Tag Archives: deacons

Faithful and Fruitful: Essays for Elders and Deacons

I’m just dropping a quick note here about this new book for office bearers published by Reformed Fellowship.  If you’re an elder or deacon, veteran or rookie, I think you’ll find something helpful in this volume.  It’s got twenty chapters with the following titles:

  1. Training Church Officers
  2. Practicing the Mission of the Church: Apostolicity in Action
  3. Positive Leadership: Leading Like Jesus (Not Rehoboam)
  4. Continuing in Prayer
  5. Elders and Deacons as Hospitality Leaders
  6. Ministering to the Sick and Dying
  7. The Office Bearer and Household Management
  8. Classical Christian Catechesis
  9. Managing the Offerings of God’s People
  10. Getting Acquainted with the Congregation’s Needs
  11. Avoiding Burnout
  12. Tending the Shepherd (1): Honorable Provision
  13. Tending the Shepherd (2): Sabbaths and Sabbaticals
  14. How to Evaluate Your Pastor
  15. How to Be a Clerk
  16. Navigating the Broader Assemblies: Serving at Classis and Synod
  17. How to Serve on a Pastoral Search Committee
  18. What Every Elder Needs to Know about Congregational Singing
  19. Encouraging Lay Witnessing
  20. Promoting the Work of Missions

As you can see, most of the chapters are practically oriented.  The book includes study questions for each chapter.  Most of the authors are United Reformed ministers, though there are also CanRC and OPC contributors.  Some of the content is specifically oriented to a United Reformed context.  However, much of that can be easily adapted to other contexts, or otherwise safely disregarded.

For the last 10+ years, over two churches, I’ve gone through John Sittema’s With a Shepherd’s Heart.  That’s still a great book for office bearer training, but recently I recommended that we give Faithful and Fruitful a try.  We look forward to reading and discussing it together at our 2020 consistory meetings.

Pastoral Q & A: How Do I Indicate My Aspiration to Serve as an Elder or Deacon?

Wanting to be an office bearer is a great thing – Scripture says so in 1 Timothy 3:1, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.”  We certainly want to encourage men in our churches to have such aspirations.  For those who aspire to the ministry it’s relatively easy to indicate your aspirations.  You do pre-seminary studies and then go to seminary.  However, how do you let people know if you have an aspiration to be an elder or deacon?  Perhaps you could say it directly, or you might wait until your elder asks you on a home visit.  But what if verbally indicating your aspiration might be frowned upon or even seen as somewhat arrogant?

As it turns out, there are more ways to indicate the aspiration to serve as an elder or deacon.  Let’s look at three ways in particular.

Christian Maturity

Scripture speaks about the qualifications of office bearers in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.  One should certainly go to those qualifications and use them as targets to aim for in a thankful Christian life.  However, they can all be summed up with one word:  maturity.  An office bearer has to consistently demonstrate Christian maturity.  There has to be evidence of a life lived in union with Jesus Christ.  That’s going to be seen first and foremost in a love for Christ and for the gospel.  If the gospel doesn’t personally excite you, if you don’t feel love for Christ in your heart, how would you lead others in that direction?  If you don’t love reading and studying the Bible, how would you guide others to do it?

If you aspire to be an office bearer, Christian maturity also has to be seen in the home:  “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will be care for God’s church?” (1 Tim. 3:4-5).  As an outworking of that, an aspiring office bearer ought to be leading his children in daily family worship.  You have to be discipling your own children before you can be discipling others.

If someone aspires to office, there also has to be maturity evidenced in regards to the church and his involvement with it.  For example, an aspiring office bearer makes public worship twice on the Lord’s Day a priority.  Titus 1:9 says, “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught…”  That implies being under the Word as often as it is taught.  An office bearer has to set an example in this regard and so an aspiring office bearer is going to aim for this too.

A Desire to Learn

In Hosea 4:6, God said “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…”  Learning is essential for all Christians.  This is why 2 Peter 3:18 says, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”  But this imperative to grow in our understanding of the Christian faith is sharper for those who are leaders in Christ’s church.  The young pastor Timothy was called to do his best to rightly handle the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:14).  He was to immerse himself in studying and teaching the Scriptures so that everyone could see his progress (1 Tim. 4:13-15).

So what about those aspiring to the office of elder?  An elder is called to first exemplify the learning and growing Christian.  Moreover, he’s also called to oversee the teaching and preaching in the church.  How is he going to be equipped for that if he’s not reading and learning more?  Even deacons are called to “hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience” (1 Tim. 3:9).  They have to have a good (and growing) grasp on the doctrines of the Christian faith.  After all, they’re also leaders in the church – governing the ministry of mercy.

If you aspire to be an office bearer, one of the best things you can do is go to your pastor or ward elder and say:  “I want to read a good book.  Can you recommend something?”  Readers are leaders – and serious readers in the congregation are going to get noticed.

A Desire to Serve

Last of all, being an office bearer is all about service.  Being a shepherd is about serving the flock.  What about the deacons?  The very word “deacon” means “servant” or “minister.”  Those who aspire to this noble task should strive for a track record of service in other capacities.  When the opportunity arises to volunteer, the man who aspires to office should be the first one to put up his hand.  Those who are keeping busy with non-office bearer work in the church community will often find themselves being noticed when it comes time to nominate for elders and deacons.

To sum up, perhaps you’ve noticed that these three ways have one thing in common:  they’re all things we ought to be striving for as Christians at any rate.  Every Christian ought to aim for growing levels of maturity.  Every Christian ought to desire to learn and serve.  So, basically, if you aspire to be an office bearer, live like a Christian.


Book Review: Zeal Without Burnout

Zeal Without Burnout

Zeal Without Burnout: Seven keys to a lifelong ministry of sustainable sacrifice.  Christopher Ash, Epsom, UK: the Good Book Company, 2016.  Hardcover, 125 pages, $17.99 AUD.

This book includes several stories of pastors and other Christian workers who’ve experienced burnout.  One of them, Dennis, tells of how he was preaching one evening and had his life suddenly turned upside down.  He just packed up his notes and walked away in the middle of his sermon:

I had just had it, and I wasn’t going to take it anymore.

I drove home thinking, “I’m not going back.  I’m finished with ministry.  In fact, I may even be finished with church.”

By the time I got home I couldn’t stop crying.  I shut myself in our bedroom and didn’t leave the room for three days.  My wife came in and prayed, but I knew I was done with ministry.  (90)

Many others have had similar experiences.  According to the author, “it is estimated that some 1500 people leave pastoral ministry each month due to burnout, conflict, or moral failure.”  That figure is in the United States alone!  Sadly, we know that our Reformed churches are not immune to this phenomenon.

Zeal Without Burnout is about addressing this phenomenon with a basic, biblical, constructive approach.  The author aims to help prevent burnout amongst those involved in Christian ministry.  The intended audience includes not only pastors, but also other Christian workers.  For a Reformed readership, this book could also be very helpful for our elders.  After all, they often have to juggle responsibilities in the church with regular full-time work and family priorities.  We should not think that burnout only threatens to sideline pastors.

The heart of Ash’s approach is found with his “seven keys.”  These are seven basic biblical teachings which, when taken seriously, will help readers to avoid burnout.  I’m not going to share all of them — I want you to read this book for yourself! – but let me just mention the first:  We need sleep.  While it is good to work hard for the Lord, a lack of attention to adequate sleep will soon catch up to us.  Moreover, because our service is from and for the Lord, we can sleep.  Says Ash, “You and I sleep because we do not believe that the project of building the people of God rests upon us; we sleep because we know that God never slumbers or sleeps” (49).

This is a small, but well-written book.  The author writes out of his own personal experiences getting near burnout, but also out of the experiences of others.  The author has also included an appendix, “What Exactly is Burnout?” written by a trained psychiatrist, Dr. Steve Midgley.    This appendix helpfully explains the precise nature of what is commonly termed “burnout,” as well as the warning signs and practical steps that can be taken to avoid it.

Who should read Zeal Without Burnout?  For starters, definitely my colleagues in pastoral ministry.  Brothers, for the sake of the gospel you love and preach, you need to read this little book.  Elders should also read it, not only for themselves, but also for the sake of the pastors they work with and oversee.  In some instances, perhaps also deacons would benefit from this volume.  In fact, I could see consistories profitably reading and discussing this book together.  Though a small book, it punches well above its weight.  Highly recommended!