We return again to the topic of lay elders in this issue of the Journal. (Check out the last one here.) This time we take up the matter of elder relationships themselves. A lot of guys become elders and are surprised to find the relationships with the other brothers require care, even forgiveness.
“What? I thought they were all supposed to be godly?”
Well, hopefully, they are. But still…
You don’t become a “band of brothers” just by showing up. You need to face battle together, as well as work through all the disagreements and sins that arise along the way. My friend Matt Schmucker often observes that more apologizing happens during our elder meeting bathroom breaks than at any other time he knows. It is a consecrated commode.
An elder’s first priority is the sheep, but shepherds who don’t know how to love one another compromise their ability to serve the sheep.
To get us started, Bob Johnson explains how he, as the senior pastor, tries to build unity and love among the elders. Michael Lawrence, Greg Gilbert, and Walter Price all address the tricky issue of the lay elder/staff elder dynamic.
Then Eric Bancroft, Matt Schmucker, Nick Roark, and I turn to the elder meeting itself. How can we build unity and peace amidst the challenging dynamics of group decision-making? Finally, Jimmy Scroggins and Steve Wright take us in a slightly different direction by considering the possibility of bi-vocational elders planting churches.
At long last, Bilbo Baggins is back. Whether you’re fanatic enough to dress up for the midnight showing, or patiently awaiting a weekend outing, or even content to meander into a theater after the crowds die down, here’s some advice for how to make the most of your experience of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
Don’t worry, there’s no spoiler below. My hope in seeing an early screening of the film is to be at your service in preparing you for the viewing, not by letting any cat out of the bag — although if you’ve read the book, you know where this film is going.
It is fitting to mentally and emotionally prepare yourself for an experience like this. That’s precisely what the story’s creator — he would prefer “sub-creator” — J. R. R. Tolkien would have you do, and it’s no necessary sign of unhealthy self-occupation to do so. Perhaps as much as any writer, Tolkien carefully crafted his tales for the profound spiritual effect they would have on the reader. He means for you to be deeply affected. He means for his story, set in a “secondary world” called Middle Earth, to give you a certain experience, a kind of deep joy and satisfaction, that draws from the “primary world” in which we live. So, don’t waste your ticket by showing up unprepared.
Adjust Your Expectations
Expectation management is important with a film like this — not because the film isn’t well done, it’s extraordinary — but because any film based on a well known and well loved book faces this challenge. And all the more after the 2001–2003 movie trilogy was such a smashing success.
Tolkien wrote The Hobbit in the 1930s as a children’s book. It was the mid 1950s before he finished publishing The Lord of the Rings. By then, he was a more mature novelist and “sub-creator” and had seen how interested adults could be in his hobbit tale. So his sequel is darker. And it’s the sequel that made Tolkien the author of the century, not The Hobbit — good as The Hobbit is. It’s no accident that director Peter Jackson started with The Lord of the Rings. LOTR is the more compelling story. So at least adjust your expectations on that count. (Jackson has compensated for this by making the Hobbit film to borrow some darkness and gravity from its already produced sequel.)
Also, it’s fair to recognize that Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf) is now over a decade older — which seems pronounced in the opening scenes, but fades as the story begins to move. So also with Ian Holm (the older Bilbo) and Christopher Lee (Saruman). However, Hugo Weaving (Elrond) and Cate Blanchett (Galadriel) appear to have barely aged a day — could they actually be elves? But apart from those two, adjust your expectations on the actors. I should note that the two main new faces, Martin Freeman (the young Bilbo) and Richard Armistace (Thorin Oakenshield) do a fantastic job.
One final adjustment to mention: double frames per second (HFR: high frame rate). For decades, the movies have been 24 frames per second. In some 400 theaters, double that rate is being offered. Another option is 3D. The screening I took in was not only HFR, but also 3D. Add to that the fact that it’s been a decade since I saw Lord of the Rings in a theater, not to mention other technological advances, and it took me awhile to “adjust” to this film. At first, it didn’t “feel” to me like the trilogy. The HFR and 3D (and I don’t typically see 3Ds) seemed to make the film almost too real. Dwarf costumes are difficult enough without doubling the frames per second. The improved realness proved a distraction and slowed my ability to willingly suspend my disbelief. If you feel this way early on, don’t get discouraged too quickly. As the story picked up, I lost awareness of the changes and was able to get into it better.
Enjoy the Serkis
I continue to be amazed how well Andy Serkis and movie-making technology are able to pull off the creature Gollum. Bilbo’s “riddles in the dark” scene with Gollum is spectacular. Tolkien would be very pleased, perhaps flattered, to see his complex character come to life so well. This is definitely something to look forward to. The real fanatics may want to re-read chapter 5 in The Hobbit to be ready for the fast-moving dialogue between Bilbo and Gollum that holds very true to Tolkien.
Cut the Writers Some Slack
Some Hobbit fans will be surprised to find two prominent characters in the movie who were not in the book — another wizard, named Radagast the Brown, and a lead villain called Azog, the pale orc. Apparently, these are drawn in from Tolkien’s Silmarillion — I wouldn’t know, haven’t read it — which means another set of Tolkien fans (the Super-Committed) will be thrilled. You try making a 300-page book into three movies. All things considered, Unexpected Journey stays impressively close to Tolkien’s storyline, but introduces some minor twists and turns to fit the medium and keep everyone on their toes. It’s a good blend of fidelity and freshness.
For the ultra-purists, if you just want straight Tolkien, then just read the book. The movie, by necessity, is not, and cannot be, just straight Tolkien. You get Peter Jackson and a lot of others. Which is a good thing. Remind yourself that film is a different medium than book. Try to appreciate both for what they are. Better to prepare yourself now for this than to needlessly bellyache about the movie not being as good as the book.
Listen for the Echoes of the Gospel
At the end of his important essay “On Fairy Stories,” Tolkien explains from where he intends his tales to draw their power — from the emotional reservoir of the Christian gospel. The “primary world” story of the Son of God himself, taking full humanity at Christmas, living flawlessly in our fallen world, sacrificing himself to rescue us on Good Friday from God’s just wrath, and rising again victorious on Easter as the living Lord of the Universe — here is the Story for which God made the human heart and the Story from which all good stories derive their power.
For Tolkien, the enchantment of the Christian gospel is deeper than allegory (which he thought crass) or merely having a character who is the Jesus figure. Tolkien believed that God made humanity for the Great Joy purchased by and provided in the Good News of Jesus, and that the joy we experience from good fantasy tales stream their power from the real world, the Primary Reality, created by God and culminating in the life, death, and resurrection of his Son. In this way, Tolkien thought that all good stories meet with God’s gospel-shape imprint on his creatures.
Finding Jesus in The Hobbit doesn’t mean shoe-horning Gandalf or Bilbo or anyone else into some Christ mold, but following the story, truly tracking its twists, feeling its angst, and knowing that the “turn” — the Great Unexpected Rescue just in the nick of time, the place where our souls are most stirred and relieved and satisfied — is tapping into something deep in us, some way in which God spring-loaded us for the Great Story and the extent to which he went to rescue us.
Do you want to know, like, the coolest thing? I live in a city where there are lots of powerful people. Big timers, you know. And some of those big timers show up in our church on Capitol Hill—the movers and shakers. So do the people who work for those big timers—the schmoozing and the sweaty. What’s cool about that? Nothing. What’s cool it that these positions are not exalted in our church; being an elder is! The office of elder is held up and given honor. Praise the Lord, right?
You might be a journalist, a lobbyist, a congressional staffer, an army general, or a partner in a law firm. But in the social economy of the church, none of that matters. What counts is your character and knowledge of the Scriptures. Ambitious young men enter the church, but if they have Holy Spirit-softened hearts, they begin desiring different things. They come to D.C. driven to succeed, but somewhere along the way they become ambitious about leading a small group, sharing the gospel, showing hospitality, helping the hurting, and teaching God’s Word, even if it means sacrifices to their career. I could name dozens: Chris, Bill, Scott, Eric, Michael, David, Dave, Randy, Steve, Papu, Sebastian, Klon, Greg…want me to keep going?
I am not talking about the men who leave their careers to enter vocational ministry. I am talking about the men who remain in their careers, but who begin to shepherd anyway. These are the men I admire so much. They move from the big prestigious firm to the small peripheral firm; they take the pay cut; they let themselves get passed over for promotion. Why? Because they love the sheep, and they cannot help but spend the time it takes to shepherd sheep.
This issue of the 9Marks Journal and the next are devoted to these men: lay elders, or the pastors that a church doesn’t pay, because they do all their work in the evenings and weekends. In this issue, Jeramie Rinne and Sebastian Traeger lay out the basic expectations for the job. Garrett Kell and Michael McKinley offer counsel on raising up such men within the flock. And Garrett, Steve Boyer, and I offer a few thoughts on equipping them once the work has begun.
In January, we will come back to address the relationship between staff and lay elders, the besetting sins of lay elders, building unity and friendship among the elders, and other practical matters. Stay tuned!
Discipling is not a program. It is not a podcast preacher. It is not a one-size-fits-all information transfer.
It is life-on-life loving in word and deed.
Jesus told us to make disciples, which means it is a basic part of the Christian life. But we are not always sure how to get a handle on it, or what it looks like.
If you are a pastor or elder, you should be leading the way in discipling younger individuals in the faith. Your instruction and example should be helping to cultivate a culture of discipleship in your church. Does that sound intimidating? If it does, are you sure you are called to be an elder?
Let’s back up. The work of discipling starts in the heart—a heart that rejoices in the ministry of others. Is that you? Read Bobby Jamieson’s excellent piece and ask that question.
Next, consider what your vision for pastoring or eldering is. Do you see discipling as a central part of the job? Jonathan Dodson and Jeramie Rinne will help you answer that question. And Jamieson will talk about how to do it.
Garrett Kell and Erin Wheeler then bring us back to the basics of discipling, and Brian Parks and Jani Ortlund help us to see some of the glorious fruit of discipling.
We have also included the handout that every new member of Capitol Hill Baptist Church receives about discipleship. Feel free to use or adapt it for your own purposes. Other resources you should check out include Robert Coleman’s classic The Master Plan of Evangelism or the more recent The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne.
Caricatures of the Puritans are like social media platforms: they seem to multiply and spread so quickly that it’s hard to keep track of them all. One common slur on these seventeenth-century saints is that they were dour, hard-bitten individualists for whom the pinnacle of spiritual maturity was spending a week straight praying in private with no sleep, no food, and no human contact.Read more >
Gospel-hyphenated book titles seem to be everywhere these days. I am thankful that the gospel is getting attention for more than “entry-level Christianity.” It is good to remind believers that, as Tim Keller puts it, a Christian never gets beyond the gospel. Yet it takes more than a title to center a book on the gospel. Read more >
No church is perfect. Well, not yet anyway. Christ laid down his life for the church and will one day present her holy and blameless. But this side of heaven, churches are filled with sinners fighting for holiness. So whether a pastor hopes to plant a church, revitalize, or has served in the same place for decades, reform is always on the agenda. How can a pastor lead his congregation to reach more people with the gospel? Grow in holiness? Resolve divisions and disputes? Train up future leaders? Read more >
7 On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. 8 There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered. 9 And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. 10 But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” 11 And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. 12 And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted.