Church Leaders ~ 20140119 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
01/19/14 Church Leaders Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20140119_church-leaders.mp3
We have been looking at the church, the assembly of Jesus-followers, the blood-bought possession of our Lord Jesus, those who acknowledge him as King, who proclaim the good news that Jesus was crucified for sinners, those who make disciples, those who gather together to devote themselves to the apostolic teaching, to the fellowship, to remembering Jesus through the breaking of bread, and to the prayers.
We looked at church members; that every believer is a member who belongs to the body of Christ, a body part intended to be a connected, healthy, functioning part of the body, each uniquely equipped and enabled to function as a vital part of the body of Christ.
Today I would like to look at those parts of the church body who have leadership responsibilities. What is the relationship between leaders and the rest of the body, and what are the responsibilities of the body to their leaders? What does God expect of leaders in his church, and what should we expect of them? We will look at a number of biblical passages to piece together what it should look like to be a leader in the church.
Pay Careful Attention
Paul addresses the elders of the church in Ephesus in Acts 20. He prepares them for his absence, and charges them:
Feel the weight of responsibility laid on the leadership of the church. Wolves are coming. Fierce wolves who will not spare the flock. The responsibility of the leaders of the church is that of a shepherd with a flock. It is imperative that they be alert, diligently persevering in watchfulness. Pay careful attention. First, pay careful attention to yourselves, because he says that it is from among your own selves that men will arise distorting and dragging disciples away. I must keep vigilant watch first over my own heart so that I am not veering off course. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to the flock. Leaders are to watch over the sheep that have been entrusted to their care. Notice the gravity of this responsibility: care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. If God paid the ultimate price for his church, he would expect us to guard his bride with no less passion and commitment. Notice also where this responsibility comes from. This is no man-made authority; there are no self-appointed leaders. The Holy Spirit has made you overseers. This is a responsibility given by God, and recognized by his church. In this verse we see the care of the triune God for his church. The church was purchased with the blood of the Son, the church belongs to the Father, and the Holy Spirit establishes and enables leaders to care for and protect the church.
Feed my Sheep
After his resurrection, Jesus entrusted Peter with responsibility over the sheep.
Notice well, the sheep do not belong to Peter. Jesus claims them as his own. Jesus says they are 'my sheep, my lambs'. Jesus entrusts Peter with their care; feeding and tending. The leader who loves Jesus first of all will be sure to keep his sheep well fed.
The Priority of Prayer and the Word over Physical Needs
As the early church grew, tension arose between the physical and spiritual needs of the followers of Jesus. Acts 6 records how they addressed some of these issues.
People began to complain, to grumble, to murmur, and the focus of attention of the leaders was being diverted to address their grievances. Notice, by the way, that it was not the widows themselves who were doing the grumbling. Others complained on their behalf. The apostles said 'it is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.' Pure religion, James tells us, is to visit orphans and widows (James 1:27). But here we see the priority of the spiritual over physical needs. Prayer and the preaching of the word must not be neglected or interrupted. So they appointed deacons to address complaints and meet physical needs, Spirit-filled men, wise men, men of good reputation. This freed the apostles to devote themselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.
Paul tells Timothy:
Preaching and teaching is hard work. It is critical work. It must be a priority in the church. In 1 Timothy 3, a passage we will look at later that outlines the necessary character of church leadership, Paul refers to “the church of the living God” as “a pillar and buttress of the truth”. Truth must be defined, defended, and held to tenaciously. The word must be taught.
Equipping the Saints
Look with me at Ephesians 4. God poured out his undeserved grace on each part of his body to fulfill the purpose he designed for each one.
Here he clearly defines the goal of church leaders. The purpose of gifted leadership in the church body is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. Pay close attention to what this is saying: who is doing the work of the ministry? The saints, the body of Christ, every believer is doing the work of the ministry. The work of the ministry is not delegated to a few professionals. The work of the ministry is the work of the body of Christ, functioning together in unity, each member doing its unique part.
By his grace, God has given gifted leadership to his church to equip the saints. The role of leadership is primarily one of equipping. Equipping the saints for the work of ministry. This word means to mend, to restore, to perfect, to fit or frame together, to prepare, to perfectly join together. Equipping for growth in the body, equipping for unity, equipping to know Jesus better, equipping for maturity, equipping in Christ-likeness, equipping to detect and resist false teaching, equipping for love. Equipping for the work of the ministry. Every saint, every follower of Jesus is a minister, called to do the work of the ministry. You and I are ministers, servants, intended to serve others for the glory of Christ. The main purpose of those gifted to lead is to equip every believer for the work that they as a part of the body of Christ are called and gifted to do. Think of this as the base where you are issued equipment, where you assemble for tactical training, where you receive marching orders, where you are prepared to be sent out on mission. Equip the saints for the work of the ministry.
In 1 Corinthians 14 as Paul lists the gifts, he repeatedly emphasizes that the gifts are given for the building up of the church.
Each part of the body is functioning properly when each part is all about building up the whole body in love.
Selfish Shepherds of Israel
In the Old Testament,God incriminated the selfish leaders of Israel for not doing what they were called to do.
Notice on what grounds he accuses these greedy shepherds. They do not feed the sheep. They feed only themselves, they eat the sheep, they use the sheep for their own benefit. They fail to strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strayed, or seek the lost. They have failed to protect the sheep from predators, becoming predators themselves. They rule with force and harshness. God will judge these shepherds. They will be held accountable.
God himself will shepherd his people
God will seek for and rescue, gather and feed, give rest, bind up, strengthen, bring back, deliver, protect.
Jesus is the good shepherd. Jesus is the fulfillment of everything a shepherd was meant to be. Jesus is the good shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep (John 10:11). Jesus instructs his disciples to follow his example.
Leadership in the church is not about position or power or prestige. Leadership in the church is not about being served; leadership in the church is defined by self-sacrificial service for the good of others.
Qualifications for Leaders
That is why we find the character qualifications for leadership in Christ's church.
In his instructions to Titus, he adds:
Leaders in the church must be men of character, men who have proven themselves responsible, men who are sound in doctrine, men who are selfless, eager to serve. Leadership in the church is not at all about what you can get; rather it is all about what you can give.
Shepherd the Flock
Peter says this to the leadership in the churches.
Peter tells the leaders to shepherd willingly, eagerly, as examples; not under compulsion, not for shameful gain, not in a domineering way.
He tells those who are younger be subject to the elders; and he tells everyone to be clothed with humility toward one another. Church leaders are to shepherd God's flock as under-shepherds responsible to the chief Shepherd, the one to whom they will ultimately give account.
Obey, Submit to, and Pray for your Leaders
The author of Hebrews gives instruction to the church.
In this passage he points to the responsibility of the leaders to keep watch over your souls, and he reminds that they will have to give an account. In light of this weight of responsibility of leadership, He commands all of us to be continual in worship, to do good, to share, to obey our leaders, to submit to them, and to pray for them; to make their job pleasant and not painful. He reminds us that God is the great shepherd of the sheep; and God is the one who ultimately will equip you with everything good so that you can do his will. By his unmerited grace, he sees fit to equip the saints for the work of the ministry through the instrumentality of church leaders. God himself is the one who through Jesus Christ will work in each one of us that which is pleasing in his sight.