In this time when frequently the authority of elders is questioned, the posture of an elder becomes increasingly important. Our starting point requires humility. It is not what I say that has value, it is what Jesus says. We share with those we are called to serve some basic life-understandings that shape our relationship and the way we converse with each other.
Here are a few:
- Jesus is Lord, I am not. The one who can speak into my life and to whom I ought to listen is Jesus. This requires humility. This puts us all in our place. Whatever authority I have is rooted in the authority of Christ. It is hard to refuse a conversation if the elder says “I would like to come and explore with you how we experience that Jesus is Lord”.
- Jesus guides by Word and Spirit. This requires the posture of listening. It makes a difference when an elder comes and making the assumption that the Word of God and the Spirit of God are busy and are guiding members of the congregation. It makes all of us better at listening.
- Jesus makes us part of his body, the church. It is God’s intention that we live, work and discern in community. We do not figure things out on our own and cannot achieve God’s purpose alone. An elder can say “I would like to come as one of people who share the life of God with you.”
- Jesus has begun a good work in us. Which means, the work is not finished. It is God's intention that the one who started the good work will finish the project. So I need to be open to the leading of God. As an elder I can come and say "I love to hear how you experience the change God is working in you."
Perhaps in our day, these approaches are more important. We cannot assume that our position in the church or our social status in the church are understood by all. Presently ourselves to the congregation according to these three assumptions helps clarify our relationship and purpose.
With this beginning, elders can share their understanding of the basic guidance that Jesus as Lord gives through his Word and Spirit to us as a community. There are three I will focus on:
- The call to conformity,
- The call to service, and
- The call to community.
In this article I will focus on the first.
Conformity is not a popular word or image. In our imagination, conformity means to be shaped by what is socially and acceptable and expected of the group to which we belong. It is a loss of individuality. Becoming ourselves means finding our own identity and way in the world. So to speak about conformity will never be particularly engaging. This is the first battle for the Christian. Jesus is Lord, I am not. One of the questions each of us needs to address is simply this:
How does my behavior and words resist the call of God to be shaped by the person of Jesus?
I can imagine resistance coming in a variety of forms. There is a passive resistance in which we assent in theory but in practice do other things: excuse ourselves from worship attendance or service opportunities because we are too busy or off to the cottage. There is resistance because we simply don’t like being told. There is resistance because we struggle with our own psychology. There is resistance because we claim to disagree. There is resistance because the demands of the community may not be lined with the demands of God. When we feel ourselves pushing back and resisting the call we need to wonder: am I really resisting the call of God?
The call to conformity is rooted in the words of Scripture:
- For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life (Eph 2:10).
- For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son (Rom. 8:29).
Hearing this we could expect Jesus to speak to us about the transformation that is needed in our lives. Indeed, Paul in Romans tells us not to be “conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds…” This is critical for our sense of identity. Christ sets the agenda. We seek to become like Christ. We imagine ourselves according image of Christ. We conform not to the image of the Hollywood stars or the Wall Street financiers. Christ is central to our self-image.
The call to conformity has a Spirit powered practice. We are to put off the old nature and put on the new nature that is like Christ (Col. 3, Heidelberg Catechism LD 33). The fruit of the Spirit ought to be seen in our lives (Gal. 5). We could add numerous other passages. But the point is simple. A transformation is not merely a mind game over identity, it is a set of practices and attitudes that are identified in such passages. We practice kindness. We discipline anger. We live in faithfulness. There is a way to formed by Christ in the power of the Spirit: remove from your life what does not belong to Christ and be submersed in all which belongs.
By adopting new practices we discover in a new lifestyle. We slowly adopt a new way of being and living in our families and communities. This is vital. As we have come to understand systems theory for families and communities, we know the influence one person’s behavior has on the entire family and community. To conform to Christ is to have Christ forming our family and our community.
Because we believe that Jesus guides us in this transformation of our lives. So we can expect change:
- put away deceit, speak truthfully
- be angry, but sin not
- do not steal, work honestly, share generously
- no destructive talk, only what gives life
- put away bitterness, be kind & forgiving
Jesus wants to change us. But it’s not about us, it is the way the kingdom of God appears in us and around us.
You can expect to hear from Jesus. Are you Listening?