We’re in a series on the Church. We began in January asking, what is a church for? What is the mission of the Church? The answer in short: to manifest the wisdom of God to the principalities and power.
Then two sermons underscored the point that life in Christ is a life in community.
Ok, then, what does the Church do? And we talked about what a Church does while gathered together – we worship God; we learn to do all that Christ commands; we encourage one another. And we do so by prayer, by hearing the Word, by singing.
And for the past couple of weeks, we discussed what the Church does while scattered. How can we as members of the body serve the body during the time – which is most of the time – that we’re away from each other? And we said: by working deliberately at growing up into Jesus Christ. Don’t drift along with the society; rather intentionally put off the old habits of Adamic humanity and – especially in your spirit – learn new ways, the ways of Jesus Christ, because He’s the Head over this newly created humanity of which you’re a part by grace through faith.
Today just a word about leadership in the Church. Let’s begin with Ephesians 4:14.
Ephesians 4: 14 – …so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and from by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather…
Here Paul describes something the risen and victorious Christ is doing for His people: He’s growing them up. He’s set up things so that “we may no longer be children.”
Now, there’s nothing wrong with children (or at least some of them)! We know especially from Jesus Himself that God loves children. He loovvveess them! And Jesus taught that if anyone gets into the kingdom of God it’s only because, in a sense, he has become childlike.
A child-like depth of trust in God’s arrangements.
But the point in our passage about children is a negative one: they are weak, they are vulnerable, they’re not thinking clearly… and so are easily exploited. So here Paul says that Christians who are spiritually immature are by that in a danger zone.
All believers in Christ spend some time in this state of spiritual immaturity. Everyone. Even the man or woman who’s already acquired much worldly knowledge, experienced much, accomplished much, when s/he turns to follow Jesus Christ, s/he is an infant spiritually.
And this is a fragile state. Paul likens the immature believer to a sea vessel in the middle of a storm, not in control, lurching one way and then the other depending on how the wind blows moment by moment. In other words, left to himself, a new believer is a disaster waiting to happen.
What threatens to capsize or run aground the immature Christian is “every wind of doctrine.” “Doctrine” is a belief or a set of beliefs. A way of understanding the world. Ideas about how this world works, how to successfully advance through this life. These doctrines can be officially declared, written down… or quite subtle. Can be developed concepts or just subtle suggestions or the hint of a mood.
You encounter winds of doctrine by choosing to read a book that details the doctrine of Buddhism and recommends it as a way of life.
Or the doctrine can seep in more subtly, without your realizing it…I recall a graduate student who had fell into a deep financial hole telling me how this had happened. His plan was to get a Ph.D. and then teach in higher education. While in graduate school one evening there was a department party at a faculty member’s house, and he distinctly recalled driving up a lengthy driveway that ended in a beautiful house. And upon arriving he looked around and saw faculty members exiting some very nice vehicles. And he figured out – in just a few years I’ll be making big money that will afford me this kind of life. I’ll easily be able to get out of debt. And so he became a little sloppy in his spending, and then his wife got pregnant, and then…
But back to our point, that night at the faculty party, a wind of doctrine was blowing. An idea of how the world works. When you watch HGTV, out of that screen blow winds of doctrine. When you go onto social media and see photos of your friends and maybe they have big smiles…winds of doctrine. When you hear about your colleague’s newly acquired New Hampshire cabin or his splashy vacation – doctrine’s coming at you. When the Jehovah Witness rings your doorbell, here comes the wind. Advertisements that sell by telling a story, pulling you into their story – there’s that wind. Movies.
Yes, it can be very subtle, as hard to trace as the wind. The wind that we “don’t know where it comes from or where it’s going” –views on romance and child-rearing and disciplining your kids and the arc of life and what it is to love and what the human creature is for and a thousand other theories and convictions and stances blow around us. Most of the time we aren’t even conscious that we’re being led, influenced. We’re told what is necessary for the good life. We’re taught to be dissatisfied with things…like linoleum. It’s suggested that you should add this practice to your routine, sign your kids up for ______________, aim for _______ before you retire… This is what is deeply hurtful, we’re taught, so we act hurt. This is what it looks like to be hurt, so we put on that look.
Paul says that these winds of doctrines hail from and/or are suffused with “cunning” and “craftiness” and “deceit.” In short, you’re likely going to be tricked. If what pops into your mind when I say that is something like, well, I’m not the sort of person to be duped, or mindlessly follow the crowd or otherwise be controlled… you’ve probably arrived at that self-confidence after having been royally taken for a ride.
Here’s another diagnostic: If you haven’t wholeheartedly believed in Jesus Christ, publicly confessed your faith by being baptized into the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, officially declared yourself as a member of Christ’s Body, are without reserve presenting yourself to God as His obedient servant, ready to fire any thought that rises against his word and ready to act on anything he orders, and ever increasing in your knowledge of what that Word says…if all of that isn’t true about you – you’ve been played! You’re being played even now!
Here let me throw in the suggestion that you read “The Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis.
Ok, so it’s a tricky world out there, and there are agents, human and otherwise, who are motivated to get you under some spell of theirs. As long as we’re spiritual children, we are largely at the mercy of these bad actors. So how has the victorious Christ, who loves His people, arranged to grow up His people so that they can stand against all the wiles of the devil?
VV. 11-14 And [the victorious Christ] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
To the Church, for the Church’s maturity, Christ has appointed leaders.
Christ rose from the dead. The conqueror! The Lord of lords, over time, over Big Tech, over all Ivy League Institutions, over Somers, CT. All authority has been given to Him and nothing can take away His life.
He was dead having taken sin, your sin, my sin, on Himself. He was God’s provision to bear our punishment, to step into God’s righteous anger against our sin, in our place, an atonement. Our sins cleansed.
And now He stands up after that transaction! The Conqueror! No one stops Him! And He has His people, called the Ekklesia, the Church. And He’s over His people, protecting, perfecting, preparing them to inherit the earth. To this end, He has arranged leaders for them.
We should quickly underscore what Christ didn’t arrange. He didn’t say, I myself will teach you directly and so don’t listen to anybody; you just need the Word. (Or the Word + the Holy Spirit.) He also didn’t say, the key is for you to get out of the noise of the world, get alone with your thoughts and listen to your heart and I’ll guide you by solitude.
Rather, He said, and remember, He said this from a position of strength: these leaders (and from other passages we could remind ourselves that these leaders often look weak, always are weak, might even be weaker than most… but at their best are “jars of clay”)…these leaders are necessary instruments in your growing up into this new humanity.
This morning I want to quickly discuss just one category of leaders, that guy we often call “pastor.” First question: could we call him anything else?
Turn over to 1 Peter 5
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ,
So Peter is addressing a group called “elders” – the Greek word is the word from which we get our word “presbyterian”
as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you,
Peter reminds this group of elders that they’re to shepherd the flock – “shepherd” is the same word sometimes translated “pastor.” So, elders, pastor the flock of God that is among you.
They are to pastor while…or by…exercising oversight – this is the Greek word episkopos, from which we get our word episcopalian. Epi – over – scope – watch. Sometimes this word is translated “bishop.”
So, Peter is exhorting these elders to do the work of pastoring and bishop-ing. And to do so:
not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.
Now let’s turn over to Acts 20, where Luke records a significant stop of Paul’s on his way to Jerusalem.
V. 17 – Now from Miletus [Paul] sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him.
Paul contacts the elders of the Ephesians church – there were more than one.
And let’s skip down to v. 28 and listen to something Paul says to these elders:
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers…
There’s our word episkopos again – the elders are overseers… bishops of the flock.
…to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.
To care for is the Greek word, poimano – the same word that Peter used in 5:2 – to shepherd, to pastor.
So again, the elders are bishops are pastors. Three different words to express three different roles filled by one man. Just as at your work you might be the cook and the cleaner and the teacher. Or at a small company you could fill the roles of an engineer and administrator and fundraiser.
We asked, what else could you call the pastor? Here’s the answer: The pastor is an elder. The bishop pastors. The elder is a bishop. We could go to other passages to further substantiate that these are three roles filled by one person, but we won’t take the time.
I’ve already belabored this point a little because I’ve ran into something since arriving at Somers Baptist Church: an aversion to the word “elder.” “We don’t believe in elders.” But hopefully it’s become clear to you that elder is a fine, biblical word. That there can be more than one elder at a church. And elder and pastor and bishop aren’t three different positions in the Church, but three different roles carried by one person.
What is specific to each of these three roles? Well, an elder implies that the man carries some spiritual experience. To use the phrase in 1 Timothy 3:6, the elder must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.
The backdrop to this seems to be that a leader of a church is someone out front, who carries some influence, authority – and that being out front and a leader is spiritually dangerous. It’d be easy to get high and mighty, become a bully…or more subtly, it’d be easy to coast and expect people to follow you just because you’re in leadership and not because you’re offering them anything of substance.
I was hired to work as an assistant pastor at the church I grew up while still in seminary. I was around 25 years old. We met in a gymnasium, and we had stackable chairs that had to be picked up after most of our gatherings. Well, the volunteer system had kinda fallen off and I was tasked at the end of the meeting with giving an announcement asking people to continue staying after the meeting to help stack up chairs. When I gave the announcement, I scolded people for not doing their part. (Remember, I had grown up in this church and was definitely a punk kid while growing up.) But the real ringer was at the end of the announcement: I said something along the lines of: if you don’t stack these chairs then it will fall on your pastors to do it. And do you really want to be part of a church where your pastors are chair stackers?
An elder is supposed to be spiritually mature; in his life, not just in his words, providing an example of what the truth looks like. Hopefully there will be others in the church that the whole body can look to, who walk according to the apostolic example… but the elders mustbe among those. These are the men you look to to grasp what focus and joy and love and zeal and sacrifice actually look like. Who have learned to set and maintain priorities – their affections are ordered properly. They’re settled in their faith, not constantly upset or excited about new ideas. Their lives are opened up to others; their Christianity isn’t clinical. Their home life is ordered and content. When they pass through trials they might grieve and be perplexed, but don’t despair.
Setting an example. Spiritually stable. Have been around the block of temptation and trial. Has an earned black belt in spotting pride in himself. Elders.
Bishop-ing is over-seeing. Keeping up with the congregation.
It’s easy to misunderstand this aspect of ministry, especially to sentimentalize it. A pastor has to be sensitive, but not mainly in the way that word today is commonly used. What I mean is: All of his feelers have to be going all the time. He is constantly trying to understand the people he’s among, not because he’s a voyeur or because he’s looking to control them. But because he has been tasked for guiding them to God. And he’s going to do that mainly by praying for them…and he needs to understand specifics of what to pray for. And he’s going to deliver the Word to them, publicly and privately and so he’s constantly scanning for how they think, what they think, how to sneak truth past their defenses. How far he can push. When to soothe. When to bark.
A long time ago I read Virginia Owens, a wife of a pastor and a writer, describing this overseeing aspect of ministry. It’s stuck with me because I think she’s spot on:
“Beneath [all the duties of pastoring] is a constant watchfulness, a taking note. Even as he stands in the pulpit, he sifts the faces of the congregation for those fine grains, no larger than the dust of pollen, that carry the spoor of the trail he’s on…Softly, softly. The clues one must go on are often small and fleeting. A millimeter’s widening of the eye, a faint contraction of the nostrils, a silent exhalation, the slight upward modulation of the voice. To pit out the reality hidden in appearances requires vigilance, perseverance. It takes everything [he’s] got.”
Also, part of this overseeing is trying to understand the society, the world at large, the church at large. Not so that you can fashion yourself as a cultural critic or otherwise sound smart. But so you can grasp what your congregation is facing.
If your pastor is trying to meet with you, especially if he’s trying to meet you in your home, it’s not necessarily because he’s just a gregarious guy who likes being around people. Or that he’s nosy.
If he’s friendly and easy-going when he meets with you, the final goal is not so that he’s likable, and so that you do, in fact, like him. He’s trying to get you to relax so that he understands the real you. Not for his sake. Not so that he’ll be liked or popular or find another friend. But so that he knows you well enough to lead you, properly lead you, to your eternal glory in Christ.
And finally – the role of pastor. Shepherd. Or as the KJV justly translates 1 Peter 5:2 – “Feed the flock…”. The feeder of the flock. Because feeding is the big thing here: feeding the people of God with the Word of God. In the power of the Spirit of God. So that they grow up into the Son of God. Unto the glory of God.
We started in Ephesians this morning. You might recall that Timothy was the one Paul tasked to set up the church in Ephesus. To find appropriate elders. And in Paul’s second canonical letter to Timothy he charges him thus, and I have to imagine that Timothy passed this down to the elders of the Ephesians church:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season: reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. (2 Timothy 4: 2)
The one thing that can’t be neglected is to preach the word. A pastor has one chief thing to give to people. To insist upon people who might have those “itching ears” that crave content more palatable, more in line with their feelings. What the pastor has is the Word. He’s always looking for ways to get people before the Word, and the Word before people. Even at home.
Not so that they’ll be bloated with academic and useless bible trivia. But because the knowledge of the Word – including the facts, the dates, the details – is essential to growing up into Jesus Christ, into the full humanity, leaving behind foolishness and fickleness.
We only had time this morning to mention the pastor-elder-bishop. There is also the deacon, and someday we’ll spotlight what the scriptures say about this position (not in this series though).
Our thesis was that the victorious Christ has given the pastor-elder-bishop as a crucial arrangement to bring people away from the vulnerability of spiritual immaturity.
- When your bishop is attempting to get to know you, let him in. I know at least this pastor is going to respect your privacy.
- Pray for your elder, that his life and message will be coherent. That he would not be led into temptation, but delivered from the evil one. Pray for him every day, as if your spiritual life did in some measure depend on him.
- When your pastor feeds the word, be ready to receive it. Be there. Don’t be sleepy. Ask him follow-up questions. How much more than hearing “great message” do I enjoy “I heard what you said but what does this mean?” Read the books your pastor hands out. Read the articles. By your engagement with the Word he presents to you, let your pastor fulfill his work “with joy and not with groaning.”
- Elder-bishop-pastors get old and die. There are always the need for replacements. The laborers are few. And, oh, the fields are white unto harvest! Bishop-elder-pastoring is a good, sturdy profession that can challenge you and that you could enjoy. God calls people into this ministry by giving them an interest in the word and an interest in people. What about you?
Thanks be to Christ for His love for His people out of which He gives them grace. Grace. Help. Not just some nebulous, untraceable help. But help coming through specific channels. Including bishops-elders-pastors. Take advantage of Christ’s help. Grow in the grace of Jesus Christ. That is, be in a healthy relationship with the pastor. Amen.
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