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 >
I was blessed to be in the seats at Baptist Church of the Redeemer for the six months or so that Jim Hamilton preached through the book of Revelation. I was new to the church and fairly new in pastoral ministry. I remember thinking: “I can’t believe he’s preaching on this!” Don’t get me wrong, I believed that all of the Bible was true and profitable for the body of Christ. But, admittedly my interaction with friends and other pastors on Revelation had always produced more fear and confusion for me than edification.
But, I was struck by how clear and powerful the sermon series proved to be. Jim did not overwhelm us with theories, positions or charts. He simply explained, with passion and gravity, this very important book of the Bible. I remember coming away from those sermons and being more impressed with the beauty, strength and majesty of Jesus than ever before. The “crucified, risen, ascended, reigning and returning” Lord seemed to peer directly at us from the pages of John’s letter on those Sundays. There was expectation for the future, yes but not the kind that leads to speculation and calculation. It was the kind that made obedience in the present all the more attractive and logical. Jesus was real and was coming again. We were confronted with His power and the futility of resisting it.
I’m so thankful that Crossway has seen the blessing and value that these sermons and Jim’s careful study offer for the wider Church. So, I couldn’t be more excited to now hold Revelation, The Spirit Speaks to the Churches in my hands. Pastors, if you’re not familiar with the Preaching the Word commentary series, edited by R. Kent Hughes, you should quickly familiarize yourself. This series has been helpful to me in my preparation through the book of Acts and the gospel of Mark. I know that this latest edition to this reliable series will serve you very well, both as an encouragement to preach on Revelation and as a resource as you go about explaining this glorious book to your congregations.
When Jim stood up to begin the series on Revelation, I admit to having doubts about how applicable this apocalyptic work would be to our church full of normal people with normal needs, too many to mention. Then, near the beginning of his first sermon, he said something like this:
“We have been lulled to sleep by the ordinariness of our lives. Our senses have been dulled by the humdrum of one day after another. We need to see God as he is. We need to be convinced that Jesus is reigning as the risen King. We need to have him speak to the situation in our churches. We need to know that God is right now on his throne, in control in Heaven, worshiped by myriads upon myriads of the heavenly host. We need to see the way that God will pulverize wickedness, obliterate those who oppose him, and set up his kingdom. The book of Revelation has exactly what we need.” –Pg. 18
The book of revelation is exactly what we need. I hope that you will benefit greatly from this new volume and that through it, our confidence in and worship of our reigning and returning King will soar!
As we launch into a new year, I’m reminded of the words of the author of Hebrews:
Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. –Hebrews 13:7-8
For the last three years, at the beginning of each year, it has been our custom to do just that. I have the privilege of studying the life of a “hero of the faith,” and presenting the “outcome of their life” to you in the form of a biographical sermon that we call “Footsteps of the Faithful.” Our prayer is that you and I would imitate their faith, and be reminded that Jesus is the same, yesterday and today and forever. In other words, their Jesus is our Jesus. Thus far, we’ve considered the lives of George Whitfield and William Tyndale and I hope that you will join us this coming Sunday, we will study and learn from the life of Hudson Taylor.
Hudson Taylor (1832-1905) is often referred to as the founder of modern missions. He is best known for his work in founding the China Inland Mission (now Overseas Missionary Fellowship) which impacted China for the gospel in countless and supernatural ways. But, the focus of this Sunday’s message will not mainly be on facts and numbers, although those are astounding and worth careful consideration. The focus will be on Hudson Taylor’s private life. What was Hudson Taylor like as a man? What was he like behind closed doors? What role did prayer and dependence upon God play in his ministry? How did he deal with struggles and temptation? What can God teach us from his life? How can we be encouraged to press harder into Jesus in this new year by reflecting on the life of this saint?
I pray that you will join us this Sunday as we consider Moving Men by God–Inside the Life of Hudson Taylor. It has been a joy to study the life of such a witness to King Jesus. It was said of Taylor that he was “small in stature and far from strong. . .always facing physical limitations. . . But above all, he tested the promises of God and proved that it was possible to live a consistent spiritual life on the highest plane.” And that he did. Through tragedy, personal loss and setback after setback, Taylor’s joy and resolve only strengthened. How could this be? What was his secret? Join us this Sunday to find out. Pray that God would prepare you to set out this year to know Him like Hudson Taylor knew Him–a God that could and would provide for those who seek Him. . . That even when we are faithless, He is faithful, for He cannot deny Himself (2 Tim. 2:13). I’ll look forward to seeing you this Sunday at Redeemer!
Jason Allison is a mastermind. His work has shown up on my blog before and will again. He’s creative, gospel-centered and really good at what he does. The video below is a great example of the quality of his work. He took a clip from a sermon I recently preached on the Lord’s Supper and. . . well check it out:
Jesus had been crucified on a cross, enduring the full wrath of Almighty God. He had been buried. Three days later He rose. He appeared to Mary, and then to his disciples. Then, while his disciples were gathered in a room, after Mary had given them the announcement that Jesus had risen, He appeared to them (when the doors were shut). He showed them his hands and His side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw Him. Then He said:
John 20:21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”
So, the message of Christmas is not just that Jesus came, but that now He is sending. . . us. This December I will press pause on my sermon series through the Gospel of Mark, to take up, what Hudson Taylor so aptly coined as the Great Commission of Jesus. Each week, we will study a phrase from Matthew 28:18-20. The schedule is below:
December 4th—”We Are Sent.”
December 11th—“We Are Sent to Make Disciples.”
December 18th—“We Are Sent to Make Disciples of All the Nations.”
December 25th—”We Are Sent to Make Disciples of All the Nations, by the Power of the Spirit.”
I hope that you will pray with me for God’s blessing on the teaching of His word this Christmas at Redeemer and in all of our churches, for His glory.