Saturday, August 6, 2011

What Kind of Elder Does Jesus Want?

Recently I wrote about the kind of church that Jesus wanted. I thought it best to turn to His own prayer in John 17 to understand what kind of church He really wanted. What kind of Church did Jesus ask for? I was thinking about elders and pastors and the same question occurred to me: what kind of elders does Jesus really want? If you are an elder, be it a ruling elder or a teaching elder, do you ever ask the question, “am I the kind of elder Jesus wants overseeing the kind of church Jesus wants?” I think we should all be asking the question “Am I the kind of Christian Jesus wants? “ This post will deal with the kind of elder Jesus wants. Of course, the short answer is that Jesus wants godly elders. That only begs the question, “What does a godly elder look like?” Thank God for men like Tyndale and Luther! We have the Scripture in our own language and can read the answer to this question for ourselves. Where would we be without the authoritative canon of Scripture to guide us into the right answers? The office of elder is a very difficult call. I do not mean to convey otherwise. However, there are elders of excellence and then there are those who are not so much. “When the work of shepherding is difficult, the commitment of the shepherd is truly revealed. Yet Shepherding is a labor of love to the one who truly is a shepherd. [Witmer, Timothy Z. The Shepherd Leader, 13]

The first thing that Jesus wants in an elder is for them to be the kind of Christian He wants them to be. Read my post on “What Kind of Church Does Jesus Want?” If you are not the kind of Christian Jesus wants you to be, then you cannot possibly be the kind of elder He wants you to be. That is the best place to start.

First, Jesus wants the kind of elder that understands the gravity of the office. If you are contemplating the office of elder, you should do so with profound vigilance. Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.” Are you confortable with the idea that other believers are under an obligation by God to submit themselves to you? Are you that kind of person? How does the enormity of that kind of responsibility strike you? The godly elder watches over God’s flock with the understanding that they will give an account for the condition of the souls of those under their care. This does not mean that if someone rejects the authority of the elder and lives a scandalous life that God is going to judge the elder for that behavior. What it does mean is should your advice, and teachings and actions lead the souls of those under your care to reckless, sinful, careless living, that you will be responsible for the condition of their soul. The very idea that God Himself will hold you personally accountable for the sinful behavior of others if you do not do all you can to lead them out of such sin should be exceptionally sobering. Jesus wants the kind of elder who understands and respects the accountability He Himself places on the office.

Of the many elements that encompass the office of elder, protection seems to be the dominant characteristic. You, as an elder, have been given the charge of protecting God’s sheep. It is imperative that you understand the sheep do not belong to you. They belong to someone else. Imagine someone giving you a priceless gem to safeguard. I would imagine you would be quite anxious regarding the task with which you are charged. I know I would be. I do not think you would pretend, even for a second, that this gem is yours to do with as you see fit. I also think you would consult the instruction manual very meticulously in order to make sure it receives the proper maintenance. You would do everything in your power to protect this gem until the return of its owner. Such behavior would only be reasonable. As an elder, you are charged with protecting something so precious in the eyes of God that in order for Him to attain it, He spilled the most precious blood of the most precious person who ever lived on this planet. When an elder looks at the congregation, they should see the most precious possession of the only wise Holy Father. The kind of elder Jesus wants views the sheep like that. He does not think he has inherent right to guide them outside of Sacred Scripture. I Peter 5:1-3 says, “Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 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.”

The Greek word for “shepherd” here is POINMANATE and it is in the imperative mood. This signifies that Peter is issuing a command for the elders to shepherd the flock of God. The word means to serve as tender of the sheep, to watch out for other people in the sense of lead or guide, protect, care for, nurture. The entire well-being of the sheep comes into view. As an elder, you are responsible for the entire spiritual well-being of the sheep. This should disturb you a great deal. If it does not disturb you enough to educate yourself in Scripture so that you understand what a godly elder looks like, perhaps the office is one you should avoid. You are to care for the sheep with the highest passion and commitment possible. There is no more important job than that of elder or shepherd. God places His sheep in your care. Moreover, God will hold you accountable for the condition of that His sheep are in, in the end. The godly shepherd respects and understand this. He understands the church is not his to manage at his own discretion. He recognizes that he cannot behave autonomously in his duties. He understands that Scripture places strict guidelines around how to care for the sheep. He works diligently to understand those guidelines and executes on them to the very best of his ability.

The elder has to be above reproach. His Christian reputation cannot be legitimately called into question. He cannot be a womanizer, noticing every attractive woman that walks by or flirtatious. An elder has to be even tempered. An elder has to be prudent. This word means to behave in a sensible manner. It carries the idea of thoughtful awareness. He does not let his emotion or his selfishness interfere with just conduct. He knows what to say and, when to say it. He knows when to keep his lips sealed. He is a prudently judicious man. The kind of elder that Jesus wants is one that people can respect. He has qualities that are admirable among the people. People find it easy to hold him in high regard. An elder has to be hospitable. He has to be capable of teaching. He understands Scripture and has the ability to lead others into a solid understanding of Scripture. He cannot be addicted to strong drink. He must not be prone to fight, physically or otherwise. Godly elders are gentle, seeking to maintain the peace, and they are free from the love of money. This is the kind of elder Jesus wants.

If you look at the kind of church Jesus wants and read this article, it becomes clear that Jesus wants an elder filled with the love of God. He loves God and he loves God’s people. Because of this love, there is nothing more important to this elder than to lead God’s people into the truth of Scripture. He abhors strange doctrine and anything that contradicts or opposes the teachings of Christ. When a wolf introduces strange teachings to God’s sheep, he reacts urgently to protect those that God has placed under his charge. He gently rebukes those who hold to false teachings. If they refuse to repent and follow Scripture, he removes the leaven from among the sheep with tears. The unity and peace of the church are of the highest importance to him. This unity is built upon the sound teachings of Scripture. That is to say, that people are bound together by the power of Christian doctrine and a passionate love for God and one another. This is the kind of elder that Jesus wants. He understands the gravity of his office. He respects the task before him. He does not take the sheep for granted as if they were cheap play things for which he need not have any regard. He conducts his life in such a way as to maintain an ability to influence and lead God’s people into God’s truth. He is not perfect and does not present himself in a manner that leads others to think that he thinks he is. He is human, but he is authentic. The sheep know that he loves them. However, they know he loves God and God’s Word, more. They know he will bend over backwards to serve them. Yet they also know he will firmly obey God’s word even when it is the most unpopular thing to do. They have no doubt about where his priorities are. He is loyal to God, to God’s word and to that alone. They know if he is ever asked to compromise this loyalty, he will unflinchingly refuse. If you are considering the office of elder, I would encourage you to take your time, commit it to prayer, but more than that, read everything Scripture teaches on the matter. I would also recommend you read Timothy Z. Witmer’s book, “The Shepherd Leader.” It is an excellent work on the office of the elder.

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