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ElderLink Atlanta 2008

March 30, 2008

Yesterday my wife and I were blessed to attend ElderLink Atlanta 2008. This has become an annual event hosted at the North Atlanta Church of Christ. Saturday was the third time my wife and I have attended.

The program opened with Earl Lavender speaking on the problem of pain. One of the responsibilities of elders is to prepare the church for suffering. By helping people to glorify God in the midst of suffering, we help them understand the meaning of their trials. Christianity is not always a comfortable life. Paul was willing to share in the suffering of Christ when necessary in order to bring glory to God. We should prepare people so they will be ready when they encounter suffering.

John York spoke about leading relationally rather than judicially. Often elders govern like a supreme court, hearing hard cases and announcing verdicts. In churches of Christ, our view of scripture has been judicial / legal. The hermeneutic “command, example, and necessary inference” is a legal approach to scripture, deriving laws from the text. Instead, we should read the scriptures from a relational perspective. Jesus taught us to pray to “Our Father” in heaven. The concepts of being “In Christ,” “the bride of Christ”, “the body of Christ” etc are all relational concepts, and are central to scripture and to the church. The scriptures emphasize relationship, but taking a legal approach to the scriptures causes us to miss much of that.

During the breakout sessions, I attended the two sessions on how elders should handle sexual abuse cases in the church. Among the shocking statistics we learned, 20% of girls and 18% of boys in the US have been abused sometime in their childhood. There are an estimated 39 million survivors of sexual abuse in America. We learned how one congregation dealt with a sexual abuse situation, including the need to take care of the victim, the victim’s family, the perpetrator, the church, the government, and the church leaders themselves. The sad truth is that we will all probably have to deal with this issue at some point.

John Siburt spoke on the relationship between ministers and elders, and the “tools of the trade” that each group uses to carry out their responsibilties: worship, conversation with scripture, spiritual disciplines, stories (ours and those of others), and relationships.

One of the highlights of the day for me was meeting Jay Guin. I’ve enjoyed reading his blog and comment on it frequently here. Among other things, I learned that I have been pronouncing his name wrong! (it’s pronounced “Gyoo-win” or something close to that, not “Gwin.”) We talked about blogs and opportunities to influence the church toward a better place through writing. I wish we had more time to talk!

I also was blessed to encounter a brother from my college days (just after the earth cooled…) who is now an elder in Raleigh. We had lost contact over the years, and it was great to reconnect. He traveled with another brother we both knew from college, whom I have seen at past ElderLinks. It is encouraging to see what God has done in these brothers’ lives over the years.

I very much appreciate the North Atlanta Church of Christ for hosting this event, and also Abilene Christian University for making this event available. For me, the opportunity to learn from church leaders in other places is invaluable. The mature perspective and practical experience of the speakers at every ElderLink helps me to carry out my responsibilities in a better way. I need a lot more of this kind of thing!

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