Thursday, May 14, 2009

Cutting the Gordian Knot

Gordian Knot : a metaphor for an intractable problem, solved by a bold stroke.

Angela and I spent this past week at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures, where we delivered a talk on “How to Have a Really Bad Marriage” and spent the rest of the week trying to contradict our presentation. The Bible Lectures in Malibu are an awesome experience, consisting of three primary elements: Malibu weather and scenery, stimulating lectures and keynote messages, and time with friends. It is the last element that I reflect on especially fondly this year. We shared breakfasts, lunches and dinners with old friends from southern California and newer friends from Houston. I can mark each day in my memory by who we spent time with much more easily than I can by what lectures we attended.

And that’s really the way it works, isn’t it? What makes life most worthwhile is the meaningful relationships we enjoy, invest in, and benefit from. The Christian faith and life are fueled by relationships. The proliferation of “One Another” passages in the New Testament attest to the relational nature of life in Christ. When I think of the seasons I have flourished spiritually, they are usually related to the quality of Christian relationships in my life at the time.

We are making an exciting and profound move at West Houston which I will be describing in the message today. We are committing to increase the shepherding presence in our congregation in order to more effectively provide the shepherd–member relationships that are such a key part of the growth and maturation of the local church. The key element of this move is to designate two specific roles within one eldership: oversight elders and shepherding elders. Shepherding elders will be commissioned (indeed, released!) to focus solely on caring for, encouraging, listening to, coming alongside, and nurturing members. The full eldership will entrust the oversight and management functions (e.g., staff, building and grounds, finances, programming, etc.) to an oversight team of five elders. These five elders will also shepherd but to a lesser extent. Their primary role is to take the oversight burden from the rest of the elders so they can shepherd.

I have worked with two elderships in my seventeen years of full-time preaching. All of the elders have longed to spend more time shepherding members and less time with administration and decision-making. But each eldership had to contend with the Gordian Knot: if they added more elders to increase their ability to shepherd the flock, then they created a more unwieldy and cumbersome oversight and management apparatus which took more time away from shepherding! The beauty of this new model is that with a consistent five-elder oversight team (and having elders rotate in and out to keep it from becoming a fixed body), there is virtually no limit to the number of shepherding elders we can add. We are freed from the Gordian Knot of either-or.

This may sound strange to hear me say, but I am as excited about the possibilities inherent in this transition as I have been about any transition in our church in years. There is simply no substitute for strong and active shepherding of the flock. Our desire to provide this kind of shepherding and the great need we feel West Houston has for this kind of shepherding is the reason for this transition.


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