The Art of Double-Speak

double-tongue-paulDeacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued… 1 Timothy 3:8

I don’t want to speak badly about so and so but let me tell you how bad he is. I’m not complaining, but here is my complaint. I don’t want to gossip but let me tell you this juicy and defaming bit of information about so and so, just so that you would know (or maybe so that you can pray). I won’t slander, but this person said this, and I want you to think as badly as possible about them even though in context the thing was more understandable than I will share.

No one is as forthright as the above about his or her double-speaking ways. And that is the problem, isn’t it? We might be so given to the double-tongue that we are double-tongued even about our double-tongued-ness. It might be such a pattern in our lives that we don’t even see it as wrong.

Sadly, this might be true of us even in the church. Even as professing Christians.

In our church, the new deacon team and I are working through what the Bible teaches about deacon qualifications (mainly from 1 Timothy 3:8-13). We had to pause on this gem of a word: double-tongued. It is translated from the Greek word δίλογος. The word is constructed by the prefix di, which means two or double, and the root logos which means word. So double-tongued or double-worded or insincere seems to capture the meaning well. Ironically, the word is employed exactly once in the New Testament, and only once in the Greek Apostolic Fathers. The Bible and the Fathers didn’t doubly use di-word. 🙂

Why do we say one thing and mean another, or say one thing to one person and a different thing to another? Why do we often give a disclaimer that is completely out of step with the thing being disclaimed (i.e., I don’t want to gossip or be hurtful but here is some hurtful gossip.)?

Maybe it is because we really want to act ugly while still appearing pure or righteous? Maybe it is because our Christianity is a mere pretense, and we don’t want to let that show through? Maybe it is because life (or church) is a game to us, and it is okay to hurt people in games?

I’m sure there are many reasons. But the Bible makes it clear: being double-tongued is not befitting for a Christian. Sincerity and love ought to be the marks of a people who have been transformed by God’s grace. We should be the one demographic that actually says what we mean (and not mean mean things!).

Christians – all Christians, but especially those who are in church leadership – are called to be sincere and loving in the way that we talk. So much hurt and division can spring up from the insincere speech of one double-tongued person. May it not be so among us!

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. – Ephesians 4:29

Elder, Stop Calling Yourself a Board Member

This post is my plea against the lamentable trend of many church leaderships: elders who call themselves, and are called by the church, “board members”.  And just as bad are the elders collectively being referred to as a board of directors.

This is the language of the corporate world, not the church. Likely, it works fine for corporations and regular non-profit orgs. But for the church, not so much.

Part of the problem is that in borrowing the nomenclature we often borrow much more. Sometimes we borrow the mentality and the actual structures of the corporate world. Thus, there are supposedly elder-led churches that are not elder-led in a truly biblical way. They have a board of directors – the elders – and they have church officers: CEO = pastor, CFO= treasurer, etc. When the whole fish is swallowed, the board views itself primarily as a check and balance to the church officers. The officers do the work (shepherding, ministry of the word, etc.) while the board does the overseeing of the organization (church) and oversight of the officers. When a church is structured like that it looks just like every other non-profit organization out there.

Yet, the Bible presents a far better way. In the Bible, elders are THE shepherds and overseers of the church (Acts 20:28). They are not merely responsible for the organization and for the paid staff of a church, but for the souls of every member of the church (Hebrews 13:17).

A paid elder (aka, a pastor) is one and the same as a non-paid elder, except that he is able and responsible to devote much more of his time to church ministry. In my church, we use the terms vocational and non-vocational elders to distinguish between those who are elders with regular day jobs and those who are paid by the church so that they can serve the church full-time. All of the elders are equally charged with shepherding the flock. They are ALL equally responsible for the church, and responsible to one another, to the congregation and ultimately to the Lord.

If you are a church leader, think about 1 Peter 5:1-4. This is what you are called to as an elder:

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

Are you shepherding the flock or delegating that to a paid pastor whom you oversee? Are you exercising spiritual oversight over the flock or only the church officers and the organization? You are called to be a shepherd, not an executive. So please, stop calling yourself a board member and start thinking of yourself as an elder. And churches would do well to drop the board-of-directors lingo and start fresh. If you need a good place to start, consider the New Testament. 😊

See also: Acts 14:23, Titus 1:5, James 5:15.