A biblical model of church leadership is critical for a church that aims to display the glory of Christ. In this sermon, David Platt turn our attention to Acts 20:17–31 as a helpful guide for elders, or pastors. As servant leaders, these men ought to lead under the authority of Christ, care for the body of christ, teach the Word of Christ, and model the character of Christ. Churches should appoint and follow such men.
If you have a Bible with you, and I hope you do, let me invite you to open with me to Acts 20. I want us to dive right into a biblical truth, the biblical truth that will serve as a starting point for our time in God’s Word today, and it is going to permeate all that we talk about. The truth is this: A biblical model of church leadership is necessary for the church to display the glory of Christ.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking. Some of you are thinking, “Great, you are talking about church leadership. What does this really have to do with us?” Maybe, you are a member of the church and you are thinking, “I’ve got all these things going wrong in my life, and you are not going to address any of that today because you are talking about church leadership.” Or maybe, since we are talking today about roles in the church that are specifically designated in Scripture to men, you are a woman, and you are thinking, “What does this have to do in my life?” Or maybe, you are a student, and you are thinking, “What does church leadership have to do with all the pressures that I am facing as a teenager?” All of those are good questions.
Let me ask you a question. How many of you have ever seen a leader or leaders in a church that did not display the glory of Christ? Let me take this a step deeper. How many of you have ever been personally hurt by a leader or leaders in the church that didn’t display the glory of Christ? How many of you have even been driven away from church, or at some point your faith as a whole, because you saw a leader or leaders in the church who were not displaying the glory of Christ? If we, as the community of faith, The Church at Brook Hills, are going to be about the mission of Christ, then biblical leadership is a non-negotiable. It is extremely important, and ever since I even began praying about coming here and having conversations with the pastor search team, God just burdened my heart with the need to study and submit to biblical teaching on church leadership, because I need to know the type of leader and pastor I am supposed to be. I need to be surrounded by leaders who are giving themselves to the mission that Christ has given us and nothing else. That is huge in this church because without it mission can’t happen. There is nobody who is defining the mission, defending the mission, directing the mission, keeping us from being detracted from the mission. The mission of awakening the passion for the glory of God by making disciples of all nations. Biblical leadership is key in that. If we are going to be an army of servants with the Word of God, impacting lives in Birmingham, having ministry that is meaningful, and ministry that is eternal and ministry that impacts nations for the glory of Christ, then we need biblical leadership.
So, whether you are a man or a woman, a visitor or a member, a student or a senior adult, I believe what we are talking about this morning is infinitely important. It needs to be a priority in the church that we make sure that we are honoring God with the way we lead in the church; in the way we follow leaders in the church. This is huge in our whole understanding of church.
So, what we are going to do this week and next week is we are going to dive into what I believe are the two primary roles in leadership we see in the church. This week we are going to look at the different terms these leaders are described as, and we are just going to look at elders this week and deacons next week.
Now, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. The terminology. Some of you when I say the word “elders” or “deacons”, you’ve got all kinds of pictures that already come up in your mind. I don’t know what you think of when I say the word “elders.” Maybe you think “old people.” That is elders. Maybe you think that is kind of cultic, a little weird that elders would lead in the church, and there are reasons you might think that. Maybe you picture some old guys sitting in dark robes in a dark room talking about deep theological matters. I don’t know what you think of when you think of elders or deacons. I am not sure of what comes to your mind there.
I know there are a variety of different backgrounds represented in here. There are a lot of you who have no church background, a lot of you have Baptist church backgrounds or other denomination’s backgrounds, so when you hear deacons, maybe you think of old people or maybe you think of those guys who sit on the front pew on Sunday morning and take up the offering. Maybe you think of the guys going around doing power plays in the church, enemies of the pastor.
I don’t know what you think of when of think of deacons or elders, but here is what I want us to do over the next couple of weeks. Let’s do our best to throw away our preconceived notions and our biases about these terms, and let’s take an honest look at the New Testament and see what Scripture has to teach us about those terms, so we can come to a unified understanding of who they are and what they do in the church.
In Acts 20, we are about to come in on a conversation between Paul and the elders from the Church at Ephesus. Now, the last two weeks we have been studying Ephesians, and we have seen Paul writing to these believers. The first time Paul went there, he stayed there for about three years, and he preached the Word there, but then he moved on. He wasn’t the pastor of that church, and he appointed elders who would be the overall leaders or pastors of that church. Years later, Paul now is coming back to meet with them. He is on his way to Jerusalem to take an offering to the church there, and he is spending some time with them.
That is where we come in on Acts 20:17. It says,
From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. When they arrived, he said to them: “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. I served the Lord with great humility and with tears, although I was severely tested by the plots of the Jews. You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house.
I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.”
Feel the emotion Paul’s voice is speaking to his friends.
“And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God grace.
“Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. Keep watch over yourselves and 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. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.
“Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and get you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
When he had said this, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.
Four Responsibilities of Elders …
I want you to see in these verses we just read the close relationship Paul had with these guys, and how key that relationship was, and how key their role is for leading the Church at Ephesus. What I want us to see in this passage is four responsibilities of elders. We are going to see it unfold in this passage and look at some other Scriptures that will help enlighten our understanding of these responsibilities.
Elders lead under the authority of Christ.
First of all, elders lead under the authority of Christ. Now, this word “elders” is used many times in the Scripture, over seventy times in the New Testament, but it even goes back to the Old Testament. Numbers 11; Deuteronomy 27. Those are verses that talked about how the men who assisted Moses in leading the people of God were called elders. When you get into the New Testament, in the Gospels, sometimes you see elders referring to people of more mature age; sometimes you see elders referring to spiritual leaders of Israel, but then in the book of Acts and the letters that follow after this, twenty times we see elders mentioned as a unique group of leaders in the church. In fact, every time one of these New Testament churches was started in the book of Acts, one of the first things that happened was they appointed elders to lead in the church. Elders or pastors to lead in the church.
Look at Acts 14. We actually see elders all the way back in Acts 11. I want you to see in verse 14 what happened when Paul and Barnabas were going around, and they were planting churches. Look at what the Bible says happened in verse 23. It says, “Paul and Barnabas appointed…” and you can circle it in your Bible, “…elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.”
Then, you get to the next chapter, and we see elders playing a big role in a huge decision of the church. It says in Acts 15:1, “Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: ‘Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.’ This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.” Go down to verse 4, and it says, “When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders…” In verse 6, it says, “The apostles and the elders met to consider this question.”
Then, you get over to verse 22 in this same chapter, “Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas.” So, the elders are making some pretty big decisions in the church, and they are leading out in the church. Look over in the very next chapter, Acts 16:4. It says, “As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey.”
So, what we see in the New Testament church, this is a group of leaders who had overall leadership in the church. In fact, when you come back to Acts 20, look down with me at verse 8. There is another key word there that is sometimes used interchangeably for elders in Scripture. It says in verse 28, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers…” That word right there is interchangeable in other places in the New Testament.
1 Timothy 3 gives qualifications of overseers. Now, the reason we know that those overseers are also what is being referred to as elders later in Titus 1 is because the same qualifications are listed for elders. In fact, in Titus 1:7 and 9, the same term is used to refer to both people; overseers and elders both filling this office. So, what we’ve got is a picture of men who are appointed by God who have overall leadership in the church. They lead under the authority of Christ. Just a side note: Most of the time we see elders mentioned…almost every time it is mentioned, it is mentioned in the plural. We see in Scripture how most of the time with God’s people, there are not single leaders in the church, but he is surrounded by other leaders. Churches were never led in Scripture by majority opinion or by some dictator rule. It is a group of elders who are leading the church. They are leading under the authority of Christ.
Now, here is what I mean by under the authority of Christ. We have to understand that elders belong to the church. They are overseers of the church, but they belong to the church. Let me explain that. Back in Matthew 18, Jesus talks about confronting someone in their sin, and He says that ultimately, it is the responsibility of the church to carry that out. 1 Corinthians 5, Paul says the same thing. He says, “You are tolerating sin in your midst and it is destroying the church.” He said, “The church is held accountable for that.” Same thing in 2 Corinthians 2 and Galatians 1, which we looked at last week. It talks about how the church was held accountable for letting somebody preach to them a different gospel than what they had heard.
So, ultimately, if you were going to look at it as a hierarchy, which I don’t think is healthy, but if you were going to look at it as a hierarchy, you would see Christ and then, not elders in the church, you would see Christ and then the church. The church is held accountable to Christ and the church has leaders who are appointed as elders, and they are servants of the church. That is why I have labeled the title of this sermon, “Elders: Servant Leaders of the Church.” They are given to God as leaders of the church, but ultimately, they are servants of the church.
That means that these elders are appointed by the Spirit of God. Wasn’t that what verse 28 says? “The Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” Elders are not men who win the election. They are not men who campaign; who run like it is “American Idol” for the next opportunity to be the elder at The Church at Brook Hills. That is not the way it works. The Holy Spirit calls men and appoints them to lead in His church, to lead in local churches. It is done by the Holy Spirit.
Now, elders belong to the church. We already know from what we have studied over the last few weeks, the church belongs to whom? The church belongs to Christ. That means that elders are not only accountable or appointed by the Spirit of God, but they are accountable to the Son of God. This is an incredible phrase. Don’t miss it. It said, “Be shepherds of the church of God which he bought with his own blood.” What does that mean?
Some of you are visiting this morning, some of you have not been in church, “What does it mean that God bought the church with His blood?” Basically, it means that we gather together as a community of faith this morning only because Jesus Christ has shed His blood for our sins, because He took the payment of our sin upon Himself, and when He did that, He bought the opportunity for you and me to experience the satisfaction of worshiping Christ and being a part of His church. This is a church that has been purchased by the blood of Christ. We are a church that has been purchased by the blood of Christ. That means that anybody who is going to lead in this church has a huge responsibility. They are accountable to the Son of God for what He has done for this body of believers.
The more I read about church growth today, and the more I travel around to the different churches, the more I am convinced that we need to revisit what a huge responsibility it is to lead in the church and to be held accountable to Jesus Christ for how we handle His church. Many times in church leadership it becomes all about power, and this group says that we have power, and this group says we need more power, and so it is about trying to gain power, and some people standing back on the side and are saying, “Well, that person can’t gain power!” There are power plays going all over the church. Ladies and gentleman, that is for the business world, not for the church. Jesus is in control. He has all power and every leader in the church in the church is held accountable to Him. It is a huge truth that we have got to get a hold of today in our church culture. They lead, but they lead under the authority of Jesus Christ.
Elders care for the body of Christ.
Another term that we see used with elders and overseers is there in the end of verse 28. It says, “Be shepherds of the church of God.” You can circle that word. That is really a word for pastoring. So, not only do we see the elders leading under the authority of Christ, but elders care for the body of Christ. They provide pastoral care.
This is the same word we saw, or a form of the same word we saw used last week in Ephesians 4:11–12. It talks about what God has given the church…Christ has given the church pastors/teachers. It is the same concept there in 1 Peter 5. Peter encourages the elders there. He said, “Be shepherds of the church of God.” So, we have got the imagery. It was very common in that day of a shepherd.
Now, keep in mind, a shepherd was not a position of notoriety, a position of fame. This was a position of humility. This was a position of servants. It helps us get a picture of what Paul is talking about. When he talks about shepherding, this is a humble position, not a position that brings you fame and notoriety in the church. It is not an easy position to be in. Shepherding is hard work. He says, “As a shepherd, you care for the body of Christ; you are a pastor over the body of Christ.”
Basically, I think that means two things. Number one, it means we nurture the flock of God; we nurture the flock that has been entrusted to us as elders and as leaders in the church. One of my goals, one of my duties, one of my jobs as a pastor of The Church at Brook Hills is to nurture the flock. How do you nurture the flock? We see all kinds of pictures of that kind of ministry in the New Testament. Do you remember in James 5 when the elders are called to pray over certain people, to pray for them and encourage them, to give that kind of care to them, James 5:14? Prayer, and then the ministry of the Word. Isn’t that the way that sheep are nurtured? By feeding the flock.
There is a huge tendency…we talked about this some last week…in our day in age to tell church leaders, “Well, you know, the Bible’s just not relevant for today. It does not have power in people’s lives. People don’t really want to listen to it that much, so you need to find other things to do.” So, a lot of leaders in the church are kind of putting the Bible aside and saying, “We’ve got some better things that we can communicate instead.” The elder’s job, the leaders in the church, do not have the responsibility of petting the flock as much as feeding the flock.
I want to minister to the needs that are represented in this room, and I am convinced the best way I can do that is by nurturing you with the Word of God and bringing you in touch with the power of the Word of God, and it’s relevance for your life. We are going to look at Acts 6 some next week, and it will tell us about deacons. What we’ve got are some other leaders being raised up in the church, so that the apostles and the elders could give themselves to two things: Prayer and the ministry of the Word. That’s what they do. So, when you picture elders, here is one of the preconceived notions we need to throw out. This is not about a group of guys who have a bunch of meetings. These are a group of guys who are on their faces day in and day out in prayer for the local church, and they are in study day in and day out because they have to feed the church with the Word of God. That is the picture we have got here, people nurturing the flock.
Not just nurturing the flock, but protecting the flock. Look at what Paul says in verses 29–30. He says, “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on guard.” You’ve got to be on guard; you’ve got to protect the flock. He basically says, “From the outside, people are going to come in.” The New Testament church was facing all kinds of persecution, temptations from the outside, but then he says where you least expect it, from the inside, you will experience challenges to the mission, you will experience people who are distracting you from the true gospel and in the mission He has given to us. Now, if it was true for the church in the book of Acts, I have a feeling it is true for us today. There is a spiritual battle going on in the world today, outside the church and inside the church. Elders, leaders in the church, have a responsibility to protect the flock, to guard the flock. Here is the picture that I have in my mind when I read this. Savage wolves.
I remember a year ago when I was in Asia, and we were backpacking in the different villages that had never heard the name of Christ. They had no exposure whatsoever to the name of Jesus Christ or the gospel, and our goal was to go into these villages from house to house. We were in the mountains, in these remote villages and all kinds of different places, and our goal was to take the literature…and we had some CD’s and other materials that had the gospel on them in their language…our goal was to take those little packets of material and hide them in places near houses where nobody could see us doing it, which is kind of hard to do when there are not a lot of Americans hanging out in the villages in this particular place. The goal was to slide it in there and then move away. Hopefully, they will find in about a week or two after you are gone, because you are not supposed to be telling them about the gospel, okay? You got the picture?
So, that is what we do; we go from place to place. It was my two brothers and me who were on this little team, and we would go from place to place, and what you had to do was, you had to have one person that had pockets full of materials that was doing the planting and the other two were the decoys. The other two would just kind of go off and take pictures; they kind of draw a crowd, and the other guy kind of reaches down to tie his shoe and kind of drops something there and do some different things like that.
Well, that was the plan, but what we didn’t take into account was the dogs in this village. I don’t know if you have ever been overseas before, but there are some sickly looking dogs around the world, and they are in these villages. What would happen is, as soon as we would walk up to some of these houses, a pack of dogs would come out and get within about five feet of you just barking as loud as they can. They’ve got these teeth that look like, “I don’t want to get bitten by these guys and be many miles away from anybody who could help me out.”
What we learned to do, and we saw the other folks doing this, we didn’t come up with this idea. The people who lived there, if they were mad at the dogs they would pick up rocks. Now, follow along with me. I know there are some dog lovers in here. Don’t tune me out yet. They wouldn’t hit the dogs with the rocks, but they would throw the rocks right at the feet of the dogs and that would back them up. So, we learned that the two decoys had the responsibility to always have rocks in their pockets, so that when somebody was trying to plant something, if the dog came up, they were to start flinging rocks right at them.
I remember one morning we had gotten up early before the sun was up because we wanted to get an early start, and we knew there was a village right past where we were walking that had a ton of dogs. We just wanted to let them sleep, you know? We didn’t want to disturb them. So, the three of us, my two brothers and I, we grabbed on a little light; it was dark, completely pitch black. We could not turn on our flashlights, because they would have found out that we were there. We inched along, and that was our goal. That is what we were doing. We’d go about halfway, about the point of the village almost past it. The dogs came out; I don’t know if they smelled us or what. All of sudden, we turn back, and we can’t see a thing; it is completely pitch black. We hear a bunch of dogs barking, and all you can see is their little green eyes glowing in the moonlight, coming at us.
So, we pull out the rocks, and we just started chunking them and running. That is what elders do. That is what leaders in the church do! However, don’t throw rocks at people! That is not what I am saying, but they do say, “We’ve got a mission, we’ve got a gospel, and we are going to guard it with our lives, and we are going to give ourselves to making sure nothing detracts from that mission and nothing pulls away from the preciousness of that gospel.” They protect the flock, and they nurture the flock. They feed the sheep. They don’t just pet the sheep. They care for the body of Christ, okay? They lead under the authority of Christ and care for the body of Christ.
Elders teach the Word of Christ.
Third, they teach the Word of Christ. In verse 32, Paul says, “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” Paul is giving these parting words. He says, “I commit you to God and to…” What? To His Word. To the Word of His grace. Paul is emphasizing something here that we are going to see in a couple other points in the New Testament. The authority that leaders in the church have is completely bound up with the authority of the Word of Christ. Elders or leaders are not in a position where they have leadership just because they are in office, and we follow them because they are up there, and we are down here, and so we do what they say. That is not what Scripture is teaching at all. Scripture is teaching that the Word is our authority. It is displayed in men who are trustworthy with the Word and who know the Word, who are able to communicate the Word and are passionate about the Word, and who lead according to the Word. If they don’t lead according to the Word, then their office or their position or role in the church as leaders completely falls apart. The Word is huge in this thing. In fact, we are going to see in just a minute a lot of character traits that are expected of leaders or elders in the church, servant leaders to the church.
However, there is one part of the list that is given with these character traits that really deals more with something they are able to do, a function they have to do. Look at 1 Timothy 3. I want us to look at the overview of the requirements, the qualifications for elders. Look at verse 2. “Now the overseer…” That’s the term we saw used earlier that is interchangeable. “…must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, hospitable, and able…” What is this? Able to do what? “…teach.” The elder must be able to teach.
Look over in the same book in 1 Timothy 5:17. It says, “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.” That is really a bad translation right there. It almost seems like there is a differentiation between those who teach and those who don’t, but it really means, indeed, there are the ones who teach and the ones who preach. You know how we know that? We have already seen that you have to be able to teach in order to be an elder.
Look over one more time in Titus 1. This is a list, and we are going to come back to it in a second that gives qualifications for elders, just like we saw in 1 Timothy 3:9. It says, “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.” He has to be able to take the Word and apply it; He has to be able to take the Word and to teach it, what we see time and time again in Scripture. That is why Paul, when he gives these parting words to these guys, he says, “I commit you to the Word of His grace.”
What this means is that elders have to be able to do two things when it comes to teaching the Word of Christ. Number one, they have to know the Word extensively. They have to have a firm knowledge of the truth. Titus 1:9 says in the original language of the New Testament, it is like the truth has a grip on him. The truth of Christ and the truth of God’s Word has gripped him, captivates him; he knows the Word extensively. These are men who study the Word, who memorize the Word, who meditate on the Word, who know it thoroughly and know how it relates to our culture. They are able to apply it to our culture. These are men who need to know how the Word hits on big theological issues in our day like,
“Aren’t there many ways to God?” “Why would Jesus be the only way to God? Or, “How do we know that God even exists?” “What does the Bible say about life after death?” These are some pretty big issues and the elders need to know the Word, and how it relates to those issues.
However, not just theological issues but practical issues. Elders need to know how to show me how the Word relates to my life, my marriage and how I act in the business world. How does the Word relate to that? Then, social issues. Maybe, what does the Word say about abortion? What does the Word say about homosexuality? What does the Word say about racism? Elders need to know the Word extensively. You can’t teach that which you don’t know.
It is not enough just to know the Word extensively; not only do they do that, but they have got to communicate the Word effectively. It is not enough to be able to sit in your room and in your study and know the Word; you have to be able to teach it to others, to pass it on and to reproduce it. If you can’t do that, then how can you lead others to follow the Word? This doesn’t necessarily mean that only elders in the church can be Bible study leaders or Sunday school leaders. It is saying this: Any elder in this church must be able to persuade people with the Word, encourage people with the Word, comfort people with the Word, challenge people with the Word, instruct people in the Word, give answers to people from the Word and equip people with the Word. Everything revolves around their knowledge of the Word and the ability to communicate that to others. That is a huge role that elders or leaders in this church play. Teaching the Word of Christ.
Elders model the character of Christ.
Obviously, we are seeing that this is a pretty tall order to lead under the authority of Christ and to provide care for the body of Christ and to teach the Word of Christ, but we haven’t gotten to the tallest order, and that is this fourth responsibility. Elders are commanded or called to model the character of Christ. Now, here is what I want us to do. What we have are three different places in Scripture that we see elders mentioned and their qualifications. I want to read through each of those.
Look in 1 Timothy 3. I want you to hear the qualifications for an elder, for somebody who has overall leadership in the church. It says in verse 2,
Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one 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 with proper respect. (If anyone is not able to take care of his own family, how can he take care of the 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.
So, there’s the first list. Turn back over to Titus 1. Go to the right just a few pages in your Bible. Titus 1, look at verse 6. The part about the elders in verse 6 says,
An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless – not overbearing, not quick tempered, not given into drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, and who self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message that as it has been taught, so that he can encourage other by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.
One more list. Go to the right to 1 Peter. Right after Hebrews, then you come to James, then you come to first 1 Peter 5. I want you to hear what Peter says to these guys about what their qualifications are. 1 Peter 5:1,
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 [There is that same word we have seen from time to time.] – 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.
Okay, there are three different lists. They give qualifications for elders. In just a second, we are going to run through some questions that we would need to think about when it comes to the biblical model of church leadership that we see being displayed in these passages. First, I want you to think about what is not on that list. Age is not on that list. It is not that some people would be disqualified because they are younger, or disqualified because they are older. It is a matter of maturity and faith in Christ. Thankfully, age is not on the list.
Something else is not on there: Success in business. Many times in churches that I have observed, the leaders are those who are most successful in business and are thought to be the ones who can lead in church. We need to remember those qualities that make one successful in business in America today are those qualities that would make someone very unsuccessful in leading the church. Not that successful businessmen are disqualified. On the contrary, many successful, godly businessmen are leaders in the church, but that is not a requirement. There is no mention at all of technical expertise. Did you notice that? These are character issues. These are growth in Christ issues. These are knowledge of the Word, communicate the Word issues. Not technical expertise, or expertise in anything else but that.
It is not a list of the “good ole’ boys” in the church. These are the guys who everybody likes, and everybody likes to be around.
Can Women be Elders?
That is not the picture we have here, and you will notice that women are not mentioned there. Now, this is an issue we will dive into even more next week. Nowhere in Scripture do we see God designating this overall leadership role in the church to women. Not just because it says, “The husband of one wife”, and we will dive into that next week when we think about deacons. What we see is both in the home and in the church, in God’s economy, God has called godly men to lead their homes, and godly men to lead their churches. I am convinced I have never met a godly woman who did not trust and respect a man who was showing the love of Christ and displaying the glory of Christ and serving like Christ would. There is a lot of respect that should be due to men like that, and God is calling men in this church to rise up and stand up and take responsibility for the place where God has put us, in our homes and in our churches, to lead in a way that honors Christ. That is what we see here. No evidence anywhere in Scripture that the overall leadership in the church being reserved for a woman. It is not an equality thing. Please hear me in that. It is not an equality thing; it is not that men are greater than women. It is a role thing in God’s economy, and if you can show me in Scripture somewhere else that that would not be true, then I’d be willing to embrace that, but it is just the way that God has set it up, and for that reason, I am not going to apologize for the fact that overall leadership in the church is really designated to men.
Now, that we have handled that issue. All those things are not on the list. So, what is on the list? All of these different characteristics. I think the primary question is this…I think it is the primary question when it comes to any leadership position in the church. What will happen if the church imitates this leader? I want you to think about that question. This question has been heavy on my heart this week. Hebrews 13:11. I was looking at it in my time with the Lord in the morning. It talks about how people in the church are to consider the outcome of the way of life of its leaders and imitate them, imitate their lives. I have heard it said many times before that the church will take on the character of its pastor.
Well, that thing hits pretty heavy right now. The leaders are called to be people who can say just like Paul did in the New Testament, that they are not perfect; none of us is perfect. I am not perfect; I’ll make mistakes. Other people who are leading in the church will make mistakes. However, Paul said to the people in the New Testament, “Imitate me, and you will follow Christ.” What a statement! That is huge responsibility. The leaders should be able to say, “Imitate me, and you will follow Christ.”
Now, we have really raised the bar, and so I want you to think about the different facets of our lives, the different facets of an elder’s life. Can we imitate him in his personal life? In his personal life, there are just a few questions that will come in handy when we deal with this more as a church practically. How is this going to look at The Church at Brook Hills? In his personal life, is he self-controlled, not given to drunkenness? That is on these lists that we have talked about. He is not addicted, not just to alcohol, but not addicted to the internet, not addicted to food, not addicted to anything that is controlling him, because he is self-controlled.
Is he wise? Does he have wisdom to manage and to lead God’s church? Is he peaceable? He doesn’t incite unnecessary division. He does not go around starting fires everywhere. That is not what leaders in the church do. Is he gentle? Now, 2 Timothy 2 talks about how leaders of the church confront those who are giving false teachings. It is not a picture of a wimp here, okay? That is not what Scripture is showing us. Scripture is showing us a man who will stand up and share the truth of Christ but does not have his ego and his pride so much on the line, that if somebody disagrees with him, that he would resort to condemning them all and telling them all they need to follow his rule. He is gentle.
Is he a sacrificial giver? Paul talks about how he is not a lover of money. He is selfless in his giving, and it is what he tells them to do in Acts 20. God help us; God provide us…God help me to do this and provide others in the church who can lead us in this materialistic culture we are in. Show us how to honor Christ with our money and our possessions. Is he a sacrificial giver? Is he humble? Remember this whole image of the shepherd? Is he patient? Is he honest? Is he disciplined? So, all these characteristics need to be displayed in his personal life.
Where we see those most often portrayed is in the home, in his family life. The questions we have to ask is, “Is this man an elder in his home?” Not every man is eligible to be an elder in his church, but every man needs to be an elder in his home. Is he leading his leading his family under the authority of Christ? Is he caring for his family like the body of Christ? Is he teaching his family the Word of Christ? Is he the elder in his home? If he is single, is he self-controlled? I don’t think in any way these lists disqualify people, particularly when is says the husband of one wife. “Well, I’m single, that knocks me out.” I don’t think that is what Scripture is teaching at all. Paul was a pretty good example of a church leader who was single. He said, “If you can control yourself and honor Christ in your singleness, then do it” is what Paul says. So, is he self-controlled?
If he is married, here is the question. There are all kind of issues here. What about people who are divorced? If he is married, is he completely committed to his wife? That is the question that I think what Scripture is teaching us here, and if you were to say, “Do you think an elder can be somebody with divorce in their background?”, I don’t think there is a blanket answer we would give to that, because I think there are numerous circumstances that are represented in each one of those different situations. However, remember the ultimate question is, “Do we want our church to imitate this man in the way he loves his wife? Do we want our church to follow his example?” That is the question we are coming back to.
So, is he completely committed to his wife? Is he showing us how to love your wife by laying your life down for her? If he has children, do they honor him? Here is another question we will bring out, and we have talked about on one of those lists. Do his children believe? “Well, if my child is not a Christian, does that disqualify me?” Grace for salvation is not necessarily in the genes. We know that from Scripture, so I don’t think that would disqualify somebody. However, remember the question that we are coming back to, “Is this man a model for how we should raise kids?” If he has kids, is he a model for how we should raise them? Is he showing us how to be a parent? Is he showing kids how to follow Christ? Do they honor him?
Then, we need to look at his social and his business life. Is he kind to others? Is he hospitable? Elders, leaders in the church are not recluses, sitting back and reading their books all the time and being Bible nerds. That is not what elders are. Elders are out loving people and caring about people. Obviously, some are more outgoing than others, but they need to be hospitable. Is he a friend of strangers? Does he treat strangers in a way that is worthy of their respect? Does he show favoritism, not partial? Many times we get in this situation in the church where leaders cater to certain people and not others. That is not biblical. They don’t show partiality. They don’t show favoritism.
Does he have a blameless reputation? This is huge. You saw over and over again in these lists that this person is above reproach. This person has an impeccable reputation in the business and in the community world. I am convinced that when a church chooses elders and leaders, those leaders need to be held up in front of the whole community and say, “Does anybody know anything about these men that would keep them from leading our church?” Whether that is putting an ad in the paper and saying, “These are going to be our elders, and if you know something about this man that does not honor Christ, let us know.” What a statement to the community around here to say, “We want to reflect the glory of Christ, and we want to do it in our leadership and in the way we lead our church.” I want to make that kind of display of the glory of Christ in Birmingham.
So, we want our leaders to reflect the glory of Christ in his social and his business life and also in his spiritual life. Is he making disciples of all nations? We can’t get on this mission if he is not leading us to accomplish the mission. Is he leading people to Christ? Teaching them to follow Christ? Does he love the Word? Is he a man of prayer? We talked about those earlier. Is he holy? Is he gracious? Is he pouring out grace in the community around him?
All of these lists in his personal life, family life, social life, business life and spiritual life. Do you see how important these guys are in the church? Do you see how large this role is? It may be a better question to ask, “Do you want to be led by men like this in church?” No doubt! That is why Scripture has set it up like this, so that in this mission that we are giving ourselves to, as a church, that we say, “We are going to follow leaders who are going to lead us, who we can imitate, show us how to accomplish the mission of Christ in Birmingham and in all nations.”
Remember the diagram we have been using ever since the beginning of this series? We have Christ in the center displaying His glory to the world through the church. I want to add an element to this diagram this morning. I want to add a group of elders, of leaders to this diagram. I wanted to structure this so that it wasn’t seen as a hierarchy. That is not what Scripture is saying, but it is saying, and I believe this with all of my heart, that the glory of Christ is most visible in the leaders of the church. You and I know that in the landscape of Christian history, particularly over recent years in American culture, much of the negative perception of Christianity is due to the failure of leaders in the church. Is that right? So what does the church need to do? It needs to make sure that the glory of Christ is being reflected in those who are leading in the church. So, put that ring on the diagram and begin to think about how elders help lead the church to display the glory of Christ.
The Bottom Line …
The bottom line is in order to display the glory of Christ, the church appoints and follows servant leaders who are wholeheartedly committed to accomplishing the mission of Christ. The church appoints leaders and follows them. Those two words are very important, because many times in church, we do either one or neither of those, instead of both of them.
Sometimes we don’t want to appoint leaders. By that I don’t mean that we don’t have a leadership structure. I have never met a church that didn’t have some leaders. However, we don’t appoint leaders who don’t fall in line with these qualifications and responsibilities, and we don’t let that become last in the church. That is not biblical, and we can’t accomplish the mission of Christ if we do that.
At the same time, many times there are leaders like that in the church and because of our individualism, because of our self-sufficiency, we resist that leadership when we are called in Scripture as a local church to follow that leadership. That is a counter-cultural thing. That is what we are called to do even in my generation. We are anti-authoritative. That is not biblical when it comes to leaders in the local church.
Here at The Church at Brook Hills, many of you may know, many of you may not, that right now there are men… “pastors” is their title that they have had ever since the beginning of this church. Pastors that are both lay pastors and vocational pastors. These are men who are leading the church now. You have a list on the back of your celebration guide of both lay pastors and vocational pastors that are there. These are men that God has appointed to be leaders in this church.
Here is what I want to do in response to this word. In just a second, I am going to ask those men to come to the front, and what I want us to do…because God has called these men to be leaders in this church, and I would fall in line with that too, then we have a responsibility to pray for them and to encourage them and to thank God for them, to do whatever we can to help them accomplish the mission of Christ as they lead us. I want us to have a time where we pray for them and surround them and encourage them in prayer. Then, these pastors, as well as myself, even all the way back in conversations with the pastor search team have been working on, they have been working on it for a long time before I even came into the picture but on restructuring the leadership structure of the church, so that we can accomplish this mission, and I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I can speak on behalf of every one of those pastors in saying that we want to structure ourselves so that we can most effectively display the glory of Christ in Birmingham and in all nations.
So, we are diving into how these principles look in this local church, and so I want you…after we pray for them, we are going to make our way back to our seats, and I have asked the worship leader to lead us in a song where we express in a corporate prayer, “God, lead us to have the most biblical model of church leadership that can most effectively accomplish the mission of Christ in the church, so that your glory will be displayed through us.” As we sing that, let us sing it as a prayer, but also I want to invite and challenge you, if you need to bow your heart and your spirit during that time, and if there needs to be some forgiveness from somebody in your past who has led the church, and you did not see the glory of Christ in them…It could be Brook Hills or it could be a church from a long time ago. I want to encourage and challenge you today to, in the Spirit of Christ, to begin to let Christ heal that and say, “I want to be a part of a local church where leaders are displaying the glory of Christ.”
So, at this time, I would like to ask those pastors who are leading the church right now, men whom God has called out and appointed to this church, to go ahead and make their way down to the front. I know some of them are out of town, and I tried to get the word out to them that this was going to happen during this service, but they are not all here. I want to invite the ones who are to make their way down to the front. Lay pastors and vocational pastors and, if you guys feel comfortable kneeling or you can stand wherever you are, and what I want us to do as these men are coming down here, I would like to invite church members to come and surround these men. I want to invite you to put your hands on them.
That is not something mystical that we do, or it is not that we impart something to them when we place our hands on them, but that is what they did. They put their hands on the leaders of the church, and they said, “We are going to pray for you, and we are going to encourage you. We are going to be behind you and we are going to support you.” These are men who have made a lot of decisions, some of them over the last fifteen years in this church. These are men whom God has entrusted with a lot of responsibility, and they have honored Christ with the way they have led and made those decisions. I want us to spend some time where we pray for them. I would like to give you a couple of minutes of silence to pray for these men and then I will close us.
Elders: Servant Leaders of the Church
The Biblical Truth:
A biblical model of church leadership is necessary for the church to display the glory of Christ.
Four Responsibilities of Elders
- Lead Under the Authority of Christ.
- Elders belong to the church.
- They are appointed by the Spirit of God.
- The church belongs to Christ.
- Elders are accountable to the Son of God.
- Elders belong to the church.
- Care for the Body of Christ.
- Nurture the flock.
- Protect the flock.
- Teach the Word of Christ.
- Know the Word extensively.
- Communicate the Word effectively.
- Model the Character of Christ.
- The Primary Question: What will happen if the church
imitates this leader?
- In his Personal Life…
- Is he self-controlled?
- Is he wise?
- Is he peaceable?
- Is he gentle?
- Is he a sacrificial giver?
- Is he humble?
- Is he patient?
- Is he honest?
- Is he disciplined?
- The Primary Question: What will happen if the church
- In his Family Life…
- Is he the elder in his home?
- If he is single, is he self-controlled?
- If he is married, is he completely committed to his wife?
- If he has children, do they honor him?
- In his Social/Business Life…
- Is he kind?
- Is he hospitable?
- Is he a friend of strangers?
- Does he show favoritism?
- Does he have a blameless reputation?
- In his Spiritual Life…
- Is he making disciples of all nations?
- Does he love the Word?
- Is he a man of prayer?
- Is he holy?
- Is he gracious?
- In his Family Life…
The Bottom Line:
In order to display the glory of Christ, the church appoints and follows servant leaders who are wholeheartedly committed to accomplishing the mission of Christ.