Showing posts with label #Church. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Church. Show all posts

The sermon.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 April
SERMON 'sər.mən noun. Homily. A lecture on a moral or religious subject, usually presented to a church.
2. A long, boring lecture.
[Sermonic sər'mɑn.ɪk adjective, sermonize 'sər.mən.aɪz verb.]

In sermon-focused churches, the central part of their Sunday morning worship service (or Saturday evening, or Wednesday night, or whenever they hold it) is duh, the sermon. If they didn’t have a sermon, or if the sermon wasn’t impressive enough, they “didn’t have church.” They could shorten the music; they could skip holy communion entirely. But they’d better have a sermon.

I should point out neither Jesus nor his apostles instructed us to preach sermons as part of our worship services. Seriously; they didn’t! But I suspect that’s because they presumed religious instruction would automatically be part of the services anyway. Christians are expected to strengthen, encourage, and comfort the church, 1Co 14.3-5 and good religious instruction does that.

And religious instruction was the whole point of synagogues. Pharisees invented them so Israel wouldn’t be religiously illiterate, and fall into sin. Early Christian churches behaved an awful lot like Christian synagogues: At some point someone would go up front, read the scriptures, sit down, and answer questions about what was just read. Over time this instruction got less interactive, and more lecture-y.

For many Christians, sermons are the entire point of attending a church service: They wanna learn about God! They don’t know enough about him… or do, but wanna hear more. The newbies need to learn the basics, and the oldtimers need to be reminded to stick to these basics. As knowledgeable as we might get about theology, bible history, religious practice, and our own experiences with God, we need to be regularly reminded: Love God, love your neighbor, pray, share Jesus, be fruity, do good works, and grow his kingdom.

Go to church!

by K.W. Leslie, 20 January
Church. tʃərtʃ noun. A Christian group which gathers for the purpose of following and worshiping God.
2. God’s kingdom: Every Christian, everywhere on earth, throughout all of history.
3. A denomination: One such distinct Christian organization, namely one with its own groups, clergy, teachings, and buildings.
4. A Christian group’s building or campus.

Ἐκκλησία/ekklisía, the Greek word we translate “church,” properly means “group.”

Yeah, you might’ve heard some preacher claim it means “a specially-called-out people.” It’s ’cause ekklisía’s word-root καλέω/kaléo means “call.” So those who like to dabble in language assume “call” must be part of ekklisía’s meaning. But words evolve, y’know. Our word congress used to mean “group” too… and nowadays it means “our do-nothing national legislature.” Ancient Greeks also used ekklisía to refer to their legislatures. But regardless of what it used to mean, hundreds of years before Jesus used it to refer to his group, it’s only a generic term for any group.

Yeah, Jesus used the term. Thrice in Matthew; 19 times in Revelation.

Matthew 18.17 KJV
And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

Nowadays people use “church” to mean a church building: “I’ll meet you at the church” seldom means “I’ll meet you in the group.” But church means group. That’s what it means in the bible, every time it’s used. Never the building; the church met in all sorts of different buildings. The church is a group of Jesus-followers, who get together to worship him, learn from him, and encourage one another to follow him better. Sometimes “church” meant only the local group; sometimes, as in Revelation, it meant all the groups in a given city; and sometimes all Christendom. Every Christian, everywhere, whether they regularly met together in groups or not.

But regardless of what the word means, a lot of people want nothing to do with it.

I know a lot of people, and have met a lot of people, who tell me they have no intention of going to church. They don’t believe in “organized religion”—by which they mean church.

  • They don’t wanna get up early on Sunday morning—their one day off—to go hang out with a bunch of strangers and hypocrites.
  • They don’t wanna sing a bunch of cheesy Christian worship songs, no matter how good the musicians might be (and sometimes they’re not, ’cause sometimes small churches have too few musicians to choose from… or the pastor picked a family member to do music, and yikes). And why must music pastors insist on repeating the chorus so many times?
  • They don’t wanna then listen to the pastor’s wife sing karaoke one of the songs, mediocrely, for all to applaud her, ’cause wasn’t she earnest? (Though not good. And not always earnest.)
  • They don’t wanna tithe to an organization whose pastors clearly have enough money to afford fancy suits, silk Hawaiian shirts, or whatever Urban Outfitters currently puts in their shop windows. (Depending on how old or young your pastors—and congregation—are.)
  • They don’t wanna sit through an hour-long lecture. They had quite enough of lectures in childhood. Now they’ve gotta again be told what to do, what to think, and that if they don’t, they’re going to hell. (Which, if they even believe in hell, they’re entirely sure God isn’t that wrathful, ’cause grace.)
  • Alternatively, they don’t wanna sit through a homily which does none of those things… which, instead, tells them nothing. It’s just some feel-good stuff devoid of substance, and as boring as all get-out (-of-the-building-now).
  • They don’t wanna force the kids to go to church. It’s hard enough getting ’em to go to school.

Look, I get it. I’ve been going to church all my life. I have all the same complaints as you. Probably more, ’cause I have a theology degree, so I can write a dissertation about every single one of my problems with church. You think I’m kidding? In seminary I was given an assignment to write about my problems with church, and my biggest problem with that paper was I was only permitted to write about one of my peeves. Not all thousand. So… much… bile…

Really don’t wanna go to church.

by K.W. Leslie, 05 January

There’s a guy whose blog I’ve been following for years. In the past three years he’s been really amping up his message to everybody to quit their churches. Stop going, he says. Just stop; stay home. You’ll be a lot happier.

And I get it. There’ve been times in my life where I didn’t wanna go to church either. I didn’t try to drag people away from church along with me, like this guy; I figured if you like church, you do you, but for me, nah.

For the usual excuses.

I HAVE ANOTHER CHURCH. I moved about 100 miles away from home for college, and for a semester I used the excuse, “I already have a church.” I didn’t care for any of the local churches I had visited. And whenever I went home, I did go to church, with my family. But when I was at school I figured it was okay… if I missed 10 weeks of church services.

CHAPEL COUNTS. Plus my school had daily chapel services. So they became my other excuse that semester. Me and a lot of other students.

DON’T GOTTA GO EVERY WEEK. When I wasn’t in church leadership, I found it was really easy to skip a Sunday morning here and there. Sometimes skip a lot of mornings. There are some Christians who only attend a service once a month… and of course there are those twice-a-year Christians who only attend Easter and Christmas services. If that; nowadays they can watch services on YouTube.

“I have freedom in Christ, y’know,” was my usual excuse for inconsistent attendance. And I do… but in context that passage is about freedom of conscience, Ro 14 not the freedom to be irresponsible.

I CAN DO THIS ON MY OWN. Years before, when I wasn’t at school, this was my excuse for a few weeks while I was really annoyed with the people of my church. ’Cause I totally can do this stuff on my own.

  • Pray?—no problem.
  • Sing worship songs?—easily done.
  • Learn from fellow Christians?—I have their books; I have the internet; I got content.
  • Study the bible?—sure.
  • Tithing? Well yes, I could donate money to myself for “religious” expenses; or I could give that money to charity. Or I could spend all of it at a Peets one afternoon while I sat there reading some Christian book; wouldn’t that totally count?
  • Take holy communion? I could eat saltines and grape juice on my own, and call it communion. But the vital element in communion is, y’know, actual communion—with fellow Christians. So that makes it tricky.

As are all our other rituals which require the participation of other Christians. Plus evangelism: Once you lead someone to Jesus, where do you take ’em so they can be taught Christianity and mentored? Well I could do it myself… but that’d mean I’m starting a church, right?

There are plenty more excuses. Some of them get pretty complex, and as a result they kinda merit whole articles, because it takes a little time to take these excuses apart. But for many a Christian, any excuse will do.

“It counts as church, right?”

by K.W. Leslie, 02 December

Though four out of five Americans identify ourselves as Christian, only one of these five actually go to church.

Nope, not kidding. Yes, the polls indicate about half of all Americans are regular attendees. In part because people play mighty loose with what “regular” means: They think it means once a month or more. Once a month counts as “regular.”

How often are Christians expected to participate in church? Well check out the standard expectations found in the scriptures:

Luke 9.23 KJV
And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.

Looks like the first Christians took Jesus’s “daily” idea and ran with it:

Acts 2.46-47 KJV
46 And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, 47 praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.

They were even able to make daily counts of their attendees:

Acts 16.5 KJV
And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily.

And when it came time to instruct non-Christians, new believers, and new students, it also took place daily:

Acts 5.42 KJV
And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.
 
Acts 17.11 KJV
These [Bereans] were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
 
Acts 19.9 KJV
But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus.

The usual practice among Christians nowadays is to only meet weekly for church. This means those who consider ourselves “regulars” because we attend once every week, are actually meeting a seventh as often as the ancient Christians. Less, considering those Christians would meet for hours-long services, whereas American Christians get antsy if the service lasts any longer than 90 minutes. (Some of them are even reading this article and gasping, “Ninety minutes? We’re done in an hour!” Yeah, we suck.

I know the polls say half, but as presidential polls have lately proven, people lie to pollsters all the time. They’d like to think they’re regular churchgoers. But whenever I’ve pinned down some of these so-called “regulars,” and ask ’em the last time they set foot in a church building, they gotta think about it, so it’s not recent. Nor all that regular. And when they’re being honest, the last time they attended was either Easter, Christmas, or for a wedding or funeral. “Regular” means twice a year. If that.

Heck, I’ve caught people claiming they were regulars at my church. After all, they visited for Christmas! Sometimes I’ll mess with them a little: “Oh, and how’d you like Pastor Dave’s message?” Oh, they’ll respond, they loved it. But our pastor’s name isn’t Dave. Four other churches in town have a Pastor Dave; we don’t. Still, a regular should know the pastor’s name, don’t you think?

Likewise if none of the pastors in your church know who you are, y’ain’t a regular. I’ll grant you some leeway if you attend a megachurch, where the pastors can’t possibly know everyone. But someone in your church’s leadership oughta be able to identify you in a police lineup.

Regardless—and regardless of what people imagine—any twice-a-year Christian isn’t a regular.

How about once-a-month attendees? Meh. I consider they’re doing the bare minimum to be considered “regular.” The standard in the scriptures is daily, remember?

But when I talk with strangers, and they identify as Christian, quite often they won’t bother to pretend they’re regulars at any church whatsoever. They’ll admit they have no church. At this rate, they’re not planning to find one either.

The Didache: How’d the earliest Christians behave?

by K.W. Leslie, 08 October

In the first century, Christian leaders wrote a “teaching” for their newbies: Stuff they felt new Christians oughta know and believe. Over time it’s become known as the didache, from its first line, Didahí Kyríu diá ton dódeka apostólon toís éthesin, “The Master’s teaching to the gentiles, from the 12 apostles.” Medieval western Christians lost their copies of it sometime in the 800s, and assumed it was gone forever, but Ethiopian Christians kept a version of it among their sacred literature, and an 11th-cenutry copy in the Codex Hierosolymitanus was rediscovered by Philotheos Bryennios in 1873.

Historians notice a lot of similarities between the Didache and what the Qumran community taught in the Dead Sea Scrolls. It’s considered a Jewish-Christian catechism, a lesson to be memorized, and eventually practiced. Whether it’s precisely as the Twelve taught, we’ve no idea. But it’s safe to say it’s what a lot of early Christians taught. In fact, many early Christians felt the Didache should be included in the New Testament.

So why wasn’t it? ’Cause for the longest time, Christians thought it was written in the second century, and nearly all of ’em limited the NT to first-century writings. I’m not saying we should add it now… but it’s interesting to look at the way ancient Christians expected their newbies to behave. It’s why I include the whole of it below.

The translation and chapter titles are mine. I took the text from the Codex Hierosolymitanus. Read it yourself, and notice how many of these ideas are still taught in your own church.

Fearful churches.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 August

We Christians are meant to be holy, and consider ourselves separate from the rest of the world.

No, this isn’t because we’re better than them. We’re so not.

No, this doesn’t mean we’re to move into little gated communities where nobody but Christians live, isolate ourselves from everybody else, and drive out anyone we might consider sinners. This is how cults start—assuming the cult hasn’t already started, and the compound is just another creepy symptom of how we’ve gone astray.

We’re distinct from the rest of the world because God calls us to follow Jesus. Not other people. Not one another. Not even popular Christian culture—especially its political or Mammonist variants. As the rest of the world does its thing, we’re to ask ourselves, “What would the Father rather I do?” or “What does Jesus do?” Then do that.

Believe it or don’t, sometimes this means we do as the rest of the world does. If the culture suddenly realizes society is institutionally unjust—that violence and discrimination and sexism are wrong, that evil needs to stop—we need to cheer them on, participate, and see whether the Holy Spirit uses these moments to bring people to Jesus. ’Cause he will, and does.

But of course we need to bear in mind pagans have entirely different motives than we do. They don’t do grace; on their better days they do karma. They want things to be fair and equitable, not because it’s inherently good that they’re so, but because fairness ultimately benefits them. And when it doesn’t, they don’t try to make things fair. The status quo and current social order is fine. Why discomfort themselves when reform does absolutely nothing for them, or even costs them, or makes ’em give up power? Nah.

Our motives have to be like God’s: Way higher. Wheenever we find ourselves on the same side as the world, we oughta see this for what it is: It’s a chance to draw a few pagans to Christ Jesus and God’s kingdom. But not every church realizes this, and figures we’re to stay away from the world, lest “bad company ruin good character.” 1Co 15.33 Best to stay away from pagans, turn the kingdom into a fortress, and isolate ourselves from them with both spiritual and rule-based hedges of protection.

When you visit such churches, that’s the mindset you’re gonna find among ’em. A whole lot of anti-world rhetoric. Everything inside the church is good, pure, and holy; everything “out there” is wicked, corrupt, destructive. Dabble in it just a little, even unintentionally, and it’ll ruin you. Stay away. Touch not the unclean thing.

Ostensibly the goal is holiness. The real result? Fear and dark Christianity.

Sleep-deprived Sunday morning services.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 May

When I was a kid, I liked church. My friends were there, the pastor was a decent preacher, and the Sunday school classes were interesting. (The music wasn’t so great; as an adult I went to churches with way better music.) But even so, some Sunday mornings I really didn’t care to go.

’Cause sleep. I wanted to sleep.

I stayed up way too late the night before. Usually because I watched Saturday Night Live, or Doctor Who reruns on public television, or some other late-night movie or show. I’d be up till 1 a.m.; usually 2. Yeah, television is a lousy excuse for being exhausted the next morning. But in college, I hung out with friends till very late Saturday night—and that’s no better of an excuse.

So come Sunday morning, when Mom trying to get us out the door so we could be at church by 9, church was the very last thing I wanted to do that morning. I wanted sleep. Needed sleep. What good was church gonna do me if I dozed off during the sermon? You know, like my other friends. And half the adults.

I discovered this handy trick: Open your bible on your lap. If you felt yourself drifting, just bow your head so it looks like you’re reading your bible. And no, this technique fools no one. Especially if you drool in your sleep, and the onionskin paper they use on thin bibles does not handle liquids well.

In seminary, same problem. Saturday nights were spent with friends; Sunday mornings I was dead tired, tempted to sleep in. But lo and behold, I found a solution: Evening services! There was a church in Santa Cruz whose worship service began at 6 p.m. Sundays. So that’s where I went.

Sunday mornings I slept in like a pagan. Woke around 10, dragged my bones to brunch, did homework, had dinner, then went to church. And for the first time in the longest time, I was fully awake for Sunday church, and better able to appreciate it.

And then I graduated, and moved to where there was nothing but Sunday morning services. Ugh.

In any event I totally understand why so many people, Christians and pagans alike, are loath to give up their Sunday mornings for church. I’ve been there. Some mornings I’m still there: I rarely do anything Sunday nights, but sometimes I’ll have an uncomfortable night’s sleep, and be in no mood for Sunday morning church.

I’m not a morning person anyway. King David was, so it’s his fault we have this in our bibles:

Psalm 5.3 KJV
My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.

Gee thanks David. That, plus Jesus rising from the dead before dawn, Jn 20.1-2 has most of us Christians insisting upon morning services. Sometimes sunrise services. It’s like a test to see whether we appreciate God more than sleep. Whether we do or not, it still feels way too much like punishment.

Why skipping church messes us up.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 April

Whenever I share Jesus with people, most of the time I discover they’re Christian. Or at least they imagine they’re Christian.

In the United States, most folks have had some exposure to Christianity. Some of us grew up churchgoers. Others said some version of a sinner’s prayer at one point in our lives. Others had Christian parents, or were baptized, or attend Easter and Christmas services and figure that’ll do. People figure they believe in Jesus and that’s all it takes to make ’em Christian. Confess, believe, and we’re saved. Ro 10.9 Right?

So by this metric they figure they’re Christian. They believe in Jesus. Following him is a whole other deal. They’re not religious. They’re “spiritual,” as they define spiritual, which usually means imaginary—’cause like I said, they imagine they’re Christian. Their Christianity wholly exists in their heads. You’d be hard-pressed to find it elsewhere in their lives, but it’s in their heads at least—and somebody’s assured them it counts if it only exists in their heads. Or “in your heart,” which they figure means their feelings—which are still only in their heads.

So to them, Christianity’s how they feel about Jesus. Not what they do for him. Not following him. They don’t. Or they’ll do the bare minimum to feel Christian: They pray every so often, and it won’t entirely be prayer requests, but some actual sucking up praise. They drop a dollar in the Salvation Army kettle.

As for going to church… well they don’t. Maybe on the holidays. ’Cause Sundays are their time. Their one day off; the one day of the week they get to sleep in, or have no obligations, or can get drunk during brunch. It’s “Sunday funday,” their weekly holiday.

Nobody’s ever explained to them that if “Christians” don’t go to church, it makes us heretic.

Seriously. Heretic. No, heretic doesn’t mean they’re going to hell; it only means they get God so wrong, it can be argued they’re not properly Christian. Contrary to what a lot of go-it-alone “Christians” imagine, there are valid standards for what makes us Christian; it’s called orthodoxy. Among these standards is “the communion of saints,” or the church. It’s in our creeds. True Christians deliberately interact with fellow Christians. And not just to have coffee or watch a game: For the purpose of encouraging one another to follow Jesus better, and to worship him together.

If we avoid the communion of saints—and it might sound like we have perfectly legitimate reasons—the cold hard fact is we’re heretic. Jesus doesn’t want his followers to go it alone. He ordered us to love one another. He made it a full-on command. It identifies us as his followers. Jn 13.34-35 When we won’t obey Jesus, we’re not followers. When we figure we can love one another just fine without ever intentionally coming together to do so… we can call ourselves Christian, but I seriously doubt Jesus recognizes us as such. Lk 6.46 And if he doesn’t identify us as his, Mt 7.21-23 we’re not.

Hey, somebody had to warn you. Better you hear this now, than when you stand before Jesus.

Three focal points of church services.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 April

Obviously not all churches are alike. Practices vary. Even within the same denomination: Y’might have one church which is known for its Christian education, bible studies, Sunday school program, and teaching pastors… with a sister church known for its musicians.

Talk to any Christian about what they like best in their church, and they’ll usually emphasize a few things they particularly like: The friendliness. The informality. The kids’ program. The decor. The amiability of the head pastor. The many outreach programs. The coffee—for once it’s not Folger’s! (’Cause Folger’s is crap. But when the person in charge of the church’s coffee doesn’t even drink coffee, guess what they always buy? Right—the cheapest stuff on the shelf. Kirkland or Folger’s, or some other awful blend which tastes like Juan Valdez’s burro rolled around in it. Churches, don’t do that to your people. But I digress.)

These things aside, y’might notice churches structure their entire Sunday morning service (or Saturday evening, or whenever they do their services) around one of three things: Sacraments, teaching, or music.

AS FOUND AMONGSUITS BEST
SACRAMENT-
FOCUSED
Orthodox, Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans.Kinesthetic learners. They enjoy the physical motions and movements, and the visual cues. They wanna feel not just spiritually, but physically connected to our Lord Jesus and our fellow Christians.
SERMON-
FOCUSED
Reformed, Baptists, Methodists, Anabaptists.Intellectuals. They enjoy knowledge about God—theology, bible background and history and study, and wisdom. (Often they enjoy the pursuit of knowledge in general.) They seek to love God with all their mind and will.
MUSIC-
FOCUSED
Pentecostals, charismatics, non-denominationals.Emotive people. Music appeals to their desire to worship God with all their heart. They pursue a sense of God’s presence.

Yeah, you might think there are other types. Like the snake-handling churches. But in such churches, snake-handling is a sacrament, so… yep, there they are among the three.

How d’you know which one is your church’s main focus? Simple: If you skip it, the people of your church act as though you didn’t really “have church.” Wasn’t a proper service; didn’t count.

Skip the music, or only sing for 10 minutes, in a music-focused church, and people will think something went horribly wrong. They didn’t feel the Spirit that week. They feel unfulfilled. They’d be outraged if they didn’t sing at all. Ever been in a church service during a power failure? If you don’t have a guitar or piano available, sacrament- or sermon-focused churches will figure, “Fine; we’ll sing a song or two acapella, then ‘get on with it’”—meaning the real part of their service, the message or sacrament. But in a music-focused church, people won’t settle for an abbreviated songset. They’ll try their darnedest to make the musical experience as significant as the electrified experience. And blame the devil for the power failure—“Satan tried to stop us from having church!”—and pointedly make even more joyful a noise as their voices and acoustic instruments can produce. And y’know, they’ll succeed.

Now skip the music in a sermon-focused church. No I’m not kidding; tell people, “Sorry, the music pastor’s out sick today, so we’ll have music next week.” Don’t even bother with a simple acapella chorus. And no, you won’t have a revolt: People might think it’s weird, but hey, they heard a sermon, so they’re good. Music-focused Christians would lose their minds, but sermon-focused Christians wouldn’t mind at all. Turn it around and skip the sermon (as I have seen music-focused churches do multiple times) and sermon-focused people would be really, really irritated: They came to church to get spiritual food, and music is baby food at best: They want something to chew on. You can skip communion; many such churches only celebrate it once a month, or only on Easter and Christmas. Music’s optional too… which is why I find it tends to not be very good in such churches. When I was growing up, Mom had no trouble with being as much as 45 minutes late for the service, ’cause “we’ll only miss the music.” But we’d better not miss the sermon.

And in sacrament-focused churches, holy communion (or Eucharist) must happen. Skip the music, skip the homily; don’t you dare skip communion. Otherwise it’s “not church,” and now the people will have to go to another church that week so they can receive communion. No I’m not kidding: They will.

When and where the church meets.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 April

Years ago I got an email asking about what day of the week we oughta attend our church services.

My church has a Saturday night service, and I started going to that instead of Sunday mornings. My sister says Saturday nights don’t count; we’re supposed to go to church on Sundays. I told her God doesn’t care when we go to church, so long that we do. Which of us is right?

Which of you is right? The weaker believer. Always.

Romans 14.5-6 NLT
5 In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. 6A Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him.
 
Romans 15.1-2 NLT
1 We who are strong must be considerate of those who are sensitive about things like this. We must not just please ourselves. 2 We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord.

If our Christian sister or brother has a hangup, we might not think it’s a legitimate concern—at all—but to them it totally is. It might derail their Christianity. Shouldn’t, but could. So we have to take that into consideration, and be gracious to them. Not shout back at them, “I have freedom in Christ!”—as if that gives us license to be jerks.

No, that doesn’t mean we have to change our usual worship practices to accommodate them. If you usually attend Saturday night services, keep doing so. But don’t do it to outrage anyone—“Lookit me, I’m worshiping on Saturday, neener neener neener.” I’m mainly thinking of those Christians who attended “worship protests” during a pandemic, not to worship Jesus, but to flout government guidelines under the guise of worship. When you’re truly doing it to honor Jesus, your ulterior motives won’t include fleshly things like division and antagonism. You’re not gonna be a dick about it! And God will judge those Christians for their horrible example to fellow Christians, and their horrible witness to the lost and the sick.

So yeah: If your sister insists Saturday nights “don’t count,” she doesn’t have any biblical basis for this belief. Sunday morning worship is simply Christian custom. Nothing more. We can worship God whenever we like. We oughta be worshiping him daily! And we can worship him together, as the people of his church, whenever we schedule a service, be it Sunday morning, Saturday night, Wednesday night, Friday night, Tuesday morning, Thursday afternoon, whenever.

But till she finally realizes this, take her to Sunday morning services.

The church is people.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 April
Church. tʃərtʃ noun. A Christian group which gathers for the purpose of following and worshiping God.
2. God’s kingdom: Every Christian, everywhere on earth, throughout all of history.
3. A denomination: One such distinct Christian organization, namely one with its own groups, clergy, teachings, and buildings.
4. A Christian group’s building or campus.

If you compare the definition of church I gave, with that of an average English-language dictionary, you’ll notice a few differences. The average dictionary tends to first refer to buildings—because that’s what your average English-speaker means when they say church. “I’m going to church” means “I’m going to a church building.” Or “We’re gonna be late for church” means “We’re gonna be late for the services at the building.”

But when Jesus used the word ἐκκλησία/ekklisía he didn’t mean a building. He meant a group of people. That’s what Jesus’s church is to him: His people. Mt 18.17

The church is to Christianity, what the nation of Israel was to the ancient Hebrew religion: God’s people. The people the LORD rescued from slavery, whom Jesus saves from sin and death. The people he wants to follow and obey and worship him, and build his kingdom out of.

The church isn’t a building, though we meet in buildings, and headquarter our organizations in ’em. The church isn’t our denominations, our leadership structure, our organization church. It’s not the institution, not our leadership, not the time of week we meet, not the mission statement, not the specific things we claim to believe, not the specific things our pastors preach about.

The church is people. It’s us, collectively. We are the church.

Sometimes the leaders of our churches point this out. More often they don’t. Not because they’re hiding anything; it’s just not one of those things they feel they oughta emphasize every single week. But maybe they should, ’cause Christians aren’t always aware we’re the church… and start to develop the false idea we’re not the church; that something else is. Something outside ourselves. Something we could quit, or oppose, or even fight.

Whenever Christians forget the church is people—and we’re the people—the church typically goes wrong.

When a church holds firm. Or doesn’t.

by K.W. Leslie, 01 March

1 Thessalonians 3.6-10.

The biggest worry for any apostle, for any ministry leader or missionary or evangelist, is their work might be for nothing.

That everybody they’ve worked with were only running high on emotion: They were excited about this new thing they were trying out, were feeding off the adrenalin and other people’s zeal, were feeling their own endorphins instead of the Holy Spirit… or were faking it because everybody else seemed to be so into it. That as soon as the apostle leaves, everything they built just collapses, because nothing else was holding things together.

Because this happens. Has happened before to a lot of apostles. No doubt happened to Paul, Silas, and Timothy.

Acts records the places Paul went, and the churches he either found there, or started there… or didn’t. It doesn’t mention the churches he started which flopped. Sometimes that’s because Luke simply didn’t have the data. But if failed churches weren’t a real thing, the apostles who 1 Thessalonians wouldn’t have this worry! If they had nothing but success everywhere, they’d presume the Holy Spirit would guarantee more of the same.

So they were worried about Thessaloniki, Macedon. They didn’t get a lot of time there before they were driven out of town. They were anxious to return, but none of ’em went back but Timothy. But when he came back, he had good news—as it comes out in the letter.

1 Thessalonians 3.6-10 KWL
6 Timothy came to us from you just now, bringing good news of you—
your faith and love, and that you always have good memories of us,
greatly desiring to see us, same as we you.
7 This is why we’re aided by you, fellow Christians,
in all our distress and and trouble; we’re aided by your faith.
8 So now we live, when you stand firm in our Master:
9 Why are we able to repay you by giving thanks to God for you,
for all the joy which we rejoice because of you before our God?
10 Night and day, begging God all the more to see you in person,
to restore whatever’s lacking in your faith.

Timothy reported the Thessalonians were still together, and were still fruitful in the way Christians ought to be. And they fondly remembered Paul and Silas, and wanted to see them too. And that empowered them.

The word in verse 7, παρεκλήθημεν/pareklíthimen, “we’re aided,” tends to be translated “we were comforted” (KJV, NASB) or “we were encouraged” (NIV) because its word-root is παράκλητος/paráklitos, “paraclete,” a word used to describe both Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and usually translated “comforter” or “advocate.” Jn 14.16 Properly it refers to a partner who comes alongside to assist us, and that’s what Jesus and the Spirit do—when we let ’em. The apostles aren’t expressing, “Aw, you’re praying for us too; that makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside.” It’s “You’re praying for us too; that helps!

Apostolic succession.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 January
APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION æp.ə'stɑ.lɪk sək'sɛ.ʃən noun. The action, process, or sequence of inheriting a title and office in church leadership, founded by one of Christ Jesus’s first apostles.

Jesus sends his apostles on various missions, and in so doing, many times these apostles start ministries. Sometimes a church or denomination. Sometimes hospitals and hospices, schools and universities, shelters, charities, or whatever Jesus tells ’em to start.

Sometimes the apostle’s job is to only start this ministry, then move along to the next task; Paul of Tarsus obviously did that with churches and schools. But a lot of times it’s to run the ministry for the rest of their lives. Or until they reach a point where they can’t physically do it anymore, and have to retire. Does this mean the ministry is over? Occasionally yes; the apostle kinda was the ministry, and without that apostle it becomes a shell of itself. (Or worse, a mockery.) But if Jesus wants it to keep going, he’ll send other people to keep it going. Ideally he sends another apostle: Someone he instructs to pick up where the last apostle left off, maybe with a vision to take the ministry even further.

But Jesus doesn’t always have to do this. Because many an organization is built to keep running, even after its founders are gone. True of governments; true of businesses and schools; true of ministries. If its director steps down, one of the assistants—who’s often been doing the bulk of the director’s work anyway—can step in and keep things going, and hire people to do the assistant’s old jobs. Or the organization’s trustees hire a competent successor. Might be an outsider; might be the founder’s spouse or child. Regardless, this person succeeds the original leader, and the organization keeps right on ticking.

With anything Christian, of course people feel we have to have some veneer of spirituality attached to everything we do. It can’t just be us hiring a successor; it has to be God’s idea. Even if it wasn’t really. Even if the ministry was only supposed to last as long as the apostle did, and God’s ready to do something else… but the people on the apostle’s team don’t want things to end, and the next best thing to propping up the apostle’s corpse and tricking people into thinking she’s alive, is to prop up the ministry and do the very same thing. Why, God clearly wants it to continue! Look, the successor has the anointing!

Anyway. The way apostolic succession is meant to work, is where Jesus sends an apostle to start a ministry, then sends another apostle to succeed that first apostle. The apostle Apollos probably started the church of Ephesus; the apostle Paul found it, then spent two years training the new Christians; Ac 19.1-10 he left the apostle Timothy behind to lead this church for a few years; 1Ti 1.3-4 and after Timothy, the apostle John led it for a few years himself. If Jesus wants a ministry to keep going, he’s gonna personally appoint people to run it. He’s not gonna let the ministry’s internal machinery keep it going; he keeps it going.

And those churches which believe in apostolic succession, believe that’s kinda what happens. Not just anybody gets tapped to lead their ministries: Again, it’s gotta be God’s idea, and his appointed successor.

But we’ve seen plenty of cases where an incompetent, unqualified, corrupt, godless, foolish individual gets put in charge of one ministry or another. Something in the system broke down. And it certainly wasn’t Jesus.

There’s a certain amount of prestige to a ministry when it’s founded by a well-known apostle. Simon Peter, Francis of Assisi, John Knox, John Wesley… all these guys were definitely chosen by God, and people recognize the ministries and churches they founded are definitely part of God’s will. But for this reason, there’s a great deal of glory given their successors. If you’re the current pastor of a church founded by a great saint, surely there must be something special about you. (One would hope!)

So if you’re the president of a school founded by D.L. Moody, or the bishop of a church founded by Barnabas and Paul themselves, or the head of a denomination founded by Martin Luther, you must either be worthy of their greatness, or some of their greatness musta rubbed off on you. In churches who are really big on apostolic succession, they believe this in quite a literal way: Their first apostles blessed, laid hands on, and commissioned their successors to continue their work. In so doing, they passed down the charge Jesus originally gave them—in a long, unbroken chain to the present-day office-holders. Ergo Pope Francis has the very same commission Jesus gave Simon Peter to oversee the church of Rome. (And of course all the other churches connected with it.)

What does Jesus send apostles to do?

by K.W. Leslie, 13 January

When people investigate what an apostle is, mainly they wanna know whether Jesus still makes them, or whether they’re just a first-century, back-in-bible-times phenomenon. Especially when they don’t want there to be any more apostles, ’cause they don’t like the idea of Jesus designating leaders himself, with no input from them. (I already discussed this in my article on apostles.)

The rest of the time they’re usually looking for a job description. ’Cause some Christian has claimed, “This is what an apostle does,” and they wanna know whether that’s true. Do the scriptures tell us that’s what an apostle does? Or is this person all wet, and claiming some heretic weirdness instead of something truly biblical?

Here’s the thing: The bible doesn’t spell out an apostle’s job description. Because it’s not actually a particular job. It’s a person.

The word ἀπόστολος/apóstolos means “one whom [God] sent.” That’s a person. An individual. A woman or man to whom Jesus appears, or to whom the Holy Spirit speaks, and is given a mission to go and do. Which mission? It varies.

Yep, there’s not just one vocation, one mission, one job, for all apostles everywhere, to do. Like the military, there are hundreds of missions. The overall goal is to grow God’s kingdom, and the individual mission is gonna contribute to that. (Well, it’d better. Otherwise it may not actually be Jesus who sent this person. Just saying.)

So those Christians who claim, “Here’s what the apostolic office consists of”: Nope. This may be what they do, or their pastor or boss does—and it may be exactly what Jesus wants them and their pastor and boss to do. But is it what Jesus wants every apostle to do? Of course not. There is no single apostolic job description. There are just apostles: Individuals Jesus ἀποστέλλω/apostéllo, “sends out,” with a mission—and missions vary.

Evidence from the bible? No problem; there’s lots. Here, Jesus straight-up declares he sends people with a bunch of different vocations.

Matthew 23.34 KJV
Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city…

Yeah, I don’t like how they end up either. Them’s the risks when you follow Jesus. But set that aside a minute and notice Jesus lists three different types of vocations, whom he apostéllo/“sends out.” Prophets to share with people whatever God tells them; sages to share wise advice, help plan stuff, or judge fairly; and scholars who know their bible, can teach it to others, and can confirm the prophets and sages.

And no these aren’t the only people Jesus sends on missions. I’m not making a comprehensive list here. The bible doesn’t make one either.

Jesus designated the Twelve to apprentice with him, so he could train ’em to proclaim his gospel, cure the sick, and exorcise devils. I should point out that was their initial mission.

Mark 3.14-15 KJV
14 And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, 15 and to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils…

Later he sent ’em to evangelize.

Luke 9.2 KJV
And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick.

Much later, when the Twelve found themselves running Jesus’s relatively brand-new church of thousands of people, they decided their primary mission was to pray and teach.

Acts 6.2-4 KJV
2 Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. 3 Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. 4 But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.

As our Lord, Jesus has every right to change our mission on us! ’Cause not every mission is open-ended, and we oughta expect to do it for the rest of our lives. Sometimes we actually complete our missions! The Holy Spirit sent Philip to go to a particular Ethiopian; Ac 8.29 Philip did it, shared the gospel with him, and was done. He wasn’t sent to Ethiopia to preach the gospel; the Ethiopian did that, and that’s why Ethiopia is to this day full of Christians. As for Philip, he went off to preach in other cities, Ac 8.40 and apparently stayed in Caesarea and raised his daughters to be prophets. Ac 21.8-9 Missions change—but apostles remain the people Jesus sends on missions. So like I said: Apostles are individuals. Not vocations.

Yeah, sometimes he sends us on big, grand projects. Sometimes he has us found a church, and run it the rest of our lives. And other times, he sends us to go get him dinner.

Luke 22.8 KJV
And he sent Peter and John, saying, Go and prepare us the passover, that we may eat.

If you’re under the delusion that an apostolic job is a big exalted thing with a mighty biblical mandate, and that apostles are huge important people, you may not be aware how leadership works in God’s kingdom. He once had to correct his apostles about that particular false idea:

Matthew 20.25-27 KJV
25 But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. 26 But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; 27 and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: 28 Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

You wanna become an apostle? Then get it out of your head that it’s a big important office. It’s a person, who’s willing to obey and follow Jesus. Become such a person. Start following Jesus. Start serving others. He’ll give you a mission.

Apostles: Those whom Jesus sends out to do his work.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 January
APOSTLE ə'pɑs.əl noun. Person commissioned by Christ Jesus to perform a leadership role.
[Apostolic æ.pə'stɑl.ɪk adjective, apostleship ə'pɑs.əl.ʃɪp noun]

Jesus didn’t just have the 12 students. The actual number fluctuated, as some joined the group, Mk 10.52 and others quit in frustration. Jn 6.66 Jesus had loads of student-followers. But he designated the Twelve in particular as ἀπόστολοι/apóstoli, “sent ones.” Lk 6.13 Eleven of ’em—including another student named Matthias whom they promoted apostle Ac 1.26 —became the core leaders of his newly-created church.

And apostle still designates anyone whom Jesus, or the Holy Spirit on Jesus’s behalf, sends forth to do his work.

Well… in some traditions. Y’see, various Christians insist the only apostles in human history are Jesus’s original 12 guys.

Well… okay, they concede Judas Iscariot turned traitor and died, Ac 1.16-20 and Matthias replaced him, so Judas is out and Matthias is in. And okay, Paul of Tarsus counts as aposstle, ’cause he calls himself that a few times; maybe Jesus wanted him to be the twelfth apostle instead of Matthias.

Well… maybe a few more first-century church leaders. Scripture does after all identify Barnabas as an apostle, Ac 14.14 and Jesus’s brother James, Ga 1.19 and Paul’s relatives Andronicus and Junia. Ro 16.7 And probably Jesus’s brother Jude, ’cause he did write a book of the bible. But otherwise that’s all.

Two reasons these Christians insist Jesus stopped commissioning apostles after the first century:

  1. CESSATIONISM. They believe Jesus quit making apostles, and that the Spirit stopped making prophets. (Although evangelists, pastors, and teachers are still around.) The only reason Jesus designated apostles in the first place was to get his church started and the bible written. That done, the apostles died out, and are no more.
  2. APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION: They believe the apostles were given a specific job; namely the supervision of specific churches and ministries. It’s the jobs, the offices which are meant to be passed down from person to person. It’s not so much that any one person is an apostle; it’s the mission, which continues till Jesus returns and ends or upgrades it. So the only real apostles are the people in these particular positions: The bishops, patriarchs, and popes who run certain branches of Jesus’s church. Jesus doesn’t need, and therefore doesn’t create, any more apostles than that.

Either way, these folks claim the apostolic age is over. I don’t agree with ’em, mainly ’cause that’s not how the bible describes the first apostles.

Hypocrisy in leadership: It can get really bad, really fast.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 November

Most Christian leaders know better than to let hypocrisy grow among their leadership structure. It’s poison. It’s how scandals start, ruin churches, drive people to quit Jesus (or at least give ’em an excuse), and give all of Christianity a lousy reputation. So they take great care to keep hypocrites from ever being put in charge.

Others take no such care, and are full of hypocrites.

I used to single out particular churches, with particular leadership structures, for being particularly hypocritical. And yeah, it’s much easier for phonies to hide in churches with few to no accountability structures. (Or even with tremendous accountability structures, like the Roman Catholic Church… but the catch is their structure only offers forgiveness, not consequence, and that’s why so many evil leaders can get away with what they do.) It’s almost a given you’re gonna find hypocrites in anti-denominational churches: They want no oversight, no one to tell them to behave. But it’s hardly just the antidenominational folks. Any church can undermine or ignore all their safeguards.

So we gotta keep our eyes open! Watch for fruit. Mt 7.15-20 Good fruit and bad.

And it’s hardly just the leadership’s duty to watch out for hypocrisy. Every Christian needs to watch out for hypocrisy among our leaders. If they’re acting fake, take ’em aside privately, and call them on it! “You said such-and-so happened, but I know it actually didn’t,” or “You say you’ve never committed such a sin, but I know different,” or anything else which feels fraudulent. Yeah they’re gonna balk at the correction. Too many people think of accountability as judgment, and they don’t wanna be judged! But Christian leaders know (or should know) that judgment is part of the job. As is accountability.

On not giving to certain churches.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 October

Recently the subject came up about funding one’s church… and about whether we oughta fund churches which really doesn’t need the money.

Fr’instance a megachurch. People assume bigger churches are successful, and flush with cash, so it doesn’t matter whether they give these churches any money: The churches already have money. The Roman Catholic Church is loaded with expensive buildings, priceless artwork, huge tracts of land; heck, Vatican City is a sovereign nation-state which prints money and postage stamps. Hence whenever a Catholic diocese actually does need money, most people’s first response is, “Oh come on; you guys have money.” And don’t give.

Now yes, churches with a lot of people are gonna need a lot of resources. More pastors, obviously. More support staff: More secretaries and assistants, janitors and groundskeepers, bookkeepers, security guards, IT and website personnel, counselors and life coaches, drivers and pilots… the organization can get pretty huge. Plus bigger buildings, more land, higher electric bills, and so forth. So they’re gonna need more donations.

Now when big churches have a surplus, what we should see is they fund more missionaries and community good works—like this one megachurch in my town. We see ’em legitimately, publicly contributing to the growth of God’s kingdom.

But what we tend to see, especially in prosperity-gospel churches, is better-paid pastors who drive better-model cars. Whose “outreaches” tend to consist of conferences and schools which charge for entry. Whose support staff consists of a lot of unpaid interns, or who make minimum wage with no benefits. Like this other megachurch in my town.

Everybody knows—pagans especially!—that Christians are supposed to reject materialism. That Jesus publicly made a point of rejecting materialism. So you’d think Christians, who know this too, would make a point of not sending our donations to materialistic churches.

But yeah, we’ve been conned into thinking and doing otherwise.

How do we fund our churches?

by K.W. Leslie, 26 October

Back in high school I invited a schoolmate to my church. After the service he confessed he was really bothered by the offering plates.

We passed offering plates right after the worship songs, but before the karaoke. (Many Christians call it “special music.” It’s where someone gets on stage and sings along to an instrumental track. Exactly like karaoke. ’Cause it’s karaoke.) People put cash and checks in the plates. Sometimes in little envelopes, so people can’t see how little they actually give. Sometimes not, so people can.

This bugged him. In the church where he was raised, they had an offering box in back of the auditorium. If people wanted to inconspicuolusly put money or gum wrappers into it, they could. The box, he felt, was way more appropriate than our ostentatious “Look what I gave” display—which reminded him much too much of this story:

Mark 12.41-44 NRSV
1 [Jesus] sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

That, and he didn’t like how we interrupted our services to beg for money. People should just give, he figured.

Me, I grew up hearing you funded your church by tithing: Ten percent of every paycheck belongs to Jesus, so give it to your church. Ten percent of the gross, not the net; and if you don’t cough up the dough you’ll be cursed. No, an usher wouldn’t shout, “Tithe, motherf---er!” although that’d be awesome; I didn’t say cursed at. It meant we expected this bit of Malachi to come true:

Malachi 3.8-9 NRSV
8 Will anyone rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, “How are we robbing you?” In your tithes and offerings! 9 You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me—the whole nation of you!

Our finances were gonna shrivel. We’d been told scary stories about people who stopped tithing, and suddenly they could no longer live within their means. Apparently if God doesn’t get his cut, he takes it out of us in other ways. Ways we won’t like. You know, like wiseguys who stage a few “accidents” till they get paid off.

Now no, I’m not accusing our pastors of trying to shake us down. They preached this because it’s what they were taught. They were told this is a biblical principle, and shown all the appropriate proof texts in Malachi and Matthew. They never bothered to investigate beyond these verses, and see whether the bible teaches more about the subject—and it does. I wrote about it.

When I investigated, I also discovered tithing—as a means of financing Christian churches—is actually a recent doctrine.

It first appeared in the United States a very short time after the year 1776. That bit of information give you any hint as to why churches suddenly began to preach about tithing?

Right you are: Because between the Edict of Milan in the year 313, and the American Revolution in 1776, churches were almost entirely funded by the state. Senates and kings paid for everything. Really, your tax dollars did. (Well, considering the United States used to be British, your tax pounds did.) They felt it was the state’s duty to do so; that if you’re truly a Christian nation, the nation sponsors the church. Right?

But then the United States quit being British. Our states all rewrote their constitutions. In them, nearly all of them included freedom of religion: The state has no official church, so citizens aren’t compelled to state any particular Christian creed… nor fund any particular Christian church.

Churches hated the idea, because now it meant they had to fund themselves. And now they do: By telling their regulars we need to tithe.

Bishops: The head leaders in a church.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 October
BISHOP 'bɪʃ.əp noun. A senior member of the Christian clergy. Usually in charge of multiple churches, like a district or diocese; usually empowered to appoint other clergy.
2. A chess piece. Each player gets two, and they only move diagonally; one on white squares, and one on black.
[Episcopal ə'pɪs.kə.pəl adjective.]

When Paul wrote to Timothy and Titus about church leaders, one particular word he used was ἐπίσκοπον/epískopon, “supervisor.” The King James Version translates this word as “overseer” Ac 20.28 KJV and “bishop.” 1Pe 2.25 KJV We actually got the latter word “bishop” from epískopon; you just have to drop the -on ending and swap the epí- for bi-, and soften the k sound. Language evolves like that.

Every church has supervisors of one form or another. But not all of ’em use the word “bishop” for them; not all of ’em are comfortable with that word, ’cause they think of it as a Catholic thing. So they use other words, like “pastor” or “minister” or “overseer” or “superintendent” or “president.” Varies from church to church.

Now, some of the reason people don’t wanna use “bishop” to translate epískopon is because of what “bishop” means nowadays: A person who supervises multiple churches, or multiple campuses of a really big church. (Although some pastors just want a more important-sounding title, so they use “bishop” regardless. Watch out for those guys. But back to my point.) They figure Paul was writing about the head leader in one particular church, so to their minds epíksopon means “pastor,” and that’s how they interpret it.

And they’re right. It is equivalent to what we mean by “pastor”—the person who supervises and shepherds a flock of Christians. Like Jesus. 1Pe 2.25 But you gotta remember in the first century, churches met in homes, and frequently and necessarily multiple homes. The person supervising one group, quickly found himself supervising multiple groups. Multiple campuses of the same church. Like bishops do nowadays. And over time, when churches moved into church buildings, bishops would be in charge of the church for the whole city, but they weren’t able to be in multiple places at once to run the services. So each individual service had a presbyter (who became what we now call “priests”) run things. Again, kinda like multi-campus churches today.

But we don’t have to call the head leader a bishop. Doesn’t matter what you call them: Pastor (senior pastor, head pastor, lead pastor, teaching pastor, pastor emeritus), priest, vicar, minister, reverend, apostle, prophet, chairman, president, senior elder, chief deacon. Wherever the buck stops, that’s who Paul meant. That’s your bishop.

For the sake of churches which get nervous about that title, I’ll just say “supervisor” from here on out.

Presbyters: The grownups who run a church.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 October
PRESBYTER 'prɛz.bə.dər, 'prɛs.bə.dər noun. An elder in a Christian church.
2. The formal title of a minister or priest, in certain Christian denominations.
[Presbyteral prɛz'bə.dər.əl adjective, presbyterial prɛz.bə'tɪ.ri.əl adjective, presbyterian prɛz.bə'tɪ.ri.ən adjective.]

You likely know the word presbyterian because there are presbyterian churches, and a few presbyterian denominations. The word’s in their names. Y’might not know what it means: It indicates these particular churches aren’t run by the head pastor, nor run from afar by a bishop, nor are they a democracy where all the members get a vote. They’re run by a limited number of qualified mature Christians. They’re run by elders.

The New Testament word which we translate “elder” is πρεσβύτερος/presvýteros, and in the Latin bible this became presbyter. So yeah, it’s a Latin word. Still means “elder.”

The ancient church was run by elders for a few centuries, but it gradually evolved into something more hierarchical: Presbyters became the priests who run the church services; bishops were the supervisors who oversaw all the churches in town; archbishops oversaw all the bishops in the province; patriarchs oversaw all the bishops in the country. Western churches got it into their heads their patriarch oversaw all the bishops in the world, including other patriarchs… and that’s one of the ways the Roman Catholic Church grew distant and distinct from the Orthodox Church, causing the universal church to officially split in 1054. But both those churches still think of presbyter and priest as the same thing—and an elder as something entirely different.

After the Protestant movement began, churches still largely ran the same way, with archbishops and bishops and priests. But once the Church of Scotland went Protestant, they started to rethink the whole church leadership idea. Top-down leadership wasn’t working for them… and not everybody in the church was spiritually mature enough to responsibly vote for things. So who should lead? Their solution, which they’re pretty sure comes from bible: Elders.

Titus 1.5-9 ESV
5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— 6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

True, lots of Christians like to make a distinction between elder and overseer (Greek ἐπίσκοπον/epískopon, “supervisor”; KJV “bishop”) as two different titles and offices in a church. But the way Paul of Tarsus phrased it to Titus of Crete, he treated the terms as interchangeable. Elders supervise. (And there’s still a little bit of hierarchy: Titus was to appoint these elders, and supervise them. Whether you’re fine with hierarchical churches or not, every Christian answers to every other Christian, y’know.)

How presbyterian churches oughta work, is presbyters get selected from the congregation: Somebody in leadership recognizes you’re mature enough to be included in the leadership, and invites you to join in. And now you’re contributing to how the church is run. You have a say. Your voice gets heard. And the presbyters actually do run stuff.

Yeah, the church has a head pastor, because somebody needs to be the executive around there, but the pastor doesn’t run everything; the presbyters do. The pastor doesn’t do all the work—and no church’s pastor should do all the work!—but presbyters do. And the pastor doesn’t decide everything, like the church’s mission statement or policies or goals or faith statement: Presbyters do.

How presbyterian churches actually do work, varies.