Our First Anniversary Together
This month marks our first anniversary together as pastor and flock. As I look back over the past 12 months, my soul exults with gratitude to God for His mercies. Consistently, we have encountered God in our weekly services. His presence has brightened our shadows, eased our burdens, and soothed our souls. Rarely have I seen a congregation give itself so sincerely and promptly in the service of the Lord. It remains both an honor and a delight to serve as your pastor. Catherine, the family, and I have never felt such sustained contentment in the place of God's calling. As we minister together with other churches in Greensboro, may the grace and gospel of God turn this place into a city of hearts ablaze for Christ!
In the fall of 2015, while I was praying through the deepening sense that God was indeed calling us to Greensboro, many people remarked of the caliber of men already in leadership at Christ Covenant. Having observed them first hand for 12 months, I have to confess to feeling a little like the Queen of Sheba, reeling from the splendor of Solomon's Jerusalem, saying "The half had just not been told to me!" With Eric and Jim on the Session, we have two men replete in Christ with a wealth of piety, integrity, and ability. In Jason, Karl, and Lou it is hard to imagine wiser, kinder, or more willing servants of God, deaconing to the practical needs of the flock.
Presbyterian Leadership 101
For those of you who are new to Christ Covenant, it might be helpful to take a moment and quickly review terms like "Presbyterian," "Elder," and "Deacon." "Presbyterian" simply denotes a church lead by elders (from the Greek noun πρεσβυτέρος, which means elder). The history of eldership goes all the way back to the time of Moses (Exodus 18:17-27). The tradition continued into the Jewish synagogue of Christ's day, and the Apostle's ordained elders to be the mechanism whereby the Christian Church would receive the oversight of Christ (Acts 15:1-2; 20:17-38; Titus 1:5-9; 1Timothy 3:1ff; 1Peter 5:1-5).
Elders are primarily responsible for the spiritual welfare of the flock. One of the terms the New Testament uses to describe them is "ἐπίσκοπος" from which we get the term "Episcopal." It means one who exercises oversight. Perhaps a good way to think of it is like this: The term "Elder" denotes the man's stature - he is a man of mature, seasoned, wisdom. He is not a novice. Whereas the term "Overseer" describes his role: he cares for the souls of people. The duties of the elders include: praying with and for the congregation, teaching the congregation the doctrines leading to godliness, calling upon the congregation (by phone and in person) to enquire after their spiritual growth and areas of particular spiritual, or practical concern, and in developing a coherent answer to a host of questions, like: What talents has God entrusted to our body to steward? What opportunities for ministry has God set before us? What goals has God equipped our particular congregation to accomplish at this particular time and in this particular place? And so forth.
Deacons, on the other hand, function a little bit like the offensive line in football, their job is to give the session space, freeing them from every practical distraction so that the elders can devote themselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word (Acts 6:1-5). So the duties of the deacons include: caring for the flock's physical and financial wellbeing, especially those of the destitute; preparing a budget sufficient to meet the session's proposed vision for future ministry, marshaling the resources and energies of the congregation to fulfill this vision, and maintaining the physical buildings and property used by the congregation.
As you might imagine, the Bible has a great deal to say about the spiritual qualifications these men must attain to hold these offices (Titus 1:5-9; 1Timothy 3; Acts 6:1-6). As far as spiritual maturity goes, both Elders and Deacons are to be unimpeachable in their family life and in their Christian character. While deacons must agree with the doctrinal statements of the Church (In our case: the Westminister Confession of faith, the Larger, and the Shorter Catechism), the Elders must be able both to teach and to defend these doctrinal standards from assault (Titus 1:9).
Deacons, in other words, are the kind of men who are peculiarly gifted at predicting, spotting, and meeting the practical needs of people and of physical buildings. Elders are also the kind of men who are gifted at speaking to theological issues, bringing clarity to Biblical questions, and applying the principles of God's word to the problems of people's lives in a kind, compassionate, and effective manner. This last point is most important. True elders don't simply love high erudite ideas, they love people and long to help the people of God grasp the truth of God so that they might attain to the image of God for the glory of God.
In light of our steady uptick in attendance through our first year together, we are united in the conviction that we need to expand our leadership at Christ Covenant. As God helps us, we would like to add at least two (and probably more) new elders and two new deacons in the months and years ahead. Wisdom dictates that we make these additions judiciously, feeding men in gradually lest we upset the rich chemistry currently characterizing our leadership team.
Starting in the summer of 2016 we have been steadily training new men for leadership. These training classes were open to all the male members of Christ Covenant. Observing those who took time to attend, it became evident that some of the men were clearly better suited to diaconal ministry and others more apt for work at a sessional level.
In particular, the session spotted two men who show exceptional aptitude for diaconal ministry and we would like to recommend them to the congregation this Sunday. These men are Paul Holst and George Merriam. The session has observed these men in a host of ministry areas for several years. Paul has been active in the facilities management team, and George has taken an active role in organizing many of our men's ministries in recent years. Furthermore, their secular calling has afforded them particular experience in project management and logistical know-how that will prove invaluable to our diaconate. In recent weeks, we have interviewed them and their wives with respect to this sense of calling, their commitment to Christ, and their Christian character and convictions. You will not be surprised to hear they performed admirably during this examination and we are thrilled to give them our unqualified recommendation to you this weekend.
For those of you who may not know Paul or George, we plan to introduce them this weekend before the start of worship. Over the next week, we encourage to pray for and about their election. Please fee to call us if you have any questions or concerns. If you have never met them before, you might want to introduce yourself to them on Sunday after the service. Next Sunday, after worship, we will convene a brief congregational meeting for the purpose of electing them as deacons of our church by simple majority. If this election is successful, we will ordain and install Paul and install George the following week as new deacons (NB. George has already served as a deacon in another Presbyterian Church, so he does not need re-ordination, he simply needs to be installed as one of our deacons).
You are probably wondering about additional elders. What are our plans in that regard? We want you to know that the session has its eye on a number of excellent men for this important position in our congregation. Some are as yet unable to subscribe to our confessional documents (you do, after all, have to be a Presbyterian to be a Presbyterian officer bearer!), others are relative newcomers to Christ Covenant and need a few more months to adequately establish themselves in our midst (as a general rule, we require men to be members of our congregation for between 1-2 years before they become eligible for election as an elder), and others stand in need of additional training/experience. It is our hope, however, that, over the next year or so, we will be able to bring at least one of these elder candidates to your attention. If you are aware of any persons we should be considering as potential office bearers, we would urge you to encourage them to attend the next leadership development class, and you might even mention their names to one of the elders so that we can keep them in mind in the months ahead.
In all this, we covet your prayers. I can think of few things more important than placing the right men in the right positions of leadership at Christ Covenant Church.