I went in to the Chik-Fil-A at University Mall a couple of weeks ago. It was noon and it was packed. Every seat was filled. There was a line of people waiting to order, and another line patiently waiting for their names to be called which would indicate that their orders were filled and their food was ready. There was no riot. No one rushed counter demanding their nuggets, now! No clerks behind the counter ran screaming from the restaurant, “I can’t take it anymore.”
They stayed busy getting our food ready. It was definitely hard work and the stress showed on the faces of the employees, but they really functioned as a team. You know who else was needed for the whole operation to be successful? The customers. I was pleased by the restraint and the calm demeanor. As I said, no one was pushy or aggressive. It was like we were all operating by some unspoken but known mantra: “If we just work together, we can all get through this.”
As innocuous as it sounds, a simple fast food lunch, it really does all come together when all participants gladly fill their roles. Imagine if the employees showed up, but didn’t cook any chicken or work the cash register. Imagine if the employees showed up, but there was no manager, no instruction. The crew was ready to work, but they didn’t know who was supposed to cook, to fill orders, and to take orders. Or, what if the crew was there, the manager was there, and everyone did their job correctly, but the customers didn’t know what to do. They gathered and sat in booths or climbed on the counter or lay die in the aisles. But no one placed orders. Or, if orders were placed, no paid. How quickly would the chaos come? It wouldn’t have to be violent. It could be a maddening milling around of people, like sheep without a shepherd.
Now, imagine a church which was completely disordered. No musicians prepared to lead songs. No bulletins. No sermon written. The grass around the building would be knee-high because no one cut it or called a lawn maintenance company to do that work. The building would be dark because no one paid the electric bill. It would be hot for the same reason; no electricity, no AC. No one would know each other because no one had taken the initiative to introduce people or welcome new individuals and new families.
How long would you stay at that church? Worse, what kind of witness would the church be? Who in the community would believe the Kingdom of God was any good if that church were the one representing the Kingdom and showing what it is like?
The Apostle Paul sent his protégé Titus to island of Crete with these instructions: “put in order what remained to be done … appoint an elder in every town” (v.5). In addition to the term ‘elders, in verse 7, he uses the term ‘bishop.’ In other letters both from Paul and other New Testament authors, we see terms like ‘minister,’ ‘pastor,’ ‘disciple,’ ‘teacher,’ and ‘evangelist.’ My own sense is it is impossible to draw a straight line from these roles in the ancient church to way roles with the same titles function in churches today. A deacon at HillSong Church does not do the exact things or ever operate in an identical way a deacon functioned in the Jerusalem Church in 35 AD. We can though look at the ancient church and glean this. The members had roles and the earliest Christians believed that when everyone in the church body functioned with their roles, it empowered the church’s witness in the larger surrounding community. The church would be a more effective witness when everyone in the church played their part.
Church leaders were to be God’s agents, maintaining order and focus in God’s church. The coming of Christ is God’s effort to set in order a world run amuck. When God began creating in the very beginning, Genesis tells us the world was chaos, a roaring, pitch-black ocean that would not be quieted. The spirit of God hovered over the face of the raging waters. God created something out of nothing, but more than that, God created order out of chaos.
When God made us, human beings, he made us special. Formed in God’s image, we have free will. We can choose to live within God’s organization of the world. Or, we can rebel and disobey God. With that choice, the chaos that God subdued rears its ugly head. When Adam and Eve exercised their free will, they chose this option. So did God’s chosen people, the Israelites. They had the opportunity to be special and at times they were. But, repeatedly, they violated their covenant with God and in the end experienced suffering, pain, and at times anarchy.
Once again, God restored order to the world, this time in a way no one saw coming. Instead of creating another garden or choosing another nation to be His people, or giving 10 more commandments, God did something new and different. He became one of us in order to show us how it is done. Jesus came to be the perfect model of humanity and to die in place of anyone who could not live up to the standard he set. The birth of Jesus is the sign that once more, God had restored order.
However, even after Jesus showed the way, died on the cross, and rose again and in doing gave us another chance as living in God’s order, still rebellion continued. It does to this day. People reject God’s ways. Even in church – the body of Christ – there is temptation. Even here, among believers, evil lurks. Thus, an intentional, spoken commitment to God’s way of doing things is essential.
Paul, a Christian-persecuting Pharisee became a Christ-follower. He started more churches than anyone. He traveled throughout the Mediterranean world spreading the story of Jesus. People from all backgrounds – Egyptian, Ethiopian, Roman, Greek, and Jewish – came to faith as they met Jesus in Paul’s preaching. Churches were formed. This was the great work of God in the decades that followed the resurrection. However, for all the good that they did, the people who made up those first congregations also gave into temptation. They committed the same sins as Adam and Eve, the same sins as those who crucified Jesus, and the same sins we commit today. The first Christians sinned and disorder came into God’s church.
One of the things that motivated Paul as he nurtured these young congregations was order and harmony. We’re right back to God’s motivation in the original creation. God is a god of order, so God’s people must be ordered, competent, and together. Paul wanted to get Christians who made a mess of things back on track. This was the case on the Island of Crete where Paul had stationed one of his most trusted associates, Titus. The letter to Titus is Paul’s instruction to Titus about strengthening the Cretan churches. Paul, quoting an ancient philosopher/poet from Crete, wrote that all Cretans are “liars, evil brutes, and lazy gluttons.” Today we refer to obnoxious, overbearing oafs as Cretans. Titus’ assignment to organize churches on the island of Crete was a difficult work indeed.
Paul’s intent was that on Crete, under Titus’ leadership, the churches would be communities of harmony, love, and faith. Titus went to Crete as Jesus’ messenger to remind the Cretan Christians of why Jesus came and to reassert the importance of each church representing Christ well before the communities.
Titus had to assign leaders for each congregation, people who would be blameless, who lived lives of faith, did not commit the same sins over and over. Leaders had to be always growing in the relationship with God and willing to give and receive forgiveness. Additionally, they had to have orderly homes, solid family relationships, and a sober minded approach to life. Those prone to rage filled outbursts, and those who were dishonest were not qualified to be church leaders. Elders and deacons were people of integrity.
Leaders were also spiritually strong people, strong enough to defend the church against the invasion of false religion. Lurking around every church in every town on the island of Crete were deceivers who spread lies about Jesus. These hucksters tried to convince Christians that they had to keep certain laws or customs in order to be assured of their salvation. Church leaders protected congregations from a false gospel and preserved the truth that we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ – Christ crucified and resurrected. Those appointed in the churches were set apart and functioned as servant leaders and spiritual guardians.
One of the strengths of our church today is seen in the quality of our elders and deacons. These are not the professional pastors, but rather people with secular jobs who have been set apart for the special calling of serving our church as leaders. The deacons have the responsibility of stewardship. They care for our resources and our building. The elders are the spiritual leaders in the church who attend to prayer and pastoral care. Both groups are called by God to serve Him and to serve you, the church family.
Today, we recognize Chris Driggers, Faye Hilger, Laura Shrewsbury, and Tabitha Storm who just begun service on the elder board. They have served as elders or deacons in the past, so each have been ordained. Also today, we will lay hands on Debra Eatmen. She began serving as deacon in December, but has never been ordained. So we say the prayer over her today.
Debra is a devoted servant of God, dedicated to His word and to the work of caring for the people of the church. She will gladly tell you she is a “behind the scenes” disciple. I want to tell you that I personal have been tremendously blessed by the many different ways she serves behind the scenes. Our church has too. Furthermore, with five months of deacons meetings under her belt, she knows what she’s in for. And she is serving with joy. So, it is with great joy that we as a congregation recognize that God has set Debra apart for ordained lay ministry as a deacon.
For Debra, God has a specific call to a particular ministry. That’s what ordination in an evangelical church is. We lay our hands on these her, we pray God’s blessing on her, and we state before the community of faith our belief that she has been set a part by God, speaking through us.
All our deacons, elders and pastors work in cooperation with one another and with our music leaders, our small group leaders, our administrator and treasurer, and with our members and guests. We all come together to make the church a welcoming place where it is safe to seek God and ask questions – any questions. It is safe to doubt, to disagree, and to grow. In the midst of our cooperation, God works, transforming individuals and our community. We are made new and in the name of Jesus sent into the world as witnesses to the goodness of His Kingdom. We go and answer the call of God because we know the community supporting us is there for us.
The order God puts in the church through the appointment and ordination of leaders makes it possible for us to do all the things He calls us to do.