Our first two posts were Part 1 - Speak the Word, Part 2 – Speak in Person. Our desire is to lay out our expectations for how we communicate in every facet of church life, from the pulpit to weekly emails to what gets promoted and how. If our first two posts could be thought of as answering the questions, “What does God say and how does he say it?”, this post is answering the question, “Who does God use to speak?”
Before speaking or before initiating a conversation seeking some answers, we hope that everyone would be able to identify who they are communicating with. As we have learned from the previous two posts, the message and the messenger cannot be separated. Who you are matters for what you say.
The Bible is full of people trying to figure out who they are, because that matters a lot to the weight behind what they say. In Exodus 3, Moses asked this question, “who am I?” And God’s response is essentially, “but, who am I?” In fact, a large theme in the book of Exodus is people like Pharaoh and the Israelites asking, “who are you to say this to me?” And behind those questions they are really asking, “who is this God that you are speaking on behalf of? What authority do you have, because what authority does God have?” The burden of communication is always a burden of authority. It makes a difference if a medical doctor tells you something about your health. Change the person or change the topic and the degree of authority diminishes.
God has authorized certain people with certain messages, and thankfully it’s a pretty simple system without the hierarchy and power grabbing that is familiar in the world. In the church there aren’t any Second Lieutenants or Assistants to the Regional Manager or Galactic Viceroy of Research Excellence. No, God’s delegation fits nicely into three categories. Under Jesus as head of the church, authority for communicating certain messages is given to these three groups: Spiritual Leadership, Responsible Parties, and Church Members.
By spiritual leadership I am referring to either the elders in the church or of men as heads of their homes. 1 Timothy 2:8-15 calls for men in every place to pray with a spiritual authority as a man, and with that women are not permitted to teach and exercise authority over a man. This delegation is based on a created order, because Adam was formed before Eve. It’s important to note that authoritative communication is exactly what this delegation is all about. In the home, the husband has a certain authority given to him by God. And in the church, the elders have a certain authority given to them by God. And so, who you are and who you are speaking to matters here. Keep in mind that our speaking to each other is always a matter of discipleship. Every word we speak to another is about us making them and them making us to be greater disciples of Jesus. And discipleship is a matter of authority as the essence of disciple-making is teaching others to obey everything that Jesus has commanded us. And so, when we consider discipleship of others, we should never conceive of discipleship apart from spiritual headship. If I’m talking to a woman in the church, one of my first thoughts, even if it is subconscious sometimes, is “who is this woman’s spiritual head?” Whether that be her father or her husband or her pastors, I cannot engage in discipleship with her apart from those who have a unique spiritual authority in her life. Who is responsible for this person’s discipleship? For example, if a child is running roughshod through the lobby, I’m going to stop them, but I’m also going to be thinking about this child’s parents. This concern for spiritual authority is why the baptism of children into church membership is a big deal for us. That moment is a recognition that this child is no longer solely under the discipleship structure of the family. If I see them in need of discipline, it makes a difference in how I talk to them whether they’ve been baptized.
When thinking about what is being said by whom in the church, we should also ask the question about responsibility. Has responsibility for communication about this church activity been delegated to me or the person I’m talking to? The biblical term for responsible party here is deacon. We’re given a lot of flexibility as to what deacons can do. One thing that’s clear is that they serve, and they don’t have the function that an elder does in teaching with authority. We could conceive of a deacon from a narrow sense with a very limited numbering to a broad sense where everyone with any kind of delegated responsibility in the church is serving in the church. This broader sense is what matters as we are communicating with each other. In the back of our minds now is another question, “to what degree have I or the person I’m talking to been delegated a responsibility?” That responsibility is to be respected. For example, if you have an idea about landscaping, Scott Richter’s your man. The purpose of elders and deacons in the church is a matter of order, and we don’t exist in chaos where everyone is doing whatever they feel like doing. One of the reasons we set aside deacons in the church is for clarity in communication.
Finally, we need to remember who we are and the people we are talking to with respect to church membership. It matters whether we’re members or not, because our covenant before God and together as a body is always in view in our communication. And if you’re talking to someone who is not a member of the church with you, then your communication is slightly altered. Our final question to the congregation when a member joins should be in view here, “Do you, as a local expression of the Body of Christ, in the grace and strength of God, mutually covenant with these saints and again with each other to seek each other’s good and the glory of God in sanctification, and to spend and be spent striving for unity to maturity in Christ, to the glory of His grace?” If that kind of covenant doesn’t change how we talk to people, I don’t know what would. We have an authorized responsibility delegated to us by God to communicate well with each other. So, next time you’re thinking about something that you think needs to be said, ask the question, “Is this something that a church member ought to communicate?”
Who you are and who you’re talking to changes what we say and how we say it. We speak the truth in love to one another because we are members of the same body with Jesus Christ as our head.