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in churches of Christ
Hispanic Christians of the: North Boulevard Church of Christ, Murfreesboro,
Tennessee, where almost 2,000 members and guests meet each Sunday.
The treatment by elders (shepherds, bishops) of minorities
in a mixed multiracial-multinational-multiethnic congregation.
The treatment of elders by Hispanic Christians.
Let us suppose you belong to a minority group in a mixed congregation of the church of Christ that has seven elders (shepherds, bishops) and nine deacons, a salaried pulpit minister, a salaried assistant minister, a salaried secretary, and a Spanish-speaking minister partially or completely supported.
Most of the members of the church are English-speaking, with deep roots in cultures of some European nations.
Your group is Spanish-speaking, of a basically Spanish culture, perhaps with a mixture of some elements of one or another native Mexican, Central American, South American and/or African cultures.
What treatment do you expect to receive from the Anglo-Saxon elders (shepherds, bishops) who lead the congregation?
Before you respond to the question, please, may I request you consider a little humble advice on my part:
That you review the contents of your own satchel of prejudices and discriminations against people not of your group. Does that seem a logical step to you?
Of possible antipathies or resentments towards others. Of preconceived concepts of them, perhaps even highly distorted.
Additionally, of possible infantile concepts you might have. For example, an inferiority complex, or maybe even of superiority. Of being an unfortunate or disadvantaged person, victim of circumstances of birth and upbringing. Complexes because of your physical appearance, economic state, or deficient academical preparation.
How big and fat is your satchel of prejudices and complexes? To what degree do you yourself discriminate against other people?
Are you a Christian in truth and deed? Mature in knowledge, faith, and practice? If you reply that you consider yourself to be so, then, you are not even carrying such a satchel!
Should an elder of the congregation approach you, he would find you at ease, confident, free from prejudices and complexes! For, in the highest and most important sense, you are no longer Mexican, Central American, South American, Puerto Rican, Dominican, or Cuban. Even though he may reflexively see you as such. Above all, you are a Christian, with citizenship in the Spiritual Heavenly Kingdom of God and Christ.
You are equal to any other Christian of the same moral-spiritual statue. Spiritually intelligent (Colossians 1:9), humble, respectful, and cordial in the presence of any other human being, be he the elder of a congregation or the most obdurate sinner (1 Peter 3:15).
Reviewing your own satchel of possible prejudices and complexes takes on great importance because of a palpable phenomenon in perhaps every minority group, to wit:
The minority is likely to be as guilty, or more, than the majority in matters of discrimination for reasons of race, ethnicity, nationality, culture, economics, education, etcetera.
Although an overwhelming part of the majority desires complete integration, they confront strong, discriminatory resistance in the minority group.
Mature Christians in minority groups distance themselves from such resistance, and this opens the way to complete integration with mature Christians of the majority portion.
Teaching less mature Christians on these matters is the duty of the mature.
Let us go back to the question: What kind of treatment do you expect to receive from the elders (shepherds, bishops) leading the congregation?
You will now understand your answer is determined by the level of your spiritual maturity. While immature people complain and criticize, the mature make intelligent and objective observations, formulating wise conclusions.
Assuming you are among the mature, having emptied your own satchel of prejudices and complexes of its poisonous content, let us analyze the ways some elders might treat you and your Hispanic group, trying to understand the why of their actions or inactions; of their attitudes, whether positive or negative.
My own contributions are based on sixty-three years of experiences, observations, studies and analysis the Lord has permitted me to accumulate in my functions as full-time evangelist among peoples of different races, ethnic origins, cultures, languages, social rank, academic preparation, etc. Including the establishment of congregations where there were none and the naming of elders and deacons in some of them. All glory and honor to God the Father and his Son, our beloved Savior.
I assure I treat these delicate subjects of “discrimination in churches and the ministries of elders, evangelists, preachers and other Christians who serve God in different ways” with much prayer and not a little trepidation. Doing it, never with the intention of hurting sensitive, honest souls, but only to shed some light on troubling situations and procedures that may not fully comply with Bible directives. Always asking God for more and more understanding and wisdom in all these matters.
Let us proceed with a hypothetical case.
You, in your capacity as a mature Hispanic Christian, belong to a congregation that has seven elders, all of them, Anglos.
You, with the other Hispanics, meet separately for worship, Bible classes, evangelistic works, and fellowships. Because, while five people in your minority group speak English with admirable fluency, the rest speak it only a little, or do not even try to speak it.
Your observations: “Regarding the spiritual relationship of the seven elders to the Hispanics who are members of this congregation, they are our elders and we are their spiritual sheep, in the very same way they are the elders of the English-speaking who are their sheep, for we are all members of only one congregation.”
“Nevertheless, I find their treatment of us altogether superficial. Let me explain.”
“With rare exceptions, they do not even know our names. Some of our own do not know the names of the seven elders, neither can they identify them in person.”
“It goes without saying that hardly any one of the elders ever comes to our worship services, Bible classes, or fellowships, to share with us personally and make certain that everything is marching along as it should doctrinally. With, or without, the help of a competent translator they trust. There being, among us, five brethren capable of that task.”
“Neither do they visit us in our homes, nor visit our own when they are sick, have undergone an operation, suffered an accident, lost their job, lost a loved one, etc., to pray with them, console them, bringing them their moral and spiritual support.”
“In short, there is practically no interaction between them and us. Why?”
My contributions. I discern various reasons, all of them rather delicate, and, furthermore, some are not a little controversial. Nevertheless, to my understanding, potentially, all have positive solutions. When you have examined them, your evaluation will be welcomed.
1. To begin with, perhaps some of the elders have, in general terms, an incomplete concept of their Function and Importance in the congregation, in their role as shepherds with the chief responsibility before God for all the sheep, without exception, without discrimination, that make up the spiritual sheepfold (congregation) under their charge.
“Incomplete,” possibly because of a lack of the necessary Biblical instruction before, or soon after, they were named. In other words, named, but not having the vital knowledge needed for the effectual fulfillment of the ministry of elder.
You see those seven elders, and being a mature Hispanic Christian, you know that none of them is an absolutely, perfect man.
That none possesses all the 26 requisites in absolute perfection.
That each one has gaps in his knowledge and understanding, although only two or three, and perhaps not real big ones.
That none exercises his authority, nor carries out his duties, to absolute perfection.
You know it, and you take it into consideration, when you look at them, because you, despite your spiritual maturity, still have gaps in your own development and spiritual activities. Is that not so? As I also have, for, to be sure, every so often I discover more in my own life and ministries.
So then, since both of us have such gaps, we can be, should be, very sympathetic and understanding in the presence of any Christian man who has been appointed elder of a congregation, taking care not to negatively judge him prematurely.
At the same time, as you and I are duty bound to fill in our gaps as soon as we become aware of them, SO ALSO an ELDER should FILL IN HIS as soon as he realizes he has any one!
Continuing to grow in ministry is the DUTY of every elder, evangelist, deacon, preacher, and teacher of the ineffable Word of God. Not stop growing as soon as he is named, but continue learning, improving, and broadening his understanding of his ministry, as well as increasing the effectiveness of its execution.
Well now, the “Gaps of Incomplete Concepts regarding the Function and Importance of Elders in a Congregation” can be filled rather quickly by reading and studying, once and again, relevant texts of the New Testament. Without previous preconceptions that distort. The examples, requisites, and duties are so simple and straightforward that understanding them does not require highly specialized classes taught by some Doctor of Theology. Reviewing them briefly, the texts teach:
That men who desire the office of bishop and meet the other twenty-five requisites, upon being named, occupy, together, the highest position in the organization of the local congregation, after Christ who is the head of the universal church. For the Christian man, there is no congregational office higher than that of elder.
Possessing the attributes, spiritual knowledge and abilities highlighted in the twenty-six requirements, elders are fully equipped to exercise personally, better than any other, the duties inextricably connected with the position. These duties are, concisely:
To feed the sheep, spiritually, protecting them from rapacious wolves and false teachers.
Also, to select deacons and teachers, with input from the congregation, assuring that all who minister do so according to “sound doctrine.” Acts 20:17-38; 1 Pedro 5:1-7; Titus 1:5-10; 1 Timothy 3:1-13.
In addition, to select and constitute more elders when the need arises. Always seeking for each candidate approval or rejection, for totally legitimate reasons, by faithful members.
Of course, fulfilling all their duties without being respecters of personas whatsoever. Not leaving out the minorities. Nor violating inspired precepts on the different roles assigned to men and women. 1 Timothy 2:9-15; 5:9-15; Titus 2:1-5.
“Senior ministers” and “assistant ministers” are not present in this particular Biblical organization under consideration. Rather, only, and exclusively, elders biblically qualified and constituted. Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5-10.
It is essential to the highest degree that elders know their sheep, as also that their sheep know them, to be able to effectively carry out their duties.
By name, each one that of the other. According to the example of the “Chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:1-4), the Lord Jesus Christ himself, who said: “I am the Good Shepherd, and KNOW MY SHEEP and AM KNOWN BY MINE” (John 10:14).
Do the seven shepherds of your congregation not know the names of the Spanish-speaking sheep? Nor these sheep the names and faces of the seven shepherds? Inconceivable!
Well, let them get to know each other! Organizing an activity to that end. In a room adequate for the event. The elders standing at the front of the room. About 7 feet apart.
The Spanish-speaking, all of them, forming a line and going before the elders, one by one, saying and repeating his name. Each elder, pronounces and repeats his own name for each Hispanic person.
Relaxed and smiling all who participate. With sincere, friendly, short conversations:
About when and how they were converted to the Lord, where they live and what they do at the present time; about where they come from; married or not, close family and extended family; favorite foods, sports, music, and pastimes, etc.
With the help of translators, although some might not be so good at translation.
Prayers in both languages at the beginning and end of the activity. Snacks, or a meal, afterwards, where the healthy, delightful interaction continues.
Though no one may remember many names a few minutes after they hear them, the beautiful experience will always be remembered with joy. And, little by little, through more interaction and full fellowship, they will begin to remember the names of each other.
Wellbeing, camaraderie, and brotherly love grow apace, leading to an ever increasingly mature congregation, more active, and free of damaging discriminations.
Once elders have adequately understood their Function and Importance in the congregation, accepting that their attributes, knowledge and abilities equip them, better than anyone, to powerfully exercise their God-given Functions, it is to be expected they would leave off avoiding their responsibility, not delegating their Functions to neophytes, nor to third parties of any category.
On the contrary, going into action themselves, strongly committed to fulfilling their noble, precious, vital duties on behalf of every sheep, including all the sheep of minorities in the congregation.
More on this matter of “delegating authority, functions, duties, and responsibilities” in the next article, Lord willing.
This article in SPANISH
All English site by Homer Dewayne Shappley
Spirit of Prophecies
Article 1 of Discrimination in churches of Christ
Studies in the Bible and related subjects. Articles, tracts, Bible class guides, sermons and slides. PDF's. By Homer Dewayne Shappley, teacher and evangelist.
Prophecies of the New Testament. LIST of studies available on this site.