It’s been an amazing journey of understanding God’s heart for the church as we’ve looked through 1 Timothy. Last week Jeff preached on the “Qualifications of an Elder”: What are the qualifying characteristics of a person who needs to be appointed as an elder? Do you remember the 6 points?
4. Family Leadership
This week we’ll be jumping off what we learnt last week…We’ll get into the nitty gritty details of “What an Elder Is” and “What he does”. Isn’t that a great question? What does an elder do? Just to remind you all again…Elder, Pastor, Bishop and Overseer all mean the same thing. In the Bible, these words are used interchangeably.
So coming back, why do you think it’s important to know what is an elder and what he does biblically? I think there are two reasons:
1. To prevent abuse within the church of God
We’ve all heard numerous stories how elders have wrongly used their spiritual position in the church to take advantage of their people physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Just imagine the damage it would’ve caused. Some victims of this kind of spiritual abuse have even abandoned the faith because the leaders who should’ve led them toward Christ are in turn abusing them. That is really cruel! Christ would never ever want that to happen to His church!
2. To get rid of the unhealthy baggage from our previous church experiences
Most of us who have been to other churches in the past are carrying some unhealthy perceptions on the role and function of an elder which can affect our involvement and participation in this local body. Believe it or not, all of us are carrying some kind of baggage. Two examples are here:
a) Authoritarian View of an Elder
Some of us have seen elders from other churches being harsh, prideful and dominating. He’s more like the “Boss/Landlord” rather than a “Shepherd” taking care of the flock. This develops an unhealthy pattern of fear among the church. People are always fearful of the elder and the pursuit of the congregation turns into pleasing and exalting the elder rather than Christ. The elder is viewed only in terms of his administrative and organizational qualities.
b) Diminished View of an Elder
This is the other extreme where there is no respect for the elder. You’ll often find people frequently bad mouthing the elder and also being non-submissive to anything he says. Well, the main issue with this view is that they are slandering the authority that God has placed over their souls. This is never pleasing to God.
These reasons (abuse and baggage) often hamper us from really enjoying God’s design for the church and living out God’s purposes in and through our lives. There is a reason why God has placed called and gifted individuals over the church so that they can lead people to love, trust and obey God more effectively. Again to re-iterate Jeff’s point last week…Pastors/Elders are sheep themselves. We are equal in dignity and worth before God. And we are equally in need of God’s grace each day. But by rebelling against God’s appointed leaders, it doesn’t enable us to have greater love and intimacy with Christ. It’s like a wife responding to a question on her husband’s leadership saying “Leader? You wish! He can’t lead anyone”. Although both the husband and wife are equal in God’s sight but in order to grow and live out God’s purposes they’ll need to complement each other in their roles and not fight to establish their dominance at home. So the attempt this morning is to understand the weighty call of the elder and also grow in appreciation of God’s design for the church.
So let’s try to answer: What is an elder?
An elder is a God called and qualified person appointed to feed, care and protect His flock through the authority of the Word. The goal for this leader is to help people love, trust and obey God more effectively.
Let’s look at Scripture to make sure we’re grounded in our understanding and definition of what an Elder Is and Does.
We did go through last week how God qualifies an elder. (1 Tim 3:1-7)
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer[a] must be above reproach, the husband of one wife,[b] sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
Just to touch on the topic of what it means to be God called:
V1 talks about the desire that God places on a person’s heart to pursue this ministry. And this is not a desire to become great, famous, popular and rich. Those are all wrong motivations and a person should be not be qualified if that is the motivation. The desire which is being referred to here is to see people’s lives being changed by the gospel through the faithful shepherding of the flock which results in total dependence on the sufficiency of Christ. In other words, the heart beat and passion for a pastor called and qualified by God would be to echo the words of John the Baptist “He must increase, but I must decrease”. (John 3:30) The success of this person’s ministry is not defined by how much he/his church has accomplished but on how much his church trusts and relies on God.
Just to clarify, all of us have been called by God to proclaim His excellencies (1 Pet 2:9). We all are a royal priesthood. But God does have a specific role for elders to equip and build up the church so that they can be more effective in ministering to people.
Ephesian 4:11-12: And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds[c] and teachers,[d] 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ
2) What does an Elder do? How does he equip the body for ministry?
1) Feeds the Flock
2) Cares for the Flock
3) Protects the Flock.
Let’s look at each of them in detail.
1. Elders feed the flock
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-17)
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: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you (1 Pet 5:1-2)
The Greek word that is used for “shepherd” actually means “feed”. Essentially Peter is saying as a fellow elder he urges “shepherds/elders” to feed the flock. What should they be fed with? Not grass. But with the Word of God. Christ’s sheep needs to be nourished and nurtured with the Word of God. And that’s why the only qualification that deals with a capability from that list in 1 Tim 3 says “able to teach”. An elder spends time and energy with the Bible so that Christ’s church can be fed with the pure instruction and preaching of the Word. The seriousness of this call is humbling for me because it reminds me that if this passage is interpreted and applied correctly as it was intended, then you would be listening to not the word of man but God Himself! This “feeding” is however not restricted to a Sunday sermon but a lifestyle of discipleship. The gospel is being applied in discussions about life, work, marriage, entertainment, children, fashion, relationships, conflict, education, career etc. The elder is not expressing his opinions on these topics but is delving deep into Scripture to help people understand what God thinks about these topics and how he wants us to respond. It’s really disappointing that there are some pastors today that think that the Bible isn’t relevant anymore so they come up with sermons and teachings on the basis of worldly wisdom using verses to support their claims but denying the power and truth of Scripture. My point is…if we want to hear what the world thinks about these questions we don’t need the elder to tell us that. We’ll source that from other places. What we need to hear is what Christ wants to us to believe, desire and obey.
2 Tim 3:16: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God[b] may be complete, equipped for every good work.
2. Elders care for the flock
Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight,[a] not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you;[b] not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. (1 Pet 5:1-3)
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God,[a]which he obtained with his own blood. (Acts 20:28)
Few things we can understand from these two passages:
i) Elders care for the flock by understanding that they are overseeing the flock of Christ that He purchased with His own blood. This is as weighty as it gets. Remember earlier we talked about elders that have abused their congregation. The reason they do it is because they don’t realize that these are the very people that Christ brought out of slavery with His own blood. The flock is treated with utmost care.
ii) Elders care for the flock by being an example. This is so powerful. All of us know the impact that actions can have more than words. An elder nullifies his doctrine with an inconsistent lifestyle. The best way an elder can love and care for the church is by showing them how to love and serve Christ.
iii) Elders care for the flock by shepherding willingly and eagerly. As we’ve seen, leading and caring for Christ’s flock involves a lot of work, time and energy. All of us know of tasks that we do out of compulsion and obligation. However, Christ intends that elders joyfully and willingly embrace the responsibility. Secondly, in our flesh and self-centredness we are always looking to do things which give us some immediate returns. Christ calls elders to not do it out of shameful gain but eagerly not expecting immediate returns but the heavenly reward for those who do it well. 1 Pet 5:4 : And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
3. Elders protect the flock
Titus 1:9 : He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound[g] doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
An elder needs to be gospel fluent : his understanding about the glory of God, the pre-eminence of Christ and our desperate need to trust in the sufficiency of Christ. He needs to be gospel fluent in order to preach but also to rebuke wrong doctrine.
Acts 20:29-31 : I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.
In Acts 20, Paul calls the Ephesian elders to meet him at Miletus. He exhorts them before he leaves on how they need to take care of God’s flock. But look at the language he uses to describe false teachers : “fierce wolves”. These false teachers will come up among the disciples and will speak of strange twisted things in order to draw disciples after them. Again you see the connection between wrong doctrine and wrong intention. But the exhortation to the elders is that they remain alert! They can’t just allow anybody to come and teach anything. If the pure word of God is able to nourish and build up believers, then the impure, contaminated teaching would harm and destroy the believers. And elders shouldn’t allow that to take place. It’s like a shepherd allowing wolves to come and devour the lambs. Will a good shepherd allow that to happen? No. Saju narrated an incident once where a gospel singer contacted him through the website. This person claimed to have written many Christian songs and he wanted to check with Saju if he could come to the Gathering and sing his songs and share his testimony. Saju told him that he was welcome to attend our Gathering but he wouldn’t be allowed to share his testimony or sing a song because we didn’t know anything about him. Didn’t know his life or his doctrine. We couldn’t allow him to come and say anything because it could be something absolutely unbiblical which could harm the flock. Protecting the flock is one of the key responsibilities of the elder.
As we’ve all read and understood the call and the function of an elder, I pray that it does a couple of things in our hearts this morning:
1. If we’ve had negative baggage with respect to church leadership, I think this calls us to repent of those false beliefs and embrace God’s design as He’s laid down in Scripture.
2. Submit to elders in a way that is honouring to Christ. 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. What would that mean to us today? How can we make it a joy for our elders to serve and watch over our souls?