By Jason Kleber
As we have continued to pursue a defined vision for VVCC (transforming families by committing to Christ, unleashing compassion, and building community), we have also focused on becoming more intentional about everything we do. This challenged the status quo of many aspects of VVCC over the last three years as we began to hold everything to the call of the biblical models of the New Testament Church and the stated mission of VVCC. In an honest attempt to position VVCC to move forward and thrive for Christ into her next 40 years of existence, we have undertaken some difficult self-evaluation that has prompted difficult change to some of the traditional ways of VVCC. The first place this critical lens pointed three years ago was at the church leadership when we began to ask ourselves some difficult and challenging questions.
I remember Jeremy recommending the book Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership by Alexander Strauch. My first thought was, "are we going to spend our time reading or are we going to spend our time doing?" I was more than reluctant, I was a bit standoffish. I was also wrong. This book isn’t just empty philosophy, and it doesn't rewrite eldership; it refocuses it back to the Bible and the call of God. In short, it shifted the focus from an elder as a member of a business, governmental, or bureaucratic board to that of an elder who is a pastor, teacher, and shepherd.
This definition of pastor, teacher, shepherd, is far more biblical, but difficult to transform into. I had long been a servant of the church, but now I was being called to become a spiritual leader. The transformation to this new role did not come over night. Over the next three years I wrestled with God, Jeremy, the other elders, and even members of the church trying to discover what true spiritual leadership means. I have made mistakes, I have stepped on toes, and I have stressed friendships trying to understand what God’s vision for VVC is and my place in serving that vision as an elder. These difficult lessons were not in vain as I am constantly learning what spiritual leadership means.
I knew this would happen though. I didn’t sign up for business as usual. I realized that I had become comfortable and complacent in my walk, and I felt VVCC becoming comfortable and complacent with her place in the community. With a great burden on my heart, and the hearts of others in leadership, I knew it was time to transform personally, spiritually, as a leadership body, and as a church body if we were going to impact the High Desert for Christ.
Change starts in Leadership
What does it mean to be an elder at VVCC? It means we are to be shepherd in the pen, not shepherds on the hill. We are to be connected and involved, but also leading, teaching, and protecting. It means I need to be on my knees in prayer and service. I have been in relentless pursuit of dying to self and putting Jesus and the congregation before myself. I have laid my time, my finances, my sin, my talents, my sexuality, and anything else I could at the feet of my brothers and sisters in order to serve in humility and accountability. Whether I'm on stage or shoveling horse poop in the parking lot, I must be constantly pursuing what is good for the mission of VVCC regardless of my taste, my preferences, my comfort, or my personal opinion of how things should be. As I gave up my white knuckle grip on the things I held dear, church became difficult at times. However, in my surrender, I started to discover real transformation in the lives of people at VVCC. I began to see men, women, children, and families increasingly transformed by God through VVCC. With every subsequent surrender, I see more transformation for Christ.
To me being an elder is a lesson in complete sacrifice, humility, and obedience. It is only from this position that decisive moves in the name of Jesus can be made. I cannot act as his representative to the church if I am not relentlessly pursuing his will for my life. This pursuit has lead to immense personal transformation in my life, my walk with God, my marriage, my family, and my work. I cannot expect VVCC to transform families far from God if I’m not letting it transform me first.
It is through this personal transformation that I now truly understand the description we have laid out for our elders:
"Elders in the Christian church are pastoral overseers or shepherds who are called to care for, protect, teach, lead, and pray for the flock to which God has entrusted them. The apostle Peter wrote to elders that they are to oversee with a willing heart of service as an example of Christlikeness (1 Peter 5:2)...The elders of VVCC are men who embody the biblical characteristics in the New Testament, who are accountable to God the Father, Jesus the head of the church, and to the leadership family, and are committed to the protection, unity, and teaching of the congregation as servant leaders."
I have wept for this church. I ache for this church. I fear for this church. I celebrate with this church. I love this church. But we are still at a tipping point of difficult transition with so much still left to do. We can easily slide back into a comfort zone and become pleasant, or we can keep struggling together for what is unsettling yet deeply transformative for ourselves, our church, and our community.
What is Needed Moving Forward?
It has been a blessing to serve you. In my personal challenge and sacrifice, God has brought about joyous change in my life. I have been transformed. My family has been transformed. The ministries I am part of have been transformed. I learned that being an elder is more than just leading others at VVCC to the preferred life committed to following Jesus, it's being the first one on his knees before our Father admitting I am the least among us and embracing all my unworthiness and weakness so that God will be glorified and the power of Jesus Christ made evident to all. I am broken. I am deeply flawed. I am humbled before you. But I belong to Jesus Christ, and he has work for me to do. He has work for all of us to do.
Brothers and sisters together we can impact this fallen world. Together we can transform families who are far from God. Together, focused on God's will for VVCC, we too can be transformed in this work and by this work. Ultimately being an elder is not about me at all, but all of us together becoming what God has called us too, his transformative light in a dark and desperate world.
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