In many evangelical circles, there is no schism over the use of a plurality of deacons within the life of the church. Perhaps the only schism related to a plurality of deacons is in relation to their function. Are they servants of God who serve the local church or are they administrators who exercise power to oversee the local church?
As we read through the New Testament, we find that God established his church with a specific function and order. From the early pages of the New Testament, we find the apostles (with an “s” at the end) serving as a plurality of pastors to oversee the early church. As the missionary expansion took the gospel beyond the borders of Jerusalem (primarily with the ministry of the Apostle Paul), there was a need to put into order and establish the structure of the local church.
One clear letter that is devoted almost entirely to this task is the letter Paul wrote to Titus. Paul and Titus had a close relationship and it was Paul’s desire to charge this young man with a very important task. The island of Crete which was positioned in the Mediterranean Sea between northern Africa and southern Greece. The land mass was approximately 160 miles in length and 35 miles wide (at its widest point). It was an island that had been influenced by pagan cultures from the north, and according to Paul—it was filled with human depravity.
Titus’ job was enormous. He was given the responsibility to put the local churches in various cities throughout Crete into order. At this time, there was approximately 100 cities in Crete and Titus was charged with establishing order in the disorganized and immature churches. How would he do such a thing? Paul explains in what is perhaps the clearest purpose statement in Titus in the opening chapter:
This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you (Titus 1:5).
From the very beginning, we find the need to have a plurality of elders (pastors) serving in leadership roles in individual congregations. We see this all throughout the New Testament. For instance, we find Paul addressing the elders of the church in Ephesus in Acts 20:17. We find James giving instructions to those who are sick to call for the elders of the church in James 5:14. Even here in Titus 1:5, there seems to be an emphasis upon the appointment of elders in every town—or every church in every individual town.
Why would God establish a plan for his local churches to be led by a group of pastors as opposed to one single elder?
The Need to Share in Shepherding Burdens
The work of pastoral ministry is a difficult task. When you talk to families that have a husband or wife who works in law enforcement, you will often hear them talk of the darkness that follows them on a day-to-day basis. They are tasked with enforcing law which means they consistently deal with lawless behavior and witness some of the most horrific scenes of human depravity. Such a constant contact with such depravity results in a burden that has an impact upon the family as a whole.
In a similar way, the work of a pastor is taxing on the man who serves as pastor and the family as a whole. He is often asked to give of his time after normal daily work hours for counseling. He has to walk with families through both joyful seasons and depressing sins. Beyond the shepherding, there is a need to spend long hours alone—isolated from people in an office where he can read, pray, study, and prepare to preach the Bible.
Since we remember that pastoral ministry is more than a preaching ministry—the task is so large that it requires teamwork. God has designed it to be that way from the beginning and we can see this pattern throughout the New Testament. The church that believes their single pastor can do it all has underestimated the task of pastoral ministry or overestimated the ability of their pastor.
The Purity of Church Leadership
Pastors are not perfect men. They are men who are pursuing holiness and seeking to walk with the Lord, but they are not perfect men. They make mistakes in parenting, in life in general, and even in pastoral service. With a plurality of elders laboring together, it provides a built-in system whereby the leaders can confront and bring about necessary correction when a pastor shows signs of sinful neglect or indicators of rebellion.
Church discipline is something that is necessary and mandated by Christ for his church (see Matthew 18 and Titus 3). Within the church membership is both general members as well as two offices—deacon and elder. Everyone must be subject to Christian accountability whereby the bride of Jesus remains pure and the church avoids the stamp of hypocrisy within the community. This is God’s design. It’s likewise his design for pastors to be subject to correction as well.
The Order and Stability of the Local Church
One of the characteristics of our God is orderliness. The church on the island of Crete was disorganized and filled with disorder. It was the plan of the Apostle Paul to charge Titus with the responsibility of bringing about order and stability. His plan began with the appointment of faithful men who would oversee individual local churches in order to bring the church to unity in the faith and order.
The church had been plagued by loose living and heretical teaching. Therefore, the elders would need to teach the churches how to pursue holiness in everyday living and how to recognize false teaching that created division. If necessary, the elders would lead the churches to excommunicate people who persisted in sin after being corrected (see Titus 3:9-11).
God’s design for his church is unity and order which enables the congregation to accomplish the work of discipleship, missions, and faithful weekly worship of our God. A team of pastors laboring together will be able to counsel, confront, preach, engage in missions, and plan and establish orderly worship services that bring glory to God.
This is God’s plan for leadership in the local church. This is why every local church should desire to have a team of pastors who work together for the glory of Christ in the context of their local church.
Needless to say, the past six months have proven to be difficult for the functionality of the local church as a result of the pandemic. Regardless of where you stand on the issues from a political standpoint and whether or not you see this COVID-19 as a genuine pandemic—the cultural mandates have been impactful for the worship and functionality of the church.
As we look back over this season in our history, how will this COVID-19 season impact local churches as a whole? Although it has had a financial impact in some cases and brought about various different challenges, there are two distinct marks that COVID-19 will leave upon local churches.
Expose the False Believer
Many local churches have a certain number of members who are not true Christians. They come to church for various reasons. In some cases, it’s social and familial. In other cases, it’s traditional or financial. As we see in the parables in Scripture, not all of Israel was Israel. Today, we can certainly say that everyone claiming to be the church is not the church. In Matthew 13, Jesus tells a parable that involves good seed and weeds. The good seed represents the true believer whereby the weeds represent unbelievers. Often the weeds are among the good seed.
God can use persecution or pandemics to expose false believers. We are living in a day where some people have continued to keep much distance between themselves and their local church—although their lives have returned to normal on many different levels. When you see people returning to recreation, going on vacations, reporting to work, and yet remaining socially distanced from their local church and barring themselves from the Lord’s Table for 6 months—it appears that everything else is essential business except the church.
While attending a preaching workshop in Arkansas recently, one pastor was explaining to me that he expects that some of the people in his church will never return. He believes their faith was never genuine in the first place. Through this pandemic, it has exposed them as merely having a traditional habit of church attendance rather than a genuine relationship with Christ.
The challenges faced by the pandemic has strengthened many people in the local church. Even the genuine believers who have not been able to return to normal life—including their church gathering. They have used technology to the best of their ability, made intentional connections with their church online, and refused to forsake the fellowship of the saints. Even through the challenges—they have experienced spiritual growth.
Through all of the fear and political jargon—many have returned to the assembly of their local church and their faith has been strengthened as a result. They have learned to have an increased trust in the sovereignty of God in the midst of the disease. They have likewise learned to live with the reality that we live in a fallen world filled with sickness, disease, and death. We will all die—yet we trust in the Lord for our next breath.
Some true believers have experienced spiritual growth by contracting COVID-19 and walking with the Lord through the process of disease and trusting in the Lord for restoration of health. This has been a means whereby families have had to learn to trust in our God and pray with hearts pleading for restoration. In some cases, their loved one has recovered while in other cases, they held the hands of their family member as they slipped off into eternity. Even then, the church looks to God and trusts that he guides and controls the steps of us all. Whether we live, or whether we die—we are the Lord’s.
As we continue to look to the future and navigate these challenges, may the Lord grant us patience with one another and wisdom to see through the political dust storm with clarity. As we make decision, may the Lord enable us to trust him as we return to worship and normal Christian fellowship in a way that honors Christ and shows the world what real fellowship looks like in the minds of confusion, isolation, and darkness. May God’s church shine brightly—like a city set on a hillside in the dark of night.
That’s an important question to consider. Suppose you were informed that you would die in one hour, what would you do? Would you make a call to a close friend or family member? Perhaps you would sit down at your desk and write a letter to your family. How exactly would you spend that final hour of life? Needless to say, you would spend it differently than one of the common hours of your life. As we examine Scripture, we find statements that indicate that we as Christians are living in the last hour. What does that mean and how should we be living in these days?
Paul, in writing to the church at Rome, writes the following:
Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed (Rom. 13:11).
Paul is pressing upon the church at Rome to see their position on the timeline of history. They were living between the first and second comings of Jesus. They were positioned at a time where the great promises of Jesus’ incarnation, his substitutionary sacrifice, his death and burial, his victorious resurrection, and his triumphant ascension had been fulfilled. They were living, according to Paul, at a time where they needed to wake up from sleep. How easy it becomes as a Christian to hit the cruise control and get into a rut whereby you live without urgency—forgetting the fact that we are living in the last days.
While no man knows the day nor the hour of Jesus’ return—the New Testament authors consistently pointed to the season of the last days and urged the church to live in light of the fact that the return of Jesus is near. In Romans 13, Paul speaks of “the time” in Romans 13:11. The Greek term he used there is “καιρός” which refers to a period of time or a season of time. In other words, Paul was urging the church to see the late hour and notice that Jesus could return very soon.
The Greek term eschatos means “last” or “final,” and the theological term that we often use to describe the study of end times is eschatology. It is the study of events leading up to and including the second coming of Christ and the conclusion of human history as we all know it. As we survey the New Testament we find other verses that indicate the reality that the early church believed they were living in the last days.
The writer of Hebrews directed the church’s attention to the Day of the Lord:
Hebrews 10:24-25 – And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Consider James’ exhortation regarding the coming of the Lord:
James 5:7–9 – Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.
Consider Peter’s Words of urgency:
1 Peter 4:7-8 – The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
Paul warned the churches to be prepared:
Philippians 4:4-7 – Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:1-3 – Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
If the writers of the New Testament believed they were living in the last days and urged the early church to be prepared for the coming of Christ—imagine what they would say to us in our day. We must recognize that the culmination of our salvation is nearer today than it has been since we first believed the gospel. Therefore, our lives and our worship should exemplify the fact that we are living in the last days!
While two thousand years of world history could pass before Jesus returns—it’s very likely that Christ could come before the sunrise tomorrow. Are you living with such expectation? After the ascension of Jesus, the angels commanded the disciples to go on about life the reality that Jesus would come again (Acts 1:11). Each and every time we observe the Lord’s Supper as a church—we look back at the death of Jesus and we gaze forward in hope of his soon return.
What if this was your last hour of life? Are you living with urgency or is your Christian walk categorized by complacency or laziness? Be prepared—for the coming of the Lord is at hand.
One of the highlights of every G3 Conference is the Q&A session. In fact, at each of the G3 events, we seek to have multiple Q&A sessions in order to connect the dots from theological depth to practical life circumstances. You will find the 2020 G3 Thursday Q&A session very helpful encouraging.
As I reflect this week on a decade of ministry with the people of Pray’s Mill Baptist—my heart is elated and filled with joy as I consider the privilege of serving the church where my wife and I grew up as children. When I’m asked about what it’s like to come home and serve in the context of the local church where we were nurtured and discipled as children—I explain by stating that it’s joyful, humbling, sanctifying, challenging, and fulfilling at the same time.
When I arrived ten years ago, the church had gone through a rough season. I remember receiving a phone call from an older pastor in our community when he heard that I was being considered for the office of pastor. He called me and discouraged me from coming. He likewise encouraged a completely different ministry approach from the beginning that looking back would have harmed our church. You know what they say about unsolicited advice, right? It’s never asked for and seldom followed. I chose to go a different direction. I wanted to build stability, trust, and set the stage for longevity.
Through the years, it has been a joy to serve a church with such a high view of Scripture. If the Bible teaches something—the people within our church desire to obey. That makes pastoral leadership joyful and effective at the same time. A high view of Scripture has enabled us to accomplish many goals such as church planting in the mountains of Ecuador, the establishment of a plurality of elders, the practice of biblical church discipline, and more. Having a proper view of God’s Word allows the church to accomplish big goals for the glory of God.
When a church calls a younger pastor, often they fail to forget that just as you would expect younger men to grow in grace and mature in the faith—so must a younger pastor be afforded that same process. Unfortunately, many churches do not view pastoral ministry through a proper lens, and they become angry when their pastor makes changes or adopts a new position based on a theological conviction. This often creates division and perpetuates the statistics whereby pastors rotate from pulpit to pulpit every 2-4 years—dragging along their wife and children from church to church. I’m grateful that has not been my story. I’m thankful for our church’s patience with me through the years as I’ve adopted new positions, grown in my knowledge of Scripture, made my fair share of mistakes, and sought to grow in my ability to serve well from the pulpit and in the work of shepherding souls—which is the calling of a pastor.
The Scriptures say much about love (1 John 4:7), and I can honestly say that my family and I have been loved well within the context of our local church. In 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, Paul encourages the church to have a proper love and respect for their pastors. He writes:
We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.
A church that loves their pastors will enable their leaders to serve them with joy which is far better for the life of the pastor, his family, and the entire church as a whole. Not only has the church honored me well, but they have loved me and befriended me. My closest relationships are within the context of our local church. That is something that I will cherish the rest of my life.
Longevity has afforded my children stability during formative years. It has allowed me and my family to model longevity by way of church membership—in essence practicing what I preach regarding a high view of membership and resistance against the prevailing tide of evangelical consumerism. While ten years sounds like a long time to some people, when you consider the fact that Adrian Rogers served in Memphis for 32 years, John Calvin served in Geneva for 25 years, Charles Simeon served in Cambridge for 50 years, Martyn Lloyd-Jones served in London for about 30 years, and W.A. Criswell preached through the entire Bible verse-by-verse as pastor of First Baptist Dallas, Texas for nearly 50 years—I have a way to go. Most recently, just last year one of my heroes in the faith, John MacArthur surpassed 50 years as pastor of Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. I’m grateful for a church that desires longevity from pastoral leadership as opposed to a rotating door. It’s good for pastors and the entire church family.
One of the greatest joys of my life is to serve with a group of faithful elders and deacons who love God, pursue holiness, and seek to lead and care for the church faithfully. When I arrived ten years ago, I was the “CEO pastor” who had a staff surrounding me. Today, we have a staff structure, but we likewise have a plurality of elders who oversee the church spiritually, lead from God’s Word, shepherd souls, engage in the work of discipleship and missions, and labor alongside a plurality of deacons to serve in practical service roles. To see the unity among a plurality of elders and a plurality of deacons is a tremendous blessing on my life and the life of our church family.
I am grateful for God’s immense blessing through the gift of my wife, Kari. We met as children in the church I serve now as pastor. Who knew that the adults were shaping and discipling a future pastor and pastor’s wife who would eventually return home and serve the body? It’s a story of God’s providence. Yet, not only has God gifted our home, but he has gifted our church with a pastor’s wife who truly loves the people and seeks to engage with other women as a means of friendship and Titus 2 discipleship. I consider myself to be doubly blessed. Kari is my wife and the mother of my children, but also a co-laborer in ministry within the context of our church. She’s one of the hardest working people I know.
As I look forward, I can only imagine what the Lord has in store for the future of our church. Many of the things we were able to accomplish in these last ten years I had set as goals from the beginning. However, the founding of G3 Conference which has exploded into a ministry that serves to encourage and equip the local church in sound biblical truth was nowhere on my radar screen. I continue to dream big, but more than that, I trust in a big God who has a much greater vision for the church than I could ever imagine or dream. I want his will more than anything for our church.
It is my prayer that our church family at Pray’s Mill Baptist will remain “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).
I can still remember the feeling that I had when I was a boy upon entering the church’s worship auditorium and seeing the table positioned before the pulpit draped with a white cloth. Immediately, I knew the service was going to be longer on that day. I would sigh inwardly because I knew that it would take longer for me to get home where I could engage in the fun things that I wanted to occupy my time.
Today, when I walk into that very same room and see the prepared table, I feel completely different about it. I’m both excited with anticipation of what that table means—as well as anxious regarding the responsibility as a pastor to properly fence the table and present the gospel of Jesus to the church.
When we read 1 Corinthians 11 and see Paul admonish the church in Corinth regarding their abuse of the Lord’s Supper, we should not read over it too quickly as if it’s not possible to be guilty of the body and blood of our Lord. It would serve as a great spiritual blessing to us personally and to the church corporately if we properly prepared ourselves for the receiving of the Lord’s Supper.
Preparation Prior to Sunday
On a practical level, if your church observes the Lord’s Supper once per month, it would do you well to prepare the week prior in prayer and consideration of the importance, goals, and worshipful purpose of the observance. That would mean that Saturday evening you are thinking about it and praying about it in a more intense way than you would normally pray for your church service—unless you’re receiving the Lord’s Supper weekly.
Such preparation enables you to properly examine yourself leading up to the Lord’s Day. It enables you to focus on sin in your life and hindrances to church unity in a way that might not be attainable in a few minutes prior to the elements being distributed from the front of the room.
Such a focus on preparing before the Lord’s Day sets in our minds and the minds of our entire family the solemnity of the Lord’s Supper. It drives that point home which elevates the Lord’s Day worship and the observance of this solemn feast far above how we prepare ourselves for a family vacation, recreational sport, or any other cultural gathering. At the end of the day, it causes our church to understand that the Lord’s Supper matters.
Preparation Prior to Receiving the Lord’s Supper
As we enter the room and see the priority of emphasis placed upon the Lord’s Supper table—it should be directly connected with the preparation we have set forth in our hearts and minds all week—culminating in that moment upon entrance into the room.
As the pastor properly fences the table—explaining the purpose of the Lord’s Supper and giving clear directions for those who are welcomed to the participate with the church in the observance as well as explaining who is not invited to participate—this is the moment where we are to once again examine ourselves both on a vertical level and horizontal level. Is there any sin that is hindering our worship and service of God in our lives? Is there any sin that is dividing our church or hindering the flourishing of relationships in our hearts and minds? As the pastor properly leads us to bow in prayer—rather than baring ourselves from the Lord’s Supper—we are to engage properly in self-examination and then draw near to God and actually partake of the meal as Christ has directed us.
Notice the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:
1 Corinthians 11:28–34 – Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.  That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.  But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.  But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.  So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.
In verse 28, Paul commands the church to examine themselves, but then he states, “and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” Notice that he doesn’t encourage self-baring from the Lord’s Supper. We are to eat and drink after having properly examined and repented.
The word translated examine is the Greek term, “δοκιμάζω” carrying the meaning “to make a critical examination of something to determine genuineness, put to the test, examine.”  It was George Swinnock who wrote the following about the examination of oneself prior to the Lord’s Supper:
The days of mourning for the death of my dear Savior and everlasting Father are come, and now I will slay my most beloved lusts; now will I be revenged of them for their endeavour to rob me of my spiritual birthright, to wrong me of my eternal blessing. 
In the examination process, we should look at our lives vertically, horizontally, internally, and externally.
- In a vertical manner, we examine our relationship with God. Are we in real intimate communion with Him or do we see a separation due to sin (James 4:8)?
- In our horizontal examination, do we find any division between us and fellow brothers and sisters in Christ (Ephesians 4:32)?
- In our internal examination, do we find unconfessed sins, idols of the heart, or private sins that we keep hidden from the public (1 Corinthians 11:28; 1 John 2:15)?
- In our external examination, do we find anything that’s preventing us from engaging with our church to reach the neighborhoods and the nations with the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20)?
In a special way, Christ dwells with his people and is honored through the observance of the Lord’s Supper. As followers of Christ and children of the most high King, we should leave the worship of Christ around the Lord’s Table with hearts of joy, gratitude, and thanksgiving—but also with a heart of anticipation for Jesus’ return.
People who are living in sin do not long for the return of Jesus because they don’t long for the day of reckoning and judgment. They don’t have a heart of joyful anticipation based on their sinful state. When we leave the Lord’s Supper, we should anticipate and long for his return like never before.
When that happens, and it should, you will know that you have properly prepared yourself to worship Christ at the Lord’s Supper and the work of grace has had a good effect in your heart and mind. Consider the words of James Montgomery Boice:
At the heart of the present significance of the Lord’s Supper is our communion or fellowship with Christ, hence the term “communion service.” In coming to this service the believer comes to meet with Christ and have fellowship with Him at His invitation. The examination takes place because it would be hypocrisy for us to pretend that we are in communion with the Holy One while actually cherishing known sin in our hearts. 
- William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 255.
- George Swinnock, The Works of George Swinnock, M.A., Vol. 1 (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1868), 190.
- James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith-Book I,(Westmont, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 603.