To a greater or lesser extent all of us come to junctures in our lives when we have to take on responsibility. That may be in the family, in the workplace, in the community, in the church or wherever. Alas, many of us drift into these situation with little thought or preparation.
Joshua was faced with taking on responsibility as leaders of the nation of Israel. Moses, in Deuteronomy 31:7-13 being aware of this focuses on toe things which will be necessary for Him to have if He is to effectively carry out his responsibility.
The Right Attitude. Joshua is called to Be strong and courageous (v7b). With responsibility come challenges, struggles, opposition and difficulties. If we do not set ourselves to persevere through these then we will soon go the way of the snowflake in a heatwave. We will soon disappear from the scene of our responsibility. We may still have the office thereof, but we will cease to function effectively.
So we need those of courage in all different realms. Elders of churches need to be displayers of this.
The Right Dependence. We are not just to be those of courage in a stoic kind of way. We are those of courage because we have a God who we can depend upon in all the struggles of life. Moses tells Joshua It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed (v8). Such a God is worthy of our trust. To survive and prosper in any position of responsibility we need to trust in Him.
The Right Guide. Having commissioned Joshua, Moses in vv9-13 delivers the Word of the Lord to the priests and the elders of Israel. They are to have custody of the law and make sure it is read every seven years. Implicit in this is that all the people including Joshua will have the Word of God to guide them. Jesus must lead according to the Word that all the people know. Otherwise His leadership will be of no account and should be rejected.
So fellow leaders, have courage, depend on the Lord and follow His Word. Then you will be a blessing in your sphere of responsibility.
One of the key monikers of a church leader is “overseer”. The person called to lead among God’s peoples is to be a person with an in-built inclination to oversee the church. Crucial in this is to have an awareness of what is going on in the church.
One of the striking things about the account of the slaying of Goliath by David is the complete lack of awareness that Saul had of what was going on. In particularly I note in 1 Samuel 15:55-58
As soon as Saul saw David go out against the Philistine, he said to Abner, the commander of the army, “Abner, whose son is this youth?” And Abner said, “As your soul lives, O king, I do not know.” And the king said, “Enquire whose son the boy is.” And as soon as David returned from the striking down of the Philistine, Abner took him, and brought him before Saul with the head of the Philistine in his hand. And Saul said to him, “Whose son are you, young man?” And David answered, “I am the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite.”
The lack of awareness displayed by Saul is breathtaking given that in the previous chapter we see recorded how Saul had gotten David brought from his father Jesse to play soothing music to him (see 1 Samuel 16:14-23.) And then he had actually spoken to the same David before David went to defeat Goliath (see 1 Samuel 17: 31-40).
All this shows us a man who was not fit for leadership. And in saying that we are reflecting what had happened. He had been deprived of leadership capacities because of his prior unfaithfulness the Lord.
I have come across able end even good men in church, but they do not have this characteristic of awareness. People and happenings just seem to pass them by. They may be great assets to the church, but they would be great liabilities if considered as elders.
To have this inclination to watch over the fellowship of God’s people is one indication that a a younger brother is being raised up to leadership. Existing elders there by should be looking out for this as they pray for the raising up of elders in the fellowship.
Upon coming to a church, the newly arrived christian asked; who are the elders in this church? The response given was, that the believer who was coming into the fellowship should come back in a month ( I believe that was the time period) and say who they thought the elders of the church were!
Now, the degree of reliability of the feedback from this suggestion will depend upon the wisdom and spiritual maturity of the person concerned. However, it does raise certain issues:
- It is the church who have to own the recognition of people to eldership. Imposition, whether it be from an outside body or the present elders, is not acceptable. In the same way that the church at Jerusalem selected and trusted those selected into deacon service (see Acts 6:2-7) so it is with elders.
- The appointment of someone to eldership does not make them an elder. The church, under the guiding of the present elders, has a responsibility to recognize those whom the LORD has already made elders. So Paul says to the Ephesian elders Keep watch over yourselves and all 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 (Acts 20:28). It is the Holy Spirit who makes overseers not the church.
- The concomitant truth to this, is that the church cannot prevent someone operating as an elder. If they fail to formally recognize him, he will still operate as an elder.
- In seeking out elders the present elders should keep a keen ear open to what the church is saying about certain men in the church. A groundswell of conviction in the church, about a brother may be the Holy Spirit leading the church to recognize that brother as an elder.
- As shepherds tend to the sheep in their flock so spiritual shepherds tend to the sheep in their flock. Eldership is a calling to and within a local church. So Paul writes to the Thessalonians and says Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you (1 Thess. 5:12). Those who are doing the shepherding are among the Thessalonians.
We have a great need for true elders in the church of God. May the LORD be gracious to raise them up among us. And may we be given wisdom to recognize whom the LORD has raised up.
(Originally published at Venabling on July 31st 2013)
We had a leadership seminar at Feltham on June 15th. One of the exercises which we were given was to score ourselves out of ten for the various characteristics which should be being displayed by an elder. The list was taken from those revealed in scripture. We were then instructed to go away and ask others who know us well, whether that be in family or in whatever realm, to similarly mark us out of ten. We could then compare our self-awareness with how others perceive us. The list is this:
- Above reproach
- Faithful to his wife
- Not overbearing
- Loves what is good
- Self controlled
- Able to teach
- He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught
- Not given to drunkenness
- Not violent but gentle
- Not quick tempered
- Not quarrelsome
- Not a lover of money
- He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect
- He must not be a recent convert
- He must also have a good reputation with outsiders
If you are an elder it will provide a good exercise, if not perhaps a little painful. So why not try doing it? And when you have got a spread of responses make a point of working on the characteristic which you scored worst on.
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it (2 Tim. 3:14). In this scripture Paul is supporting his insistence that Timothy keep with the Word of God by reminding him about who he had learned that Word from, This instructs us that the character of those who teach us the Word gives extra reason for us to believe that Word.
This is not to say that if the Word is brought to us by someone who we know to be an infidel, or afterwards proves to be an infidel, that we reject the Word. Our Lord said in Matthew 23:2-3 that The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. The Word must be obeyed because it is the Word of the Lord.
Nevertheless we should be doing what we teach. The Word that we teach should be modelled in our lives. This is a big issue for parents and all who teach the Word to others. But it is also a critical issue in our witness generally. It is the power of a godly life which lives out the gospel, that gives credibility to that same gospel when it is shared with others. And thereby there is effective ministry which attracts people to our Lord. It may even be that someone’s sweet testimony for Christ led to you seeking the Lord.
The implication of this is that we must be aware of our proneness to hypocrisy and be vicious in rooting it out in our lives.
This also has implications for the manner in which we conduct our affairs before God. We live in an age of the all-pervasive internet and social media. It has became easy in this digital age, to meet in cyber churches or to get our spiritual food from our favourite Bible teacher online. In such a situation we very likely have no knowledge of the charachter of those who are teaching us. It should not be this way. Knowing the charachter of our teachers is a God-ordained way in which he verifies His message.
This, therefore, gives strong impetus to the need for us to be based in local churches. And in those churches we need to have leaders who do not “ivory tower” themselves. We need those who move among the people so that their lives can be seen. Paul speaks in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 about Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. The leaders were among the church in Thessalonika and that is the way it should be. If you are a church elder you need to be among the people so people can see your character.
This also cautions us against churches becoming to big. If church members are not interacting with those who teach them because the church is simply too big, then means should be put in place to resolve this situation. That may mean refining the organisation of the church,or planting another church.
……………………..frustration. I want to address this matter specifically in the context of church leadership. However, the principles also play-out in other realms of life whether that be business, family or community.
For any group of people to function well there has to be good communication. Particular responsibility for providing this communication, and exemplifying it, is with the leadership. When communication is bad by a church leadership then the church starts to malfunction; bad communication leads to frustration. When people are not been told what is going on then they start to get frustrated. Some of the evidences that the communication is bad are:
- People having to approach the elders to find out about what is going on regarding a specific situation. Now there will be times when such an inquiry is just busy-bodying. Also there will be times when information is confidential and cannot be shared. Generally though, elders should be regularly be keeping all the people who need to know about a matter informed.
- People say “nobody told me”. This is when certain church members believe that they are not a party to information that others have been given.
- People start murmuring among themselves about what is going on in a situation.
When these things starts to occur you end up with a frustrated church and the consequences will be:
- People are deflated. They don’t know what is going on. They feel things are not being dealt with.
- People are distracted. The duty of church leaders is to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up (Eph. 4:12). Rather than people being released to works of service, they are being distracted by having to spend energy figuring out what is going on with other stuff in the Church. And this is all because they have not been communicated with.
So church leaders need to:
- Always veer towards over-communication rather than under-communication.
- Be sending out information at the same time to those who need to know. A bit here and there to different people can cause upset.
- Make sure all communications are sufficient so all know enough. Long-winded documents put people off.
- Communicate with warmth and encouragement. Being too business-like and curt can offend some people.
Here is an interesting article by Chris Green. He writes about those who have made shipwreck of their ministry. One common feature of those who have fallen in this way is that they have all previously withdrawn form active involvement in church life. Essentially they have been carrying on with church ministry, but have withdrawn from the church.
One way of preventing us moving in that direction is to be reminding ourselves that we are church members before we are anything else in the church. I have written about that here and here
Although specifically directed to those “in ministry”, by Mr Green, this principle of the need to be bolted into the life of a church for fellowship and accountability is essential for us all. How it is that Christians can remain outside a church is baffling. And it is baffling in this context because it is so dangerous. So fellow believer if you:
- are not a church member, why not? You just must be.
- are a church member, make sure you stay central to church life. To fail to do this is to put your life in peril.