, I’ve been reminded to find and cherish my moments of stillness before there’s a newborn that needs my attention. The moments of silence will be less and less. I’ll be torn in more directions, and managing time, relationships and work will be anything but peaceful for a while. I’m challenged by this, I have intentions to follow the advice, yet I still find myself in a cycle of forgetting to stop and be still.

Apart from the busyness of life, I’m learning there’s a spiritual stillness that suffers from my inability to turn things off. After Aaron’s sermon this week, I was convicted that my prayer life has not been what it should be because it’s always interrupted with a thought that draws my attention away from the Lord quicker than I can stop it. We even have Bible apps on our phones, so am I completely still before the Lord when I have good intentions to read the Word and spend time with Him? No, because a notification comes through that draws me away, even if it’s for a split second. I think we often settle for “kind of quiet” because there is noise all around us, but I fully know in my heart that God has called us to more.

God calls us to “be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10).” “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him (Psalm 37:37).” He tells Job, “Stop and consider the wondrous works of God (Job 37:14).” These aren’t suggestions, they’re commands. God’s desire is to be with us in the quiet, where His voice is heard because we’ve surrendered completely to finding intimacy with Him. God’s desire is to quiet our anxiety, quiet our need to control, quiet our plans and spend time with His children to mold our hearts to His. God’s desire is for us to pray, of course, but also to listen.

I’m challenging myself, and you, to find time this week to be completely still. Put away the phone, use a real Bible, journal, find a space with minimal distractions. Be still and think on the works of God in your life. Be still and listen for His voice. Be still and put aside the things that tear us in all different directions and rob our souls of intimacy with our Father. We may think there are more important things to do than sit in potential awkward silence, but the Lord has commanded us to still our hearts and minds to rest in His presence.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. Psalm 62:5

 

Congregationalism, Elder Leadership & You

Community Bible Church is said to be congregationally ruled and elder led, but what does that mean for the church family – those who are covenant members of the body?

As we ponder this question, I think it is helpful to begin by briefly examining the three main structures of church government (polity): the episcopal, the presbyterian, and the congregational.

The episcopal model is one that is hierarchical where the chief local authorities are called bishops, practicing their authorities in the dioceses and conferences or synods. The bishop supervises the clergy within a local jurisdiction and is the representative both to secular structures and within the hierarchy of the church. Bishops are considered to derive their authority from an unbroken, personal apostolic succession from the Twelve Apostles of Jesus. This is the structure used by many major Christian Churches and denominations, such as Catholic, Eastern (e.g. Eastern Orthodox), Anglican and Lutheran churches or denominations, and other churches founded independently from these lineages. I grew up around the United Methodist Church, which is one example of a non-Catholic denomination that practices episcopal polity.

The presbyterian model is one that is elder-run (presbyter-run).  Typically, original authority – that is the authority that the church believes Christ gave to it – is said to reside at the local elder level in this model of polity. Thus the “highest” authority in a presbyterian or reformed church (after Christ) is said to be the Elders of the church. Those who are elected to office are called the session or consistory (though other terms such as “church board” may apply) and serve their terms as the spiritual/theological/moral/visionary leaders of the congregation. Various Presbyterian denominations in our area exercise this polity, including the PCA, the PCUSA, and the EPC.

The third polity that we will consider is the congregational model of government, which is the model that CBC practices. Congregational polity draws its name from the independence of local congregations from the authority and control of other religious bodies. As one man summarized,  congregational polity is as follows:

“The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church defines ‘congregationalism’ as ‘that form of Church polity which rests on the independence and autonomy of each local church.’ According to this source, the principles of democracy in church government rest on the belief that Christ is the sole head of his church, the members are all priests unto God, and these units are regarded each as an outcrop and representative of the church universal.”[i]

Churches organized with a congregational polity may be involved in conventions, districts or associations which allow them to share common beliefs, cooperate in joint ministry efforts and regulate clergy with other congregations. In the case of the CBC, we are part of the Evangelical Free Church of America, which, though it is often thought to be a denomination, is an association of autonomous churches united in our theological convictions (see www.efca.org for more).

CBC was planted in 1985 as a congregational church having this included in the church constitution:

CBC is committed to a congregational form of government. Jesus Christ is Lord and Head of the Church. CBC has the right, under Christ, to decide and govern its own affairs. The New Testament emphasizes the importance of the Body of Christ ministering through the spiritual gifts that have been given to each believer. “Congregational in government” means that CBC is Member ruled and Elder led.

 

Member ruled and Elder led. That begs the questions, “what is a member?” and “what is the difference between ruling and leading?” Let’s start by exploring membership.

At CBC we believe that the local church exists because of Jesus Christ. As we discuss in the Membership Matters class that is part of the membership process at CBC, “the Bible says that God’s redeemed people make up the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:12; Eph 3:6; 4:12). Jesus Christ died for the ‘church’ (Eph 5:25). Not only did Jesus die for the church, but he is the head of the church, which is to say, he has authority over the church (Eph 1:22; Col 1:18), and Jesus has granted authority to the local church in the world (Matthew 18:18-20). The local church is the highest kingdom authority on earth, and as such, every follower of Jesus should identify themselves with Jesus as He works through the local church. Jonathan Leeman provides a helpful definition of the local church in his book titled Church Membership,

‘The local church is the authority on earth that Jesus has instituted to officially affirm and give shape to my Christian life and yours. Just as the Bible establishes the government of your nations as your highest authority on earth when it comes to your citizenship in that nations, so the Bible establishes the local church as your highest authority on earth when it comes to your discipleship to Christ and your citizenship in Christ’s present and promised nation.’[1]

Members are those who covenant together, sharing the same theological position (on “essential” doctrines, at least), mission, and core convictions. Members (by majority) have the final voice on all church decisions, including (but not limited to) the election of elders, election of deacons, call of senior pastor, annual budget approval, acceptance of new members & release of members, and the like. Those are some pretty significant decisions that the members make, so how do elders lead within that?

Take the one of the examples above, for instance. In the election of new elders, the current elders receive congregational nominations for elder candidates, organize candidate questionnaires and information-gathering, perform candidate interviews, and prayerfully discern the top candidates in a given cycle. The elders then publish contact information for the finalists (an invitation for the membership to complete their own process of decision-making) and present these top candidates to the membership for approval. In this case the elders are doing much of the leg work that would be difficult for an entire membership to accomplish (at CBC we’re talking 360 members) and then presenting the candidates for the all-important member approval. The elders are leading through the process, but the process culminates with the approval of the membership (which we often refer to as the “congregation”). In this way the elders lead, and the congregation rules. The same holds true for other examples in the church.

So the question remains, “what does that mean for the church family?” In short, it means that healthy membership is essential to a healthy church. If we were to enter a season where people did not value membership and covenant to membership, the very fabric of the church would fail. And if our covenant members don’t involve themselves in the functional decisions of the church, the church is failing to operate as a congregational body.

So the first point of application is pursue membership. If you consider yourself to be part of the CBC family, take the step to pursue covenant membership. While we value the opinions of the CBC regular attenders, it is only the voice of the membership that is authoritative. If you have questions about why membership is valuable, I would encourage you to attend our next Membership Matters class on October 21st, or contact me to grab coffee and discuss this more.

The second point of application is for our membership: take seriously your responsibility. Practically speaking, if you are a member, please make every effort to attend our quarterly Members Meetings. The next one is November 18th. In addition to being able to celebrate what the Lord is doing through His body, we regularly discuss items that aren’t appropriate for our Sunday morning gatherings. In the Members Meetings we vote to accept/release members, have financial updates/votes, discuss future plans, etc. As the Jesus-instituted Spirit-empowered authority that the church is, we need you to engage in the life of the church beyond attending and serving. We need the insight that you bring to discussions!

 

 

[1] Jonathan Leeman, Church Membership, p. 24-25.

[i] Who Runs the Church?: 4 Views on Church Government, Steven B. Cowan, gen. ed., p. 135, Zondervan 2004