Sunday 9th of May 2021
Local Church Leadership Pt. 1
Grab your Bible and turn with me to Acts chapter 14. We began our time in God's word together on the very first Sunday by asking and answering a question: "Who is the Church, and what is she for?" The answer came to us from God's Word. The Church is the bride of Christ, made so in order to please Him.
But, as is so often the case, an answer to one question gives birth to another. We are Christ's bride and we exist to please Him, good. What is it that pleases Him? Our sanctification pleases Him. Excellent. How do we become sanctified? By the coalescence of our effort in Bible study, prayer, and obedience, the church's effort in exhortation and discipline, and the Spirit's work in co-opting all of those means unto the end of our sanctification. Pretty thorough.
But, what do we do if we have brothers and sisters among us who say "no" to the process of sanctification and kick against the church's role in it? You enact Church discipline. This process of asking and answering questions is wonderful because answering each emerging question presses us back to God's Word to find the answer.
Well, last week's look at church discipline birthed yet more questions that we need to answer from God's Word. Who are the agents of church discipline? Who presides over the process? Does Scripture provide us with a structure for the church to ensure that His purpose for her is lived out? In answering these questions, we're beginning to broaden our focus from a more narrow consideration of sanctification as a doctrine to the wider question of how the process moves forward in the life of the local church. We're effectively turning our attention to the infrastructure of the Church.
Infrastructure refers to the resources that are required for an action to occur or for a given result to be accomplished. Every end has a means. Every goal needs an action plan. You want to manufacture something on a large scale? You need factories. You need factories? You need a builder. You want certain goods to be produced in that factor? You'll need workers. You need workers? You'll have to offer fair wages in order to incentivize people to work at your factory instead of your competitions.
All of that to establish that it is too small a thing to say, "the church is the bride of Christ and we exist to please Him through pursuing sanctification individually and institutionally through the power of the Holy Spirit." That sounds thorough because it's a long sentence, but how does all of that come together in a local body and get lived out? Does it just happen naturally without any leadership or coordinated effort?
No...read the epistles...The only thing that happens naturally when groups of people assemble together is sin, infighting, drama, and strife. Discipleship, serious study and application of God's Word, accountability, proper discipline...these things don't just happen naturally by virtue of our being indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
God uses means. Someone leads us. Someone teaches us. Someone invites us. Someone challenges us. If all of the things we've discussed over the last four weeks are going to happen in Christ Church, factories must be built, roads must be paved, manufacturing processes must be codified, and decisions must be made. Who does that? Who drives that? Who is entrusted with it and why? Or, to boil the question down, "who has God appointed to make sure that what is supposed to be happening in Jesus' Church is actually happening?"
The Bible's answer to that question is elders, pastors, overseers, bishops, and shepherds who are assisted in implantation by deacons. You may be thinking, "Wow we've got a lot of position to fill! I know we have two elders, but it sounds like we need pastors, overseers, bishops, shepherds, and deacons as well! We've got a lot of slots to fill before we're a biblically ordered church!"
While it is true that we yet have many leadership slots to fill before we are a properly structured church, the New Testament actually uses the words pastor, elder, overseer, bishop, and shepherd interchangeably to refer to the same office. The use of different words to describe the same office points to different functions that those who hold that office are expected to perform.
We'll demonstrate that from Scripture of course, but for now, just hold it in your mind that elder, pastor, overseer, bishop, and shepherd all refer to the same office within local church leadership, so a pastor is an elder, is an overseer, is a bishop, is a shepherd- same office. Then there is the office of deacon which we will consider next week. For today we'll focus on the elder, pastor, overseer, bishop, shepherd role.
Here's the plan for this morning:
Establish the fact of eldership in early church.
Trace out the origin of eldership in the early church.
Consider the responsibilities of local church elders.
Learn the qualifications that local church elders must meet.
Disclose the installation process for the office of elder at Christ Church.
Establishing the fact of eldership in the early church
This is an important step because at Christ Church we don't see ourselves as innovators, creatives, or entrepreneurial trailblazers in local church ministry or church planting. Rather, we are happily constrained by the pages of the Old and New Testament. We don't think that Scripture needs an update, we don't think it needs our creative spin, we don't think that how-to manuals for local pastors that teach us how to modernize the church are helpful.
Again, we are happily constrained by the pages of the Old and New Testament; its prescriptions and in many cases, its descriptions. Meaning, we're definitely going to do what Scripture tells us to do as a local church, and we're also going to do a tremendous amount of what Scripture tells us God's people were doing at the time of its writing, even if the text doesn't explicitly say that we have to do those things.
We don't believe that God has given us a goal or an objective and then left it to us to make up creative ways to accomplish said goal. We believe that God has given both the objective and the instructions for accomplishing it to us in His Word, so we are ever anchored there. That is why we have to start our consideration of eldership in the church by establishing that that model is Scriptural, because if it isn't we need not waste our time discussing it.
So, Acts 14:21-23
 When they (that's the Apostle Paul and Barnabas) had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch,  strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.  And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
Acts 20:17-18 & 28
 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him.  And when they came to him, he said to them: "You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia...
Now skip down to verse 28 nearing the end of Paul's address to the elders:
 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, which he obtained with his own blood.
Verse 17 establishes that there were elders in the Ephesian church, and verse 28 tells us plainly what they do, which we'll consider in more detail later, but it's clear from verse 28 that elders shepherd and oversee the flock, which is the Church. This is also one of the places that makes it clear that the terms we discussed earlier are used interchangeably. Verse 17 says Paul called the elders to himself, there's one of our terms...verse 28 says that while addressing the elders he calls them overseers who care for God's flock...like a shepherd…So just in that text we see the equivalence of the terms elder, overseer, and shepherd.
You don't have to turn here, but let me also read to you from Philippians chapter 1 verses 1 and 2:
 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul addresses his letter to all the saints in Christ Jesus, with the overseers (or elders) and deacons. Many more examples could be given, to establish that elders were operative in the early church but you could trace that out easily enough on your own time, so we'll move forward, having established the fact of eldership in the early church satisfactorily.
Trace out the origin of eldership in the early church.
In the same way that Christ Church is happily constrained by the prescriptions and descriptions of Scripture, so were the Apostles whom God called and equipped to lay the foundation of His New Covenant Church. You'll see little in the ministry of the apostles that is novel, innovative, or untethered from the Scripture that they had at their disposal, that being the Old Testament.
The office of elder didn't arise out of thin air...Paul didn't make it up as a creative solution to the logistical problems associated with rapid church growth. Paul read his Bible and then appropriated it's contents in the current situation as led by the Holy Spirit. Or, stated differently, in appointing elders to lead local churches, the early church was only following the pattern God had established in the earlier church, namely, Old Covenant Israel. Israel was governed, at the local level, by elders.
 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Gather for me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them, and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you.  And I will come down and talk with you there. And I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you may not bear it yourself alone.
Here we see men called elders, filled with the Spirit, were leading God's people locally. The same is recapitulated in Deut. 1:9-18. We see that this model of leadership was still in place in Israel during the time of our Lord's incarnation:
 Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him.  When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant.  And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, "He is worthy to have you do this for him,  for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue."
When the centurion needed a favor from the Jews who did he seek out to make it happen? The Elders...the trusted men who led locally. So, when we appoint elders and we trust them to lead us, we aren't just going back to the acts of the Apostles, we're going back to God's instructions to Moses. Now to our third concern for the morning, turn with me to 1 Peter chapter 5 and we'll consider the responsibilities of local church elders.
Consider the responsibilities of local church elders
The responsibilities of the elders is, in large part, bound up in the various titles that are assigned to them in the New Testament: Overseer, shepherd, pastor, bishop. We'll see both the titles and the responsibilities to which they point in 1 Peter 5.
Verse 1 tells us that Peter is addressing the elders. What does he tell them? He exhorts them to "shepherd the flock of God." So the elder is a shepherd, and our English word pastor comes down to us from the word shepherd, and means the same thing. So here we have the elders identified as a pastor/shepherds.
But that's not all...Peter says elders are to exercise oversight (because an elder is an overseer)...this is the word "episkopeō" in Greek, from which we get our English word Episcopal which is translated elsewhere in the NT as bishop. So here we have the elder identified as an overseer or bishop. That's all five of our New Testament words for elders in a single text.
Sometimes elders are called shepherds, because they shepherd. Sometimes they're called the bishops because they exercise oversight. These other words by which elders are frequently called in the New Testament are simply descriptors of what they do for the local church. They shepherd the flock as pastors, that is, they feed the sheep by teaching the Word of God. They oversee as bishops, meaning they look upon the church to inspect her so that they may know how to pray and care for her, and so that they know what from God's vast Word may be most needful for the sheep in a particular time or season.
The elders should have a true analysis of how the church is. An analysis that goes far deeper than knowing how many attendees, members, and givers there are. You know that those are the most common metrics that modern churches use to assess church health right? "We have x number of people coming, that's more than last month- healthy…" A shallow, meaningless metric.
"We have x amount of money in the bank, and most of our Sunday attenders give!" People being generous financially sounds like a less shallow and meaningless metric, but let me tell you this, there are a lot of men who will write large checks to our church but they aren't doing anything to raise their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord- would that they keep their check and lead their family!
A favorite metric for assessing church health these days is to determine what percentage of their church is attending a small group outside of the Sunday gathering. That too is a shallow metric...I've known many women who are at every church function that the leaders plan. They'll set up, prepare food, run sign ups, all kinds of wonderful service to the church, but they will not respect or submit to their husband. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law..."
The elders, as overseers, are called to peer through the veneer of solid attendance and financial stability to look at the real health of the sheep in their flock. Does our faithfulness stop at church attendance and financial contributions? The overseers should know.
We see here another responsibility of the elders, that we'll touch on again when we look at their qualifications: "Being an example to the flock..."
We have this notion about pastors in southern church culture that they are a higher degree of holy…that the average man or woman will not ascend to that level of sanctification or biblical understanding or obedience. We've not looked to the pastors as examples, we've looked to them as substitutes, and excused our own disobedience to God's Word with blithe dismissals like, "well I'm not a pastor or anything..." Your pastors leadership in their households, their biblical knowledge, their obedience to Christ...these things are examples to be followed, not shrines to be marveled at or substitutes for the personal obedience of church members. The pastor, elder, shepherd, overseer, bishop, has a responsibility to be an example of biblical faithfulness for his church to follow.
The elder, shepherd, overseer, pastor, bishop, has a responsibility to the chief Shepherd, who is Christ, to only lead Jesus' people where Jesus has determined they ought to go. The pastor is not visionary leaders persuading people to follow him, he is a submissive follower persuading people to follow Christ as he does. This point underscores the importance of expositional or expository preaching, that is drawing truth out of the text of Scripture what is there and applying it to God's people.
How does the Chief Shepherd, Christ, lead His flock? He's at the right hand of the Father in heaven, so how does He exercise His headship over the Church? Through His Word. He has appointed under-shepherds to give His people His Word. Without weekly exposition of Scripture that is mining truth out of biblical texts, a pastor has turned down Jesus' voice in His own church and has sought to make himself the chief shepherd. And what a horrifying day it will be for those men when the chief shepherd does appear. Now to our fourth consideration this morning, turn with me to 1 Timothy chapter 3. You'll go backwards through James, Hebrews, Philemon, Titus, 2 Timothy, and then you're there in 1 Timothy.
The Qualifications for Elders
The list of qualifications that we're about to read for elders is more or less an itemization of the areas in which an elder is to be an example to the flock.
Above reproach: the idea here is that an elder should be in good standing with the people in his church. When his name gets mentioned as elder you shouldn't have a bunch of people thinking, "well doesn't make sense at all...for this reason this reason and this reason..." People ought not have stacks of objections to the installment of an elder; there should be a healthy sense of consensus among the congregation regarding who their elders are because these men aren't carrying around reproach that gives people reservations about being led by them.
Husband of one wife: there is no shortage of debate and intramural fighting about the specific meaning and application of this qualification, but for this mornings purposes I will refrain from entering the ring, but Luke and I will produce a position paper on the application of this qualification at Christ Church that will go up on our website. For this mornings purposes, let it suffice to say that an elder should be a model husband, faithful to his wife in all of the ways that Scripture commands, washing her with the water of the word, reserving all of his romantic and sexual engagements for her, and protecting and providing for her.
Sober-minded: temperate, moderate...not given to excesses and extremes, but tempered. You may have been under the leadership of someone who was not sober-minded or temperate...Intemperate leaders create unstable environments because they are given to seasonal fixations of which they tire, at which point they shift their focus to another fixation. I've seen this in church leadership before...one year the pastor read a bunch of books about missions, so they overhauled their budget and their Sunday school materials and their small group content and they went after missions with all they had! Then the pastor was really moved by a book about discipleship..guess what happened the next year? You want elders to be sober-minded, not given to excesses and extremes, you want moderate men who can see more than one thing at a time.
Self-controlled: Sensible, not overly emotional or impulsive, but rational. You don't want elders who take everything personally, and reacts to things emotionally instead of thoughtfully. If a man is going to wield power and authority well, he must be a man who knows how to tell himself, "no," not a self-indulgent man who simply reacts. He's got to be the kind of man who feels, but tells his feelings, "no- you don't get to drive." He's got to be the kind of man who can have overwhelming impulses that, despite the strength of them, he subordinates to the Word of God.
Respectable: Literally, well arranged, seemingly, or modest. The other place this word is used in the NT it is translated as modest and is used in reference to one's external appearance. How an elder presents himself matters. An elder should present himself as he is, a respectable man. Dennis Rodman doesn't pass. Trend obsessed mega church pastors who insist on wearing gaudy big tongued sneakers don't pass. Respectable presentation of oneself is not a baseless traditional value that fuddy-duddies who hate free expression made up, it is a biblical value, and a criterion for elders in Jesus' Church.
Hospitable: Generous, magnanimous...an elder can't be a miser who dislikes people and is stingy with his time and resources as he is called to care for them and to pour his life out patiently instructing and shepherding them. An inhospitable elder ends up using the rod that he's been given to beat the wolves on the sheep because they annoy him with their needs.
Able to teach: an elder must be apt and skilled in teaching. This qualification strikes at the heart of the elders roles...teaching God's Word. An elder must be apt to teach because he is not allowed to pontificate. What the church needs is to hear and understand God's Word. Plenty of people are apt to forcefully express their opinions. Few are apt to teach. An elder needs to be able to get from the situation in front of him to a biblical text that shines light on that situation...that is to say that this isn't just the ability to prepare messages and deliver them, it's the ability to get a phone call at 1:00pm on Tuesday afternoon that says, "it's cancer," and apply the Scriptures skillfully to that life and situation that is in front of you.
Not a drunkard: pretty self-explanatory. An elder ought not be given to much wine or strong drink. He must not be mastered by, dependent on, or nursing strong cravings for alcohol.
Not violent, but gentle: The word for violent here means combative, easily riled, raring to go, given to altercation. The word for gentle means suitable, equitable. The idea is that an elder shouldn't be prone to react to things violently or in an overly zealous manor, but should respond to things suitably and equitable letting the Scripture guide his reactions.
Not quarrelsome: Not contentious, generally manages to get along with people and is well liked because he doesn't constantly pick fights with and poke people unnecessarily. An elder should be a man who can discuss contentious issues without always starting a fight.
Not a lover of money: Not greedy, not tight fisted with money, not storing up treasure on earth, but as we saw with hospitable- he should be magnanimous and open handed with what God has given him. I'd also say that pastors who love money, will never pastor the people in their church who give the most money. They'll show partiality to the rich, overlook their sins, cram them into important positions, and otherwise dote upon them. An elder ought not be a lover of money, because if he is he'll either be unduly impressed or intimidated by those in his church who have a lot of it.
If you want to know if a man is qualified to exercise spiritual authority in the church, you look at how he exercises spiritual authority in his household. If he is a poor spiritual leader of his wife and his children, what reason would we have to think that he'll be a great spiritual leader of people who don't have his last name? The idea here is that before being an elder in Jesus' Church, a man must have demonstrated competent spiritual leadership in another realm of life, the most natural point of assessment then, is his household.
He can't be too young in the faith, because positions of honor and power destroy the immature, primarily because they become convinced that they are honorable and powerful at which point pride swells, inviting God to tear them down.
He must be well thought of by outsiders. That one is sort of odd isn't it? We may well think about texts of scripture where our Lord says things like, "woe to you when all men speak well of you!" Or "when they hate you remember that they hated me first..." Then we've got this qualification for eldership that sounds a bit like an elder must be a person that everyone speaks well of and who isn't hated. What's Paul getting at? "He must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into the snare of the devil."
An elder needs to be an upright man who is generally well thought of and well respected in his community even outside the church, otherwise, the devil will have a field day distracting him with all kinds of accusations, and slanders, that makes people actually have to wonder and ask, "Is that true?" "Did he do that?" "Is he like that?" An elder should have the kind of reputation that makes it so that when the people who hate them bring their false charges, those who have interacted with them, even outside the church say, "nah- you don't know the guy your slandering, that's not him."
Now, a final qualification that is undeniably implied in this text: Elders must be male. They also must be men, which is what these other qualification are driving at, but they must be male, not female. Men, not women. Paul is explicit on this point just one chapter back in 1 Timothy chapter 2 verse 12 where he says, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather she is to remain quiet." Well, we've already established that the responsibility of the elders is to teach, shepherd, oversee, etc... they exercise authority. Women are barred from this office in the church, and the reason why is stated by Paul in chapter 2 verse 13: "For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor."
This is not the occasion for a full treatment of this text, but I want to assert briefly that Paul is arguing that God's design bars women from this role. The exclusion of women from the teaching/authoritative offices in the church is not a cultural affectation, nor is it a response to one, nor is it an index of an oppressive patriarchy that emerged in society after a group of she-man woman hating men got together and said, "hey...let's make sure that we rule the world and subjugate all the women."
Paul is arguing from nature, that is, God's design. Adam was created first then Eve, indicating hierarchical primacy, and Eve was beguiled or deceived by the serpent when she found herself in a position of leadership that belonged to her husband. It was not natural...it was not God's design for Eve to go toe to toe with the serpent. It is Adam who was designed and commissioned to guard the garden and the woman whom God placed there.
So Paul grounds his prohibition of female leaders in the church in the creative order, in God's design, in nature. That is to say that it is unnatural and against God's design for women to inhabit positions of authority in Jesus' Church. It is as unnatural for a woman to be an elder in the church as it would be for a man to be a girl scout troop leader, and if I might add this note briefly: Women are barred from eldership because of God's great and overwhelming love for them!
Eldership is war. To lead the church is to take on stress, and strife, and criticism. To lead the church is to confront abusive husbands, step into the middle of altercations, and be on the front lines of spiritual warfare. The man who cheers his wife on while she goes to war in his stead is a pathetic man who has earned for himself great shame. In this church, we will not send our women to do our fighting and dress it up in the rhetoric of progress and equality; it is cowardice and sin.
Someone is going to take the shots, absorb the criticism, and take the blows that are associated with leadership in Jesus' Church. In God's great grace and kindness toward women, He has assigned this task to men.
Ladies, you can be upset about that if you want to... I pray that you're not - but if you are, you're upset that you have a Heavenly Father who adores and protects you. Don't be silly and rebellious, be grateful.
The selection and installation process for the offices of elder and deacon at Christ Church
Now I want to let you know how elders and deacons will be selected and installed at Christ Church. We believe that the congregation is of vital importance in making these selections, in large part because the qualifications for these roles require that a man have good standing and be well respected among the local body. This means that the feedback of the congregation is necessary.
So, the Christ Church congregation will be responsible for recommending and affirming elders and deacons. Luke and I will not decide who we like the most, get along with the best, or think is just weak willed enough that we could convince him to go along with everything we think. You'll tell us who you believe meets the qualifications and who you would like to lead and serve you.
After we've received congregational recommendations, Luke and I will spend time with the men you've recommended in order to consider them more carefully, and those who we believe are, in fact qualified, we will present back to you to be affirmed by you and installed.
Since we are a new congregation and many of us are not well acquainted with each other, Luke and I have decided to wait six months before receiving recommendations for these two offices, so we charge you to steward these months well... be thinking in terms of elder and deacon candidates as you interact with each other, as you strike up conversations and invite people over for Sunday lunch, and get together with other families...pay attention.
Final word: men, not every one of you will be an elder or deacon, but every one of you should be aspiring to meet the qualifications of those offices, because men like that are blessing to the church, to their families, and to their communities whether they hold the office of elder and deacon or not. May we become a local fellowship who has more men who are qualified for these positions than we have need to install.