I noticed that I could see the slowly turning fan blades above us in the reflection of his freshly shaven head. His blue eyes and silver goatee turned up to me quickly, recovering from almost choking on his salad.
“What did you say?”
I had just told him that I felt I had a sense of where God wanted my spiritual life to go next. I was a 20 year-old college student, the president of my campus ministry, and I hung out with my pastors all the time. More importantly, though, was the fact that I was crushing really hard on this girl that wouldn’t date me. Only later would I realize that this was a bigger factor in what I said than anything God had said.
“I want to become an elder at our church.”
(I guess I figured if I was more prominent at my church, and seemed like a more mature Christian, then she would like me. but I digress.)
This elder from our church was far more surprised at what I had said than I expected. In the church government structures I was raised with, church “offices” were a matter of power and influence in the church. “Elders” had the “power”. They were the ones that the church wanted to put forward as the “mature” Christians; the ones that were up front and leading and teaching and were the heads of the “prominent families” in the church. They were the “Super Christians”.
I wanted to be a Super Christian. Or rather, I wanted to be seen as one.
This elder described for me other people at our church that did more than me, were more prominent than me, and were more spiritually grounded and mature than me, and yet not even they were elders. Eldership wasn’t simply the default position of those that led stuff in the church, or the ones that were the “insiders”, or even a recognition of who was “most mature”. They had a unique calling and service and place in the church.
This was the first time that someone lovingly tried to help me re-evaluate how I thought through the offices of the church. The point was well-taken, however embarrassed I was that I had actually said this pronouncement out loud.
From my teenage years and especially in college, I’ve had a constant zeal and passion to communicate whatever I was zealous about. This blog was started almost 10 years ago because of this passion in me. I’ve wanted to be in front of people, making concrete the biggest, deepest, or most abstract of ideas. I’ve wanted to teach, lead, and set vision.
And yet, I’ve been so graciously surrounded by the most loving and wise of leaders that, over the years, no matter whatever gifts I’ve demonstrated (or thought I had), they insisted against my every protestation that I should just chill, sit down, and watch. My zeal has been so strong, and yet I have been held back from acting on this or being put in front of too many people too soon.
Honestly, without exaggeration, I think this has been one of the most formative things in my life, and I cannot thank enough those men and women leaders that have surrounded me all of these years, holding me back.
I feel like this prepared me well for the church environment I entered four-and-a-half years ago: a brand-new church plant in the middle of Philadelphia, attracting people from very diverse spiritual backgrounds and opinions, and in need of care and cultivation.
It was here that there was both the need and the equipping available for the leash to be loosened. Discerning men and women were able to see those ways I could serve and then called me into those things slowly, securely, and safely. I started leading a home group, I led the prayers on Sunday, I did a couple of evening lectures, and I taught a six-week Bible class.
And this Sunday, I’m being ordained as a Deacon in Reformed Church in America at Liberti Church.
The time has come for our little church plant to become a full-blown, self-sustaining church; and to go along with that, we’re installing our first group of formal in-house leadership. We held open, congregation-wide nominations for the offices of Elder and Deacon. When the results came in, I was nominated by the people to be a Deacon.
As we nominees have been trained and have explored the ramifications of deaconship over the past year, I’ve been growing in my excitement. This has become one of the highest honors of my life. And I mean that. No sarcasm or hyperbole at all.
It’s my joy to join Jesus in one of the ways in which he serves and functions within his Church and strengthen them in the Gospel. I thank the leaders I’ve had all my life that have helped equip me for this time, and I thank the members of Liberti Church that have loved me well and have given me the honor of knowing them well, and serving them imperfectly. Their grace and love to me have been incredible.
I’m so pumped. Let’s do this. There’s work to do.