There are a whole series of people whose views and opinions I have little interest in. They may disagree with me, they may call on me to do or say certain things, but I don’t particularly feel the need to weigh their opinion very strongly. Not, I should add, because they’re all idiots or imbeciles whose opinions are valueless. I’m sure some of them have very helpful things to say. But they say things that don’t especially trouble me one way or the other, not least when it comes to me and my ministry.
One of the (many) reasons I got off twitter was the frequent and regular splurging of opinions on other people’s ministries about which those spouting forth had no knowledge. They saw a pastor tweet something, write a blog post or engaged with one person and drew all manner of inferences about that pastor, his family, his church and the nature of his ministry. But there are only about four groups of people whose opinion I think matter (other than Jesus himself, of course). They are the people I take exceptionally seriously on these questions whilst holding with the loosest of hands everybody else. Those people are:
My wife sees me pretty much every day, with only a few longer breaks in a year for conferences and whatnot. Even then, we are in touch. She sees me all the time. She hears my views on everything, she see me respond to everything, she sees me act all the time. She knows when what I say and what I do don’t match up better than anyone. She knows how my ministry does or doesn’t weigh on me, how it is or isn’t having an impact, how it is or isn’t serving people and how I am honestly seeking to go about it. Her opinion on my ministry matters because nobody else has the unique insight she has.
I am privileged to have served alongside godly men who understand what ministry is about and have the biblical understanding to know how it ought to be done. We don’t agree about everything, but we do agree that scripture is to be our guide and our disagreements are to be resolved by looking into it rather than by any one of our ‘I reckons’. We similarly talk about ministry, about the people God has given us to serve and about the community he has placed us in to reach. We want to do all those things as effectively as possible and to the glory of God. When we are not being godly, we want to know about it. When we are pushing down wrong paths, we want to correct it. As elders, we hold one another to account on these things.
So, every week, we meet to discuss these things. What has been going on? What is going well? What is not so great? What is going on with each of us? How are our hearts? What issues are affecting us? What direction does the church need to go and is it going in that way? If my elders raise concerns about me or my ministry, I sit up and take notice. They are the men who have been gifted to the church to watch out for the souls of the members, of which I am one. We are to care for one another. I am, therefore, sensitive to what my elders think.
In the elder-led, member-ruled congregational polity that I believe is biblical, the elders are not those who rule the church. It is the members who put us in post and it is the members who can remove us from it. We are there to serve the church. That doesn’t mean every member will always view what we’re doing clearly or thank us for everything we doing. Such is life. But it does mean the church at large, the membership as a whole, have an important role to play so far as church leadership is concerned.
My members know how well I teach them. They know whether I am teaching them the unadulterated Word of God, whether they want to hear it or not, or if I am watering things down and tickling ears. My members know whether I pastor them by aggressive diktat and lord eldership over them or if I genuinely operate as a servant of the church. My members (I hope) know that I love them and serve them for their good, not because I love position and want to feather my own nest. But I take it very seriously when my members speak into how we are leading the church.
One of the qualifications for eldership is a good local reputation. The idea of being ‘above reproach’ suggests someone who is known in their community and does nothing to bring the gospel into disrepute. More specifically, there is the qualification that an elder must be ‘well thought of by outsiders’.
Of course, there is a lot that can be said about that latter qualification. What does it mean to have a good reputation in the community, especially when community standards are often not biblical ones? What does it mean to not bring the gospel into disrepute when the community might be minded to find aspects of the gospel deeply offensive? Does a good reputation mean people-pleasing those outside? If not, how do we maintain a good reputation amongst those who may not like us or our message? These are all good questions for another blog post another day. The point here is simple: elders must have a good reputation amongst outsiders (whatever that means) and, therefore, the view of the local community toward us should matter.
There is lots I might say about that. But at a bare minimum, I think it means that I should care about how my ministry connects locally. If I have no reputation amongst outsiders, it suggests I’m not in any way connecting with the community as we are called to do. If I have a bad reputation, we have to ask why. What are we doing to cause it? Is our ministry badly pointed so it causes problems locally rather than presenting the gospel in a God-honouring way? Are our lives so different out of church that local people see an ungodly man outside the four walls of the church? What our community thinks about us clearly matters and I take seriously how we are viewed locally.
Outside of these four groups of people, opinions may vary. Some may be very positive towards us, which is lovely. Some may be negative towards us, which is never great. But in the end, the world and its wife may have their opinions, but if they are not in one of these groups it is of little import. These are not the people to whom we are answerable. They are not the people God has given us to serve. They are not the people to whom we have any specific responsibility nor owe anything. On the last day, their opinion will not be of any great significance, least of all if their only interactions with us have been online.
One of the reasons twitter and other forums like it can be so pernicious is because it gives us access to everyone all the time. That isn’t to say there aren’t benefits to such access, but there are some evident drawbacks. Everyone can now have an opinion of everything, even everything you do. We need to remember, that isn’t a level of accountability scripture suggests we need or were built to have. It isn’t a level of access many (if any) of us were built to handle. It helps to know that whilst opinions on what we say and do are now ten a penny, there are people that God would have us listen to. The rest, and this isn’t to say they are right or wrong, we don’t have to listen. We aren’t built to listen. We aren’t called to listen. For the sake of sanity, weigh those you are called to listen to very seriously, the rest can spout off as they may.