02 February 2009


After lunch, Red returned to his study. He began to consider the nine duties of Ruling Elders with respect to Spiritual Supervision.

The first is a responsibility to monitor the spiritual conduct of the members, and to take action when appropriate according to procedures set forth in the Book of Discipline.

That’s a pretty broad area, he thought. How can it be broken down so as to be manageable? Well, in the words of the Shorter Catechism, are we, individually and collectively, “glorifying God?”

Some adopt as their standard, “What would Jesus do?” But Jesus was perfect and we can never approach His perfection in this world. Perhaps we ought to ask of our conduct, “Would I do this if Jesus was standing right here with me? (He is, of course, but we often act as if he has stepped away for a moment.) Is this conduct worthy of the price He paid for my sin?”

What symptoms have I seen of poor spiritual conduct, Red wondered? Then what can I do about it?

Comments from Sunday came rolling back: “There’s a guitar in the sanctuary. Are we having a hootenanny or a church service? . . .We don’t approve of hootenannies here at Graying. I’m just going to head home. Another Sunday ruined.”

“Well, I certainly didn’t approve that performance. Sally and the choir have always selected the music for the day’s performance. I’m always glad when our performance comes early in the service. I can beat the rush.”

“Why can’t he stay on schedule? He was 5 minutes long. Darn it, the Eagles are playing and he picks today to go long.”

“Who are those people? Do we know them? What are they doing here? Do they know that we don’t need a nursery? Where will their children be during the service. I do so hate it when crying babies disturb the service.”

We have allowed the focus to shift from God to ourselves. Jesus said, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."

When we allow ourselves to worry about music styles, or whose “turf” is being invaded, when we are unwilling to give God a measly 59 minutes, when a football game or a “performance” is our focus, we really cannot claim to be worshipping God with all that we are. Are we worshipping the sovereign God or are we putting on a timed performance?

Monday’s meeting was not much better: Suzanne Tomlinson wanted to be spiritually fed, a good thing, but only when it fit her schedule. She also wanted “a better quality of visitor,” one who would know where to find a passage of Scripture without being directed to it. No one corrected her.

A number of people had complained that an hour and 4 minutes of “worship” was too long and inconvenient. As Cherise Smith had commented, “We have simply got to find a way to stay on schedule. The next thing you know, we’ll be back to an hour and fifteen minutes of worship and we all know what that does to attendance.” No one cautioned against setting our limits on the worship which is God’s due.

Then there was the “let George do it” attitude towards who would bring the Good News to a group of people who openly wanted to hear it. Boy, that’s a sign of poor spiritual conduct.

By now, Red was humming “Trouble in River City” from The Music Man.

But what’s the solution, he thought? It all goes back to the fact that the Ruling Elders have not been properly trained concerning the office of ruling elder. Leadership is hard work, but it can be learned. If we don’t understand our role, if we can’t recognize the symptoms of poor spiritual conduct—actually poor spiritual health—in ourselves, how can we monitor the spiritual conduct of the members, and take action when appropriate according to procedures set forth in the Book of Discipline.

It was as if his Platoon Sergeant from OCS had entered the room. “Train as you will fight. What we practice in the easy days of peacetime will be instinctive in the chaos of combat,” he shouted. “It is time for the elders—ruling and teaching--to go back to school!”

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