“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 -- not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away,” 1 Peter 5:1-4
As I continue in a series of newsletters called “Greater Commitment,” I want to draw attention again to last week’s survey. Surveys are a great way to gage the sentiments of a congregation, but we should be careful that we use that data carefully. After all, the Church is not a democracy –it’s a Theocracy. Jesus is Head of the Church. He is the King of kings. And we dare not make the same mistakes that the church has often made through the ages of copying the prevalent form of secular government. For example, the churches of the second, third and forth centuries took drastic steps to consolidate church power in such a way that it paralleled the Roman empire (the pope [Patriarch of Rome] ultimately asserted himself as “ruler of all ‘Christendom’”. A few centuries later, councils became a popular form of government across Europe (councils, colleges, parliaments, and senates). The churches of the Reformation era formed synods, presbyteries and councils that, again, reflected the popular, secular forms of government at that time. And, even in this country, church boards often reflected the “parliamentary procedures” of congress, fraternal and other organizations to the point that Christian Church boards often had a House of Representatives (deacons) and Senate (elders). Different philosophies of “how” to do church may even reflect an individual’s view of politics or business. We must be careful that in our pursuits to obey God, we obey His Word.
Churches should never be “democratic” in nature. They should always be Theocratic. In other words, the will of the King supersedes personal interest. What is the King’s will? He has given us His Word (His unchanging wisdom and guide to life), His Spirit (the very Mind of God), and one another (the means through which He works –His body). God thought this was enough to get His mission accomplished. In all three of these things, there must be unity. So what has to give way when there is disagreement? God’s Word, God’s Spirit, or God’s Body? I think we know that answer to this.
As the “earthly guides” to follow His will, God created the elder. The word elder means what it implies –age and wisdom. The elders are the “spiritual patriarchs” of the church. As you can deduce from the Scriptures listed above, eldership is a two-way street. In other words, eldership will not function well unless it functions the way God intended. As with all areas of the church, service precedes greater responsibility. This means that only someone who has already been serving on a volunteer basis, giving of their time and resources, should ever be considered for leadership. And there are several places in the New Testament that explain what good leadership should look like. But it is a two-way street. The elders must submit to the Head of the Church (His will, mission and instruction) as they “direct the affairs of the church,” (1 Timothy 5:17) while not “lording over” the people (1 Peter 5:3). But the people should likewise not try to “lord over” the elders, but rather obey them –especially when the elders are clearly seeking to do God’s will. This is not to say that elders will always make perfect decisions. But it is true that elders make more-perfect decisions when the body is praying for them, obeying them and encouraging them “so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you,” (Hebrews 13:17). But if the people begin to think of the church as just another organization, similar to another one that they experience in the world, then the eldership will be treated like politicians rather than shepherds, overseers and spiritual guides. Remember, church is not democracy. What I want personally is not nearly as important as what the King wants. We should never pressure our shepherds to follow the sheep. This would be disastrous. Rather, we should encourage our shepherds to keep following the Chief Shepherd, even when it hurts, and follow them, even when we don’t agree with every decision. Likewise, the elders must prove themselves to God, who will ultimately reward them for their labors, and to the people of the church by always growing to become better and better leaders, leading by the example of the Great Leader of us all, Jesus. Please make the position of elder an honorable one by encouraging and praying for our elders.
Love in Jesus,