Today’s devotional is a little longer, so don’t feel compelled to complete it all in one day. We are continuing the shepherding theme as it applies to the local church.
John 10 coupled with some other biblical passages helps inform our Ecclesiology (i.e. Doctrine of the Church). Even though he is only called this title once in the whole New Testament, the church loves to call its leaders “pastor”. The imagery of being led to green, spiritual pastures is comforting. The idea that the pastor would lay his life down for his congregation speaks of his devotion. Churches like this imagery a lot.
The biblical model for church government (also known as polity) is a plurality of elders (though they don’t all have to be paid pastoral positions believe it or not). These men oversee the ministry, delegate much of it out (especially to deacons), yet still lead by example. They defend the sheep from wolves (false teachers), and give the sheep real food (the Bible) rather than junk food (secularized sermons, cultural wisdom, pop psychology, empty Spirit-less fleshly motivational speeches, etc.).
The three primary biblical terms for the pastor are then:
- Elder (presbuteros)—speaking to his spiritual maturity in leading. All churches in the New Testament are designated to have a plurality of elders.
- Overseer/Bishop (episkopos)—speaking to his managing the ministry.
- Pastor (poimen)—speaking to his shepherding care of the flock.
Unfortunately, the world of church government has turned out many models, some which are definitively unbiblical:
- Pastor-led churches (like a CEO at best, or a dictator at worst. You see no pastor-led churches in the New Testament).
- Deacon-led churches (Deacons are to lead by serving, not serve by leading. There is very little about deacons in the New Testament since they are not in authority).
- Committee-led churches (nowhere in the Bible does God delegate leadership to a committee).
- Congregational-led churches (again, you cannot find this model anywhere in Scripture. Congregations are the sheep and sheep do not lead the shepherd. Furthermore, while there is occasional congregational democracy in the New Testament, it’s not prevalent nor utilized for the overall church ministry).
- Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders (Where the pastor(s) has no authority, and the Ruling Elders don’t teach. This design is a misapplication of I. Timothy 5:17).
- Elder-led churches (usually with congregational involvement. You find this in some Baptist churches such as Mark Dever’s and John Piper’s).
- Elder-ruled churches (with very limited congregational involvement. John MacArthur’s church is the most famous example).
So, why is all of this important? Well, first off, if the pastors are to defend the sheep, what authority do they have if they’re not the ones actually leading the congregation? Hence, why would the sheep even have to obey his protective leadership if they’re the ones in charge? Why are the sheep told in Hebrews 13 to obey their spiritual leaders? You see, pastoral authority only comes from the Bible and when it is aligned with the Bible.
Second, we are to do things God’s way, not tradition’s way, our denomination’s way, or whatever is expedient to our desires. Churches will never be perfect as long as humans are involved, but when you have a group of spiritually-minded men who have passed the qualifications of I. Timothy 3, and hold each other accountable, are seeking God, spend time in the Word, and pray together, then you’ve opened the door for a smoother, more efficient and effective functioning organization that I believe is more blessable because it is God’s design.
Third, many dangerous or clearly unbiblical practices have occurred in the first four examples above. I’ve seen abusive, dictatorial pastors who have had no accountability. I’ve seen committee and deacon-led churches that have abused their pastors or have refused to grow because they don’t want to give up power to new converts and members. I’ve witnessed one church that was a very sweet and generous congregation, but also wasted time having congregational business meetings each and every Sunday so they could vote on each and every little thing (I witnessed them vote on buying a new vacuum to replace the one that had died, and then spend forever discussing what kind of vacuum to purchase, what price range, and so forth). Many if not most of these issues are cleared up in a healthy elder-oriented church.
What is the answer? Jesus is the church’s actual Pastor (I. Peter 5:4). He uses under-shepherds to lead His churches. And the sheep are to follow their pastors as they follow Christ. The under-shepherds are to feed the sheep God’s Word (Jesus’ instruction in John 21:15-17). They are to care and guard the flock. They are to delegate ministry to them (all church members are ministers, and are to be the hands and feet of Christ). They are to lead them to full maturity.
- “[T]he New Testament clearly instructs churches to appoint multiple elders to shepherd the sheep (Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5). The plurality of elders seems to offer several desirable benefits. Multiple elders means multiple gifted men can share the shepherding load, teach in various settings, hold one another accountable, maintain stable leadership during change, encourage one another during difficulty, and work through the wisdom-requiring messy areas of church life. In the multitude of elders there is safety and plans are established.”—Thabiti Anyabwile
- What key points from this quote stand out to you as the benefits for our church in having multiple elders? ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
- How about during a crisis, say something worse than COVID-19? ______________________________________________________________________________________________________
- Do you see how this can provide safety, stability, wisdom, and unity for a church body? ________________________________
- Peter 5:1a & 2a “Therefore, I exhort the elders among you,… shepherd the flock of God among you”
- Our natural tendency is to place a Jesus-perfect expectation on the Senior Pastor of any church (I’m not writing about expectations placed on me in particular, but in general), and then when he fails to meet this level of expectation, we find reasons we can’t follow his leadership. I’ve heard complaints from people against pastors I’ve had and they’ve ranged from dissatisfaction in him being a teacher but not a preacher, to not being loving enough, to not leading in a way that certain people wanted, etc. Yet, Peter tells the elders (plural) to shepherd the flock:
- Only one person in the history of humanity has ever had every Spiritual gift possible. Who? ____________________________
- Only one person has had a perfect balance of personality traits. Who? ______________________________________________
- But, in a plurality of elders, instead of one man being expected to have every gift and trait Jesus has, you have a group of men who build on each other’s strengths, compliment each other, and exhort each other to good works and love. Isn’t that a better scenario than expecting just one man to be perfect? ___________________________________________________
- As sheep, we are each to follow our Great Shepherd, Jesus. Furthermore, we are to follow our church leadership which He has placed over His flock in His physical absence.
- Biblically, what is the role of a flock of actual sheep? ___________________________________________________
- Likewise, what is the role of a flock of church sheep? ___________________________________________________
- When the under-shepherds insist the sheep go in a certain direction (reading the Bible for food, obeying the shepherd’s instruction to evangelize, focusing the sheep on prayer, standing firm on righteousness and living loving lives, etc.), what should the sheep’s reaction be? ________________________________
- Paul often said some version of “Follow me as I follow Jesus”. If your pastors direct you to do something clearly and definitively unbiblical, do you have to follow them? _______________________________________________
- If they direct you to do something that is not clearly and definitively unbiblical, is actually for your spiritual benefit, but you disagree with them, do you have to follow them? _____________________________________________
- I hope you said, “yes” as that is what Hebrews 13:17 commands and since rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft (I. Samuel 15:23).
- Peter 5:3-4 shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.
- I finish with this passage because while you are to follow your pastors’ spiritual guidance, pastors have a strong responsibility to lead properly. This is an area where too many trip up (especially “lording it over” their flocks). What are the positives and negatives that Peter discusses about how elders lead here? ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
- I’ve seen pastors improperly make rules for living even outside the church. Modesty is a big thing in the Bible, but some pastors (yes, even today in 2020) tell their congregations what they can and cannot wear! That is well outside the purview God has given us. Or they tell their congregants they can’t own TVs, shouldn’t ever go to the movies, and so forth. I tell you, those pastors will stand before Jesus someday and give an account for abusing their congregations.
- Have you ever had experiences with bad pastoral leadership that went against Peter’s instructions above? _________________________________________________
Waikoloa Baptist: I am very thankful for you and your supportive and loving hearts. I am thankful that you are not an abusive church, and that you are praying for the lost, sharing the Word, and studying it. I am extremely thankful for the love you have shared with me and my family. So, today’s lesson merely piggybacks off of John 10 and Jesus’ example of shepherding. I personally prefer the Elder-ruled model as I find it more biblical, though many scholarly pastors will defend the Elder-led model. Either way, here are some resources for you to consider for Waikoloa Baptist’s future as I would strongly suggest moving to an Elder-oriented design so as to be biblical, as well as to be free to accomplish necessary tasks should another emergency like COVID-19 hit us (which tied our hands in some ways since we needed church votes for some things we were doing yet we couldn’t meet to vote).
Below are some recommended resources for your own reading, and I’ll attach a pdf book from Mark Dever (9Marks) that explains Elder churches.
- What is an Elder-led Baptist Church?: Eldership and Congregationalism Hand-in-Handby Todd Morikawa (he pastors over on Oahu).
- Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadershipby Alexander Strauch
- Also check out biblicaleldership.comfor resources that he offers.
- By Whose Authority? Elders in Baptist Lifeby Mark Dever (I’m attaching to today’s devotional as a pdf).
- See also 9marks.orgwhich is based off his book which is utilized at our SBC seminaries and by many churches.
- Finding Faithful Elders and Deaconsby Thabiti Anyabwile
- Lastly, you can YouTube Alexander Strauch to see videos based on his book.