Snapshots: Day 91

Snapshots: Day 91

The Snapshot: “Send some men to explore the land … all of them were leaders.” (Num 13:1,3) They do say leaders are those who go ahead. These men certainly did, but we know the story of how they came back and only two were full of faith to take the Land while ten only saw problems, and the ten caused Israel to end up for forty years in the wilderness. What a responsibility. There’s a challenge for any of us who have been, are, or will be leaders in whatever capacity in ‘the church’. We have the capability of encouraging and leading God’s people on in acts of faith, or we can just see problems and difficulties and hinder the progress of God’s plans. Such a responsibility is scary, but such a responsibility is only on those called and equipped. Who? Those with hearts open to be used by God.

Further Consideration: Responsibility in leadership is a tricky thing and it is something that has the potential to weigh one down with ‘all that responsibility’. Well let’s see if we can lift the load off while avoiding becoming negative reporters like Moses’ leaders.

I did a study recently on church leaders. There are those in the New Testament who appear to have been spirit-filled guys who looked after the material well-being of the flock. They were the deacons. The ones with spiritual responsibility were called elders, overseers or shepherds (pastors).  As the interchangeable names imply they were the mature and wise in the congregation of God’s people, those who guarded and protected the flock, and those who provided for the flock, whether it was food, security or healing.

Now here’s the thing, there seems little reference to them being ‘called’ whereas some denominational leaders make a big thing about ‘calling’. Actually in scripture it seems more of a natural gifting thing, an aspirational thing (1 Tim 3:1) and a character thing (3:2-7), something recognized by apostles (where there are apostles) or by the flock, and so if you are there, it is probably because God has gifted you accordingly and touched your heart – and will equip you with His grace to enable you to be a blessing to the flock. Calling? Maybe.

That’s it; if we are leaders we are called to be a blessing to the flock, serving them, looking out for them, not dominating them, but loving them and looking for all God’s goodness to them. So if you have God’s grace, what’s so difficult about that? People and Satan! Right, but His grace doesn’t change and will be sufficient to cope.

And one final thing in a short reflection like this: remember you’re imperfect and will not get it perfectly right all the time, but as long as we’re steering away from major sin, that doesn’t disqualify you. Enjoy it, be a blessing and be blessed.

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?

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.

26. Spiritual Expressions

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 4 – Pondering on Vision

26. Spiritual Expressions

1 Cor 2:13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.

Eph 2:10 we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

God-centred: at the beginning of the previous study I spoke about focusing on what church was all about, summarized in two suggestions. First, make the ‘Spiritual’ the keystone of your direction, the starting point and then, second, make ‘building people’ your second priority, and we started considering the first of those two things, the need (often taken for granted and therefore not practiced) for being God-centred. This, we said, should impact every expression of our relationship with the Lord and our ministry, and noted how obedience is to be virtually the key starting place for both of those. Now I am aware that this is all about vision, and although these are not things we want to spell out in a brief mission statement, they are nevertheless the realities that we need to keep before us. So rather than plough on into ‘building people’ we need to flesh out some of the aspects of the Christian life and ministry, seen under the magnifying glass of this part – “Being God-centred”.

Spirit-Led: I fear if you go into many churches and randomly ask people in the congregation, what it means to be Spirit-led, you would receive a lot of blank looks, because I have rarely heard it preached upon and taught. Surely we need to build a people who are open to the Holy Spirit, who are learning to sense/listen to Him and respond to Him, producing leaders who lead in the ways of the Spirit, who can be an example and go ago ahead (that’s what leaders do!) in the Spirit.  Surely we need to encourage our people who are unquestionably people of the Word and of the Spirit, to feed and drink and then feed others and enable others to drink, being seen to be people stepping out in faith and in the Spirit and trusting God to turn up, not being afraid to get it wrong.

Spiritual Expressions (Disciplines): If we are to be God-centred, God-focused, we also need to major on Prayer, creating meetings that do not just utter words but who learn to listen to God and then pray out of what they hear. We should encourage leaders to always be at them, and encourage the church to be at them, and give it high profile at every opportunity

In Preaching, we need to focus on who we are rather than ‘this is what you do’ to build assurance, confidence and faith, challenging people to rise to a vision of ‘this is who we ARE and this is therefore what we can rise to’.  i.e. we motivate by preaching grace not law, vision not vices, hope not guilt, reaching up, not driving up. Beware teaching ‘law’ (more Bible reading, more prayer) but instead show attainable goals that build faith. Again and again, can we place an emphasis on being God-enabled in this, rather than just intellect driven.

In Teaching encourage our leaders and then our flock, to be well read, both in the Bible and outside it, feed people and give them a strong base for their belief, also equipping them to resist the thinking of the world, knowing who and what they are and why, to give a springboard to ‘becoming’. As above, again and again, may we motivate by grace and flow out of our relationship with the Lord, being God-orientated at all times.

In Worship, can we encourage expressive and involved and Spirit-inspired worshipping and, as the Spirit is allowed to move, be seen to be an initiator, enabler, a totally involved follower.

The Problems of Leadership: Our greatest failure is to look to people who are successful in the world. I can remember in my youth being in a church where the diaconate of twelve men trouped out of a door at the front of the auditorium with the Minister, twelve men in suits, twelve men at the top of their game, bankers, lawyers, accountants and the like, and the church was proud to have such men at the front. But there were at least six problems with that. First, these were committee men, men good at running organisations, not organic bodies like the church. The church is the body of Christ and he is its head and the Spirit is its energizing and directing force.

Second, there is a great deal of difference between a business man and a spiritual leader. One might suggest that being a deacon is merely being a servant who helps administer the practical side of the church (see Acts 6) but actually the Biblical requirement is that they be filled with the Spirit (back to God again!). The other thing, in my past experience in that particular denomination was that deacons sought to exercise power and authority (in the role of elders) without having either the calling or equipping for that. We’ll look at this in detail later in the series. Third, these men were so proper, so respectable, that I am sure none of them would have dared step out in the Spirit if He might encourage them to do something ‘undignified’.

Fourth, this respectability drove such a wedge between them and the poor people who they were supposed to be serving. Some might say their lives were so different from some of the poorer members of the church (past tax-collectors and sinners?) that they would hardly know how to communicate with them. Fifth, and this goes back to an earlier study in an earlier part, humility was often lacking in these men, so not so good examples of Christ-like servants. Sixth, perhaps associated with this, these men could be seriously opinionated and so when there was a difference of opinion, politics came into play, and church is not the place to play politics. Now all I am doing here is showing from a past example what church leadership should NOT be like. Where the emphasis is on God, on serving and obeying Him, being those who respond to His Spirit and who are filled with the Spirit and with gifts of the Spirit, these things above, tend to disappear.

True Leaders: Now this may not be something that you want to work into your vision materials but it is, I suggest, nevertheless, stuff you want to hold before you as you think about ‘church’. What is a true spiritual leader? First of all, in general outlook, they are not someone who is perfect but someone who knows who they are in Christ, what their calling is, where their resources are, what their limitations are, and what they do when they fail.  I suggest, as far as God is concerned, they will be people of prayer and people of the word. Generally they will people of faith, people who listen to God and who respond to Him, people who are filled with the Spirit and are led by Him, people of vision seeing possibilities that are realistic in God and in the light of the people available, people of humility but who are not afraid to lead with the calling they have in God.

One would hope that they are hungry for God and when tiredness, weariness and exhaustion blunt that, they have the wisdom and humility to step back, sit down and get refreshed. They will recognize availability in the flock and will encourage people to recognize the gifts God is giving them, encourage them in those gifts and maybe even pray for them for those gifts to be released.  They will not be one-man ministries and they will not lord it over others as a CEO but will act as the chief servant being an example to all (see Jesus in Jn 13). We could no doubt add to that list (and may do in subsequent studies) but for now that should be enough to help refocus on the nature of this body we call the church and those who lead it. More will come later but there is just one more thing that needs mentioning here in this context.

Accountability: Leaders need to find spiritually mature (if possible) people who are for them, inside the church, to whom they can be accountable as they share with them, making opportunities for them to sit and listen to, question and encourage them. ‘Outside people’ cannot do this because they will not be there on the ground to watch and be there in it (and our natural tendency with ‘outside people’ is to only share with them things we are comfortable sharing).  ‘Insiders’ should be given permission to be honest, which doesn’t mean you have to follow everything they say but go away and weigh it – and you are more likely to get a realistic assessment. This is simply a safety measure and where it is real and there grows a close and open relationship, it will help guard against the temptations that the enemy would bring that has caused the downfall of so many leaders who did not have that protection.

And So? We have been considering how we can make the church what it is meant to be – a living expression of a relationship of people with their God, something that goes beyond simply mouthing words, and becomes reality that not only blesses the Church but also reveals the Lord to the onlooking world. May that become how it is for your local church and mine. But if we said the starting point for ‘church’ is making the ‘Spiritual’ the keystone of your direction, we said, second, making ‘building people’ our second priority and that is what we will move onto in the next and concluding Part on ‘vision’.

60. Church Leadership (1)

Meditations in Hebrews 13:  60.  Church Leadership (1)

Heb 13:7   Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.

We now backtrack to pick up on the subject of church leadership which comes up twice in chapter 13, here and then later in verse 17 onwards. Because there is a different thrust in the two parts on leadership, we will consider them separately. In this study we will just consider the things that flow out of this verse.  Our verse above has three instructions within it.

Remember your leaders: Now this seems so simple as being beyond need for comment, but in reality I wonder how often we, the church members, actually think about the lives of those in leadership in the church. Having been a church leader for over twenty five years I cannot remember any time when someone has said to me, “Tell me what it is like being a church leader?” I suggest we take for granted those in leadership, whether the one-man minister or the team of elders. This is a call to be aware of them and to think about them – and not merely for the purpose of gossiping about them; this is to understand them and what they have to go through.

Consider the outcome of their way of life: Now within these few words there are two things. First there is, “their way of life”, then there is the call to consider the outcome of that way of life. Let’s consider them both. (I hope each of these things are realities – they may not be always – they were for me). First, this way of life is a calling from God. You are a church leader because God calls you to it, and you are answerable to Him.

Second, you are called to look after, protect and care for the people of God and that is a twenty four hour occupation. The church is on your heart and with you in your thoughts every moment of every day. With a secular job you can perhaps leave it behind at the end of the day; that doesn’t happen when you are a church leader with a calling.

In his letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul spells out the sort of people, they are to be, these leaders, these elders, these overseers, their personal characteristics. They “must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.” (1 Tim 3:2-7) In general terms, within those verses, the leader has to be a mature Christian, a family man who cares for his wife and trains his children (and that comes before his role as a leader!) We could suggest that most of these requirements are the same for any Christian husband and father, but the point is that this leader should be an example to the rest of the flock. How can he teach these things if he doesn’t do them himself?

Imitate their faith: There it is, what we’ve just said, the flock are to be able to see the lives of their leaders and see that they are worth following. Here is a man still happily married after twenty five years, say, who has three children (say) who appear to thoroughly enjoy being part of this family. This is a different experience from so much of modern life.  I think there is something in the power of testimony that sets vision for others – I could do that, our family could be like that.

This word ‘imitate’ comes up a number of times in the New Testament and the truth is that each of us is supposed to be ‘a copy-cat’! “Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ.” (1 Cor 4:16,17)  When Jesus said, ‘Follow me’ it wasn’t just come and be where I am, and where I go, but also, become like me. The apostle Paul was saying the same thing. He had the confidence about his life that he wasn’t afraid to say, ‘Be like me, copy me, imitate me,’ and he was sending Timothy to the Corinthians to remind them what Paul was like. It is always easier to have a model before you rather than merely words.

More on Imitating: But Paul went further than that because he knew the ultimate goal: “Be imitators of God.” (Eph 5:1) But then it is not only imitate God and imitate the apostles but also imitate successful churches: “For you, brothers, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thess 2:14) And yet it goes further than that because as we imitate the good role models, so we ourselves become role models for others: “You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.” (1 Thess 1:6,7) The apostle John said it in its most basic form: “Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good.” (3 Jn 1:11) See what is good and copy it.

A Warning – family first: Now there are dangers with these things and the first one is about putting ministry before family. After many years of watching the Church, I am absolutely sure that if we put ministry before family, we put our wife under unfair pressures and our children feeling rejected. How many times are there where wives and children of leaders are left feeling second-rate. This is wrong and leaders should get their priorities right.

A Warning – no secondhand Christians: There is a second danger here and it is that we become second-hand Christians. Yes, we are to copy God, copy the apostles, copy successful churches, copy what is good, but we are called first to be those who respond to the Holy Spirit. Yes, we can learn from all these others – and the teaching of the New Testament is vital in providing a basis for the nature of our lives – but I believe there is a danger with the number of Christian books on the bookshelves that we never have an original thought and try and replicate what happened to another famous Christian.

You are unique: That may have been how God dealt with that man or woman, or that particular church, but He was responding to and using the particular characteristics and experiences of that person, or that church, or that area. But the question is, what does God want to do with you as an individual, how does He want to use your church in its unique locality? Yes, all the general characteristics may be true for all of us – love, goodness, revelation, wisdom, power of the Spirit etc. – and we may have general common aims – to glorify God, be obedient, draw others to Him etc. – but how does He want those things to be used in us as individuals or us as a church?

Some goals for today? May I be presumptuous and suggest, to finish this study, three characteristics that I believe all church leaders need today – vision, faith and wisdom.  Vision is about catching sight of the sort of people God calls us to be through the New Testament (and not relying on ‘what is’). Faith is the capacity to hear God and rise up in anticipation of being able do His will that He reveals to us. Wisdom is the knowing how to ‘do the stuff’ and combat the tactics of the enemy, the practicalities of everyday warfare and Christian living.  If you are part of a church where these things are obvious, that is wonderful, but if not, then prayer and grace and humility are the first three ingredients to be used in bringing those things into being in our leaders.

18. Respect Spiritual Authority

Meditations in 1 Thessalonians

Part 3 :  18. Respect Spiritual Authority

1 Thess 5:12,13   Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other.

We jump a number of verses before we come to the next set of practical instructions, simply because Paul had spoken in some detail in the intervening verses about the coming of Jesus a second time. Now he steps back into the present time and deals with another concern  or simple matter of teaching to be considered, that of those who work for the Gospel in the local church.  At the end of that previous teaching he said, Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing,” (5:11) which, flowing out of that teaching about waiting for Christ’s return, seems to be saying, “As we think he will come soon, make sure he does find you doing the best you can and so keep on building one another up and, (in the light of that which we considered in the previous meditation that came just before that Second Coming teaching,) “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life,” (4:11) and make sure you do this in every aspect of your life and the life of the church.”

He is, perhaps from his own experience, mindful that church life isn’t always the peaceful place it should be, and especially in respect of leaders and the flock.  A simple reason for this may be that the enemy knows that if he can bring down the leaders, the flock will be more vulnerable and so leaders become first in his sights for attack. Paul’s letter (especially 2 Cor) show that often he was under pressure from the enemy through the flock. Indeed we noted that earlier in the letter a number of verses were defensive about how they had handled themselves when they had been with them. Rumours had obviously circulated or grumbles noticed.

So now he comes and gently asks: “Now we ask you brothers.” That is quite a gentle approach. It is not a strong demand as Paul sometimes makes when urging or giving instructions. His request is to respect their local leaders and in so doing he notes three things about them. First, “respect those who work hard among you.” I have noticed in church life there is banter about the leader getting ‘a real job’. Having been in leadership for over twenty five years (and now retired), I am utterly convinced that unless you have been in that role you do not have a clue as to the pressures that come on church leaders. From the congregation’s point of view the vicar, the minister, the pastor, the elder, call him (or her today) what you will, has a dead easy job. After all they are just there to lead on a Sunday aren’t they. Well if that is all you feel they do, you really are clueless! First of all these men and women carry the burden of the church and it remains with you twenty four hours a day. Not for you leaving the job behind when you leave the office. When people call for you in a crisis, they may do it in the middle of the night – I have been called out in the early hours.  You are there as the leader, the guide, the director, the counsellor, and so much more. You are also the brunt of people’s criticisms which may vary from not liking the songs sung on Sunday, the length or content of the sermon, the way you conduct the prayer meeting and so on. When I consider all the leaders I know (and it is a lot), MOST of them have been shot to pieces at some time in their ministry, and that goes from the vicar with a traditional, grumbling congregation of twenty to the minister of a large number  whose role is to guide bleating sheep gradually into the path of sanctification – often when they don’t want to go down it. Sorry if this sounds a grouse, but many if not most do not know how hard their leaders labour in this role. Respect them for it.

Now part of this kickback from the enemy is because of the second description that Paul gives: “who are over you in the Lord”. Leaders are God’s spiritual authority and in a days when we distrust authority, because there have been so many abuses of it in public life, that distrust often flows over to our feelings about those in spiritual leadership. These are those who struggle to hear the word from God, who struggle to counter the works – the lies and the deceptions – of the enemy, as he tries to upset and draw away the flock, and who struggle to keep the peace among fractious people. Christians shouldn’t be like that but they are – and that is why Paul has to speak as he does in this letter.

But the third reason even more gives us understanding why this state of affairs so often prevails: “and who admonish you.”  Dictionary definitions for ‘admonish’ are “to caution against specific faults, to warn, to reprove mildly, to urge or exhort.” This IS part of the role of the spiritual leader. Do you remember Paul’s description of the purpose of Scripture: “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” (2 Tim 3:16).This is all the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing about our sanctification, our being changed into the likeness of Jesus. Where there is resistance because sin has not been fully dealt with in a life, that is where upset occurs and the leader carries the brunt of it.

For this reason Paul concludes, “Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.” (5:13a) We will do this when we take to heart some of the things I have said in this study. When we realise the scope of their activities, their role in God and their being in the front line of the enemy’s attack, then we will hold them in the highest regard and when we allow the Spirit to touch us over this, we will find a love for them we hadn’t had before. So in respect of them and the rest of the church he concludes, “live in peace with each other.”  If you heed these things we may find ourselves with a very different church.

6. The Gifted Body (2)

Meditations in Romans, Ch.12: 6:  The Gifted Body (2)

Rom 12:6-8   We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

As we started to consider these verses in the previous mediation we noted that these ‘gifts’ are expressions of the Spirit of Jesus in us, i.e. it is God’s ability being expressed in us that enables us to be and do. We also noted that we could each do every one of the things here but what happens is that we become ‘good’ at doing one particular thing as the Spirit enables us. We considered prophecy and serving.

We then find, third in Paul’s list of examples, ‘teaching’. Now again we find the writer to the Hebrew declaring,  “though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again,” (Heb 5:12) where he clearly implies that part of the growing process or process of maturity in the faith, is becoming capable to teaching new believers. But there are some for whom imparting or sharing spiritual truths to a wider audience and bringing understanding to them, is what comes naturally and blesses them. Obtaining pleasure from the role is perhaps one indication that it is from the Lord – not always, but sometimes – because the Lord wants us to enjoy being the people He is making us to be. When we are blessed we bless others.

Then comes ‘encouraging’. Again this is something we are all exhorted to do by Scripture: “encourage one another and build each other up,” (1 Thess 5:11) and “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Tim 4:2 – for preachers at least), and encourage one another daily,” (Heb 3:13) and “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.” (Heb 10:25) and “But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.” (1 Cor 14:3) There it is; in so many different ways we are exhorted to strengthen, support and build up one another, and yet there are those who are particularly good at it, and it is something that just pours out of them all the time.

We might think that when we come to ‘contributing’ this is different but Paul says it is “contributing to the needs of others,” i.e. we see someone in need and we reach out and meet that need. But again we see this in general teaching to all of us: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 Jn 3:17) Jesus used meeting material needs as an indication of spiritual life and relationship: “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Mt 25:35,36)  Yet there will be some of us who have material resources and we feel moved to help others less fortunate than ourselves. Such people are exhorted by Paul, “let him give generously.”  In other words, don’t hold back on your feelings, respond fully and be a big blessing!

Then he speaks of those whose grace gifting is ‘leadership’. I confess this one seems more difficult to apply more generally to all of us. Yet in Paul’s teaching we find “Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task.” (1 Tim 3:1). The emphasis, I suggest, is on the role being a noble task, for indeed people can wrongly set their hearts on prestige, yet in the spiritual world they really do not know what they are doing. In the early church it often meant sacrifice and persecution. Leaders in the New Testament were either called ‘elders’, where the emphasis is on wisdom and maturity, or ‘overseers’, where the emphasis  is on the role of watching over and guarding the flock of God, and looking after it.

Leaders also hold a high level of accountability to God for the flock. See Acts 20:28-31 for the burden of responsibility that Paul conveys. But leaders are those who go ahead, in spiritual maturity and in grace and in faith. They need all those to counter the wiles and attacks of the enemy and to be God’s channel to meet the needs of the flock. To the person who finds God putting this desire on their heart and being recognized by the flock of God, his instruction is simple: “let him govern diligently.”  Govern here simply means carry out the caring, protective and administering role that God has given you. To do it diligently means to do it with care and perseverance.

Finally Paul speaks of the grace gifting of “showing mercy.” Commentators often speak of this as ‘Caring for the sick, the poor and the aged,’ but I think that is limited and underplays the gift. Mercy in the New Testament is usually spoken about in relation to the Lord (and there is virtually no injunction for us to show mercy to one another) and is simply undeserved good expressed to us. The emphasis is on the ‘undeserved’ element

Yet James taught: “Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” (Jas 3:13,17) In other words the humble life is one that flows from understanding wisdom and goes on to express wisdom, and included within that is being ‘full of mercy’.  Mercy here means, not looking down on those in less fortunate circumstances than you, but expressing all of God’s goodness to them. The person who finds grace within to do this in abundance, is not to do it in any heavy way but, says Paul, “let him do it cheerfully.” That way you can’t be heavy handed in being a carer, a giver, a blesser! Remember, it’s all the grace of God in and through you.