October 23, 2016
Leadership is all the rage these days. There are many books and conferences on leadership not just in the secular world, but also in the church. In one sense there is overlap for sure. The qualities necessary for leadership in the church and the world are similar. But in another sense there is a difference. The setting of the church and the goals of the church are different from that of the world.
In the New Testament church leaders are referred to as Elders or Overseers. The word for, “elder” is presbuteros. It generally refers to someone who is older and mature. We hear our English word, “Presbyterian” in this word. The other word is Episcopas. It is the word for overseer. The words are used interchangeably to refer to the leaders of the church. The early churches had elders and some congregations also seemed to have deacons. The elders gave direction and guidance to the congregation while the deacons helped to carry out the various duties to enable the church to function.
In 1Pt.5:1-4 Peter has a word specifically for the elders of the church. What kind of leaders are needed at a time when the church is facing persecution? Peter speaks to that here. Church elders are called to shepherd God’s flock.
I. ELDERS ARE TO SERVE WILLINGLY. 1Pt.5:1-2
It is significant that Peter begins by referring to himself as a fellow elder. He wrote as someone who personally understood what it means to be an elder. Isn’t it interesting that Peter singles out the suffering of Christ and not the resurrection of Christ? He also refers to being a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed. Suffering, followed by glory gives shape to the general attitude that elders are to embody.
On the basis of v.1, Peter exhorts the elders in v.2. He says, “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you.” Elders are shepherds. What do shepherds do? Well they tend to the sheep. They take care of the sheep by providing nourishment, healing, guidance, and protection. This is pastoral care. It involves the teaching and preaching of the word of God. That’s spiritual nourishment. It involves encouraging and comforting. That’s what I mean by healing. It often involves giving counsel for living out the life of Christ in our daily circumstances. That is guidance. And it involves guarding the church and the truths of the faith as taught by Christ and the apostles. That is protection. Shepherding the flock of God calls for much wisdom and counsel. That is why a plurality of elders is preferable.
Obviously there is a personal cost involved in being a shepherd. Because of this, Peter points out that serving as an elder must be done with a willing heart. One of my jobs growing up was to mow the lawn. Generally I enjoy mowing the lawn, but there were days when I did not mow the lawn willingly. On those days, my attitude was not very good and I let my dad know it. I did not take much care in how I mowed the lawn because I just wanted to get it done. I rushed. I was a little sloppy. There’s no way around it, mowing the lawn takes time and effort.
Shepherding the flock of God also takes time and effort. If church elders serve under compulsion, because, “Someone’s got to do it,” that attitude is going to hurt the flock. That elder will get frustrated and exasperated with the concerns of the people and the ministry. Ministry will become an unwelcome inconvenience. Instead of taking the time to nourish, care for, give guidance and protection, the elders will just do the minimum and follow the quickest way of getting things done. If the elders do not serve willingly, the congregation will suffer and not be built up in Christ.
When we consider Jesus we see that before there was glory, there was suffering. Jesus willingly suffered for us because he loved us. Elders are to have that same willing, loving attitude. This is all the more important because elders are not shepherding their own flock, they are shepherding the flock of God. We are God’s people. Pastors, elders are given a stewardship to shepherd the flock of God. So we must be careful to do our best, treasuring the people of God. Paul lists various qualifications that elders are to meet in 1Tim.3. Elders are to be “above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity, keeping his children submissive. He must not be a recent convert and he must be well thought of by outsiders.” In 1Tim.5 Paul refers to elders who rule well, and who labor in preaching and teaching. James writes that not many should become teachers because teachers in the church incur a stricter judgment. Serving as an elder is not to be taken lightly. It is very much a calling from God.
Well, the only way we as elders can have this willing attitude is if we are keeping our heart in tune with the Lord Jesus and his word through prayer, study, worship, Bible reading, service, etc. Of course, all believers are to avail themselves of these provisions for spiritual growth, but this must especially be true of church elders. The elders lead the way in seeking Christ.
II. ELDERS ARE TO SERVE SELFLESSLY. 1Pt.5:2b
Now before we talk about shameful gain, let me point out that compensation for the work of ministry in the church is not prohibited. In 1Tim.5:17-18 we read, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, "You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain," and, "The laborer deserves his wages." In the Old Testament the priests were provided for by the people they served. Over the many years of church history, as the church became more institutionalized and specialized it became common to have a paid elder who would give himself to fulltime preaching and teaching in the church. But even today, not all congregations have a full-time paid elder. Many of the Brethren churches are served by unpaid elders. Some congregations are served by pastors who are bi-vocational. They work outside of the church. And when a congregation does have a paid elder, that elder should be paid a fair wage to enable the elder’s family to live reasonably well.
But the reality is that ministry can be a means for selfish gain. One only has to consider the opulence of the Catholic Church over the many years of church history. During Luther’s time the church was selling indulgences. People paid for an indulgence to get their loved one out of purgatory sooner. It was a scam, an abuse of Christendom. But it is not just the Catholic Church. Such greed can be found in every wing of the church. There are some protestant pastors making hundreds of thousands of dollars every year, living in opulent houses. These are the obvious examples of greed. It appears that they are using the ministry to cash in on the American dream, which has never been the Lord’s dream.
Greed, the desire for selfish gain, runs deep in everyone. And elders looking for selfish gain may be apt to say things in manipulative ways in order to curry favor. We don’t have to be talking about large sums of money. It’s the attitude of the heart that directs the behavior of the elder. Elders cannot promote Christ while seeking to line their own pockets.
How can elders in the church protect themselves from selfish, shameful gain? Well, like every believer, we must seek to take every thought captive to the obedience of Jesus Christ. Just as we forsake other temptations, we must forsake the temptation to selfish gain. Another way to protect oneself is to be a generous giver. Generous giving to the work of the Lord puts us in a posture of trusting the Lord. Along with this, it is important for an elder in the church to be a wise steward of what they have, living within their means. Elders are to be an example to the congregation. And when a congregation does have a paid elder, that elder should be paid a fair wage to enable the elder’s family to live.
III. ELDERS ARE TO SERVE HUMBLY. 1Pt.5:3
Whether a congregation has only volunteer elders like in many Brethren churches, or a paid elder along with volunteer elders, all elders are called to promote a vision for living life in the kingdom of God as we live in this world. Elders are to live in such a way as to help others on to God through faith in Christ.
Listen to Heb.13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
Pride is a constant danger in church ministry. Those serving in the church are easily tempted to use ministry to promote themselves. Over the years, the Evangelical church in America has focused on having large numbers, state of the art facilities, so as to offer an awesome worship experience and to meet every conceivable need a person might have; a one-stop church! Perhaps unwittingly we’ve cultivated consumerism in the Church in our effort to reach people for Christ. When I was in seminary the Church Growth Movement held sway. We were taught to use various formulas to bring church growth. The Church Growth Movement has fallen out of favor. Today being missional is the focus. Leadership is the focus
I think about two separate conversations I had some years ago with the CEOs of two different denominations. One leader asked me what kind of leader I am. I tried to share my thoughts and he said, “O you are a maintenance pastor. I am a visionary.” I came away from that conversation with a diminished view of myself. In the second conversation the CEO told me that I am a shepherd while he is a leader and not a shepherd. I felt a bit better after that conversation. Another pastor told me that I am a priest while he is a king, comparing church leadership to the offices of Christ: prophet, priest and king. I wasn’t too keen on that analogy.
Brothers and sisters here at Forest Park Baptist, the goal of our elders is to seek to lead each one of us on to God by our conduct, character and conversation. We are more concerned about your spiritual welfare and how that impacts your daily living, than we are about how big our congregation is. It’s not that we have no concern about the size of our congregation. We do. Our children have grown up. Our congregation is aging/ People have moved away. And the culture has continued to become post-Christian. Added to this is the fact that we have financial obligations and concerns. These are the realities of church ministry today. We are trusting the Lord to help us and provide for our needs. But our goal, our focus is on promoting Jesus Christ and our life in Him.
One of the most important qualities to be found in an elder is humility. In other words, elders are not to be domineering or manipulative. The way of Jesus cannot be imposed upon anyone. Nor is it wise for an elder to use his authority to have his own way in the church. Elders do not seek to belittle others or bully others. I have been in churches where that has happened. We are to lead by example. So as elders we want to cultivate integrity of life at home, at church and at work. We want to learn to die to self in the living of our lives. We want to be gracious in our interactions with others. And we seek to be accountable to Christ and to the church.
Here at Forest Park our Elders are accountable to the congregation. We want to be accountable to the congregation. In some churches the elders are not accountable. The elders direct the affairs of the church and they exercise their own accountability within the elder board. We are accountable.
I’m saying these things because I want all of you to know that I and the other elders take this responsibility with sober minded care. We are certainly not perfect. We are not always able to discern what is best. But we want to do our best before the Lord. We are interested in and concerned for your spiritual welfare. We are interested in and concerned for the wellbeing of the congregation. Our hope and prayer is that each of you also share these concerns. We have a wonderful opportunity to be the presence of Christ in this community and to each other.
But we cannot end without turning our attention to the great shepherd of the sheep, Jesus Christ. In 1Pt.2:24-25 we read, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” In the church we look to Jesus, our good shepherd. He alone enables us to live to righteousness and to be healed of the brokenness brought about by sin. Have you returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your soul? Do you know Jesus? Amen