To the Elders
Paul, because of the many threats against his life, believing he would never again have opportunity to meet with the Elders, the leadership of the congregation at Ephesus requested they meet him in Miletus, some 30 miles journey from their home (Acts 20:17-38). It was a tearful reunion/farewell as Paul poured out his heart,
“Keep watch over yourselves and the flock to which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God which He bought with His own blood…. Now I commit you to God and the word of His grace that can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”
He reminded them who they were and their responsibility for the spiritual life of the church. He warned them that there would be “savage wolves” who would come in, even rise up among them that distort the truth in order to draw people away from the true Church. I love this passage because it reflects the close personal relationship Paul had with the Ephesian Christians. It also poignantly declares the critical nature and unalterable purpose of the office of Elder.
Three meaning filled words: Elder, Overseer, Shepherd. They clarify God’s design as to who is to lead the church, what that leadership entails and the manner in which they are to lead.
Who is to serve? Elders, “Presbyter” is the biblical word. The “older ones” are considered to be the ones with proven wisdom and character. The traits of an Elder include sound decision-making and knowledge of the faith. Our partnership with ECO identifies the core competencies expected to be the pursuit of all who would serve in a leadership capacity of the church. Any Pastor, Elder, Deacon, Nomination Committee member and Pastor Nominating Committee member who is not familiar with these competencies is in danger of not fulfilling their purpose and thereby leading the congregation away from its biblically established function which then harms the life of the church. Please review them. I highlighted these competencies in my May article and would be happy to forward a copy to you at your request. The May Carillon is also available on our website, covenantspringfield.org.
What is their role? Oversight. The biblical word is “Episkopos” (guardian, overseer, from which we get the word “bishop”). The Elders are charged, according to Scripture, to keep watch over themselves and the church to ensure that the church remains devoted to the apostles’ teaching, to the shared life of the community of believers, the proper practice of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, prayer, service and to the equipping of the saints for their life and witness as disciples of Christ.
In matters of selection of officers, congregations often ordain those who say yes when asked to serve, those who bring a level of competency in financial matters and those that can organize and manage facilities and programs well. We look for people with people skills and demonstrated talents that they have picked up through their careers and life experience; all of which are good and worthy assets to the church without a doubt. But if we miss the mark of what these overseers are to actually oversee then we might possibly have a well-oiled and efficiently running organization that attracts members but fails miserably at accomplishing the great mandate set forth by the Head of the Church to go and make disciples of all nations. Elders need to recognize their biblically mandated role as guardians of the faith that has been handed down to us and mentors of and for the next generation of disciples. The Session of a Presbyterian congregation is not a board of directors. They are the council charged with the task of the preserving the integrity of the proclamation of the Gospel. They are the overseers of the shelter and nurture of the spiritual life of every covenant partner within the congregation.
Look at the qualifications for Eldership (Overseer) and Deacon as presented in Scripture (1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1). Do those lists emphasize ability or character? The leaders of the church are to be humble servants who practice the habits of a disciple:
They should be people who have demonstrated
spiritual discernment and
consistent commitment to Christ and Christ’s people.
What do we look for in those who would serve in this role? Do we emphasize appearance, social status, and education and work history or do we seek out Christian commitment and character? Probably the most educated and financially trained person among Jesus’ original twelve was Judas; he was the “treasurer” of the group. He didn’t come from the villages around Galilee and was most likely more “urbane” than the other eleven. You know how that worked out.
The Elder, the experienced wise one, defines the personhood of the one who is to lead.
Guardianship is what they do (the position of Elder).
A Shepherd who shepherds identifies how they do it (the process of being an Elder). To shepherd means to feed, protect, lead and care for the needs of the flock.
This is the charge Jesus gave to Peter (John 21:16) as to how leaders show that they love Jesus. The Elders along with the Deacons are the caregivers in and for the congregation. The model is Jesus the Messiah, the Good Shepherd who tends his flock like a shepherd, he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart, he gently leads those that have young (Isaiah 40:11). He gives His life for the flock. Elders don’t just rule as decision makers for the church, they lead as pastors of the flock.
Let me put it another way. If Jesus had said, “Go and make football players of all nations”, how would you launch and lead that charge? Would it work if you gathered together those that can build big stadiums, organize fantastic halftime shows, bring together vendors who can sell everything “football-ish”, engage those who can market football across the planet and then wait until people who might be interested in this thing called football to come and sit in a stadium with the hopes that someday, some way they might be interested in actually getting onto the playing field and trying it? A cart before horse exercise for sure, unless all you want is lots of fans of a few football teams.
The days of “if you build it they will come” have passed. On the other hand, gather together a team of people who have actually played the game, who know the rules and have demonstrated not only skill and understanding of the game but are passionate about showing others, coaching others and letting them get into the game and actually playing not just watching football. I think you would have teams springing up everywhere. If you grow it they will build. I think I not only set a good direction for the church but perhaps the NFL as well. Get people into the heart of the game, not the show and it will grow.
Jesus isn’t looking for fans or leaders of fans. He’s looking for followers and those who will lead as under shepherds of the great and good Shepherd of the Flock.