Leading Churches: Credibility Matters!

“Do first and ask for apologies later,” said someone. Have you ever heard that line? I have. On several occasions as a matter of fact. In fact, I’ve even used it myself and sometimes it’s true… though only sometimes. However, those “sometimes” are very few and far in-between. In fact, I can think of many ways in which this is just unwise advise.

Leaders Don’t Have a Blank Check!

All leader’s make mistakes because every leader is human and as I said, sometimes you must simple do and be ready to apologize if necessary. However, the truth is that this “do first and ask for an apology later” does not come with a blank check. It comes with a very small credit line and once that credit line is crossed, you lose credibility as a leader.

The obvious way leaders lose credibility is moral failure. I can think of several prominent cities where the mayor or mayoral candidate lost credibility. The latest example involves the unfolding scandal that Mayor Rob Ford of Toronto is facing. But. . . And this is important, moral failures are not the only way to lose credibility. Leaders can lose credibility by the decisions they make that end up failing at a great cost.

Let me share two examples involving U.S. Presidents losing credibility because of the decisions they made. The first example involves former President George W. Bush and his decision regarding the war in Iraq. This was a war waged under the pretense that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction ready to use. However, as the war dragged on, costing lives and money without ever finding these weapons, many Americans came to judge the war as mistake and lost confidence in Bush’s ability to lead the nation. Fast forward to 2013 and President Obama’s handling the launch of the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as “Obamacare.” Like it or not, it is a controversial policy which means it already comes with challenge. However, with the recent problems regarding the healthcare website, the President’s credibility is now in question. Time will tell whether he gains back some of the credibility he appears to have lost but there is still a lesson to learn here.

The truth is, poor decisions will cost a leader his or her credibility. Even though that seems pretty obvious, it’s never so obvious for the leader.

Follow Me Into Unchartered Waters!

Any ways, I don’t care about presidential politics and I’m not interested in debating the politics of President Bush and President Obama. What I do care about is leading churches to live on mission with God and the challenge of leadership this requires. In many ways, we are living on the frontier of a new era… postmodernism, post-christendom, secularization, globalization, and so on. The challenges are great and are requiring us to rethink how we do ministry, how live within the community, and what it means to participate in the mission of God.

In leading churches to live on mission with God, what is needed good conversational partners. Theological education is very important, seminars and conferences are nice, and reading books is even nicer. Good conversational partners who understand the task at hand and are able to help think through challenging issues… priceless!

Besides having other ministers and friends outside the church we serve in as conversational partners, there is a need for a team of conversational partners within the church. For larger churches, such partners might be other ministry staff. However, if you serve a small church, as I do, where you are thee singular minister, then such conversation partners must come from other church members. These are members who, having shown through commitment and character, that they can help listen for God’s leading, reflect on what God might be saying, and discern what God wants the church to do next. Having such a team just might help avoid some of the unwise decision making that will cost a minister his or her credibility.

Some might ask how much the competency of these conversation partners matter. That’s a good question but not one that I worry as much about because I see it also as an opportunity to teach about missional living and missional church.

What I do know is that good decisions are rarely, if ever, made by one person thinking alone. So find some conversational partners because the way forward is in many ways unchartered waters and as always, credibility is the currency to lead the church into these waters.

19 responses to “Leading Churches: Credibility Matters!

  1. You have suggested your “needed” conversational partners, your new era examples are seeking human wisdom. You leave out the most important one of all, and that would be the bible, God’s inspired word for mankind. Let us listen to Christ and to inspired men, Peter, Paul, Timothy, John etc., credible men, don’t ya think? The “team” most needed is a sound Eldership, men who seeks God’s wisdom, and who have the courage to follow it. We need to stay away from un-charted waters and go with the flow of God’s word, it will lead us safely to our destination. You can listen until the cows come home, but until and unless you are studying God’s word, you will never know His will for you.

    • You don’t know what your talking about and your accusatory tone, suggesting that I am seeking human wisdom is rediculous. My assumption in suggesting that ministers have conversational partners is that such partners are all listening to God’s word, the Bible — and I do mean they are listening to God’s as learners rather than defendants of their own dogma. Likewise, you misunderstand what I mean about unchartered waters. Such waters, which cannot be avoided, does not mean ignoring the Bible. Rather, each generation is faced with new questions that we must turn to scripture and tradition as we ask with a discerning mind. Our generation in particular, with the massive paradigm shifts taking place within culture, faces even more question that perhaps make these times as unique as the times were for Christians in the 16th century or thereabouts. If you don’t understand that then there’s no point in discussing further because any suggestion or thought I have isunlikely to make any sense.

      Further more, for clarification, let me clearly say that I welcome elders/shepherds and believe they are leaders in the church but they are not the sum-extent of the leadership which God has given to churches.

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

      • Then why Rex, would you seek the “wisdom” of those outside the church? If you are not looking for human wisdom? How can you say that these partners outside of the church are listening to God, when they all teach things contrary to it. There is nothing new under the sun. This idea that we who live now are somehow so special, our problems and struggles are so different than anyone who ever lived is nothing short of arrogance. The elders are the sum total of the leadership, that is the role that Christ has given them. When others usurp their authority that’s when the problems begin. Preachers are to preach the word, sow the seed, and follow the leadership of the Elders, as long as that leadership is based on God’s word. I have no dogma, unless you see the teachings of Christ as “dogma”! Good decisions are made based upon God’s word, not the thoughts of mere men. Why is it Rex, that in your article, you didn’t once mention the bible or elders as your conversational partners? And you say that I have a dogma! Pot calling kettle.

      • Maybe you should stop and read the blog post a little more carefully. I never said that the conversational partners were outside of the church. I said we need some conversational partners outside of the church we serve in, meaning our local church. I don’t know what you do but if you are a minister in some church then do you ever ask another minister for advise? If you do, then you have a conversational partner — even if it is a temporary one.

        Also, you are wrong about the elders being “the sum total of the leadership.” Go read about the “five-fold ministry” in Ephesians 4:11-13, as all five ministry’s there are given to the church (and while I think this is leadership, do note that the Bible never uses the word “leadership”).

  2. Jeff,
    How are you absolutely sure those whom you declare without evidence as being outside the church are teaching things contrary to it? Some might be asking questions or giving the minster advice on what they would like answered or telling him about how a point comes across to them. You come across as a militant and that was before I read the word “sound” in your comment, that one word tells me that you are a hard line conservative. The moderates don’t use the term much any more because it has been hijacked by the right. Are you perhaps NI or anti?

  3. Mark, I am mainline church of Christ, I am conservative in that the bible is my only guide. And Rex, I know from what you have said in the past that you believe the church of Christ is just another denomination, so why wouldn’t I think what I wrote? I have to go by what you say and put two and two together. Do you have trouble with the idea of the authority of Elders? I am no minister, but I do serve in the Lord’s church as an Elder. Ministers are leaders, but they are subject to the Elders.

    • Jeff,

      I have no problems whatsoever with the spiritual authority of the elders. I just don’t believe that the elders are the only leaders with spiritual authority given to serve the church. Furthermore, I don’t believe ministers are subject to the elders nor do I believe the elders are subject to ministers. Instead, I believe both ministers and elders are called by Christ who gives them to the church as the “leaders” whom the church is to follow (cf. Heb 13:17). These leaders of the church—ministers/preachers and elders/shepherds—are subject to Christ whom they must give an account to. This leadership of the ministers and elders is not a top-down rule but is based on character (=example) that is shaped by the humble and self-sacrificial life of Jesus whom all Christians are called to follow. Thus, every leader among the church is first a follower of Christ (and I mean a follower of Christ, not some doctrine about Christ).

      You are certainly free to disagree with the conclusions I have come to but know this, I have arrived at these conclusions from reading and studying the Bible. I just don’t have the time or space in a comment to show why I have reached such a conclusion.

      May God bless you as you serve your church as an elder!

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

      • It is the Elders responsibility to guard the flock, to make sure the flock is fed properly. It is the Elders responsibility to make sure that the preacher is teaching truth. It is the responsibility of the flock which includes the preacher to obey those who rule over them. In God’s infinite wisdom, He desired Elders to be appointed in every congregation. Not Elder, but Elders in the plural. Your right when you say better decisions are made by more than one, just another reason why the preacher/pastor system is wrong and unbiblical. That’s why I take my responsibility so seriously, I understand that I answer to Christ Himself. I guess I will never understand the concept of following Jesus without having His instructions (His doctrine) on how too.

        Earnestly contending for the faith that was once and for all delivered.

  4. But sometimes elders are not known for transparency on their decisions and declare policy without allowing input. Also elderships can have issues dealing with the fact that they are usually a homogenous group. Fyi, there are quite a few blogs where bad elders(hips) are discussed at length. Also, given that most elders serve for life, there are serious concerns among the rank-and-file about ever seeing change being enacted. I can tell you that you are going to have a hard time convincing people that it is their responsibility to obey those who rule over them.

    • We need to remember that Elders only have authority in matters of opinion. In matters of doctrine they must yield to Christ. If your eldership is comprised of good faithful men, you have a duty to follow them. If you refuse, your soul is in danger and they must deal with you. You have become one who is walking disorderly, 2 Thess 3:6

      • I have seen elders set doctrine at times. Authority in matters of opinion? That does not make a lot of sense. I thought people were allowed to have differing opinions? Even Campbell advocated liberty on matters of opinion. If I am reading you correctly, you are telling me that elders set the opinion and I am going to hell if I don’t follow it and thus must be dealt with and am walking disorderly.

      • It’s not just the spiritual authority of the elders that the church must follow; it’s the spiritual authority of all leaders… “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account…” (Heb 13:17, ESV).

        The “obey” in Hebrews 13:17 comes from the Greek word peithō which is rendered in the passive-tense in this particular passage. In the active and middle voice, the word means “to persuade” but what about the passive voice? There are two other occurrences in the New Testament where this word is used in the passive voice (Galatians 5:7; James 3:3). In those two passages, the idea expressed is not a legal-authoritarian obedience where the leaders are obeyed as an unquestionable ruler as though they are like a king or judge. Rather the idea is persuasion and so I suggest that “obey” Hebrews 13:17 should be understood something like “yielding to the persuasion” of the leaders. This assumes that the leaders are persuasive, demonstrating that what they are asking the church to do is faithful to the way of Jesus Christ which also is why a few verse earlier in Hebrews we are asked to remember our leaders regarding their way of life (cf. 13:7). That is also tells us that it is the person and their character that gives them the spiritual authority of a leader, rather than whatever title or office they claim to hold. Also, this understanding then means that the church still has the role of discernment rather than remaining powerless to reject the leaders who would take them away from the way of Jesus Christ.

        Given this understanding of what it means to “obey your leaders” is why I believe Hebrews is speaking of all leaders in the church having the spiritual authority and not just the elders. That is, the term ēgoumenois (a participle meaning “those who lead you”) neither excludes the elders as leaders nor limits the leaders to the elders only.

        Grace and Peace,

        Rex

      • I thought Campbell said that in matters of opinion, liberty. I have elders set doctrine rather forcefully.

  5. Married to a minister for many years, and I think you make some good points about a minister needing and being In return a trustworthy sounding board. Also, if we only have religious conversations with people with whom we’re pretty sure we agree, where’s the potential for growth? Having those open conversations without either folding or being belligerent takes a lot of practice for some of us. I’m working on it.

    • Jennifer,
      It is so much easier to have a religious discussion with someone who agrees with you. It is a discussion with someone like me or even a liberal that no one in his right mind wants or even will consent to have.

      • Rex, Where in the bible can I read about preachers having the duty and authority as an Elder? Where can I read about the qualifications of a Preacher like I can for Elders and Deacons? Must a preacher have certain qualities such as good character, sound in the faith, apt to teach? yes. Can a preacher be an Elder? yes, can a preacher be a Deacon? yes. Does the position of “preacher” include him in the leadership? only in the sense that he is the one who stands in front of the congregation every week. Yet he must still yield to faithful and sound Elders. As for Heb 13, preachers don’t rule over anyone, they are to be subordinate as well as the whole flock. The Elders task can be found in Titus 1:5ff. It is the Elders who have been given this daunting task of leadership in the Lord’s church. There are scriptural ways to deal with a sinful Elder, it’s the same for dealing with any sinful brother. As I have stated before, Elders have all authority in matters of opinion, even the preacher must yield to their authority. In matters of doctrine even the Elders must yield to Christ.

      • Jeff,

        Again, you’re not even interacting with the content of what I said about Hebrews 13:17, asking instead a barrage of questions that assume a lot in order to dismiss what I am saying. Try dealing with what Hebrews 13:17 says and if the comments I have made about the interpretation of that passage are wrong, then show me from that passage why I am wrong and why your view is right.

        You ask, “Where in the Bible can I read about preachers having the duty and authority as an Elder?” You won’t find such and I never said or have suggested that you will. I do, however, suggest that you can read in the Bible about the spiritual duty and authority as minister/preacher/evangelist has if you read the pastoral epistles of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. Pay attention to the instructions that Paul gives to those two evangelist, including the appointing of elders. You’ll notice that Paul never tells the two evangelists that their spiritual authority is greater than the elders but you will also notice that Paul never assigns greater spiritual authority to the elders either. Secondly, you ask, “Where can I read about the qualifications of a Preacher like I can for Elders and Deacons?” The answer is nowhere but that doesn’t mean anything since the New Testament is a collection of occasioned writing the were responding to specific issues rather than addressing every pertinent question for Christianity. The only reason we have two passages telling us about the sort of character elders are to have (the Bible never actually calls them “qualifications”) is because Paul happened to writing to two evangelists who needed to appoint elders

        Grace and Peace,

        Rex

        P.S., This is my last comment about this issue.

  6. Rex, I get your point clearly. You stated in a post above that, “furthermore, I don’t believe that ministers are subject to Elders, nor do I believe that Elders are subject to ministers”. And by calling the New Testament of our dear Lord and Savior nothing more than a collection of occasioned writings tells me a lot about you. I stand with 2 Tim 3:16,17 “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for all doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” I asked ,”where can I find qualifications for ministers like I do for elders? and you respond by saying nowhere, but that doesn’t matter! You have rejected the authority of Christ and His word, you have rejected the authority of Elders and have placed yourself where scripture has not authorized. One must ask, Why were Elders needed in every city? Answer, 1. God commanded it, 2. The Apostles couldn’t be everywhere and 3. The office of Apostle was not going to last. That was and is Christ’s plan for His church. And you have rejected it outright. “He who adds to or takes away from this book let them be accursed.”

    • Contrary to what you think about me, I do believe that scripture — all 66 books of the Bible — is inspired of God. That doesn’t change the fact that the New Testament is a collection of occasional writings addressing specific situations and issues facing Christians in the first century. So maybe you could stop with the judgments and accusations because you don’t know me.

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

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