Elderlink Atlanta 2009

April 1, 2009

This past Friday and Saturday I attended the Elderlink program at North Atlanta Church of Christ. I previously attended in 2006, 2007, and 2008. Elderlink is a program of Abilene Christian University, with a mission “to equip, encourage, and link those who lead and serve as elders in churches of Christ.” While officially a ministry of ACU, it is strongly supported by David Libscomb University, and this year’s program included several speakers from Lipscomb.

The theme of this year’s program was spiritual formation. I admit that the term “spiritual formation” makes me twitch just a bit. It just sounds too ecumenical for my tastes. But I also recognize that the Christian life has to be concerned with spiritual growth. I can assure you that what was discussed at this conference was not a watered down ecumenical version of spiritual life.

Randy Harris opened the conference with a challenging picture. Imagine that you are in the pit of despair, lying in fetal position on the floor, feeling spiritually devastated about your life, about the sin that has ensnared you and threatens to ruin your life. You wonder whether you can possibly recover from the spiritual disaster you’ve brought upon yourself. As you lie there with your eyes closed, slowly you open them. Who would you want to see there to help you?

As a shepherd, strive to be the person that this spiritually destitute person wants to see — someone who is trustworthy, who is gentle but firm, who knows how to help a hurting soul and has demonstrated that over and over.

He challenged us to be the person who takes a spiritually hollow, shallow, and lifeless person, and walks alongside them to a better place.

In 1 Kings 18, Elijah found the Israelites wavering between two opinions, with divided loyalties. Would they follow the LORD, or would they follow Baal? Elijah dramatically challenged them about their Baal worship, and God demonstrated his power. As a result, those who previously were wavering between two opinions suddenly started slaughtering priests of Baal — quite a dangerous thing to do, since these were the very priests who served the vengeful queen Jezebel.

As a shepherd, strive to be the kind of leader who turns people from a state of divided loyalties to one of “slaughtering priests of Baal.”

Saturday there were several sessions focused on meditation, silence, and prayer. The general idea was that we need to take time to be silent (no TV, no radio, nothing but us and God). We need that silence, and we need to teach our congregations how to be still and know that the LORD is God (Psalm 46:10)

There was also a panel discussion led by the ministers and elders of a congregation in Indiana. This congregation is doing some remarkable things to serve the poor, working together with other churches in the area (including independent Christian churches). They have a food pantry that serves 400 people every month (in a congregation half that size). An outsider’s donation led to the establishment of a thrift store which serves the poor directly, and provides profits to fund the food pantry and other efforts. Their youth program includes significant numbers of teens from the community, and they make a point of accepting these teens without being judgmental about their less than perfect habits. In all these things, they make it a point to serve the community and to make a difference in it.

In the closeout speech, Randy Harris asked what would be the characteristics an informed outsider would expect to see in people who truly follow Jesus. He proposed the following list:

    1. They would be the least angry, calmest people in the world, because Christians know how the story will turn out in the end.

Mat 5:22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

We live in an angry world. What if Christians refused to get angry? What if we turned the other cheek?

    1. They would care less and less about material things.

Mat 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

  1. They would be less tribal than the rest of the world. Jesus loved sinners, Samaritans, fishermen… in short, all people. His followers would be the same.

Randy’s closing challenge was for leaders to be authentic. What the church needs from its leaders, more than anything else, is for its leaders to be better followers of Jesus. Are there passages we cannot preach with full conviction, because we are not living them out ourselves? More realistically, how many passages can we find that we are fully obeying? We can’t lead others where we aren’t going ourselves.

I’ve just hit a few highlights of the weekend, and I haven’t done justice to the quality and depth of the presentations. Once again, Elderlink hit the nail on the head. I appreciate the high caliber of spiritual leaders they bring each year to teach and inspire a room full of elders. I appreciate the chance to fellowship with elders from many places. Many of these elders take off time from work, drive from multiple states and stay in hotels to attend this event. I cannot imagine why elders in easy driving distance would pass up the opportunity to benefit from such a rich program of spiritual nourishment. It was time well spent.

One comment

  1. […] providing support to elders in churches of Christ.¬† I’ve attended in four previous years, with this year being the […]

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