Archive for the ‘Elderlink’ Category


Elderlink Atlanta 2011

March 27, 2011

As is our custom, this past Friday and Saturday my wife and I attended the Atlanta Elderlink program  for 2011 at the North Atlanta Church of Christ.  And as always, the program was rich with insights about shepherding God’s people more effectively.

How to Die Happy

Randy Harris started the program on Friday night, offering two principles for success in life at any level.

1) Define success.  In other words, choose the right goal (he used the Greek term “telos”).

2) Choose an appropriate strategy for reaching that goal.

Randy proposed that a possible goal for the church could be subversion, to train the members to implement subversion of the ways of the world in the community around us.  The idea is to go beyond simply living a counter-cultural life (which can be passive and isolationist) and instead to actively inject the Christian lifestyle into the world.  Preparing Christians to carry out this kind of subversion requires developing their critical thinking skills and to understand the ways in which Jesus subverted the world around him.  He suggested that, instead of measuring success through attendance and contribution, we should try measuring the subversion (perhaps by counting acts of subversion that have been carried out).

We may take following Jesus very seriously, but we haven’t been so good at living up to that.  We’re called to be the light of the world, the kind of people who model to the world what Christianity means.  We should just do that, and accept whatever results that brings.

Charles Siburt

A change to the original program was made to allow Charles Siburt to share about his very serious personal health struggles and the lessons he has learned from them.  I will not go into detail about the nature of his sickness.  But the ongoing, life-threatening issues he faces are teaching him lessons about

1) Clarity.  The doctor looked him in the eye and told him the truth.  Faith in God requires us to face the truth squarely, not to deny and pretend.

2) Courage.  Faith isn’t so much about experiencing a miracle. Instead faith is itself the miracle.

3) God Cares.  The song “Be still my soul” has been on his mind lately.

4) Community:  The encouragement of many people is powerful.  God comforted the downcast by sending Titus to Paul. And God has comforted Dr. Siburt through the encouraging words of many people.

The big-picture message of this session was the utter calmness with which Dr. Siburt described his health and his heart at this point in the ordeal.  His strength can be a source of inspiration to anyone striving to overcome a terrible obstacle.

I wish they had told me…

Chris Smith opened the Saturday morning session with some quotes from elders.  He asked them what are the things about the job of an elder that they wish someone had told them before they were appointed.  Here are a few that I caught:

  • “When people disagree they go for the jugular”
  • “People can be cruel”
  • “How far-reaching divorce can be”
  • “I went from being a nobody to a somebody, not ready for that”
  • “Those in crisis expect us to provide them the perfect spiritual lifeboat… if we don’t we’re failing them”
  • “Am I going to let the hardship in the church to dominate my life”
  • “When elders speak, people listen differently”
  • “Be careful, there’s an elder in the room”
  • “People treat you differently”
  • “I would have liked for the people to be different (more spiritual)”
  • “I was unprepared for going home and not being able to talk to wife about things.”
  • “I live in Corinth.”

He pointed out that elders can learn from other elders.  There’s no reason to have to learn every lesson through experience , especially in a crisis.  We can find someone who has dealt with that crisis before, and find out what was the best thing they did; what they wish they had not done;  etc.

He advised us to be prepared for handling a child molestation incident, not waiting until one occurs to figure out how to respond.

We can’t please everyone.  Sometimes we can’t please anyone.  Some people are impossible to please, and this can be divisive.  Identify those people and watch out for what they might do.

He shared that, as a minister, he had been unprepared for how “boring” things can get.  The challenge of delivering an impactful message every Sunday can wear a preacher out.

There is a saying “Ninety percent of life is showing up.”  Similarly, it could be said that 90% of leadership is showing up.  Who you are matters more than what you do.  In difficult times, people are desperate to see a calm, steady, non-anxious presence — someone who can de-escalate things and reassure everyone that things will be ok; someone who is not dysfunctional and will not fall “off the wagon;”  someone who knows a little more than they do.  They need a leader who demonstrates, “I know the way. Follow me.”

Panel discussion and breakout sessions

During the breakout sessions, the attending elders got a chance to interact with the speakers about what they had heard.  In particular, there was a lot of discussion about the “subversion” idea, and how to present that in a way that a congregation could accept it.

There was considerable discussion of the women’s role in the church, a topic that really wasn’t mentioned in the main messages but had been raised in the panel discussion.

Chris Smith advised that, if a congregation likes their minister and wants to keep him for a long time, then do something special, nice, and totally unexpected for them.  As an example he described a vacation that was given to him as a surprise over ten years ago, which he still remembers more than any salary increase along the way.

Leading for the long haul

To avoid burnout as a church leader, Chris Smith advised:

1) Manage yourself.   Take care of your own personal needs.  Don’t rely on someone else to make sure you don’t burn out.

2) Trust is everything.  Build and maintain trust between leaders in the church.  The way to build trust is to act in a trustworthy manner.   Visit at the hospital.  Show up at funerals.  Be there (literally) in a crisis.  Doing those things builds trust. People don’t forget those things.

3) Do not misplace your heart.  Beware of becoming cynical as you deal with the most serious spiritual issues in the church.   Sometimes you have to “bring the hammer.”  If you never have a hard talk, you are surely overlooking sin.  On the other hand, you need to be full of grace.  Instead of being “done with” the repeat violator, be the one who is always ready to offer a new start.

4) It is God’s church.  God loves his church more than I do, and will love it after I’m dead and gone.  Do I love the church?  If not, they will know. If I think I’m smarter than most of them, they know.  They have to know that you love them.  If you do that, then you can say hard things when you need to.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live together in Christian community.”

5) People can change.  Remember those times when a person’s life turned around.  Cherish those memories, and let them encourage you as you enter the next crisis situation.

Rules for Recovering Legalists

Randy Harris began the closing message with a couple of illustrations.

His first illustration involved a group of  kids he was teachign to play chess. He gave them three rules to improve their strategy:

1) fight for the center
2) develop your pieces
3) castle early
Those new chess players didn’t see these rules as legalistic.  Rather, they saw them as helpful to achieving their goal of being a good chess player.
His second illustration involved driving a car in “whiteout” snow conditions — such heavy snow that you cannot see the road at all.   In such conditions, the driver welcomes any indication of where the boundaries of the road are.  These indicators aren’t seen as confiining but as enabling.
The point of both illustrations is that we need rules and boundaries.  God provides law for our good.
Paul was not anti-law.  In Romans he says the law is holy, right, and good.  In Galatians Paul was not arguing that law is a bad thing, but that the Jews were clinging to the wrong identity markers.
Randy gave another illustration from sports.  Athletes put themselves through incredibly hard things that might in other settings get someone put in jail.  But they choose to do it in order to reach a goal.  There is a huge difference between legalism and discipline.
We need rules and boundaries and discipline.  It helps to apply them in community.
Randy then began to explain the subversion idea more fully.  He gathered from the breakout sessions that most people felt it would be hard to implement the idea.   Randy then laid out a strategy for achieving the subversion “telos”.
Start by developing a subversive lifestyle yourself.  Then form a small community of leaders who are willing to enter into a covenant with one another.  Agree on exactly what the group’s covenant should be — a rule of life that the group is willing to live under.   What do we need to do to live out the gospel we proclaim?   By identifying the rules of that life, and making a covenant to live by those rules, the leaders begin to lead the church by modeling the lifestyle — modeling the radical lifestyle of Jesus.  That kind of modeling is the only thing that makes a person a real leader in the church.
A suggested rule is that we need to be indifferent to some things:  to what people think of us; to material things; to power, politics, pop culture and the media.  We need to be indifferent to those things, not influenced by them and not giving our time to them.  Randy described the effect of some students fasting from those things for six weeks.  The biggest problem: boredom. They didn’t know what to do with all the free time they suddenly had in their schedules.  Imagine if that time in our schedules could be spent on things that advance the Kingdom of God!
Randy gave another illustration from one of his classes.  He had mentioned in class that it has been statistically proven that there is no such thing as a streak shooter in basketball.  One of his students, a member of the women’s basketball team, took issue with his statement.  She chose as her project to interview the members of the basketball team to see whether they agreed.  The result was that they strongly disagreed, and were even angry that Randy would challenge that.  Their response was based entirely on their interpretation of their personal experience, despite the factually sound proof that they were wrong.   Randy showed through this illustration that we tend to reject truth because it doesn’t fit with what we believe from our experience.  We are unwilling to be radically generous with our material possessions because our experience tells us we will need material things and we aren’t so sure God will deliver on his promises to provide what we need.   Can we commit ourselves to “downward mobility?”   The thought is scary to us because we rely on ourselves instead of on God.  We rely on our experience of taking care of our own material needs, rather than the truth that God will keep his promises.
The bottom line is that leaders must first model what we will call the church to do.  “What’s wrong with my preaching?  There are not enough passages that I can preach with authenticity.”  There are too many passages that I have not embodied in any meaningful way.


I have a lot more meditation and personal work to do before I can adequately sum up this year’s Elderlink.  I heard things that challenged my socks off.   Things that could change my life, if I will let them.

If you are a church leader and you have the opportunity to attend an Elderlink program, do yourself and your church a favor.  Go.  And bring your fellow leaders with you.



Elderlink: Conclusion

April 11, 2010

In the concluding session of 2010 Elderlink Atlanta, Randy Harris spoke on strategies for addressing the challenges facing churches of Christ for the next generation.  How do we lead our churches in the future?   He proposed an overarching principle for developing leaders for the next generation: “Come follow with me!”

The term “leader” is not a big positive concept in gospels.  Actually “follow” is a much more prominent topic. We need, not to lead better, but to follow better.   To reach the next generation we need leaders who are great followers. Get people to follow with you. Leadership is a side effect of following.

For most of Christian history, most believers did not possess a copy of the scriptures, nor could they even read them.  So how did they do discipleship in a pre-literate world?   In a world where most men don’t read books, we may need to employ methods similar to those used in past generations.  Those methods are not primarily focused “from the neck up.”   They focus on doing things together that build spirituality and character.

Randy presented an illustration from college football.   More and more college football teams don’t have a playbook, because so many players can’t read well enough to get the plays from the book. But they still run plays.  The coach lines up the team on the practice field and shows them how to run the play.  Then they run the play over and over until they get it right.  That is our model.

Randy offered a few examples of the kind of “plays” he is running with a group of ministry students.

  • Make a covenant commitment. Sign formal vows. Take them really seriously. Give one another permission to hold accountable. Include statements like, “If you see me acting like a jerk, here is what I want you to say to me”
  • Scripture memorization
  • Take the group out for a meal.  No one is allowed to get their own food, nor can they ask someone to serve them.  So each person in the group learns to enter a situation where they are focused on serving others rather than on serving themselves.  Run the play over and over until you get it right
  • For 48 hrs, don’t say anything that love doesn’t require you to say.  Then talk about it.   The group came to realize that so much of what their conversation is sarcasm — not compelled by love.

Randy then presented five fundamental boundaries to instill.  These are not the only needed qualities, of course, but are some needed qualities  that are not talked often about.

1) toughness – like Jesus was tough. Quit whining . Whining is not the appropriate response to anything.  He gave the example of a person with cancer who does not complain.  Be like that person!

2) risk taking He painted a picture of a disciple as being absurdly happy, entirely fearless, and always in trouble.  This requires trust in God.  We can’t be inspiring leaders while always playing it safe.

3) mindfulness of God Being calm and not anxious in all circumstances, with a deep sense that God is working in every situation — not just being aware of God when we are praying.  Hold one another accountable for observing 15 min a day of silence. Challenge disciples to have a 90 second prayer, 7 times a day.

4) exhibit and teach persistence Help them with discipline and commitment over time.

5) fun Being a follower with others following you has to be fun, joyful.

Randy closed with a challenge for all of us to get others to follow with us.  When we do that, everything else becomes an annoyance.   This is the purpose for which God called us to be shepherds.  And it must be done if we are to develop the leaders who will reach the next generation.


Elderlink: Competencies

April 6, 2010

After Randy Harris’ opening talk on challenges we face in reaching the next generation, John York took the podium and began talking about the key competencies that church leaders need in order to meet those challenges.  Teaching, he says, is not merely about the transfer of information.  Today’s audiences have access to a virtually unlimited supply of information on their computers and their phones.  No teacher can compete as a source of information.  Trying to do so diminishes the teacher in the eyes of the students.   Instead, the teacher needs to provide meaning, context and relevance for the information.  How does this information change my life?   How can it change yours?

That changes the kind of ministry graduates a university needs to produce.  What are the key competencies a divinity school graduate should possess?  What should a school like ACU do to instill those competencies?   And how can they be measured?

Based on data gathered in previous events, John shared with us the competencies those audiences rated as most important for a church leader:

1) Minister’s spiritual life

2) Exegetical skill

3) Interpersonal relationship skills

4) Family life

5) Conflict management

John commented that training in Greek and Hebrew ranked at the very bottom of the list.  Of course, that doesn’t mean biblical languages are unimportant for a teacher.  But it does mean many in churches don’t see it as very important — far out of synch with the effort and emphasis on them in the university programs.

John then proceeded to collect similar survey results from the Elderlink attendees.  And along the way, he collected our self-evaluation of our own competency in those areas.  Our top areas were:

1) Appropriate boundaries

2) Interpersonal skills

3) Listening skills

4) Mentoring skills

5) Spiritual formation

6) Gospel, evangelism

7) Prayer

It is clear that in the view of this group of elders, high on the list of important skills are matters related to interpersonal relationships and reconciliation.  Interestingly, those are not listed among the qualifications in Titus 1 and 1 Tim 3.  (Although it could be argued that they are demonstrated in the kind of family that those passages describe).   In general, the group rated itself as decent but not great in most of these areas.  There is clearly room for (and need for) improvement. We need a way to develop those competencies in elders and in ministers.

I’ve noted before that the ICOC has taken a different approach to building church leaders.  Churches of Christ appear to take people with good academic credentials and turn them into leaders of people through on-the-job training.  The ICOC has done the opposite — attempting to identify people with natural leadership skill, and trying to supplement that with biblical training from time to time along the way.    Neither is ideal, but God can work with weaknesses.  The key ingredient IMO is Lordship.  If there’s one thing the scriptures say over an over, it’s that God can use a person wholly devoted to him, despite great weaknesses.


Elderlink 2010: Five Challenges

April 2, 2010

Randy Harris opened up Elderlink Atlanta on Friday night by stating that the future of the church for people under 30 will be decided by people over 50 who are responsible today.   If we are selfish about how we do that then we will fail.  We must be willing to change and to serve the young.

Randy enumerated five challenges facing today’s leaders in preparing the church for the future:

1) Technology

Technology is a deep distraction among younger people today.  A typical twenty-something will be found today browsing the web on their phones, texting their friends, checking Facebook updates, following people on Twitter…  Whether in the classroom or in a meeting on the job, you never have their undivided attention.  They experience no quiet; seldom pray; don’t know how to pray.  They have constant input from technology.  If they’re only doing one thing at a time, they are bored.  That is a serious impediment to teaching someone to have a relationship with God.

Many of them simply will not read bible. Most men do not read a single book after they finish school.  They consume input in 140 character doses.

How to perform spiritual formation?  It takes 10 years to do anything meaningful. Spiritual formation requires intense attention over time.  It takes a level of commitment that few young people give to anything.

2) The “post-church”era

We are not in a “post christian” era, but post-church.  People are not hostile to church, but see it as irrelevant.  Megachurches are still growing, mostly from people who already share many of their values.  They are not reaching the rest.

We won’t reach the world by improving the worship experience.  They’ll never know about the change, because they don’t come!  It has nothing to do with the quality of preaching, nor instrumental music, nor any of the other things we tweak trying to attract people.

3) Age, gender, and social gap in churches.

Churches are growing older.  There are far more women than men.  Churches of Christ are predominantly southern, white, and well to do. Where are the young men?

4) We need to examine our definitions.

What is the good news? What does a disciple look like? What does a kingdom community look like?   What is important? It’s not all about sexual ethics

Community is overused word.  I can join a community of bicycle riders simply by buying a bicycle.  The community of a church has to mean far more.  Randy used the word “communitas”  meaning a group held together by shared struggles and shared lives.

We need to be committed to reconciliation as a top priority.  The world is tribal and crazy about it. Church should not be Democrat, nor Republican; predominantly rich nor predominantly poor; caucasian or African.

Randy pointed to the news story a while back about a murder in an amish community.  Their public response of forgiveness was a light in a dark world.  We need to be known as that kind of community.

5) What is success, and how do we measure it?

We need to redefine what success looks like.  It’s not “how many people come to church”.  Church attendance  should not be the goal of our love, benevolence, and community outreach.  Church is not all about “butts and bucks.”   Instead it should be about living out values of the kingdom

Success is measured by how many Jesus followers are here — people who are radically walking as Jesus walked.

The dichotomy between men and women in church is a big problem.  “He doesnt ‘get’ church.”  “She doesn’t ‘get’ that he doesn’t ‘get’ it.”  “He prefers his ‘christian’ relationships outside church. Doesn’t like the singing, the preacher… But sees himself as a follower of Jesus.

Young people haven’t given up on truth. (except for college professors and grad students).  But we are not reaching them thru sermons.  And when they attend a sermon they are texting at the same time.  We need a new approach. We won’t reach the next generation thru traditional church.

Hearing Randy’s message, I couldn’t help but think of the way the campus ministries of the 1970’s grew.  It wasn’t by putting on a dramatic, compelling worship service.  Instead it was done one-on-one, and in small groups on campus.  If the church can get back to that model, I think we’ll be ok.


Elderlink 2010

March 28, 2010

This past Friday evening and Saturday, the Atlanta Elderlink program was held at the North Atlanta Church of Christ.

Elderlink is a program from Abilene Christian University providing support to elders in churches of Christ.  I’ve attended in four previous years, with this year being the fifth.

Today I want to talk about the overall structure of the event.  I’ll try to post more on the content of the sessions in future posts.

This year’s program took an interesting approach.  First, Randy Harris set the stage talking about the great challenges facing churches of Christ. Then John York conducted an audience survey (using those cool remote clickers to collect input from everyone in the audience) in which we evaluated the “competencies” we considered most important to a church leader, to address those challenges. For each competency, he also had each attendee evaluate his or her own level of proficiency.  Randy Lowrey then led a panel discussion about the challenges Randy Harris had described.  Then we broke out into smaller groups for three sessions where the audience discussed what we had heard so far.  Following those discussions we came back together and heard representatives from each group share what they had heard in the group discussions.  John York then presented the findings of the earlier “clicker” surveys, highlighting the competencies rated as most important, and showing the self-evaluated shortfall in desirable competency. Finally, Randy Harris wrapped up with a discussion of some keys to developing leadership (“come follow with me”) equipped to meet the challenges for the next generation.

What a great idea for a leadership program!  The audience decided what they consider important, and determined where they need the most help.  That’s all the more relevant since there are so few opportunities for elders to get the kind of “continuing education” that many other disciplines receive.  Surely shepherding the people of God is at least as important as many professional fields where continuing education is mandatory.  We really need to find a way to help our leaders to grow.

Among churches of Christ, Elderlink is a lone voice in a wilderness of unmet eldership development needs.  Why any elder within a few hours of Atlanta would choose not to attend, is beyond my comprehension.  We need a lot more opportunities like this.  Thanks to ACU for all their hard work to support elders in the churches of Christ.


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.


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!


Elderlink 2007

March 26, 2007

On Saturday I attended my second Elderlink at the North Atlanta Church of Christ. What a fantastic program ACU has put together! The highlight of the event for me was the two-session keynote message by Jack Reese, author of The Body Broken. I highly recommend that book to anyone in the ICOC as well as the mainline churches of Christ. A number of folks in my congregation have read the book at my recommendation, and I am not aware of a single person who could read the book with dry eyes. Dr. Reese reaches the heart as well as the head as he identifies some of the deepest needs in both of these fellowships. If you care about the church, your heart cannot help but be moved by this book. How much more moving it was, to hear Dr. Reese in person on Saturday as he poured out his heart on these matters!

But there were many other inspiring and practical presentations. Everything was done excellently. I wish I could spend more time around these men. I need what they can convey.

Another high point of the day was encountering two men from my past. Both were converted in the same campus ministry as me, back in the 1970’s. Both are now serving as elders in mainline churches in NC. It was a moving, meaningful reunion. All together, a fabulous event.


Practical Thoughts from ElderLink

March 27, 2006

Several hundred elders, ministers, and wives attended Saturday’s ElderLink program in Atlanta. Elders from at least five states in the southeast attended, and at least one from as far away as Colorado. The conference program included an opening and closing address by Randy Lowry (a two-part presentation titled “Five Strategies to Manage Difficult Moments”), along with four timeslots for breakout sessions, with four classes in each timeslot. The classes were all two-part presentations so that, if you went to both parts of each presentation, each attendee had an opportunity to hear two two-part topics. I found Randy Lowry’s presentations to be especially practical and relevant, so I will outline it here.

As the title suggests, there were five points of advice for handling conflict.

1) Think Chinese. In the Chinese written language the word for crisis is made up of two parts: danger and opportunity. The advice here is to look for the opportunity in the crisis.

2) Focus on the process. Rather than going straight to the answer (my instinct!) he advised us to focus on the process for arriving at a solution. “The right answer at the wrong time, presented in the wrong way, could be the wrong answer.” He pointed out that Jesus cares about process in conflict resolution (Matt 18).

3) Go below the line. He pictured the conflict resolution space as a piece of paper with a horizontal line drawn in the middle. Above the line are the issues and positions. Below the line are the interests of the various parties. Instead of simply identifying the issues and deciding on our position on the issues, we should draw out the interests that are motivating each participant in the dispute, and to find ways to satisfy those interests.

4) Take care of the three things all parties need. Each needs to be satisfied with:

  • the product (result / decision)
  • the process
  • the people (how they were treated)

5) Embrace God’s promises
Jesus prayed for unity in John 17, for the benefit of the world. There won’t be complete uniformity nor agreement on every subject. But there needs to be peace, and God will bring it about.

2 Chron 7:14 If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

This was an incredibly practical talk for me personally. I found myself needing to apply it within less than 24 hours after hearing the class! I sincerely appreciate the folks from ACU, Lipscomb, and the hosts at North Atlanta Church of Christ for providing this encouraging and practical resource in our area.


ElderLink Atlanta

March 22, 2006

This Saturday, many of the elders, ministers, and their wives from the ministries of the ACOC will be attending the ElderLink program in Atlanta. ElderLink is a ministry of Abilene Christian University. From their website:

Perhaps you have heard a common theme from elders: “I’ve been asked to serve my congregation as an elder, but no one has ever taught me how to do this, and there are few resources to help me.” Many of our finest, most committed church leaders feel fatigued, frustrated, or inadequate for the enormous responsibilities they face in serving as elders.

A ministry from ACU called ElderLink addresses this serious need. The mission of the ElderLink ministry is to equip, encourage and link those who lead and serve as elders in Churches of Christ through collaborative relationships, informative resources and shared learning opportunities.

Saturday’s ElderLink forum in Atlanta is being hosted by the North Atlanta Church of Christ.

I am very excited about this opportunity to learn and to build relationships with other elders in the Atlanta area. Please pray that many good things come from this forum.