37. Local Leaders – Elders

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 6 – Thinking about Leaders

37. Local Leaders – Elders

Acts 20:17,28  Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church…. Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

1 Pet 5:1,2  To the elders among you …Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be

So eventually: Yes, eventually we get here, to think about elders. The word appears 127 in the O.T. and 64 times in the N.T in the NIV. When it was first used in Exodus (mentioned 11 times), the ‘elders’ were simply the most senior men of Israel there in Egypt. The Patriarchs were gone as the nation grew in number and there were simply those who were, no doubt, the oldest and most mature of the community. As such we see them involved in things with Moses from which others were excluded. In Leviticus it was the elders who had to step up and offer a sacrifice on behalf of the people when the nation had sinned (Lev 4:15); they were the senior representatives of the people before God. The elders of a local community were to act as judge and jury when the occasion required it (see Deut 21:19,20, 22:15-18, 25:7-9) and they were to be bearers of the law and the testimony to next generations (Deut 31:9,28, 32:7) and they led national repentance (Josh 7:6) and took punishment for community failure (Judg 8:16) and clearly showed they were the leaders of their local communities. And so it continued through the Old Testament period into the New, where we find they are leaders of the community, sharing in the rejection of Jesus with the chief priests. Throughout the Gospels they are simply senior members of the community.

But then Church: The first mention of ‘elders’ in the Church, in the historical accounts in Acts, comes right at the end of Acts 11 where the church at Antioch, “decided to provide help for the brothers and sisters living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.” Acts 11:29,30) A little later we find Paul and Barnabas returning on their first missionary trip, checking each of the churches they had established and we see, Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church.” (Acts 14:23) There is no mention there of qualification (which is found elsewhere in Paul’s letters) but for the church to accept the apostolic appointment of these leaders, would suggest they were people who were simply being recognized for what God had already done in them. When it became necessary for Paul to go to Jerusalem to resolve a theological debate, we find numerous references to not only the apostles in Jerusalem but also the elders (plural) in the church there in Jerusalem. (see Acts 15:2,4,6, 22,23 etc.) There had clearly been an appointing of men to act as leaders of the church at Jerusalem, as well as the apostles. The remaining 8 references to elders in the letters come as teaching or instruction. The 12 references to elders in Revelation all refer to the twenty-four elders around the throne of God.

The Teaching: We have seen previously how the term elder, overseer and shepherd are interchangeable (see Acts 20:17,28 above) To Timothy, Paul spoke of, “The elders who direct the affairs of the church,” (1 Tim 5:17)  and had instructed Titus to, appoint elders in every town,” (Titus 1:5) meaning every church. James expected the elders to be channels of Christ’s healing in the flock: “Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well.” (Jas 5:14,15) Is this one of those verses that parts of the Church conveniently forget or make excuses for (now the canon of Scripture is complete)? What a challenge! “Is anyone among you sick?”  Half the modern church is sick! What are the elders doing about it?

And so? What have we seen so far, what can be implied in the general usage of the term ‘elder’? First and foremost the historical picture shows men (and it would only have been men) who were older, mature and hopefully wise. Their age and wisdom was used to settle problems within the community and, on occasion, to answer to God for the community.  Translating that into the church, again there is the implication that ‘elders’ are those of mature age and who exhibit wisdom and, we might suggest, godliness. Linked with the term ‘overseer’ their role is also to protect the flock and there goes with that accountability and a responsibility before God. If I look back over my years as an elder, I am grateful for the Cross for no other way can we fallible leaders stand. So how do the teaching elements of the epistles fit with what we have said so far? The two main passages are found in Titus 1 and 1 Tim 3.

Titus: “An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (Titus 1:6-9) Intriguingly, this is largely about character with little about spirituality, although both must be tied together. Note it says he “manages God’s household” not, we suggest, as a business or organisation but in the protective way we have considered previously.

The standard that Paul sets here is so high that I suggest it excludes those who have been divorced, and I realize in the modern church in some places that may cause immense difficulty. His requirement is for impeccable men, whose families hold together in faith and godliness, because they are to be an example to the rest of the world, and in the utterly confused and messed up West where divorces abound, cohabitation is almost the norm, and relationships are so often unstable, this has to be an area where leaders must stand out as salt and light, showing an alternative way. I suspect that ‘being filled with the Spirit’ was something Paul took for granted, for how otherwise can such men pray for the sick and see them healed? Similarly, when it comes to Deacons (who we will consider later on) for those who simply serve the church rather than protect or spiritually feed it, the one time when these is seen in the narratives, deacons were required to be men “known to be full of the Spirit.” (Acts 6:3) Surely elders, with all we have seen of their responsibilities could be nothing less.

Timothy: “Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,  not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect.  (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)  He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.” (1 Tim 3:2-7) Similarly, because both have the same author, we find ‘above reproach’ instead of ‘blameless’ but carrying the same meaning, especially in respect of family life and general character. The Titus verses finished with the need for maturity in respect of knowing the word, whereas here to Timothy, he is simply to “be able to teach,” and “not a recent convert” both imply maturity again. But there is something about this ‘maturity’ we have been referring to, and we will pick it up more fully later on when we consider ‘Teachers’ and it is the thing about not merely ‘knowing about’ (which is an essential starting point for an elder) but includes actually doing. Maturity is measured by obedience and availability and that is see in the believer who is well-rounded in both character and service.

And so: Because we have taken three studies to consider this matter of local leadership and the names and roles expected of such men, we really need to get an overview that draws together and highlights these things. For that reason, if you will excuse us stretching this out, the next Study will be a recap that draws all things together and asks two questions: 1. What sort of church or what picture of church is conveyed by all these verses? and 2. What effect should that have on the ordinary believer, the person who has just come to Christ and finds themselves part of the Church?

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36. Local Leaders – Shepherds

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 6 – Thinking about Leaders

36. Local Leaders – Shepherds

Acts 20:17,28  Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church…. Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

1 Pet 5:1,2  To the elders among you …Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be

1 Pet 2:25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Eph 4:11,12 Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors (shepherds) and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up

What next: I almost tossed a coin, figuratively speaking at least, as to whether to take overseers or shepherds first before elders. As Paul said to the, “elders… the Holy Spirit has made you overseers so (implied) be shepherds.” (Acts 20:17,28) i.e. if you are an ‘elder’, recognize God has called you to be a protective overseer, so consider yourself a shepherd of God’s flock in this particular local church. Peter basically said the same thing. The word for shepherd comes up more in respect of the Lord than it does his leaders but, nevertheless, they are called to shepherd his flock. Indeed in the list of gifts to the church of ministries, shepherds (or Pastors, the old English for shepherd) are seen there.

A Caring Role: Notice what both Paul and Peter say: “Keep watch over …. all the flock…” (Acts 20:28)  and “God’s flock that is under your care.” (1 Pet 5:2) I gave a clue to their role in the previous study when I said, ‘shepherd encapsulates, caring for, providing for, as well as protecting.’ Perhaps nowhere can we better see the role of the shepherd displayed than in the famous Psalm 23. Having said that we must note that in that psalm David refers to the Lord as his shepherd and, would suggest there are some things the human shepherd needs to leave to the divine shepherd. So let’s see what we can see from that psalm:

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” (v.1) Our role, I would suggest, is always to direct our people into a relationship with the Lord, in which HE will provide everything they need. My God will supply all that you need from his glorious resources in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:19) The under-shepherd will always point the flock towards the Chief Shepherd.

“He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,  he refreshes my soul.” (v.2,3) i.e. he provides for me sustenance, and guidance into a place of peace and refreshing. The under-shepherd does this, I suggest, as he leads the flock into the presence of the Lord and shares His heart with them through His word. Teaching is thus a key element in the ministry of a shepherd which is why in Eph 4:12,13 there are often questions as to whether “pastors and teachers” are one and the same or two different ministries. I believe the answer comes to Paul’s words to Titus when speaking about elders (who we see above are also shepherds, He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (Titus 1:9) Yet he said to Timothy, “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching,” (1 Tim 5:17) which implies that not every elder will be so gifted. Combining the two, I would suggest that every elder must have a firm grip on the word of God to be able to help and guide others with it (and refute error) although not all of them will be equally gifted with preaching gift.

“He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.” (v.3) The role of the shepherd (who is also, don’t forget, an overseer) is thus that of a guide, which implies a) he has walked this path before, i.e. a person of maturity, b) he shows the right way ahead, i.e. a teacher, and c) he walks it with them. This calls for a level of closeness which is rarely seen in modern churches, especially the bigger they are (which reinforces Francis Chan’s call for small churches that replicate easily). The reminder is always to be, “The Lord is with you – Immanuel” but having said that Christ-incarnate today means Christ expressed through his body, the church, and especially through loving, caring and available leaders.

“Even though I walk  through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil,  for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil;
 my cup overflows.” (v.4-6) Again, we have to emphasize, our teaching is, “God is with you (Heb 13:5b,6) and for you (Rom 8:31), working all things for our good (Rom 8:28), and we are seated with him in the heavenly realms (Eph 2:6)”  These verses remind us that there are dark days in every life, whether caused by mourning or simply by difficulties and opposition. That takes us into the realm of spiritual warfare (see Eph 6) where we need to teach the flock that opposition comes from the enemy and our call is simply to stand and hold the ground (the Christian life) God has given us, and we do that with His grace and with the comfort of fellow believers around us, which includes shepherds who learn to use the authority (the rod and staff)  that God gives them (More on this perhaps in a later study).

A Starting Agenda: From, these verses, we can perhaps set out a framework of some of the teaching etc. that the shepherd will bring to the flock, learning:

  • how to feed on the word,
  • how to sense the presence of God,
  • how to come into a place of peace ‘in Christ’ and ‘in the Spirit’,
  • how to receive guidance,
  • the nature and character of the path we are called to walk,
  • how to empathize which those who mourn and weep (Rom 12:15),
  • how to stand and triumph in spiritual warfare,
  • what it means to be more than conquerors, seated with Christ.

Shepherds go ahead: Each of these things will not be mere theory but will be things put into practice by the shepherd who will, by going ahead, be an example to the flock: set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity,” (1 Tim 4:12) and,  In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech,” (Titus 2:7,8) and, “Be shepherds of God’s flock … being examples to the flock.” (1 Pet 5:2,3)  As is fairly obvious from all this, shepherd-leadership is not for the novice, the new Christian or the faint-hearted, but for the mature, and that leads us into the whole subject of elders that we will consider next.

35. Local Leaders – Overseers

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 6 – Thinking about Leaders

35. Local Leaders – Overseers

Acts 20:17,28  Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church…. Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

Titus 1:6,7 An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household…

Phil 1:1  To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons:

1 Tim 3:1  Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach

1 Pet 2:25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

A New Start: Starting from scratch we have tried to imagine what would happen if a new group of believers came into being and we suggested that it was likely that some among them would stand out as leaders. Now we want to start again but now look at what the New Testament says about leaders. I am going to distinguish between local leaders and gifted ministries (e.g. those found in Eph 4:12,13). We’ll go on to the gifted ministries in later studies but for the moment I want to stick with those whose role was specifically to watch over the local church, the local flock.

Overseers? The word ‘overseer’ comes in this context in the New Testament only a limited number of  times. Some translations use the old English word ‘bishop’ but as that term has taken on a new ecclesiastical meaning in later centuries we will stick with the term ‘overseer’ which describes the role more accurately. Also in the New Testament there are not tiers of ecclesiastical government. The ministry of the apostle, as we shall see later, was a role that enabled ‘elders’ to be formally recognized and brought into public affirmation. But as our verses above indicate, the terms ‘elder’ and ‘overseer’ and ‘shepherd’ (the other term for the old English ‘pastor’) are expressions of one and the same person. But each term has a specific meaning. But we would do well to face some of the difficulties for this expression of leadership.

A Difficulty – Work: I am dealing with ‘overseer’ first simply because it occurs fewer times than ‘elder’ who we will come to a little later on. The trouble with dictionary definitions is that they usually refer to a job or work context, of a person overseeing other workers and although that actually IS how it is supposed to be in church, the connotation with secular work is so often not such a good one. As we have noted previously, all ‘work’ in the church context is to be that inspired by and for God, an expression of grace. The sad thing about Christian ‘ministry’, Christian ‘workers’, and Christian ‘leaders’,  is that we so often see these roles as ‘work’ and see the leader as ‘employed’ by the flock which is a dramatic change of view from what it was originally, and one which so often causes such hindrances in the modern church.

A Difficulty – Superiority:  The term that is here used, ‘overseer’ is a functional role and not a role of superiority. Yes, it is a role that Paul referred to as being one called by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28 see above).  Having watched the growth of what might have been referred to as the ‘Restoration Movement’ at the end of the last century, where there is a (wrong) exaltation of ministries, instead of humility and servant-heartedness, we see there can arise a disguised superiority attitude in leaders and wrong submissive attitudes within the flock that take away personal responsibility.  It is little surprise that many of those ‘ministries’ no longer exist.

A Difficulty – Exaltation: Yet, if we are honest, it is incredibly difficult not to exalt an individual, male or female, who God anoints mightily in His service, but it is not what should happen, and it opens the way for a variety of both misunderstandings and misuses. Where a person is anointed for leadership by God, especially in this overseeing role, it is especially difficult for that leader (who indeed may appear spiritually head and shoulders above those around him) to maintain a right perspective and recognize that they, just as much as anyone else, need a mentor or someone to hold them accountable. They are still human beings and are still vulnerable to feeling inadequate and in need of encouragement and counsel, if not in their ministry, so often in their family circumstances.

A Difficulty – Hierarchy: Similarly the ‘managerial hierarchy’ (for it is nothing less than that) which is witnessed in most denominations, has no place in the ones Jesus calls into being as his Church. We perpetuate such structures with all that is wrong with them, because we have built up organisations who have large finances, own many buildings and generally exhibit the functions of a secular business organisation even, in the case of some, being involved in property investment to maintain their structures in a manner that is so different from that shown in the New Testament, which we will look at in more detail in a later study.

The protective meaning: The meaning of an overseer should that be simply one who watches over and guards the flock, who protects the flock. In this it overlaps the idea of shepherd, although shepherd encapsulates, caring for, and providing for, as well as protecting. Indeed in his famous ‘on the beach’ elders’ briefing Paul goes on to warn them, “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!” (Acts 20:29-31) and he said it so they would be alert, watching out for these workers of the enemy and resist them on behalf of the flock, to protect it.

The corrective meaning: Rather like the secular overseer there is, to use the dictionary definition, the sense of, “to make certain that an activity is being done correctly.”  The big difference between the church (spiritual) and the business (secular)  is that the church overseer is answerable to Jesus to demonstrate and express Jesus’ love and humility in all he does. The goal of the overseer is to equip, enable, empower each member of the body of Christ to function in the way that God enables and gifts them, in ways that will build up and bless the body (see 1 Cor 14:12), while humility remains a primary characteristic as we considered back in Study no.17.

Keeping to the plumb line: Thus we might summarize the role of an ‘overseer’ to be twofold. First to protect and second, to enable the flock to remain on track in the light of the New Testament  teaching. The picture of Jesus acting as a cornerstone (e.g. Acts 4:11) means we do all we can to keep people as close to Jesus as possible, for him to act as a plumb-line if you like, against which all we do is checked. It is to ensure that each person is enabled to see themselves as a valuable member of the body, no greater than and not less than, anyone else, needing and needed, for the blessing of the body. Such a task requires grace, humility and wisdom. Where there is an absence of those three things, there becomes a ‘mechanical process’ approach that is more familiar in secular training courses, but which is not that which should be observed in the church. So, protection, equipping, enabling, empowering, guiding, these are the activities of the ‘overseer’. In the next study we will consider the ‘shepherding’ aspect in more detail, and then finally the meaning and role of the elder which will provide the greater context and role of these local leaders.

34. Led

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 6 – Thinking about Leaders

34. Led

Acts 20:17,28  Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church…. Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

Eph 4:11,12  Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.

Taken for Granted: We have been, may I remind us, considering facets of what the church is, if possible by going back to basics and starting from scratch. The difficulty, as I sought to point out a few studies back, is that church has been around for two thousand years and we take certain things for granted, no more so than when we come to the subject of leadership. In this Part, the following will be the studies before us:

  1. Led
  2. Local leaders – overseers
  3. Local leaders – shepherds
  4. Local leaders – elders
  5. Local Leaders – The Nature of the Church (1)
  6. Gifts of Ministries – Introduction
  7. Gifts of Ministries – to plant
  8. Gifts of Ministries – to build up
  9. The Servants – Deacons
  10. The Nature of the Church (2)

Where Angels fear to Tread: To try and consider from scratch the whole area of leadership in the church is potentially a hotbed for hostile responses. The Church changed dramatically from that first century after Christ and so our perspective on church leadership is, in many places, set in the concrete of tradition and passing centuries, a concrete that is staggeringly different from that found in the decades after Christ.

Balance: It is too easy to attack modern structures but we should never attack the leaders for many are the godliest men you can find – not all, but many (you only have to follow the news to see ongoing child-abuse scandals to note that not all are godly). Some of these leaders use their roles in very good ways to demonstrate righteous living. Never write off leaders of a part of the Church that is alien to your way of thinking because at the worst these are men or women considering they are following a vocation, a job with a calling, even if some are not sure of their calling when it comes to it; often, in the middle, are godly men and women trapped in an institution, trying their best, even if that falls short of the New Testament teaching; at the best it is men and women with a godly call on their lives seeking to be God’s servants with whole hearts and blessing those in Jesus’ kingdom.

Madness: Having been a church leader for well over twenty-five years, having known many leaders, and having watched many more, my long-term conclusion is that anyone who wants to be a church leader without a very clear calling from God is mad. Sorry to be blunt but leaders are God’s ‘out-front-people’ and as such they are the first to receive brickbats from the enemy, and I know very few leaders who have not been wounded along the way, and some who have had serious mental or physical breakdowns because of being ‘in the ministry’. One has to be honest and say that often the causes of such breakdowns are the people of God, as tragic as that is, and we will seek to cover how to avoid that in the days ahead, as we consider plurality of leaders.

A Difficulty: The presence of these established institutions, because we take them for granted, makes it very difficult to put aside all our presuppositions and start from scratch. Why, some might immediately ask, do we need to do that anyway? Supposing (and it doesn’t) the world said that child abuse, for example, was acceptable behaviour, that would not mean that it is right, especially when we measure it against New Testament teaching. We who are church leaders are not to measure what we do by way the world does things, but by the way God does things as revealed through the New Testament, and the responsibility for holding on to that sits on the shoulders of God’s leaders at large. It is important that we try, therefore, to truly get to get to grips with this subject which is why this Part will extend to at least ten studies.

Who is a Leader? All, whatever shade or hue of ecumenical life they come from, would agree I believe that church leaders, meaning those at the top of the pile, if I may put it so crudely, are to be those called of God; let’s agree on that. It starts with God. But the difficulty is knowing or recognizing such a call. There are, essentially, two different approaches to recognizing calling. The main traditional denominations usually go along with the sense of calling that an individual has, and if other ‘senior’ leaders agree to what they have sensed, they tend to send them off for training and then after a period of education and training, formally release then into a church context. A second approach is to simply watch and observe the life, gifting, and emerging ministry of a member of the church, and give them space to work that out even more and, as the body recognises them, openly accept them as leaders. Training may or may not follow. Both approaches have both pros and cons. But, I suggest, there are two bigger questions to be asked and answered: first, why does the church need leaders (not so obvious as you might think) and then, second, what actually is a leader?

Why do we need leaders?  Put aside my earlier analogy of a desert island where a number of survivors find the truth of the Bible impacts them, and they turn to God through Christ as they find it in the New Testament. Instead take them back to the mainland where they all happen to live in the same area. They decide to continue meeting together and now they are a ‘church’ living in a Western nation, say. Let’s consider various things that they might experience:

(i) They are now in an environment where the world imposes questions on them. They talk among each other about issues raised.  One or two have taken the trouble to dig more deeply into the Bible and come up with suggested answers.

(ii) Life goes up happily until one day some newcomers arrive sowing doubts about the way they are conducting church and life in general. The group now shows signs of confusion that might best be described as that which is seen when a flock of sheep are disturbed and potentially scattered. The ones and two’s who had previously shown signs of leadership step up to the mark and with authority refute the false teaching being brought in from outside. Peace is restored.

(iii) Then one day, two of the members of the group have a disagreement. It could be theological, it could be ethical, it could be over material or practical issues in life. It has the potential for causing division in the group. The ‘leaders’ step in and with wisdom and grace bring about reconciliation, and peace and order are restored.

(iv) A need appears within some in the group and they call on the group to help. The ‘leaders’ preside over that help and ensure it is fair and adequate.

Leaders, we have seen are those who oversee and seek to resolve these various problems or difficulties for the good of the greater body.

So what is a Leader in the Church? Because of the nature of the church and all that we have said about how people become Christians, they are first and foremost believers, Christians who have been born again of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, we would hope in the light of what we have said about ‘life’ and the Holy Spirit, they would clearly be Spirit-filled believers.  Moreover, because we have said our starting place is God, we would hope these are clearly godly people, people who demonstrate a depth of relationship and experience with the Lord, people who put prayer high on their agenda.

Because the church, we have said, is also a place (a body) where lives are founded on the New Testament, we would want these ‘leaders’ to be clear examples of those who understand and keep to that teaching and whose lives are righteous, who are examples to others of right and good and godly living. We would want them to demonstrate maturity, a maturity that is demonstrated by wisdom and the fruit of the Spirit. But as we look at the teaching on loving and caring for one another, we realize that we are looking for people who care about people: first and foremost caring about God, but then second, very clearly putting people as their next highest priority on the agenda.

And So? What have we said in these last two paragraphs? First, problems occur. Problems to do with belief, problems to do with relationships, problems about the way we go about life as Christians, the way we go about the corporate life as church, and the way we fend off heresy, and the way we ensure the church is a place of goodness, righteousness and caring. In other words, these are the needs that arise when any group of Christian people gather together. Second, we find that there are those who rise up to meet these needs but, more than that, they do it out of a living, vibrant, Spirit-filled relationship with God, demonstrating the life He reveals in the New Testament, an example for others to follow. Now that is clearly our starting point and there is much more to be added which we will go on to consider shortly. What I have sought to do, is put aside all we know of ‘what is’ and reflect on why there are ‘leaders’ in church, the needs for leaders and the type of people who will meet those needs.

To finish with, let’s move into Scripture next and note Paul’s instruction to Titus and highlight the things we’ve just seen: “An elder must be blameless, …  Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it,” (Titus 1:6-9) and tomorrow we’ll reflect more on some of the names given to leaders. This is just the starting place.

7. Qualifications for Elders (2)

Meditations in Titus: 7:  Qualifications for elders (2)

Titus 1:7,8  Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless–not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined

Here is the second time Paul says an elder or overseer must be blameless. The first time we saw was in respect of family relationships; this one is about general behaviour. The reason for this call to have a good reputation is given: “Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work…..” It is often said that every person who is a Christian is on God’s work  but the Bible emphasises that church leaders are in a way that others are not. We have suggested before that spiritual warfare is bruising and that the church leader is at the forefront of the battle that the enemy brings against the church. To be a church leader is to be called by God to a specific and difficult role.  It is a public role in that the member of the local church see him, but so does the onlooking world. For this reason he is both a representative of God and of the church and therefore must have a spotless reputation. Now to the specifics.

“not overbearing”. The dictionary definition of this is ‘acting in a dictatorial manner; arrogant; domineering.’ We sometimes speak of ‘the minister’ of a church but the word simply means a servant. Sadly I am afraid I can say I have seen spiritual leaders acting in a dictatorial manner, being arrogant and domineering. It is especially common where you have a large church with a large leadership team and a large staff. The temptation is to become ‘the boss’ in the way of the world and so often these descriptions are what are seen in the world. They should not be so in the church.

“not quick-tempered”.  A person who has a short fuse, we sometimes say, lacks self control and is impatient with people. Anger is right in unrighteous circumstances but getting angry with people is not the way of the servant. He is to treat people graciously. Both of these first two are about holding right attitudes towards other people, holding the attitude of a servant, as Jesus did.

“not given to drunkenness”. This is another lack of control issue. Alcohol is not wrong in itself but drinking in excess means you are no longer the person you are when completely sober. Observing a drunk can be a scary thing because you can never be sure how they will act. Loss of control means things can be said that would otherwise not be said. This is not to be the way of God’s servant.

“not violent”.  This is the natural follow-on to thinking about drunkenness but it can also have a wider application. In particular this man must not be violent with his wife or children. He is supposed to be an example to the flock. This is also linked to being overbearing and quick tempered. This is a man out of control and such a man should not be an elder.

“not pursuing dishonest gain”. This man is called to a holy profession and God will be his provider. The thought of ‘pursuing’ dishonest gain goes beyond a one-off mistake to an outlook that looks to get benefit and is not bothered how that comes. In whatever form this comes, whether it be in dubious business practices or in other things, it disqualifies a man from being an elder.

So far these have all been negatives, things we should NOT find in an elder and if they are, then I suggest the elder should step down or be stepped down. Now Paul comes to a positive list of things we should find in such a leader.

First, “he must be hospitable.”  A hospitable person is one who welcomes visitors or guests and cares for them making them feel at home and looked after. I would also suggest that this makes him approachable and warm.

He is also to be, “one who loves what is good.” Now this might sound obvious but it speaks of one whose heart is sold out to the good, given over to look for and pursue what is good. In reality there are lots of people in the world of whom this could not be said. Goodness is a characteristic of God and it is to be of our leader as well.

Third, he is to be “self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.”  I link all these together because the first and last are very similar  Discipline is simply another  way of speaking about self-control. Now they are linked with being ‘upright’ and ‘holy’. ‘Upright’ speaks of ethical correctness and ‘holy’ speaks of spiritual correctness. This man is in control of his life and ensures that he is right ethically and spiritually. As we have said he is to be an example to the flock and to others, a representative of God and of the church before the world. In all these ways he is to be seen to be ‘blameless’.

6. Qualifications for Elders (1)

Meditations in Titus: 6:  Qualifications for elders

Titus 1:6,7  An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless–not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.

If I may shorten the recap within the previous meditation to remind us what elders do: elders are to be men of maturity, who go ahead by example, who care for the flock, teach and challenge the flock to grow into maturity, resisting wrong teaching, and who should have spiritual authority and spiritual power. They are therefore, conduits of God’s blessing to His people.

Now if you think that is too high a calling, you are beginning to realise the reality of it. It IS a calling and a gifting and it is only able to be carried out with the grace of God. If that is the nature of the ministry, what must be the nature of the vessel bringing the ministry?

First, “an elder must be blameless.” He must seek to be a man of impeccable character because he represents God and is to be God’s channel of blessing. Now please, be realistic, none of us are perfect and so your man will have feet of clay the same as the rest of us. There will be times when he isn’t perfect, nevertheless generally he must be a man of good reputation. Now twice in this list Paul says the elder must be blameless, In verse 6 it would appear to be blameless in respect of family life and then in verse 7 in respect of personal character and personality. We will look at verse 7 in the next meditation and restrict ourselves here to considering family life because it is so important.  Now I realise we are about to move into contentious issues and so simply ask that we consider these things as the Bible says them and not as modern culture would try to make us go along with.

So, second, “the husband of but one wife.” Note he is a man and a man in a stable enduring marriage relationship. Let’s deal with the ‘male issue’ first. Where we have a society functioning as God designed, it we will have committed relationships (marriages) and children born to them.  I have been tempted to expand on the psychological reasons why in general God decrees that leadership will be male but will simply leave this statement which is true: in the Bible leadership is invariably male although there are rare exceptions. This has nothing to do with culture or history, I suggest, but more to do with God’s wisdom.

I realise we are living in an age where godless culture does not understand this and parts of the church are conforming to that culture’s norms but time will tell the truth of this before too many years pass. This is not in any way to demean women or restrict their gifting. Spiritual warfare can be bruising and elders are at the forefront of that. As I have heard someone say, “When you look at the realities of spiritual leadership and realise how tough it often is, you are crazy to want to be a leader unless you have God’s clear calling into it.”  Doctors and psychologists often say that church leadership is one of the most stressful jobs going. The injury rate or the casualty rate is phenomenal. If this is strange to you, count yourself fortunate that you have not seen this or been part of it. Most of the church leaders that I know are damaged in some way by the ministry; as we said spiritual warfare can really be bruising, and that is an understatement.

The call to be blameless here, I believe, is a call to be accusation free wherever possible and in respect of their marriages spiritual leaders are always vulnerable. If the truth was known about many marriage relationships, many wives might well disqualify their husbands from that role (or husbands disqualify themselves). Is this a reason why the church is so often powerless and impotent?.

Third, “a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.” He is thus a father who has been fully involved with his family and taken part in the training and brining up of his children, including their spiritual teaching.  In the letter to Timothy, Paul includes in this same list, “He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)” (1 Tim 3:4,5) This element is an important one. A man who has not been able to train his children appropriately so that they are not disruptive and disobedient is lacking. It is a sign of maturity that he is able to do that. How we deal with our children will be a sign of our maturity and its absence is revealed in the way our children respond in life I believe.

When we pray for our leaders, I wonder do we pray for their families? I have mentioned spiritual warfare more than once and as I have observed the families of leaders, there are some beautiful ones to behold but at the same time there are ones where the enemy is causing havoc. Husband and wife relationships and parent and children relationship can be, if we are not very careful, major battlefields where the enemy seeks to lead astray or pull down individuals.  Any parent will at times anguish for their children and cry to the Lord for help and an entire study could be written on the ways the enemy seeks to upset relationships and subsequently ministries.

If we are a leader honesty is vital. We must face the reality of our marriages and our relationships with our children and their relationships with us, with one another and with God. These are areas of major vulnerability that require us to think much, pray much, and do all we can to enable us to be leaders who are full of grace and truth, have families that are full of grace and truth, and establish churches that are full of grace and truth.

5. Why Elders

Meditations in Titus: 5:  Why Elders

Titus 1:5  The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.

We have commented  that wherever Paul established churches he also established elders for that church (e.g. Acts 14:23) but before we move on to examine the qualifications of an elder that we find in the following verses, we might do well to examine the meaning of the world elder, other names given to the role and what the role included. A good starting place is the teaching from the apostle Peter: To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers.” (1 Pet 5:1,2)

The term ‘elder’ speaks of the spiritual maturity of a leader called by God to look after His people. The term ‘shepherd’ (or its alternative ‘pastor’) refers to his caring and providing role, and the term ‘overseer’ refers to his protective and administrative role. As we noted previously almost invariably reference is to elders – plural. It would be helpful to examine in more detail the activity of an elder seen either by teaching or by example in the New Testament.

An elder first of all leads (remember a shepherd goes ahead of his flock). This reference to leading thus suggests the maturity that we have already spoken about, a spiritual maturity than comes with time and experience and which brings wisdom with it. Part of this entails him being fully aware of the Gospel and sound teaching of the New Testament so that he a) can impart it to the flock and b) use it to refute false teaching, hence Paul’s words to Titus: “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (Titus 1:9) In his letter to Timothy Paul says the elder must be “able to teach” (1 Tim 3:2)

To the elders of Ephesus Paul charged, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” (Act 20:28) and went on to warn them against false teachers who would come in. This reference implies, ‘Care for them, guard and protect the flock from the enemy, because they are very precious to Jesus because he died of each of them.’ The example of James in Acts suggests there are times when the elders have to judge doctrinal issues (see Acts 15:13-19). They are clearly to be men of the word. Maintaining and holding to the truth and rejecting falsehood is to be a key role of the church elder.

In their role as a overseer we might fall into the trap of thinking that this is purely administrative which requires experience and wisdom – “The elders who direct the affairs of the church.” (1 Tim 5:17)  However there are two examples in the New Testament that show us that the elder is to also be a person who conveys spiritual power and authority. When Paul said to Timothy, “Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you,” (1 Tim 4:14) we see that the elders who had prayed (and probably prophesied) over Timothy had imparted a spiritual gift.  James wrote, “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up.” (Jas 5:14,15) The elder is clearly to be a man of faith, power and authority.

So to recap, elders are to be men (we’ll come to this in the next meditation and there is a reason for this I believe) of maturity, not only in life but especially in spirituality. When they lead the flock, it means they go ahead by example and they will be able to do that because they have learnt through time and experience and they have accumulated knowledge, insight and wisdom.  They will care for the flock, teach the flock, admonish and challenge the flock (to grow into maturity – see Eph 4:11,12) and will be able to speak on doctrinal matters and refute wrong teaching. They will also have spiritual authority to stand against false teachers or prophets who might come to disturb the flock. They will also have spiritual power as well as authority to minister life, healing and gifting to the people of God. They are therefore, conduits of God’s blessing to His people – not the only conduit (for there are other ministries) but the primary home in the home situation.

While it is possible for one man to fulfil all these things, the New Testament reference to elders indicates a team leadership of men who mutually support one another and stand together for the flock and against the enemy. To perhaps see how far we have so often strayed from the New Testament pattern, read through that recap paragraph above again and once you have done that you will be better equipped to see why the ‘qualifications’ in the following verses in Titus 1 are so important and that we will go on to see in the next study.