What does the Bible say about church leadership? That’s what Clifton F. Webb has been preaching about recently at the Wayne Road Church of Christ in Romulus, Michigan. Wes McAdams and Clifton Webb discuss this very important subject in today’s Bible Study Podcast.
Clifton and Wes discuss the roles of elders, deacons, and preachers. What qualities or characteristics should these leaders possess? What does it mean for an elder to have faithful children? Why does Scripture say so much about a leader’s family? Should a preacher be considered a leader? In what sense does a preacher have authority?
These are some of the questions Wes and Clifton explore. We hope you enjoy this conversation and that it helps you love like Jesus.
Links and Resources
Transcript (Credit: Beth Tabor)
Studying Church Leadership with Clifton Webb
WES: Welcome to the Radically ChristianBible Study podcast. I’m your host, Wes McAdams. Here we have one goal: Learn to love like Jesus. I want to begin today by reading II Timothy 4:1‑5. “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober‑minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, and fulfill your ministry.”
WES: Brother Clifton Webb, welcome back to the podcast, Brother.
CLIFTON: Thank you, Brother. It’s good to be back with you.
WES: It is good to see your face, and good to hear your voice, although I’ve been hearing your voice quite a bit lately. Over the last couple of days, I’ve been listening to some of your sermons, and I told you before we hit record that it feels like we’ve been having a conversation already because you’ve been talking to me, but now I get the chance to talk to you. So I’m excited to talk about what you’ve been preaching, but why don’t you go ahead and tell us, what have you been teaching or preaching lately?
CLIFTON: Well, as of late, I know we just came out of a leadership series on the roles and responsibilities of the elders, preachers, and deacons.
And before I go into that, I just want to say thank you for just having me on this, you know, wonderful podcast. You know, I’ve always enjoyed you. You have been a tremendous encourager to me in my walk. One of the things I could tell you, man, I ‑‑ you’ll recall when we were in a forum that you and I are on, and I was just basically telling you, at one time, my spirit’s kind of low, but it’s been my first work at the Wayne Road Church of Christ, and the Lord gave me my first work during the pandemic, and I’ll never forget that’s how you and I started talking. You have just a tremendous encourager ever since, and I just want to say thank you, and I haven’t forgotten about that, not one bit. It helped me in my walk, in my ministry here at the Wayne Road Church of Christ.
WES: Well, thank you, Brother. It is a pleasure to know you. I’m encouraged by you, Brother.
CLIFTON: Yes, sir. And, you know, back to your question ‑‑ the original question about what I’ve been speaking on lately is the leadership, the roles, and responsibilities of the elders, the deacons, and the preachers, and that relates to our second part that we started early this year on discipleship. Actually, we do a discipleship series every week. It’s one of the things that’s part of our, you know, baby here at Wayne Road Church of Christ as we are considering growing and expanding the church building at Wayne Road Church of Christ. We have been increasing in size here slowly, but it’s getting to a point where when we have big events, you know, we have standing room only. And so we appreciate what God is doing for us and through us here at the Wayne Road Church of Christ. And one of the biggest things that we’ve been dealing with is discipleship and leadership. Those two things go ‑‑ correlate with one another. You can’t have one without the other. One of our philosophies here, if you will, is to follow the leader. Okay? If the leader is not doing it, then how are the disciples going to follow? Does that make sense?
WES: Yeah. Amen.
CLIFTON: And so our biggest thing is our mission statement here at the Wayne Road Church of Christ, which I ‑‑ you know, we talked briefly about before, is reach, build, and release. Reach, build, and release. So relative to the idea of discipleship, we believe our job is to reach as many people as possible and that is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is birthed out of, of course, our mission in Matthew 28:18‑20. But when we’re talking about a mission statement, we’re talking about a small statement that fits Wayne Road Church of Christ to help meet the mission of God. Okay?
And so part of the discipleship is partnering with God to disciple others to make other disciples make other disciples. That’s the biggest thing that we see here that’s needed in this community. I know we can talk about evangelism and discipleship and how some of them correlate, but sometimes they’re not the same. Okay? Discipleship is a different level of ‑‑ because it comes with a level of discipline. That means, hey, do what I do as Christ has done. And so you, as the leader, are empowering those that you serve to do what you do as Jesus does. Does that make sense?
WES: Yeah, yeah, no doubt. Well, let’s talk about this idea of leadership and the way ‑‑ particularly the way that you are drawing out of scripture what it means to be a leader and then teaching to the congregation, because I was listening to your sermons and, Brother, I just ‑‑ I love ‑‑
CLIFTON: That’s scary.
WES: ‑‑ how direct ‑‑ I love how direct that you are and how honest that you are. Let’s start with this for just a second. I really want to get to the idea of the evangelist or the preacher, but you were talking ‑‑ in one of the earlier lessons in this series, you were talking about an elder’s family and you were talking about their wife and their kids. You were talking about what it means to have faithful children, and I really liked your take on that, and you were talking, in very explicit terms, you know, what it means to have children that are wild, that are living riotous lives. And so talk about that, if you would, for just a second about the importance of a leader’s family, why that’s important, why, when Paul talks to Timothy and Titus about leadership and about the men that are called to lead in the church, that he spends so much time talking about their family. Why is that so important?
CLIFTON: I believe that is so important because the church is styled as a family, right? We, the church of Christ, are the family of God. And so, as a family of God, you know, we’re gonna act just like a typical family. But in this case, when you’re dealing with leadership and being an example to the flock, it is so important to Paul, in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1, that their house is in order because stewardship, eldership, or any role or talent that God has given us, is a gift to the church, is a stewardship to the church. Okay? And it is ‑‑ being a steward, that is, you ought to be faithful in all things.
And so the eldership role, inclusive of just the leadership role, you have to be a steward over your own house. And if you’re a steward over your own house, then you can be a steward over God’s house. Does that make sense? And so ‑‑ and that comes from I Timothy 3:5. In fact, I used to quote that verse when I was a little boy. That’s when my mother understood that there was something different about me relative to reading the Bible. This was back when I was in ‑‑ growing up in a charismatic movement at the time, but I believe the Lord was, you know, still working on me as a little boy. I just didn’t know it. I tell people preaching was not a part of my menu, but it was a part of his menu, so ‑‑ but I enjoyed the Bible, and I remember, as a young boy, reading I Timothy 3, and I believe it’s verse number 5, about if a man can’t, you know, have his house in order, how can he take care of the household of God? Because this is a big responsibility, and so if your wife is not grave, if your wife is a busybody, that can be frowned on by not only the church but it can be frowned on, more importantly, from the world’s perspective, because, remember, he charged Timothy to charge the saints of God at Ephesus to teach no other doctrine and to avoid myths and fables. So that was running rampant around there, and all the world needed at that time was a good excuse or out on God by looking at the man of God’s family.
WES: Yeah, definitely.
CLIFTON: And that’s in Titus, as well.
WES: Yeah, for sure.
CLIFTON: And it’s more explicit in Titus 1. He’s telling why Titus should set things in order as the evangelist, as the preacher, to ordain elders, and their wives must be in subjection, and their children must be in subjection. Then we keep reading down because ‑‑ he says because there are some that are saying this and that, and so your job, as the man of God, is to set those things in order and appoint only those that qualify to the characteristics that we have in the Bible.
So imagine, if you will, if you had the President of the United States ‑‑ pick one, right? And their children are wild, their wife is wild. How would that look to the office? Oh, man, they’d have a field day with that. And so that goes with the man of God and his family, the leadership, the elders, and the deacons, and that’s why I believe that is so important. And, also, more important than that, too, Wes, if I can say this, is we’re examples. And so, as examples, we have to be that example to those who don’t have that example in their own house, something to look up to. “Man, he seems like he’s got his house in order. I can go talk to him because his wife listens to him, his children listen to him.” And I think that is so important to the kingdom, and also to the men that possibly don’t have their houses in order, and talking to an elder that does go a long way to help mentor other men to get their house in order, as well. So we ‑‑ I didn’t cover that part as well, but today I thought I would just drop that in there, as well.
WES: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Let’s talk about this. And for those that aren’t familiar with churches of Christ, the way that we believe that the church should be ‑‑ the local church should be organized is with shepherds/elders, deacons that are servants/ministers, and then preachers, or evangelists. Now, what tends to happen a lot of times, I think, is that in churches of Christ, we tend to sort of react against the pastor‑led model of this single pastor that’s sort of dictating and ruling the church, and we have rejected that model of leadership so severely that we have gone to an opposite extreme where, a lot of times, we don’t even see the evangelist or the preacher as a leader in the congregation. In fact, you said ‑‑ and I loved this part of the sermon. You said that when you got to Wayne Road, you said that people would lead prayers and say things like, “We’re praying for the leadership of the church, the elders and deacons. We’re praying for them to get the wisdom and knowledge to lead your people, and, Lord, we also pray for the minister.” And then you stopped and people laughed and you said why wasn’t he part of the leadership? That’s a great question. So talk about that, if you would, about that idea that we sometimes take the word “leadership” and we think of elders and deacons but we don’t necessarily put the minister or the evangelist in that category.
CLIFTON: You said it right, and I’m just chuckling, so if you hear me chuckle, this is my best laugh today, by the way. It’s been a busy day. So the fact that you listened to my sermons, God bless you.
WES: They were great.
CLIFTON: And what I mentioned in that sermon is that the programming that we have in Western civilization, as it relates to the church of Christ ‑‑ birthed on the American soul. Okay? It’s the idea that the elders and the deacons are over the preacher, and that’s the conundrum that we had in the church for, you know, a century or so in the body of Christ. And not to rehash that, but that’s where it comes from. But it really does not birth, in my estimation, from the word of God. And so I had to speak, which is our slogan, where the Bible speaks and silent where the Bible is silent. I believe that the elders and the preachers work cohesively as a leadership team. In that regard, I do believe the elders ‑‑ that is interchanged with the bishop and the pastors, if you will ‑‑ are the shepherds of the church. They watch for your soul.
But the problem is, with our current context, was the idea that the elders watch for your soul, but the preacher doesn’t. Well, how would you square that with the scriptures? If the preacher is appointing the elders and teaching them sound doctrine to become elders, how do you do that without watching? Okay? How do you do that without watching for who you’re appointing as a man of God? And to be clear here, the man of God, in specific terms, applies to the preacher. We see that in 1 Timothy 6:11. The man of God is an Old Testament vernacular with a New Testament application to the preacher. And so, as we know, the man of God ‑‑ the men of God of the Old Testament were called prophets, and before they were called prophets they were called seers. What did seers do? Watch.
And so, if it is the case that Paul, in 1 Timothy 6:11, is calling Timothy, “But you, oh man of God, flee these things” ‑‑ I like it because it’s emphatic in Greek. It says you, Timothy. Not anybody else, you. So it’s like you’re pointing at Timothy. You are that guy now. You are the man of God. Timothy, being a half-Jew, would have understood the “man of God” Old Testament vernacular terminology because the first time it’s used in Deuteronomy dealing with Moses, and then we see from Elijah, Elisha, David, and all these great men of God that God calls the men of God. When we see that, Paul is lifting up that vernacular and putting it on the preacher, the evangelist. And so I believe strong‑heartedly, based upon the word of God, that the elders watch for the souls of people, but the preacher also watches, as well. And we can find that in 2 Timothy 4 when Paul tells Timothy to do the work of an evangelist and watch in all things. Well, what is he watching out for, Brother Wes?
WES: Yeah, for the good of the church.
CLIFTON: Amen. And so I believe there is some overlap between the evangelists and the elders, and they work together as a team. It’s just unfortunate we have a segment of brothers who disagree with this, and it comes from, I really believe, a traditional mindset. I think it started with good intent because we see the divide that happened by the time the second century came, and we see the plurality of elders go from a plurality of the elders to this one elder over the elders, to this bishop over the elders, to the archbishop over the elders, and, you know, they end up into the Catholic church as we know today. And I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but we know that was a deviation from the word of God.
And so if we’re gonna get back into what leadership truly looks like, then we can’t start because they do it, denominations do it, or other religions do it. No, we have to start our base from the word of God, because the second time that Paul used the “man of God” vernacular is in 2 Timothy 3:17, that all scriptures are inspired by God. And then you drop down to the last verse. He said that the man of God may be perfectly furnished. Okay? So it’s bringing that. And so how do we get back to what God saw in the text? We go back to the word. And so, as a result, we look at some of our church of Christ websites, we’ll see who we are about, and we have the elders over the deacons, then the deacons over the preacher. And I’m still trying to figure out, how the preacher gets up under the deacon.
WES: Yeah, yeah. Well, and I love the emphasis that you put, on one side, the authority that the evangelist has to preach the word, to proclaim the good news about Jesus; and then, on the other side, how we are under the word, that we are responsible to only preach the word, to not preach our opinion, to not point people towards us, to not make it about ourselves. In fact, you said, “Preachers are supposed to point people to Jesus and then get out of the way,” and I love that. But one of my favorite quotes that you said ‑‑ you said, “Listen to the voice of the people you serve but be reminded that the people’s voice is not the voice of God.”
CLIFTON: Not the voice of God, yes.
WES: And I love how you kept coming back to that. You said, “I don’t need anybody’s amen because I brought my amen with me.”
WES: And I love that idea that we are preaching for the people and to the people, but we aren’t ‑‑ we are not answering to the people. We answer to God, and it is our responsibility to proclaim this message whether they like it or not, whether it’s in season or out of season. It’s our responsibility to preach the truth even if that means they run us out of town on a rail. We’ve got to proclaim what is true whether it’s received well or not, whether people like it or not. Any thoughts on that before we move on?
CLIFTON: Yes. And the main thing of that ‑‑ man, you really listened to that sermon. And the thrust of that was birthed out of 2 Timothy 4, “preaching in season and out of season.” But I know sometimes, as preachers, we use that “when they like it or when they don’t like it,” but, really, it’s personal for the preacher, even when you want to speak it or not speak it.
CLIFTON: It’s not every time, as the man of God, if you’re a true man of God and you truly love people, that you just really want to rebuke people. Okay? But Paul told Timothy to rebuke them anyway. And we’re not saying that happens all the time unless you were in the time of Jeremiah.
CLIFTON: So even, at times, he wanted to quit and sit out on God, but we recall the story that he tried to sit down but he said it was like fire shut up in his bones. There have been some moments where I just wanted to throw in the towel but I was reminded of the charge. That’s so important, the charge that is given to the man of God to preach anyhow. Why? Because of verse number one. That’s the key. II Timothy 4:1 talks about “I charge you in the sight of God” that ‑‑ he points to the appearance of Jesus. You’re gonna have to give an account of your stewardship. And so being a preacher is a stewardship to God, as well, and to the people of God, and so you’re charged to say it as God says it. Okay? Whether they agree with it or not, your preaching is not determined by people’s amen. Your preaching is determined by God who sent you as the messenger to preach it whether they like it or not.
And we use the account of John the Baptist. If you look at John the Baptist, Brother, you will see John the Baptist was ‑‑ he wasn’t some kind of pushover. We see the template right there. He says the voice that cried out in the wilderness, prepare the way for the Lord, right? How are you gonna prepare the way to the Lord, John? God gives him how to prepare the way. He says every valley shall be filled, every mountain shall be brought low, every crooked way shall be made straight, and every bumpy way shall be made smooth that people may see the salvation of God. Now, I may have misquoted that, but it’s close enough, right?
How are you, as a man of God, going to help people see God? You have to move all the obstacles out of the way. Well, how do I do that, God? You do that with your words. Not your words, my words, though, the gospel words. And sometimes that’s gonna rub people the wrong way, but it’s not always gonna rub people the wrong way. It’s gonna lift people up. And so your job, as the man of God ‑‑ and God is using geographical terms to help us to see what an ambassador or a hero of the gospel needed to do for a king that comes behind them. So you’re preparing for a king that’s coming behind you, and so your job is to make his path straight because the shortest distance from one place to the next is straight so God doesn’t need to go down the valley. Your job, if his chariot is gonna go down ‑‑ using the chariot analogy if his drive is gonna go down, your job is to fill that valley up because that’s taking away from the time he needs to get to a person’s heart. Your job is to get Jesus to their heart and to get people to see Jesus. And to do that, if there’s a valley, if they’re low, Wes, lift them up in their spirit. If they’re high‑minded, mountain, bring them down. If they’re crooked and God gotta go around to their heart, your job, as the man of God, is to straighten out that road. If they’re bumpy, your job is to smooth them over. And so God has given the man of God, at each congregation, valley people, mountain people, bumpy people, and crooked people. Here’s the work. Now preach to them. Help them to see me. That’s how I see it.
WES: And it’s so interesting ‑‑ and I appreciate what you’re saying because I do this every week just like you do, and it’s so humbling that there are so many people in so many different places in the audience, that there are people that are high and there are people that are low in the same audience, and the same message has to do one thing for one person and another thing for another person. There have been times where I’ve preached a message about doing more or giving more or sacrificing more, and I’ve stopped before and I’ve said, now, some of you ‑‑ some of you are probably giving too much, like you could slow down a little bit. It’s okay. Like you don’t have to be here as much as you are. Like let somebody else do something for a while, you know, slow down a little bit.
CLIFTON: That’s right.
WES: Some of you, you’re doing great. Just keep doing what you’re doing. Some of you are doing a little, but you could do a lot more. You need to do more. And some of you just need to do something. Like you’re not doing anything at all and you need to do something.
WES: Because what ends up happening, I’m afraid, is that we’ll preach this message about giving more and doing more, and then I’ll have this little old lady come up to me afterward and say, “You’re so right, Brother Wes, I need to do more,” and I think, “No, Sister, you’re doing plenty like I wasn’t ‑‑
WES: ‑‑ talking to you. I was ‑‑ you’re doing just fine what you’re doing,” and she’s convicted in her spirit. And the person that I really wanted to motivate to do more isn’t doing anything and isn’t convicted at all. So it’s that challenge of bringing the message to people who are in very different places so that they can receive the word from the Lord that they need to receive on that day.
CLIFTON: You know, and that’s so good that you’re saying that because when you look at ‑‑ going back to using the John the Baptist analogy, as you say, you’re doing that every week, right? And I hope we all are, right? But he preached the same message ‑‑ I like how you put it. He preached the same message to all different kinds of people, but they picked the application for them. Does that make sense? That’s what I’m learning, even in my walk. Sometimes you want people to get it the way you get it, but somebody may take that application for them and ask you, “Well, Brother, what shall I do?” That’s what they asked John the Baptist.
WES: That’s right.
CLIFTON: If you keep telling us to repent, then what should I do as a soldier? Extort no more. As a tax collector, what should I do? Don’t ask for more than what’s necessary. So you have men coming to him. They want more explanation of what it means to give your life over to Jesus, and what it means to repent knowing that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. What shall I do? What they know ‑‑ sometimes they know, but they don’t know that they know until you share with them, as the man of God, to help them to see what God would want them to do. So your job, as a man of God, too, is to develop them into what God wants them to be, not you.
CLIFTON: What God wants them to be. And the ultimate goal is for all of us to look like Jesus, to be like Jesus. Anything less would not do. And that’s why Peter says, in 2 Peter 1:5, besides all these things, add to your faith what? Virtue. That word “virtue” is excellence, and it’s equivalent to our terminology and our American soldiers’ slogan, “Be all you can be,” right? Mediocrity won’t do in the kingdom of God. God expects excellence because of what he did at that cross for you. And so our job, as preachers, is to be excellent at what we do, not only in our preaching but also in our lifestyle that will promote excellence in others. That’s part of the gospel of Jesus Christ that I don’t believe we talk about enough.
CLIFTON: Some people ‑‑ like you were talking about the sister that says, “Brother, I need to do more.” You say, “Sister, you’re doing so much.” But on the other hand, there are people that just do just enough. You got just enough Christians and you have not enough Christians, if that makes sense.
WES: That’s right.
CLIFTON: “I did this just enough. That’s all. I did my check, just enough.” And we’re reminded in Luke 17 about the unprofitable servant, where he says, I’ve only done what you commanded me to do, Lord. I have not done enough. And so when we have ‑‑ even when we feel that we’ve done enough, God is saying have that same spirit of humility that says I have not done enough.
WES: Yeah, amen. Well, let me ask you this before we take a little break. How has this study ‑‑ especially because you’re talking so much about leadership and, obviously, there’s a direct correlation between what you do and the life that you live, so how has this study changed you, in particular?
CLIFTON: Well, it’s helped me to see myself and some pitfalls that I ran into early in my ministry, just reading my role as the man of God, my assignment that God has given me and to reevaluate myself again. And I’ve seen some shortcomings on my end that I said, man, I really missed it there. Man, I really blew it there. But now, studying this and helping people understand my role, the elders’ role, and the deacons’ role, I made it personal for me to help me do better as far as being more gentle. Okay? The Bible talks about the man of God should not strive with men but he should be gentle.
Even though I’m direct, as you already said, Wes and people have always known me as that, but there’s a fine line there. Sometimes we can be too direct, or too blunt. And so, as a man of God, I aspire to be more nurturing, and more gentle. Every fish, my dad taught me ‑‑ when he was teaching me fishing, I asked my dad, I said, Dad, why do you have so many different baits or lures? He said, well, son, because every fish don’t require the same bait. And so I use that analogy for my ministry to help me to be successful here at the Wayne Road Church of Christ. I may be able to talk up here with somebody and we’re still smiling. Other people, it’s like, whoa, brother, are you hollering at me? No. Time out. I’m not hollering. That’s just me. And that’s what we learn from Paul in I Corinthians 9, where he says, I became all things to all people that I may gain some. Okay? And so you have to switch hats if you want to be successful, and I think that’s what Paul was telling Timothy. You have learned of my behavior, my pattern, and those same things you do, too, as well. And we learned that from Paul. Switch hats. Sometimes you have to play the role of a mother, father, sister, and brother, and that’s helped me with discipleship, and that’s also helped me as a man of God.
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WES: Well, Brother, I’m really enjoying this conversation just like I enjoyed listening to your lessons. Let me ask you this. What do you hope that the congregation has learned over the last few weeks of going through this series that they might not have known before?
CLIFTON: You know, my hope is that we can start utilizing those things that were taught. I think I mentioned this in the series, as well. As the preacher, if I’m proving these things to be so, what do we do from here? What do we ‑‑ do we just say, okay, well, I get that? Never heard that. So do we talk about it more? Do we reevaluate ourselves, and where do we go from here? Those are things ‑‑ the responses I wanted to hear from the congregation. It’s not so much what I want them to do. I want them to kind of feel the synergy of the word and take away what they have.
For example, now that you know that the man of God has authority the elders have authority and the deacons have their level of authority, but all of our authority comes from the word ‑‑ and if you don’t believe the word of God is inspired, if you believe the word of God doesn’t have authority, nothing what I say today or forever will mean anything to you because we first have to establish that. But if it does, the word of God has authority or power in your life and you believe that all scriptures are inspired by God, then what I would like to take from this, and I would like them to take away, hey, we’re going to follow the lead. That’s the biggest thing. Follow the lead. Not just come. Just not another checklist of the ‑‑ you know, our five items in the churches of Christ. You know, well, did we commune? Check. Did we read the scriptures? Yeah, check. Did we sing? Check. Did we pray? Check. Did we give?
You know, I want people’s lives changed. And if the man of God is showing you the word, and the word is true, the greatest amen that a man of God can receive from his congregation that he serves is a changed, transformed lifestyle. That’s what I want. Not because Cliff just said it. Okay? But because God said it. That makes more ‑‑ means the world to me, and I hope that means the world to preachers that are preaching the gospel every week. That’s the greatest amen that I’ve ever received as a man of God. “Brother, I’m gonna change. I’m gonna do something about it. Man, I fell short on this, Brother Webb, but, you know, I’m gonna strive to do better. Do you have a plan that we can put in place that will help me stay strong?” This is what I’m looking for. Not as an authoritarian, saying, I’m the man of God; listen to me.
And I was counseled by one of the greatest preachers that I’ve ever known in the body of Christ by the name of Dr. James Thompson. When I and my wife were first talking about marrying each other and we got engaged and we went through pre‑marital counseling, one of the things he shared with us ‑‑ and he was pointing at me to make sure that I didn’t have that drive current relationship with my wife. And that is, he said he had to share with a gentleman before that if you have to say, son, that I’m the man, I’m the man, then most likely you’re not the man. And I use that same analogy in my preaching. If I gotta say, I’m the man, I’m the man, then 9 times in 10, your people don’t look at you as the man.
WES: Yeah. Oh, that’s so good. That’s exactly right. Yeah, if we have to ‑‑ if we have to remind people ‑‑ and I think about Paul and Paul’s need in II Corinthians to remind people of his apostolic authority, that he’s an apostle and that they really need to listen to him, but instead of promoting himself, he actually ‑‑
WES: ‑‑ sort of demoted himself. We see this cruciform ‑‑ this cruciform ‑‑
WES: ‑‑ recommendation of himself by saying, if I’m going to boast, let me boast in my weakness ‑‑
CLIFTON: In the Lord, yeah.
WES: ‑‑ because that’s the way that we boast in Christ, is we highlight how weak we are. And the world is exactly the opposite. The world promotes themselves in a fleshly way by saying, hey, look how strong I am.
WES: And, in Christ, we say, look how weak I am, and his grace is sufficient for me.
CLIFTON: Yes, that’s true.
WES: And so I really appreciate the fact that in your lessons you often point out I’m not saying this because it comes from me or because I’m doing this perfectly. I’m saying this as a fellow struggler, as a fellow learner, as a fellow disciple, and we’re all under Christ and under the authority of Jesus and trying to listen to him and learn from him together.
So let me ask you this. As you think about this sort of transformation that happens, not just intellectually, but in people’s lives, what sort of application do you hope that people are making in their day‑to‑day life and in how they ‑‑ I love how you said it’s not about a checklist and it’s not just about what you do on Sunday morning, but what difference do these kinds of lessons ‑‑ what difference does it make Monday through Saturday?
CLIFTON: You know, I think I mentioned that in the leadership series, which was a very valid point. I’m glad you reminded me to bring this up here, and I think there’s something that I need to hammer. When I started this leadership, I didn’t want it to be another, I’m the preacher, they’re the elders, they’re the deacons. I didn’t want that. I wanted ‑‑ if we’re ‑‑ how the series was birthed in the first place ‑‑ we’re growing here. Our elder here is ‑‑ he’s getting of age and he’s not going to be here forever, but very sound in the mind, one of the busiest men here at the Wayne Road Church of Christ, and I wanted to instill in the body of Christ that, as the preacher, as the elder, as the deacon, we’re not going to be here forever. We have to reduplicate, okay, this role of eldership, preachers, because leadership is important to the growth of the church, right? And so I wanted them to come from the standpoint ‑‑ in submitting a name to me of who you think best qualified for this role as an elder or a deacon, consider yourselves first when choosing this person. Let’s look at the qualities. Okay? If the elder shouldn’t be a drunk, should you be? Think about this for a second, Wes.
WES: That’s right.
CLIFTON: Okay. Don’t expect more of the elder’s wife that you don’t expect of yours, or their children and your children. Every one of us should, in some sense, have these characteristics. Every one of us. Okay? And so in choosing an elder or a deacon, look really deep within yourself and have some mercy and grace when you look at your current condition. Who can I look up to? Okay? I know everybody’s not going to be perfect, but I want somebody to look up to that I can hone in and say, man, I aspire to be like this gentleman. He’s really a child of god. That’s really what I wanted out of this sermon ‑‑ or sermon series that I did. Walk away not just with, oh, we’re going to choose an elder. No. No, I want to learn what it means to be an elder in the text and how that applies to me as a regular child of God.
CLIFTON: And I’m using “regular” loosely, so I apologize if that was the wrong wording, but you get what I mean.
WES: Yeah. No, I totally understand. So let me ask you this. This is one of my favorite questions to ask because I know that when I’m done preaching a sermon or preaching a series, I always think, oh, I wish I had included this, or I wish I had said this differently, or I wish I had emphasized this a little bit more or a little bit less. So as you kind of look back over this series, is there anything that, if you went back and preached it again, that you would do a little bit differently?
CLIFTON: I would definitely consider my timing. Timing would have been a little bit more ‑‑ expedited a little bit better because, you know, I don’t like to keep people too long, but they were just so enthralled. I was so impressed with how they were just so intent on listening to me just pour over the word of God with me. I thought that was magical. But I would like to break that up more and spend more time with those different parts, adding some elements relative to the congregation’s response to the eldership, to the deaconship, to the evangelists of the church. I would spend a little bit more time with that, not ‑‑ I want you to follow them as your leader, but never as a cult.
CLIFTON: Okay? Always compare what the man of God is saying with the word of God. Even though you recognize ‑‑ because some people may get them ‑‑ miss the message. “Man, we got to do everything the preacher says.” Well, I’m not going to say “everything” there. Everything that is right within the parameters of the word of God. Okay? This is so important. That’s where a lot of churches have gone wrong and aligned themselves with the wrong people because just as much there are lovers of good people, there are lovers of bad people, according to Titus 1.
WES: Yeah. Amen. Well, I know you’ve got more to do. You’re a bi‑vocational guy and you’ve got a busy day ahead of you. But before you go, what’s next? What are you preparing to teach or preach coming up?
CLIFTON: Right now I’ve been working on just the gospel accounts of Jesus Christ and just pouring it ‑‑ because I was talking about the powers in the gospel. I want to start bringing out more points about Jesus, just learning about Jesus. I know many times we stress doctrine, doctrine. I’m all for that, Brother Wes, but I really believe that we need to get reacquainted with the Master, the importance of what he did, the things that he went through, the background culture of why the things ‑‑ he said things like, “Let the dead bury the dead.” That sounds like a harsh Savior, but when you look at the background of what he was working with, you understand it better.
And so, lately, we’ve been talking about context and dealing with traditions and how does that line up with the context that we’re using, that we’re lifting our traditions out of, and so I think that is so important to understanding and being free in Jesus Christ. It’s important to God so it should be important to us, and so that’s one of the things I’ve been working on lately. And going back to discipleship, we have a thing that we’re doing every week, learning what it means to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ. That’s the biggest thing here. Sharing Jesus, sharing your testimony. We lost the art of testimony, testifying the goodness of God. What was your life like before Christ? What was your life like ‑‑ how did you come to Jesus Christ, and then what is your life like now? Those three questions help people to understand that if God can do it for you, then he can do it for you. And so we want to start getting people back into not only sharing who Jesus is, sharing the goodness of God, what he did for you, and what was your life like, and then tell them how God can do the same thing for you. And I believe that’s where the church will soar the most, not just preaching the plan of salvation, you know, hear, repent, believe, confess, be baptized, receive the Holy Spirit. That is the response to the plan.
CLIFTON: The plan is the man, and that man is Jesus.
CLIFTON: And we gotta reacquaint people back with him.
WES: Amen. Well, Brother Webb, thank you for this conversation today, but more than anything, thank you for your work in the kingdom, Brother. Keep pointing people to Jesus.
CLIFTON: Thank you, sir. Thank you for having me. I appreciate you. Love you, Brother.
WES: Love you, Brother.
CLIFTON: All right. God bless.
Thank you so much for listening to the Radically ChristianBible study podcast. If you have just a moment, we would love for you to rate and review the podcast on iTunes, or wherever you’re listening. It really does help people find this content. I also want to thank the guests who join me each week; Travis Pauley, who edits this podcast; Beth Tabor, who often volunteers her time to transcribe it; and our whole McDermott Road church family, who make it possible for us to provide this Bible study for you. Now let’s go out and love like Jesus.