Is it not true that leaders experience unique temptations, challenges, and struggles? And is it not true that for a church to go deep in the gospel, its leaders must be deep in the gospel? That’s the vision and the goal behind Gospel Eldership.
In my experience, it’s possible to be very old in the faith and yet tragically young in the gospel. If the gospel truly is “the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16) and is constantly “bearing fruit and growing” within us (Colossians 1:6 NIV), then elders must be strong in the gospel. They must know their own heart idolatry and how the good news of the gospel applies to it. And they must have a sense of “gospel fluency” so that they can swiftly, effectively, and clearly apply the gospel to others. Those are the kind of leaders that I’m seeking to develop with this book. Gospel Eldership, page 5.
How do you make a local church elder? You don’t, of course, that is God’s work. And yet churches are called to develop and train up elders to serve, protect, and lead the body. I recently used Bob Thune’s book Gospel Eldership as a resource in our elder development process and found it extremely helpful. Each short chapter is accompanied by discussion questions and application exercises. It is a simple read, a helpful starting point for conversation, and an incisive guide for personal evaluation, repentance, and growth.
Beginning with what elders are (qualifications) and moving on to what elders do (responsibilities and duties), the high calling of biblical eldership and the deep balm of the gospel are applied at each point. Each chapter helped us evaluate and discuss our hearts and lives against the standard laid out in Scripture, discerning where we may need to change or grow. But along with the challenges consistently presented the grace and comfort of the gospel was beautifully applied, and the Holy Spirit’s power to change and grow us threads through the entire book. Each chapter reminds that elders and those seeking that office remain sinners in need of continued enabling grace. It skillfully guides the reader through a heart excavation process, helping us see what’s truly there, with both truth and grace in full view.
What I didn’t expect in picking up the book was for it to be as sharply revealing of my own heart and continued need for Christ as it was. It reminded me of the famous story about Vince Lombardi opening training camp by telling his players, “Gentlemen, this is a football.” Applying Gospel Eldership to my own life was as helpful to me as it was for the elder candidate I read it with applying it to his.
I don’t know of a better elder development resource.
This post from Dane Ortlund has been such an encouragement to me. Such good news! It finishes up like this: “How can you possibly stiff-arm this? Repent of your small thoughts of God’s love, your resistance to swallowing Christ’s atoning work whole. Repent and let him love you.” A few quotes:
(When you trace difficulties and anxieties of the soul to their root) you find gospel deficit. All the worry and dysfunction and resentment is the natural fruit of living in a mental universe of Law. The gospel really is what brings rest, wholeness, flourishing, shalom—that existential calm that for brief, gospel-sane moments settles over you and lets you see for a moment that in Christ you truly are invincible. The verdict really is in; nothing can touch you.
But the gospel calls us to believe the unbelievable: The radiant sun of divine favor is shining down on me, and while the clouds of my sin and failure may darken my feelings of that favor, the favor cannot be lessened any more than a tiny, wispy cloud can threaten the existence of the sun. The sun is shining. It cannot stop. Clouds, no clouds—sin, no sin—the sun is shining on me. Because of Another. (emphasis original)
Dane Ortlund, In Christ I’m Not A Sinner
I’ve learned that living in the depths enables the Christian to see the Lord in the heights. And I love this prayer.
Lord, High and Holy, Meek and Lowly,
Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision, where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights; hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.
Let me learn by paradox, that the way down is the way up, that to be low is to be high, that the broken heart is the healed heart, that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit, that the repenting soul is the victorious soul, that to have nothing is to possess all, that to bear the cross is to wear the crown, that to give is to receive, that the valley is the place of vision.
Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from the deepest wells, and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine; let me find thy light in my darkness, thy life in my death, thy joy in my sorrow, thy grace in my sin, thy riches in my poverty, thy glory in my valley.
Arthur Bennett, The Valley of Vision (The Banner of Truth Trust, 1975), xv
This one-pager from Jerry Bridges is traveling with me in my Bible and has been very encouraging to me. A few quotes:
“I believe the most important message we need to hear as believers is the Gospel. This doesn’t mean we don’t need challenge and instruction in the various expressions of discipleship. It means we need to practice discipleship in the atmosphere of the Gospel.”
“It is the Gospel that keeps the love of Christ before us. To the degree that we live daily in the atmosphere of the Gospel, to that degree will we be compelled by Christ’s love. If we are going to be motivated by Christ’s love as Paul was, then we must put away the thinking that the Gospel is primarily for unbelievers. We must learn to live everyday in the atmosphere of the Gospel, and in the joy and motivation that brings.” (emphasis original)
Jerry Bridges, The Compelling Power of Love
This post from Ray Ortlund has stayed with me ever since I came across it. I’ve been paying attention to how I read the Bible and how I used to read it. This post is concise and helpful. Two quotes:
There are two ways to read the Bible. We can read it as law or as promise. If we read the Bible as law, we will find on every page what God is telling us we should do. Even the promises will be conditioned by law. But if we read the Bible as promise, we will find on every page what God is telling us he will do. Even the law will be conditioned by promise.
The deepest message of the Bible is the promises of God to undeserving law-breakers through His grace in Christ.
Ray Ortlund, How to read the Bible, and how not to
I’ve long loved this quote and Spurgeon on the topic of suffering.
On facing trials and feeling deserted by others:
This God is our God for ever and ever – not in sunshiny weather only, but for ever and ever. This God is our God in dark nights as well as in bright days.
Go to him, spread your complaint before him. Murmur not. If Paul had to suffer desertion, you must not expect better usage… David has his Ahithophel, Christ his Judas, Paul his Demas, and can you expect to fare better than they? As you look at that old cloak, as it speaks of human ingratitude, be of good courage, and wait on the Lord, for he shall strengthen thy heart. ‘Wait, I say, on the Lord.’
Quoted by Elizabeth Ruth Skoglund, Bright Days, Dark Nights, (Baker Books, 2000), 18, from C.H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit 9, (1863), 664
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When I first heard this in 2009 it blew my mind. I hadn’t every heard anything quite like it and it set me on a journey toward a more gospel-centric, which is to say Jesus-centric, Christianity. I rewound this section and listened to it three or four times in a row to Tim Keller explaining how the Bible tells us One Story through all its stories: the story of redemption through Jesus Christ.
The Gospel Coalition has a very good post from Justin Taylor outlining the sermon from which this came.