Category Archives: Dr. Charles Wood

Consider the Pastor’s Wife — thoughts from Dr. Charles Wood

This post is a reprint of an article by Dr. Charles Wood of South Bend, IN.  He has been my friend, mentor, father figure and confidant for many years.  His wisdom gained from a long life well lived is a constant inspiration to me.  You can get a daily missive from him by writing him at LORCHUCK@aol.com and asking to be on his mailing list.  You’ll be blessed if you do it!

Pastorswife “We’re all vulnerable.  Everyone who walks in the church door can be helped or hurt in what happens during the next hour. Whether saint or sinner, preacher or pew-sitter, old-timer or newcomer, child or geezer, everyone is vulnerable and should be treated respectfully, faithfully, carefully.  No one, however, in the church family is more vulnerable than the pastor’s wife.  She is the key figure in the life of the pastor and plays the biggest role in his success or failure….And yet, many churches treat her as an unpaid employee, an uncalled assistant pastor, an always-available office volunteer, a biblical expert and a psychological whiz.  She is almost always a reliable helper as well as an under-appreciated servant.  You might not think so, but she is the most vulnerable person in the building. That is to say, she is the single most likely person to become the victim of malicious gossip, sneaky innuendo, impossible expectations and pastoral frustrations.

     “The pastor’s wife can be hurt in a hundred ways – through attacks on her husband, her children, herself. Her pain is magnified by one great reality: She cannot fight back.  She cannot give a certain member a piece of her mind for criticizing the pastor’s children, cannot straighten out the deacon who is making life miserable for her husband, cannot stand up to the finance committee who, once again, failed to approve a needed raise, or the building and grounds committee that postponed repair work on the pastorium [Does anyone have a “parsonage” anymore?].  She has to take it in silence, most of the time.  It takes the best Christian in the church to be a pastor’s wife and pull it off. And that’s the problem: In most cases, she’s pretty much the same kind of Christian as everyone else. When the enemy attacks, she bleeds.  The pastor’s wife has no say-so in how the church is run and receives no pay, yet she has a lot to do with whether her husband gets called to that church and succeeds once he arrives.  That’s why I counsel pastors to include with their resume a photo of their family. The search committee will want to see the entire family, particularly the pastor’s wife, and will try to envision whether they would “fit” in “our” church.
     “The pastor’s wife occupies no official position, was not the object of a church vote, and gives no regular reports to the congregation on anything. And yet, no one person in the church is more influential in making the pastor a success—or a resounding failure—than she. She is the object of a world of expectations …She is expected to dress modestly and attractively, well enough but not overly ornate.  She is expected to be the perfect mother, raising disciplined children who are models of well-behaved offspring for the other families, to be her husband’s biggest supporter and prayer warrior, and to attend all the church functions faithfully and, of course, bring a great casserole.  Since her husband is subject to being called away from home at all hours, she is expected to understand this and have worked it out with the Lord from the time of her marriage – if not from the moment of her salvation – and to have no problem with it. If she complains about his being called out, she can expect no sympathy from the members. If she does voice her frustrations, what she hears is, ‘This is why we pay him the big salary,’ and ‘Well, you married a preacher; what did you expect?’  She is expected to run her household well on the limited funds the church can pay and keep her family looking like a million bucks.  And those are just for starters!  The pastor’s children likewise suffer in silence as they share their daddy with hundreds of church members, each of whom feel they own a piece of him, and can do little about it. (But, that’s another article.)
     What do we owe to the pastor’s wife …
1. We owe her the right to be herself.
  She is our sister in Christ and accountable to Him.  My wife was blessed to have followed pastors’ wives who cut their own path. So, in some churches, Margaret taught Sunday School and came to the woman’s missionary meetings. In other churches, she directed the drama team and ran television cameras. A few times, she held weekday jobs while raising three pretty terrific kids.  And, as far as I know, the churches were always supportive and understanding. We were blessed.  
Allow the pastor’s wife to serve in whatever areas she’s gifted in. Allow her to try different things, and to grow. But do not put your expectations on her, if at all possible.  Do not try to tell her how to raise her children. Do not try to get to her husband through her with your messages or (ahem) helpful suggestions.
2. We owe her our love and gratitude.  She has a one-of-a-kind role in the congregation, which makes her essential to the church’s well-being.  Recently, as I was finishing a weekend of ministry at a church in central Alabama and about to drive the 300 miles back home, a member said, ‘Please thank your wife for sharing you with us this weekend. I know your leaving is hard on her.’  How sensitive – and how true, I thought. That person had no idea that my wife underwent surgery two weeks earlier, and I had been her nurse ever since, and that in my absence, my son and his family were taking care of her, and that I was now about to rush home to relieve them.  Church members have no clue – and no way of knowing – regarding the pressures inside the pastor’s family, and should not investigate to find out.  What they should do is love the wife and children and show them appreciation at every opportunity.
3. We owe her our love and prayers.  While the Father alone knows her heart, the pastor may be the only human who knows her burdens.  Pray for her by name on a regular basis. Then, leave it to the Lord to answer those prayers however He chooses.  If we believe that the Living God is our Lord and Savior and that He hears our prayers, we should be lifting to Him these whose lives are given in service for Him.  Ask the Father for His protection upon the pastor’s wife and children – for their health, for their safety from all harm, and for Him to shield them from evil people.  Pray for His provisions for all their needs, and for the church to do well in providing for them.  Pray for the pastor’s relationship with his wife. If their private life is healthy, the congregation’s shepherd is far better prepared for everything he will be asked to do.
4. We owe her our responsible care.  What does she need?  Do they need a babysitter for a date night? Do they need some finances for an upcoming trip? If they are attending the state assembly or the annual meeting of the denomination, are the funds provided by the church budget adequate or do they need more? Is the wife going with the pastor? (She should be encouraged to do so, if possible.)  Ask the Holy Spirit what the pastor’s wife (and/or the pastor’s entire family) needs, and if it’s something you an do, do it. If it’s too huge, rally the troops.
5. We owe it to the pastor and his wife to speak up.  Sometimes, they need a friend to take their side.  If your pastor’s wife has a ministry in the church, look for people to criticize her for: a) dominating others, b) neglecting her home or c) running the whole show. To some, she cannot do anything right.  You be the one to voice appreciation for her talents and abilities, her love for the Lord, and her particular skills that make this ministry work.  Imagine yourself standing in a church business meeting to mention something the pastor’s wife did that blessed someone, that made a difference, that glorified the Lord.  Imagine yourself planning in advance what you will say, asking the moderator (who is frequently the pastor) for a moment for ‘a personal privilege,’ without telling him in advance.   And, imagine yourself informing a couple of your best friends what you are planning to do, so they can be prepared to stand up ‘spontaneously’ and begin the ovation. (Hey, sometimes our people have to be taught to do these things!)  The typical reaction most church members give when someone is criticizing the pastor’s wife is silence. But you speak up. Take up for her.  Praise God for her willingness to get involved, to not sit at home in silence, but to support her husband and bless the church.
6. We owe them protection for the pastor’s off-days and vacations.  After my third pastorate, I joined the staff of the great First Baptist Church of Jackson, Miss., and quickly made an outstanding discovery. The personnel policies stipulated that the church office would be closed on Saturdays and the ministers were expected to enjoy the day with their families.  Furthermore, when the church gave a minister several weeks of vacation, it was understood at least two full weeks of it would be spent with the family in rest and recreation and not in ministry somewhere. As one who took off-days reluctantly and would not allow myself to relax and rest during vacations, I needed this to be spelled out in official policy.  When a pastor is being interviewed for the position and when he is new, he should make plain that his off-days are sacred. The ministerial and office staffs can see that he is protected.  The lay leadership can make sure the congregation knows this time is just as holy to the Lord as the time he spends in the office, the hospitals or even the pulpit.
7. We owe them the same thing we owe the Lord: faithful obedience to Christ.  Pastors will tell you in a heartbeat that the best gift anyone can give them is just to live the Christian life faithfully.   When our members do that – when they live like Jesus and strive to know Him better, to love one another, to pray and give and serve – ten thousand problems in relationships disappear.
     “Finally, a word to the pastor’s wife …It’s my observation that most wives of ministers feel inadequate. They want to do the right thing, to manage their households well and support their husbands, keep a clean house, sometimes accompany him on his ministries, and such, but there are only so many hours in a day and so much strength in this young woman. She feels guilty for being tired, and worries that she is inadequate.  The Apostle Paul may have had pastors’ wives in mind when he said, ‘Not that we are adequate to think anything of ourselves, but our adequacy is of God.’ We are inadequate. None of us is worthy or capable of this incredible calling from God.  We must abide in Him or nothing about our lives will go right.  One thing more, pastor’s wife: Find other wives of ministers and encourage them. The young ones in particular have a hard time of it, with the children, the young husband, the demanding congregation and sometimes, Lord help us, even an outside job.  Invite a couple of these women for tea or coffee. Have no agenda other than getting to know one another.  See what happens.”

Autopsy of a Dying Church

I lifted this from my friend, Charles Wood’s “The Woodchuck’s Den” from today.  It is a review of a new Thom Ranier book on churches that are dying.  I thought his main points were SPOT ON.  I’ve seen this up close and personally in more cases that I want to remember.  Well worth the few moments it takes to read it:

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Thom Ranier, is now CEO of Lifeway, the publication arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. He formerly taught at Southern Seminary at Louisville and is highly regarded as both a leader and thinker. The introduction and main points are his. All that is added in italics after the main points must be blamed on me. It’s long, but many pastors of smaller or traditional churches really need to read it.
“I was their church consultant in 2003. The church’s peak attendance was 750 in 1975. By the time I got there the attendance had fallen to an average of 83. The large sanctuary seemed to swallow the relatively small crowd on Sunday morning. The reality was that most of the members did not want me there. They were not about to pay a consultant to tell them what was wrong with their church. Only when a benevolent member offered to foot my entire bill did the congregation grudgingly agree to retain me.

    “I worked with the church for three weeks. The problems were obvious; the solutions were difficult. On my last day, the benefactor walked me to my rental car. ‘What do you think, Thom?’ he asked. He could see the uncertainty in my expression, so he clarified. ‘How long can our church survive?’ I paused for a moment, and then offered the bad news. ‘I believe the church will close its doors in five years.’ I was wrong. The church closed just a few weeks ago. Like many dying churches, it held on to life tenaciously. This church lasted ten years after my terminal diagnosis. My friend from the church called to tell me the news. I took no pleasure in discovering that not only was my diagnosis correct, I had mostly gotten right all the signs of the impending death of the church. Together my friend and I reviewed the past ten years. I think we were able to piece together a fairly accurate autopsy. Here are eleven things I learned

1. The church refused to look like the community. The community began a transition toward a lower socioeconomic class thirty years ago, but the church members had no desire to reach the new residents. The congregation thus became an island of middle-class members in a sea of lower-class residents. They should have either moved or committed to reaching the community as it was becoming – in reality they became what many smaller churches actually are – a commuter church.
2. The church had no community-focused ministries. This part of the autopsy may seem to be stating the obvious, but I wanted to be certain. My friend affirmed my suspicions. There was no attempt to reach the community. Probably because many of the members showed the shallowness of their Christianity by holding themselves to be “better” than the riff-raff among whom they were located.
3. Members became more focused on memorials. And memories. The point is that the memorials became an obsession at the church. More and more emphasis was placed on the past. The people were focused on a past that really never was and could never be again even if it actually was what they dream of. When the older people were in the prime of life, it was wonderful so the real desire was to go back to having a church like that.
4. The percentage of the budget for members’ needs kept increasing. At the church’s death, the percentage was over 98 percent. Well, we have to take care of our own, don’t we?
5. There were no evangelistic emphases. When a church loses its passion to reach the lost, the congregation begins to die. An annual “evangelistic meeting (where almost all those who attend are saved folks who don’t even know any unsaved person to invite).
6. The members had more and more arguments about what they wanted. Oops, no one read even the first line of The Purpose -driven Life – it’s not all about you. In reality it did become all about them, and you can find this attitude among the older element of many other churches., Don’t bother me with what I can do for the church; concentrate on what the church can do for me – after all I am retired. As the church continued to decline toward death, the inward focus of the members turned caustic. Arguments were more frequent; business meetings became more acrimonious.
7. With few exceptions, pastoral tenure grew shorter and shorter. The church had seven pastors in its final ten years. The last three pastors were bi-vocational. All of the seven pastors left discouraged. It became what we sometimes call a “pastoral grave-yard” or a good place to “run out the string until eligible for Social Security.
8. The church rarely prayed together. In its last eight years, the only time of corporate prayer was a three-minute period in the Sunday worship service. Prayers were always limited to members, their friends and families, and their physical needs. It became more important to pray people out of heaven than to pray sinners out of hell.
9. The church had no clarity as to why it existed. There was no vision, no mission, and no purpose. Don’t bother asking some traditional churches to see their vision or purpose statement; they don’t have one. One of the nice things about having no goals is that you never miss meeting a goal you don’t have.
10. The members idolized another era. All of the active members were over the age of 67 the last six years of the church. And they all remembered fondly, to the point of idolatry, was the era of the 1970s. They saw their future to be returning to the past. I mentioned this above, but I am convinced that a lot of the problems churches have with older members when they try to move into the present Century revolves around this point.
11. The facilities continued to deteriorate. It wasn’t really a financial issue. Instead, the members failed to see the continuous deterioration of the church building. Simple stated, they no longer had ‘outsider eyes.’ You don’t have to tell me when a church was built or last renovated; I can see it with my own eyes on just a single visit. The old cry of, ‘We don’t need an architect,’ was not only wrong but also created some jumbled monstrosities that are almost impossible to correct. Let’s face it, the unsaved, especially the younger ones, are not attracted to a church that looks like June Cleaver’s kitchen.

“Though this story is bleak and discouraging, we must learn from such examples. As many as 100,000 churches in America could be dying. Their time is short, perhaps less than ten years.”

Why do Churches Struggle?

I lifted the following from and article in my friend’s, Chuck Wood, daily missive. (The Woodchuck’s Den — to subscribe, write lorchuck@aol.com and tell them that Dan Burrell sent you!)

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    We hear a great deal about the growing churches with that growth measured in a variety of ways (honest, believe me, there is such a thing as growth without significant numerical increase). What we don’t hear much about is the churches that are either stuck on a plateau or actually declining (I hate to use the term “dying” although it is appropriate in some situations).

    Chuck Lawless is a prof at Southeastern Seminary at Winston-Salem. He formerly taught at Louisville, and he has carried on an extensive ministry of church consulting over the last several years. He has drawn up a list of ten factors that he has found present in most cases of stagnation or decline (or even failure to grow). Thom Ranier (well-know as CEO of Lifeway) has published Chuck’s findings on one of his blogs. Even if your work is exceeding your expectations or going very well, I think you would benefit from giving this list careful attention. 


“I love the local church. It’s God’s church, despite its flaws. For ten years, I’ve had the privilege of consulting with churches seeking to grow. Here are my reflections of those years – one reflection for each year. If you’re a pastor in a struggling church, be sure to read to the end. I think you’ll find hope there.


1. Churches often wait too long to address decline. Some churches don’t do regular checkups, and thus they have no means of knowing they’re sick. Others recognize the symptoms but choose to ignore them. By the time they admit decline, the pattern is so entrenched that reversing the trend is not easy.


2. Statistics really are helpful. I realize that numbers can become an idol—and that we must fight against—but numbers do tell us something. Most often, they tell us to ask more “why” questions. Why has the church declined in attendance for five years? Why did the church reach 50 people last year, but attendance grew by only fifteen? Why has worship attendance in the second service plateaued?


3. Prayer in unhealthy churches is reactive rather than proactive. A problem develops, and then the church members pray. A marriage struggles, and then they pray. A young person wanders, and then the church prays. Prayer in an unhealthy congregation is often a response of desperation rather than a marker of the DNA of the church.


4. Churches often settle for numerical growth rather than life transformation. Churches may want to grow, but they seldom evaluate the source of the growth. If the church increases in number at all—even if the growth comes only by believers transferring membership from another local church—the church is satisfied. Few churches evaluate how many non-believers are converted through their ministry.


5. Churches do not know their community. As part of our consultation we would do a demographic study of a church’s ministry area and then ask the leaders to describe their community prior to their seeing the study. Frankly, I’m amazed by how many church leaders were not aware of the demographics of their ministry field. They often lived among a people they do not know.


6. Most churches aren’t ready for conversion growth if God were to send it. The biblical call to make disciples demands a discipleship strategy (Matt. 28:18-20), but few churches have one. They do not have the “nursery” of discipleship ready for baby Christians. Seemingly, they assume new believers will grow simply by showing up each week.


7. Sometimes the most obvious suggestions seem the most revolutionary. Church leaders struggling to overcome decline are so close to the situation they often miss the most obvious corrections. Preach the Word with power and enthusiasm. Train members to do evangelism. Minister in the community. Pray for neighbors and co-workers. Develop a mentoring discipleship program. Do worship well. Going back to the basics is often a first step toward renewed church health.


8. The leader in the pulpit matters. Never have I seen a church reverse a decline when led by a pastor uncommitted to the hard work of turning around a congregation. If he has already mentally and emotionally “checked out,” he won’t fool the church for long. On the other hand, a broken pastor who longs and prays for God to move mightily can see a congregation change.


9. In most churches, somebody wants the congregation to make an eternal difference. I’ve never seen a church so unhealthy that nobody was seeking God and His power. The good news here is that just a few people can ignite a renewal fire in a local church. Somebody sees in faith what God might do, and he/she can be a significant support for the pastor.


10. God is still growing His church. I’ve worked with churches that, to be frank, I thought would never grow. Churches so divided that their communities know them as a combat zone seldom give you hope for Great Commission growth. Nevertheless, I’ve seen God work miracles by restoring unity, strengthening and refocusing leaders, and sending members into the community to share the gospel.


    Only God can turn around a church. He has in the past, and He may well do so in your church today.”

Lonely People in Church Pews

My dear friend, Charles Wood (catch his blog, “The Woodchuck’s Den” in my sidebar of recommended blogs) wrote a thought-provoking and emotional article recently that I thought I’d share with my readers.  I hope it changes the way we view people in our own churches.

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Recently, an email from my Brother, Bud, put me in a “nostalgia” mode.  I am old enough now that I think I can get away with some story telling (Jesus did it all the time), and his email took me back to my childhood.  What immediately follows is the result of my thinking about some of the good times of my early life, but it has pertinence to our day and special relevance to the subject of compassion about which I wrote yesterday.
We grew up in First Baptist of Hackensack, N. J.  The church has been known in modern times as the place where Dr. Joseph M. Stowell Sr. was pastor for many years, and he came when I was a young teen.  His predecessor, Dr. Harry C. Leach, was pastor for about thirty years (if my memory serves me correctly) and did a marvelous job as the Hackensack church was one of the largest in the area long before anyone thought of a bus ministry.  Pastor Leach was the one who first stirred the idea of ministry in my heart (and Dr. Stowell helped to fan that spark into flame).  Pastor Leach was a good and a godly man.  For years, if I closed my eyes and thought of God, I saw his face.

The Leaches had started out as missionaries to Burma (again, I hope my memory is correct) but came back to the States because of health issues in the family.  They had four children: Edward. Ava, Virginia and Marion.  I don’t have any recollection of Edward other than that he died quite young.  Ava and Ginny married pastors who ended up in the Southern Baptist Convention, but Marion stayed single.  She was competent and efficient and became what we would call an Administrative Assistant to her father.

What Bud told me that I didn’t know was that Marion wrote a book, Crowded Pews; Lonely People.  I don’t know at what point in her life she wrote it, but I have no doubt is was somewhat born of her experiences of being a single woman in the context of a local church where most of the women were married.  Commenting on the book, Bud said, “One of the loneliest places in the world is in the pew at church. I have been there many times and know too much about that

subject.”  Tragically, I think this is an all-too-familiar experience for many people.

What a contrast between that overly familiar experience and what Loraine found as a widow.  She was a youthful fifty-six when O. J. died, and she had just moved back to Michigan after living in California for thirteen years.  She decided to attend a church she had not attended before, and I think she somewhat dreaded being in church alone.  But she wasn’t alone, as one individual and several other people determined that she would not be.  Elly Gale and her great husband, Rod, decided to “adopt” her and make sure she had friends.  A “small group” encircled her with love (and even came to South Bend after we were married to be sure that she was in a good place and being treated right).  Elly allowed her to talk with Rod when she needed advice or a man’s viewpoint and never showed even a trace of jealousy, and he was incredibly helpful to Loraine with solid advice and godly wisdom. 

    
Nice story, huh?  But how does it apply?  In several ways:

First, there are lonely, hurting people right around you in your own church.  Second, single women should be objects of love and care, not the butt of snide ”old maid” jokes.  Third, the Bible makes a special case for the special care of widows, Fourth, why not make a point of discovering someone in your church who is lonely and “adopting” them into your life and family?  (Ladies, if you can’t allow your husband to be a Biblical friend to a widow, you’ve got a problem).  Finally, don’t assume that because someone seems to be doing, or says, he or she is ok, that they are being truthful. I’ve learned over the years how to cover a lot of pain and internal struggle (after all the pastor just has to “keep a stiff upper lip”).  I assume there are many others who have done the same.  Maybe we ought to simply offer a word of encouragement instead of asking people how they are doing.

Dr. Charles Wood

From the REALLY, REALLY Bad Theology Department….

The whole Rob Bell/Mars Hill/Love Wins saga just keeps unfolding with layer after layer of bad theology.  Now the Teaching Pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church, Shane Hipps, has made a public statement that just defies logic, rules of hermenuetics and exigesis and quite a bit of common sense.  Get a load of this…

     “There is a lot of talk these days about heaven and hell. Recently, a handful of best-selling books have been published on this topic (23 Minutes in Hell, Erasing Hell, Heaven Is for Real, God Wins). Some of these are in direct response to Rob Bell’s book Love Wins (incidentally and ironically, a book almost entirely concerned with this life, not the next one).
     “As a Christian who believes in the Bible and Jesus, I have found the intensity and certainty of the debate all very bizarre. It’s strange that so much passion and ink has been spilled over something that is all speculation.
     “Here’s what I mean: If you died, took pictures, and came back to life again, then you would know with certainty what happens after death. Of course, you would only know what happens to you, not everyone else. But if you haven’t died, you can only speculate about what happens to you and everyone else.
     “This speculation is perfectly fine. As long as we recognize these are only our beliefs. And beliefs by nature are not certain; they are faith based assumptions. That’s what makes them beliefs. Once you can prove them, they are no longer beliefs; they become a kind of knowing. And the funny thing is once you know, you don’t need to debate anymore.
     “I have never died, so I don’t have a theological position on heaven or hell. I can only entertain theological possibilities. There is a big difference.
     “I take a position when I know something with certainty. Almost always through direct experience. If someone pinches me, I don’t believe they pinched me. I know it. I experienced it. It doesn’t reside somewhere in my head. Nothing to debate. It happened.
     “I consider a possibility when it’s something I don’t know. This is something I merely believe. Either because someone I trust told me, or the Bible seems to say it, or reason supports it. But until I’ve experienced it, this is only something I believe– a possibility. And possibilities should be held with an open hand, perhaps with some humility and even humor. Who knows, I could be wrong about what I believe?
     “Now having said this, I’m only aware of one person who died, and I mean really died, like three days dead, and came back to life again. His name was Jesus. Upon his return from the dead, he didn’t believe anymore; now he knew. So if I wanted some indication about what happens after I die, I should probably pay attention to what he said after he came back from the dead.
     “Here’s what he said about heaven and hell after his resurrection. Nothing. Nada. Zip.
     “What did he talk about? Here’s just a sampling: He tells his disciples to make students of him (Mt 28:16), to share the good news of liberation in this life (Mk 16:9-20). He says, “Peace be with you,” and “I’m hungry.” (Lk 24:36-41) He says, “Receive the holy breath; now you can forgive sins.” (Jn 20:22) He says, “It’s me, really, touch my side” (Jn 20:27), and “The fishing is better on the right side of the boat.” (Jn 21:6) He says “Let’s eat” (Jn 21), “Feed my sheep; now follow me” (Jn 21:18-20), and “Stop worrying about the future and the fate of other people; just follow me.” (Jn 21:22; Acts 1:7-8)
     “Not exactly a systematic theology of the afterlife. Mostly, it’s a repeated invitation to trust and follow him and not worry about the future. Apparently, he is also hungry a lot. If anyone had the authority and credibility to provide a coherent-once-and-for-all description of exactly what happens after you die, it would be Jesus upon his return from beyond the beyond. But he didn’t. He didn’t even seem all that interested.
     “If it were important to him, you’d think he would have written a book about it. Or preached a sermon or two. But he didn’t. After Jesus rose from the dead, he spends his time talking about this life.  It would seem Jesus is more concerned with this life than the next. Perhaps we should be, too.  We only get one, and it’s short.”  (HT: Charles Wood)

If you want a good rebuttal to “Love Wins” try this E-Book written by my pastor, Dr. Bobby Conway — “Hell, Rob Bell and What Happens When You Die”

At Last! Charles Wood Launches His Blog – The Woodchuck’s Den

I’ve been nagging my friend and mentor, Dr. Charles Wood, for years about turning his huge archive of articles that he has written over the years into a blog.  For some reason known only to him, he has resisted.  To me, it’s been like having a library behind lock and key.  Finally, the doors have been opened and all can enter!

Dr. Wood is a “semi-retired” pastor who is still a prolific writer, sometimes guest speaker, occasional adjunct professor, an expert on stamp collecting and one of the few men I’ve ever had in my life who put up with incessant questioning and probing and other flaws and listened, counseled and let me vent.  Truly one of the most influential men I’ve had speak into my life during my adult ministry.  He is a friend, father figure and a real “hoot” if you hang around him much.

Do yourself a favor and bookmark his blog website and then return to it often.  Read the past articles.  Send him questions and ideas — he might even write on them sometime.  I can’t recommend him more highly — he is truly a treasure!

You’ll find his blog link in my blogroll or you can go to it directly HERE.

Charles Wood: Interesting Thoughts from an Unexpected Source

Many of my blog readers know that I’ve been blessed over the years by my friendship with Charles Wood.  He puts out a little daily missive called, “The Woodchuck’s Den” that I consider one of the few “must reads” in my life.  I’ve tried, without success, over the years to get him to put his thoughts on a daily blog.  So, from time to time, I repost one of his issues here.  This one was particularly good.  (If you’d like to get these in your own email box, write him at LORCHUCK@aol.com.  Tell him that I recommended that you get on his list.)    

From the Woodchuck’s Den — June 8, 2011

From time to time I come upon an article or lengthy quotation that doesn’t rally fit into what I am dealing with at that particular time.  I usually copy such into an internet file for later use.  I was going through that file recently when I came upon an article so compelling that I felt I needed to take time – right now – to deal with it.  The source is self-explanatory but not really what one would expect from someone associated with that particular publication.

“It is well and good for the preacher to base his sermon on the Bible, but he better get to something relevant pretty quickly, or we start mentally to check out.” That stunningly clear sentence reflects one of the most amazing, tragic, and lamentable characteristics of contemporary Christianity — an impatience with the Word of God.

The sentence above comes from Mark Galli, senior managing editor of Christianity Today in an essay entitled “Yawning at the Word.” In just a few hundred words, he captures the tragedy of a church increasingly impatient with and resistant to the reading and preaching of the Bible. We may wince when we read him relate his recent experiences, but we also recognize the ring of truth.

Galli was told to cut down on the biblical references in his sermon. “You’ll lose people,” the staff member warned. In a Bible study session on creation, the teacher was requested to come back the next Sunday prepared to take questions at the expense of reading the relevant scriptural texts on the doctrine. Cutting down on the number of Bible verses “would save time and, it was strongly implied, would better hold people’s interest.”

As Galli reflected, “Anyone who’s been in the preaching and teaching business knows these are not isolated examples but represent the larger reality.”  Indeed, in many churches there is very little reading of the Bible in worship, and sermons are marked by attention to the congregation’s concerns – not by an adequate attention to the biblical text. The exposition of the Bible has given way to the concerns, real or perceived, of the listeners. The authority of the Bible is swallowed up in the imposed authority of congregational concerns.

As Mark Galli notes: It has been said to the point of boredom that we live in a narcissistic age, where we are wont to fixate on our needs, our wants, our wishes, and our hopes—at the expense of others and certainly at the expense of God. We do not like it when a teacher uses up the whole class time presenting her material, even if it is material from the Word of God. We want to be able to ask our questions about our concerns, otherwise we feel talked down to, or we feel the class is not relevant to our lives.  It is well and good for the preacher to base his sermon on the Bible, but he better get to something relevant pretty quickly, or we start mentally to check out. Don’t spend a lot of time in the Bible, we tell our preachers, but be sure to get to personal illustrations, examples from daily life, and most importantly, an application that we can use.

The fixation on our own sense of need and interest looms as the most significant factor in this marginalization and silencing of the Word. Individually, each human being in the room is an amalgam of wants, needs, intuitions, interests, and distractions. Corporately, the congregation is a mass of expectations, desperate hopes, consuming fears, and impatient urges. All of this adds up, unless countered by the authentic reading and preaching of the Word of God, to a form of group therapy, entertainment, and wasted time — if not worse.

Galli has this situation clearly in his sights when he asserts that many congregations expect the preacher to start from some text in the Bible, but then quickly move on “to things that really interest us.” Like . . . ourselves.

One of the earliest examples of what we would call the preaching of the Bible may well be found in Nehemiah 8:1-8: Ezra and his companions stood on a platform before the congregation. They read the scriptural text clearly, and then explained the meaning of the Scripture to the people. The congregation received the Word humbly, while standing. The pattern is profoundly easy to understand — the Bible was read and explained and received.

As Hughes Oliphant Old comments, “This account of the reading of the Law indicates that already at the time of the writing of this text there was a considerable amount of ceremonial framing of the public reading of Scripture. This ceremonial framing is a witness to the authority of the Bible.” The reading and exposition took place in a context of worship as the people listened to the Word of God. The point of the sermon was simple — “to make clear the reading of the Scriptures.”

In many churches, there is almost no public reading of the Word of God. Worship is filled with music, but congregations seem disinterested in listening to the reading of the Bible. We are called to sing in worship, but the congregation cannot live only on the portions of Scripture that are woven into songs and hymns. Christians need the ministry of the Word as the Bible is read before the congregation and God’s people — young and old, rich and poor, married and unmarried, sick and well — hear it together. The sermon is to consist of the exposition of the Word of God, powerfully and faithfully read, explained, and applied. It is not enough that the sermon take a biblical text as its starting point.

How can so many of today’s churches demonstrate what can only be described as an impatience with the Word of God? The biblical formula is clear — the neglect of the Word can only lead to disaster, disobedience, and death. God rescues his church from error, preserves his church in truth, and propels his church in witness only by his Word — not by congregational self-study.
In the end, an impatience with the Word of God can be explained only by an impatience with God. We — both individually and congregationally — neglect God’s Word to our own ruin.

As Jesus himself declared, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Let me repeat, I didn’t write the above, although it expresses so much of my own personal thinking that I wish I had (or almost feel as if I did).  We are called upon the preach the Word.  What passes for obedience to that command in many conservative evangelical and fundamentalist churches hardly fills the bill.  I don’t get to hear much preaching outside our local church (and I’ve expressed many times my consistent satisfaction with that), but some of what little I hear leaves me cold.  A test was taken, there was a long discourse, and then there was a closing prayer. The only thing missing was a sermon based upon the Word of God.

Personal opinion, anecdotes, illustrations, the most recent findings of those who work with “human personality and its needs,” quotations from various sources and a ton of what I call “fresh fish filler” filled the time (and about bored me to death).  I never considered myself to be an outstanding preacher, but I always sought to submit my finished work (before it was preached) to a three-fold test: What does the Bible say?  What does the Bible mean?  How does the Bible apply?  When I couldn’t answer one or more of those questions, it was back to the old drawing board.

So many times over the years, I have heard even earnest, though-provoking, Biblical messages that left me flat because I could answer one simple question to my own satisfaction – so what?  May God help those of us who teach and preach heed the words of Mark Galli.

Of Elders and Deacons

 Recently, my friend Charles Wood, has been discussing church governance from a Biblical perspective in his daily “Woodchuck’s Den” that he sends out by email.  (Why he will not blog these wonderful articles is beyond me! –hint, hint.)  Apparently, his pastor, John Blodgett, of the First Baptist Church of Elkhart, Indiana, recently preached on the topic as well and he reproduced an outline.  As I read it, I was struck by how closely this aligns with the view that I hold.  Pastor Blodgett gives credit to John Piper for helping him reach his conclusion and I must admit that I have been influenced by several academic friends who have done research on elders and Baptist history and by John MacArthur, myself.

I took both of the churches I pastored through the transition from using deacons as a quasi-”Board of Directors” model to what I believe is the more Biblical model of using elder leadership (both vocational and non-vocational — as in pastors and lay members that both meet the Biblical criteria.)  In hindsight now, I can honestly say that I anticipated and looked forward to the elder meetings in my churches and I dreaded with a passion many of the deacons meetings.  I hold fast to the opinion that having an elder board is important for any pastor to help him avoid an autocratic style of leadership that may swing toward dictatorship.  At the same time, elders who understand their Biblical role and mandate, understand that God does generally use a single elder to provide the vision and direction of the ministry with the plurality of elders and thta he will generally serve as the primary voice from the pulpit.  Other elders will use their spiritual gifts in areas in which the pastor may not be as gifted like finances, administration, etc…  Ideally, the elders work in a spirit of unanimity and proceed with much consideration of Scripture, prayer and a spirit of humility and transparency.  I vowed that I would never push the church forward on a matter without the unanimous support of those that sat on the elder board.

Both of the elder boards at the churches I pastored were men of exceptional spiritual depth and maturity.  I have not a single regret about any lay elder that we selected to serve our church by providing leadership in either place.  (I cannot say the same for every “staff” elder and that may lead to a different commentary on Biblical qualifications for pastoral/vocational/elder leadership within a church.)  If I were in either church today, I would want the exact same lay elders to give me guidance and counsel.

The elder board approach is still in place in my first church and functions wonderfully from all that I can tell.  The church has more than tripled in size and scope since I was there, so I assume there may be a few more than we had while I was the Senior Pastor, but it worked.  The deacons moved away from management (and micromanagement) and worked as servants and assistants and some have and will eventually become elders themselves as their gifts matured.

In my second church, the deacons could not/would not adjust to not being the group “in charge”.  I must take some responsibility for this by possibly moving too quickly (about 5 years) in transitioning to elder leadership.  It was definitely hard for some who had been there a long time to accept and the fact that within hours of my resignation they regained control and abolished the elders is just further evidence of this.  I will say that the lay elders in that congregation were exceptional leaders and good and godly men who met the Biblical qualifications for their office and I believe the church suffered significantly by the loss of their influence in that role, particularly during a time of transition such as they were experiencing.

In the last church where I served as the Executive Pastor rather than the Senior Pastor, there were no lay elders and the church was primarily run by a “finance committee” on which many did not meet even the most basic requirements for being a deacon.  On top of that, the deacon board was largely kept in the dark about most issues and had a habit of rubber stamping decisions (if they were even given that opportunity) by the finance committee without having been directly involved in the process.  The authority of the deacon board was largely an illusion and the ones with real authority/power, were the ones who served on both the deacon board and the finance committee.  Hardly a Biblical model.  (I would add here that in each case, there were a few “deacons” who would point to the “by-laws” for their authority rather than what the Scriptures said.  In one meeting I had a deacon directly say to me, “I know what the Bible says, but the by-laws say THIS is the way we are to do it and that’s how we need to do it.”  I have found that any time you come to a business meeting and someone has a copy of the by-laws in his/her hands, you can expect a rumble before the evening is over.)

In the 20+ years that have passed from which I began pastoring, a fresh look at the offices of deacon and elder has begun taking place in many evangelical churches generally and in Baptist church specifically.  I believe this is a great idea.

I would recommend Strauch’s book on Eldership if you have questions about the Biblical foundation for elder participation in church governance.  I am not a Presbyterian and not moving into the direction.  I do not specifically identify myself as a “reformed” Baptist and I don’t wear the tag “Calvinist”, though I don’t summarily reject all that they believe and in fact, embrace some facets of it.  But wherever one stands on church polity, one would be wise to examine the arguments, study the Scriptures and be able to defend their own position using Scripture — not tradition.

Take a moment and review the outline below and prayerfully study the Scriptures attached to the positions and principles discussed.

Church Offices and Leadership Structure by Pastor John Blodgett

1.  What is the nature of the church?
A. The church is a family – I Jn. 3:1
B. The family needs structure – God’s structure for leadership is elders and deacons
2.  Who is in charge of the church?
A.  The church is under the direct authority of Christ – Eph. 5:23
B.  Some churches have elder rule
1.  The final authority rests with the elders
2.  Our leadership is not promoting elder rule for this congregation
C.  Some churches have congregational rule
1.  This is how our church operates and will continue to operate
2.  Under Christ and His Word, the church settles matters of faith and life
3.  The local church is the final authority in matter of dispute – Mt. 18:15-17
4.   The church settled the dispute in Acts 6:1-6 and selected men who could be put in charge of the widows
5.   Paul instructed the churches in Galatia to reject anyone who taught false doctrine (Gal. 1:6-9)
6.  Paul told the Corinthian church how to act in a discipline situation
(I Cor. 5:2)
7.  Paul told the Corinthians how they were to act as a body toward a sinning brother (2 Cor. 2:6-8)
3.  The local body is to have spiritual leaders – elders
A.  Who are elders?
1.  Elders are spiritual leaders of the congregation who serve as shepherds under the authority of Christ there are both paid and non-paid elders (laymen)
2.  The Bible calls these spiritual leaders: pastors, elders, bishops, and overseers – all of these terms talk about the same office, while describing the work of that office

 B.  What are the spiritual qualifications of elders: I Tim. 3:1-7
C.  What does an elder do?
1.  Elders shepherd and care for the Lord’s church – Acts 20:28
2.  An elder is alert to protect the church from attacks – Acts 20:29-31
3.  Elders lead and direct the church by guiding, not driving – I Pet. 5:3
4.  Elders preach the Word, teach sound doctrine, and refute those who contradict it, ensuring that church doctrine is biblical – I Tim.5:17
5.  Elders moderate and arbitrate in doctrinal and ethical matters -Acts 15:5-6
6.  Elders shepherd the church to spiritual maturity – Eph. 4:11-14
7.  Elders seek to restore the believers who have been overtaken in any sin - Gal. 6:1
8.  Elders exercise a ministry of prayer, especially with regard to the sick -  James 5:13-16
9.  Elders administer in love and humility the process of church discipline as outlined in Mt. 18:15-20
10.  Elders share in the commendation of gifted men, to the work to which God has called them – I Tim. 4:14
11.  Elders care for the souls of people
D. The leadership is proposing that we create an elder council made up of our pastors and qualified lay elders to guide our church in spiritual matters
E.  Why should we have lay elders join our paid elders (pastors)
1.  To provide long-term stability for the church
2.  To allow lay people whom God has gifted to be elders to serve this body and give guidance for its future
3.  To have a group of lay elders who are well trained in the Scriptures to help preserve the doctrinal purity of the church
4.  To have lay elders help care for the spiritual needs of the church
5.   Lay elders will give added insight into the needs of the body – as pastors we need the input and help of lay elders
6.   To allow the deacons to function as deacons in meeting the needs of the body
4. The local church is to have servants – deacons
A.  What is a deacon?
1.  “Deacon” means servant
2.  They are not “second class” leaders; they simply minister to the body differently from the elders
3.  The responsibility of the deacons is to serve the members of the church  Acts 6:1-7
a.  They are to solve problems in the church through their ministry to the body
b.  They are leaders in the church who serve the body in practical ways  handling the finances, the property, membership, helping people in need, solving disputes and problems, caring for the widows, etc.
B.  The character of a deacon – I Tim. 3:8-13

The Problem with Too Many Church Boards…

After what I went through in Miami about 10 – 12 months ago, this article by my dear friend, Charles Wood really struck home with me.  I actually sat through the indignity of having a deacon/finance committee member who was a respected retired colonel in the army say to another deacon in a meeting where I was being micromanaged declare that if I didn’t do what I was told (I was functioning as the interim pastor in everything but title at the time) that he’d “be up [my] a**”.   (And that was only one such example that I experienced there.)

My experience with multiple deacon boards over the years is that too often they want to act like “corporate boards” instead of servant boards.  Of course, Pastors are to blame as well for allowing this to happen as we have failed to teach and organize the church according to Biblical example of administration.  In addition, the constant flow of dishonest, unethical and unbiblical behavior from too many pastors also has driven the credibility of the office of pastor into the ditch and created a spirit of cynicism that sometimes borders on antagonism toward all pastors — even the honest and faithful ones.  I’ll write more on this topic in the future.  I do want to share some of Dr. Wood’s thoughts with you as they are words of wisdom from a veteran pastor and Biblical thinker.

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     The Bible is quite clear that there are two distinct categories of leadership in the local church.  One is elders (which also includes pastors), and the other is deacons.  The qualifications are distinctly different, with those of elders being significantly higher than those for deacon.  Associated with the term elder are such things as decision-making, over-seeing, directing and other policy-setting and direction-determining matters.  Deacons, on the other hand, appear strictly limited to what their name actually means in Greek (deacon is a transliteration rather than a translation of the original language).  The proper translation would be - table servers. Succinctly, in the Biblical pattern, elders deal with authority and its various manifestations; deacons deal with service and its responsibilities.

Somewhere over the years (and this actually predates my ministry), the idea of a plurality of elders disappeared in Baptist and Baptistic churches, with the pastor becoming the single elder in the structure.  This may have been a reaction to the church polity of the Reformed persuasion where elders and even elder governance is either established practice or very prominent, but I really don’t know enough of the history to declare that with any measure of authority.  I do know that for many decades, the prevailing structure on the Baptist side of the issue was pastoral leadership and congregational governance.

Gradually over time, however, a change took place in that deacons began to be  elevated (or to elevate themselves ) to elders and essentially granted all the prerogatives and responsibilities of that position without any change of name..  In many, if not most, Baptistic churches, deacons are still called deacons, but they operate as if they were elders.  My earliest denominational associations were with the GARBC, where the pattern was “deacon run churches.”  Actually, what had taken place in most of those churches is that the deacons had arrogated to themselves (or been assigned by pastors or congregations) a position that was not theirs and to which they had no right.

This won’t rank as “sour grapes” as I never experienced it, but there was a tendency for the deacons (now actually serving in the roles of elders) to assert authority that the Bible never assigned them and even to taking over and running the church, thus ignoring the congregation and rendering the pastor little more than their “hired hand.”  This transition was made even worse and even more anti-Biblical in that many of the men now acting as elders were not even Biblically qualified to be deacons.  Many such churches saw little, if any growth and development unless they had a pastor who happened to be a man of great strength, patience and ability to handle rebellion.

As a result, we have countless situations in which men who are not elders (and often not qualified to be such) viewing themselves as elders and even taking upon themselves the “responsibility” of telling the pastor what to do and how to do it.  In three of my pastorates, I experienced the complications of making this switch that the Bible never authorized or even envisioned.  In one church, the men involved were mostly men who would have qualified as elders anyway, in a second, the men made no attempt of any kind to give me anything but requested advice and prayer support, and in the third (and this just involved a handful of men), I simply ignored them and did what I believed the Lord would have done in most situations, but the “role change without a name change” caused trouble and consumed time that should have been devoted to other things)..

There is a relatively simple solution to this long-festering problem, but the first step may be the most difficult.  There needs to be careful, Biblically-supported preaching on God’s order for the church with a clear emphasis on the difference between elders and deacons and the roles of each.  Then, in the average church, the pastor can take about two-thirds of the description of the deacons in the church constitution, change the name of the category to elders and go about seeing to it by whatever means best or necessary that elders be selected, affirmed, etc., to do the work of elders and that deacons be required to do the Biblical work of deacons.  There would likely be a lot of screeching and screaming, but in the end, most of the self-appointed elders would either settle down or leave, new men could be appointed to do the actual work of the deacons, and the church might well take a giant leap forward in a variety of areas.  At least there would be some attention paid to the Biblical work of deacons.  Church politicians rarely have much, if any, concern for the poor, the sick, the needy and hurting.  Seeking power and control are hardly indications of the kind of compassion that the leaders of God’s church are supposed to exhibit.

[Lest this and other articles I have written lately be misunderstood, I am still deeply committed to strong pastoral leadership.  I do not believe that the pastor should be a dictator, have absolute power or bypass the will of the congregation on most important decisions.  I don’t even believe that the elders are to be an “accountability group” for the pastor - his accountability is to God, and he had better remember that.  I believe the elders should serve as counselors and advisors, to be those in whom he can confide when he needs a listening ear, those who can help him decide which matters and issues need to be brought to the congregation, etc.  I cannot conceive of myself acting against the best judgement of a group of godly men, but I would have no compunction whatever about doing so if I were convinced that the path I was following was one chosen of the Lord.  I think the congregation should vote on most matters of importance (if they are going to pay for it, they at least ought to have some say regarding it).  I believe the deacons should deal with benevolence and with those practices and concerns which would contribute to a church being known as a community and a place where there is genuine love and unity..  I don’t sense that I have made any basic changes in regard to what is discussed in this paragraph.]

- Dr. Charles Wood; South Bend, IN

Thought-Provoking

I’m on vacation for a couple of weeks and not writing much, but I read a tidbit in my friend, Charles Wood’s, daily missive and thought it worth reprinting here.  Take a moment and look at it…

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     A valued fried passed this article along to me, and I thought it made a point so valid that I ought to share it with my readers.
“A week or two ago I was sent an article.  It raised a question that is changing some of my thinking. He says that earlier in his life he taught in a ministry school where his students were truly hungry for God. He quoted a statement to describe the history of Christianity; it goes like this:
“Christianity started in Palestine as a fellowship; it moved to Greece and became a philosophy; it moved to Italy and became an institution; it moved to Europe and became a culture; it came to America and became an enterprise adding that an enterprise was a business.
“After a few moments Martha, an 18 year old, the youngest student in the class, raised her hand. Acknowledging her she asked, ‘A business? But isn’t it supposed to be a body?’ I responded in the affirmative. She continued, ‘But when a body becomes a business, isn’t that a prostitute?’

    “The room went dead silent. For several seconds no one moved or spoke. We were stunned, afraid to make a sound because the presence of God had flooded into the room, and we knew we were on holy ground. All I could think in those sacred moments was, ‘I have never thought of that.’ But I didn’t dare say anything at that moment. God had taken over the class.

    “This question is changing my life. ‘When a body becomes a business, isn’t that a prostitute?’ There is only one answer to her question and that is ‘Yes.’
“The American Church , tragically, is heavily populated by people who do not love God. How can we love Him? We don’t even really know Him. Too many Church people have come to God because of what they were told He would do for us. They were promised that He would bless them in life and take them to heaven after death. They have made the Kingdom of God into a business, merchandising His anointing. This should not be.

    ” We are commanded to love God and are called to be the Bride of Christ–that’s pretty intimate stuff. We are supposed to be His lovers. How can we love someone we don’t even know?
“Are we lovers or prostitutes? A lover does what she does because she loves, but a prostitute pretends to love only as long as it pays. I wonder what would happen if God stopped paying us. What if he stopped blessing with what we want when we want it?
God does bless us with the gifts of a loving Father. The issue here is the condition of the heart. Do I question God when I am not healed? Do I think if I just had more faith I could force him to do what I desire?! Without faith we cannot please God, but why do we want to please God? To be blessed or because we want to be a joy to him?!
“‘Oh, My Lord, forgive my presumptions upon you. I love you and do not want to be a prostitute but a lover of you for who you truly are, my lover! Amen.’”