Pastors and Elders II: The Elders Conference

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In Acts 20.17 Paul travels to Miletus, and calls all the elders of the Ephesian church to him.

And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church

There were a lot of elders in the church in Ephesus.  Paul decided he wanted to separate the elders and teach them the Word – this was the first pastors and elders conference ever.  In it, Paul gave some great instructions to the elders that all elders need to consider today.

According to historians, each of the elders in Ephesus would have looked after a group of Christians that met regularly in their house, they would have been appointed by the pastor of the church and put in place by the pastor.  Notice: Paul didn’t go to Ephesus to address the elders, he went to Miletus.  It’s 63 miles from Ephesus to Miletus, that’s not a short journey when you don’t have a Toyota and have to make the journey by foot or donkey.  And Paul calls the elders.

The first amazing thing that has to be mentioned is that the elders came!  Paul called the elders to make a 63 mile trip to a conference and they came.  You see being an elder in a local church, hosting church in your house, is a sacred trust and requires people who love God, love God’s Word, and love the people of God.  The essential quality of an elder is an attitude of humility that is prepared to travel to the elder’s conference.  These weren’t people who struggled to get to the church meetings on a Sunday.  These were people who knew they needed input and continual education and training to do their task.  These were people who were fanatics.

If you take on the role of an elder in the local church, you have to be a bit of a fanatic.  You have to be the kind of person who is willing to travel 63 miles on foot to be at the elder’s conference.  Now I know a lot of people would say – of course I would travel 63 miles to hear Paul.  But that’s only after 2000 years of knowing how successful his ministry was.  The Ephesians saw Paul as the bloke who started the church, the travelling apostle who seems to get more attacks and more criticism than actual results.  Yet, they knew he was worth travelling to hear because they were people who were spiritual fanatics.  Good elders love their pastors and apostles, and they weren’t sitting around going “surely it’s easier for Paul to travel to us, rather than us all having to go to him… who does he think he is”… they were too busy thinking of the adventure of going to Miletus to hear the Word.  That’s a good attitude for anyone to have, but it is essential for elders.  Grumbling, selfish attitudes in elders will destroy a church.  I wonder if Paul held the conference that far away just to see who would come.  I think part of the reason was to get these guys away from the church to give them a rest as well as a conference, but I also reckon part of the reason was Paul was finding out where the elder’s hearts were.

When they arrived, Paul didn’t open up the Scriptures to them but rather started reminding them about his ministry and his life when he planted the church (vv. 18-19):

And when they had come to him, he said to them,

“You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time,serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews;

I find this a staggering opening to the conference.  Paul gets in the pulpit and basically preaches on his humility and what he did for the church.  To the elders – who Paul appointed.  The elders would have no influence, no ministry, no life – a lot of them wouldn’t be Christians without Paul coming to Ephesus to plant the church.  They would not be doing what they were doing, and through Paul’s teaching and ministry they have matured and they have become who they are.

Why would Paul then need to remind them so strenuously of his ministry among them and how he served the Lord.  He goes on to tell the Ephesian elders the following:

how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul is telling the elders he put in place that his ministry was good for them.  (As an aside, notice when Paul planted the Ephesian church and was the pastor of the church, he taught publicly and from house to house.  In other words, there was a public meeting and house meetings and Paul visited both.  That’s how church should be done: a big meeting where the pastor preaches and teachers, and then the house meetings run by elders with the pastor going from meeting to meeting to encourage and support and teach.  Many people today are finding the value of house meetings and ditching the big meeting – no Paul did both, the church in Jerusalem did both, and healthy church in the 21st century needs both.  People who are not involved in local church in both large pastor preaching meetings AND house meetings are alien to the New Covenant).  I find it amazing that Paul told the elders about his ministry – they were there, they knew it, they witnessed it.  They owed their ministries to Paul planting the church.  They surely didn’t need reminding of that – even after travelling 63 miles to hear it!

But they did.  The elders of the church needed to be reminded that their ministries are appointed by the pastor, and that they should be reminiscent of the pastor’s ministry.  They needed to be reminded that their message should be his message, that their heart should be his heart.  They needed to be reminded that they need to preach repentance and faith like he preached repentance and faith.  Their role as elders was to take his apostolic message and reproduce it to the people, not sit in their house and go “I’m not sure about this repentance stuff”, or “faith isn’t really necessary today”.  And there are elders in churches that don’t even understand repentance and faith, and the role of elders.  And Paul is taking these guys and reminding them!  That is good pastoring.  That is great wisdom.

If you are a pastor, take your elders away and remind them of your life and ministry.  Let them know the heart of the message you preach.  Take a leaf out of Paul’s book and plan a leadership conference.  That’s what I am planning now – to take our elders deeper into the Word, to get them aligned better with the core values and culture of the church.  Elders – not people with a title but people who are discipling people in their house on a consistent and supervised manner – are the heart of your church.  Get the heart right and everything else will be right.

If you are an elder, get with the programme.  Realize how much you owe your pastor and appreciate him or her.  Grasp the core values of your church and give those.  Make sure you know what repentance and faith are!  Be ready to travel!

NEXT WEEK: what else did Paul teach the elders.  Essential information you need to know!

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Pastors and Elders (part 1)

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The local church should be run the way that the Word of God teaches, not according to tradition and not according to man’s opinions.

There is so much ignorance in this area that it is amazing some churches manage to keep their doors open at all!  In the next few weeks, I intend to show from Scripture the way a church should be structured.

The source of authority in any given local church is the pastor.  The pastor submits to Jesus Christ – in fact the whole body of Christ should submit to and honour Jesus Christ – and should be submitted to Jesus every day of his life.  As he prepares sermons, as he preaches, as he pastors and cares, as he helps people in their marriage, as he prays, as he ministers to the sick, as he appoints elders, as he trains and makes disciples.  You see Jesus is the head of the church: the Father made it that way.  The Father put Jesus in charge of the church, and even the Holy Spirit will do nothing in the local church without the instruction and Lordship of Jesus!  The Holy Spirit, the Father and Jesus are all equal, and yet they are able to accept instructions from one another and still have unity and love.  You can have submission and equality at the same time.  If the child doesn’t agree with the father, it doesn’t make the child any less human or any less wonderful than the father, it just means that they recognize that he is the one in charge of the household.  If the father does a good job and follows the Word and love, then the children will respect and love and obey him.  If he does a bad job, he’ll probably still get obedience, but never respect and submission.  Obedience without submission is self-defeating, it will never work.

Your own body works on the principles of submission and authority.  Imagine if your hand didn’t do exactly what your head said.  You would say your hand was sick!  In the human body, every limb obeys and submits to the head.  The body can get sick, but it doesn’t deliberately disobey the head – it recognizes that it is the same body!

When God puts authority into place – God always chooses authority that is from the same body.  Authority that loves the body, that wants the best for the body, that knows the body.  Christ died for the whole church.  Ladies, marry someone who loves you as Christ loves the church.  People do not cut or hurt their own body for fun – if they do, they get locked up.  People look after their bodies.

True heads love the body!  Jesus loves the church.  Fathers love their children.  And good pastors love their church!

The pastor is in charge of the local church.  He loves the church.  That’s why he can be in authority in the local church.  He is like the head of the body, like the father in the family, and like the Father over Jesus.

Now listen: decapitation in 100% of cases ends up with death.  Heads need bodies and bodies need heads.  They don’t survive long without each other.  Husbands – you need your wife.  You need her wisdom and her guidance.  She is your helpmeet!  Pastors – you could not survive without the local church, it completes you.  And don’t ever, ever think you don’t need a pastor and don’t need a local church.  You absolutely do!  God posts pastors into position, and he posts people into local churches.  Ephesians 4.11 says that Jesus Christ gave some men and women to be pastors to equip the saints.  If you are a pastor, you need the saints.  If you are a saint, you need a pastor.  It’s that simple.

The Greek word for pastor is poimen and it is the same word as shepherd.  You can read in TImothy and Titus that the pastor appoints elders in local churches.  The Greek word for elder is presbuteros and it means someone who is experienced – to be an elder in a local church you need experience of the Word, experience in dealing with people and experience in dealing with life.  Next week, we will discuss elders as a lot has been said about them in the Word.   But let’s this week conclude by looking at the pastor: the pastor is the shepherd of the flock, the leader of the local church: and to be a good shepherd he has to make good decisions about the sheep.  He has to make the final decisions concerning the flock, he has to ensure they are fed well with the Word.  The pastor needs to be a man of the Word – he can delegate many functions, but he cannot delegate the feeding of the sheep.  God has given every pastor the ability to dig into the Word and create sermons that feed the sheep, and the anointing of the Holy Spirit will be on those messages to change lives and inspire dreamers and challenge people to make good decisions.

Peter has some great wisdom for pastors at the end of his first epistle:

The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. (1 Peter 5.1-4)

In this passage Peter starts off talking about elders, but not just any elders – he is talking about the pastors who are reading the letter.  How did I see Peter talking about pastors here – because v.2 when it says “Feed the flock of God” actually says “Pastor the flock of God”, using the Greek word for pastor.  Peter was a pastor and an elder.  In fact, every pastor should be an elder – who wants a pastor who is not experienced?  But as soon as Peter says PASTOR the flock, we know that he is talking to pastors.  Every elder should be a small-p pastor, looking after and shepherding people; but pastors are a particular gift from God to equip the body of Christ and to appoint elders.  So not every elder is a pastor, but every pastor should be an elder.  But actually, the pastor is the chief elder of a church.  Next Peter tells the pastors to take oversight of the flock of God – that is the pastor’s job to look over the flock.

Notice Peter is telling the pastor – take oversight.  He is saying “Pastor, do something.  Develop leaders.  Take charge.  Run the ministry!  Do what needs to be done!”  Pastors shouldn’t be on their knees praying for God to lead the church and show people stuff, and correct people.  The pastor needs to be on His knees asking for wisdom, then get up and with boldness and compassion oversee the flock of God.  

Now we all know that has been abused – Peter saw that coming too, and qualifies his statement.  He tells the pastor to oversee willingly, without compulsion or constraint.  Never pastor because you have to!  Do it because you are called to and your heart burns to.  Otherwise, go back to selling insurance or accounting.  I am not disparaging selling insurance or accounting, but I am saying that you must do what you are called to do.  People not called to pastor and who find the pastoral ministry so much pressure are going to hurt the sheep.  It’s that simple.

Then Peter says don’t do it for financial gain.  It’s like Peter is looking into the future there!  I know a number of people who are in the ministry for money.  Never do that.  I asked the Lord that I would know I am not doing it for the money.  Within a month another church, not the Tree, offered me more than double my salary, a company car and a rent-free house to be their pastor.  I turned it down in an instant, but now I know money does not drive me – the love of the church drives me.  That’s not saying a pastor shouldn’t be paid well – he should.  But money is not motive!

Then finally – and again it’s like Peter can see the 21st century charismatic church – he tells pastors not to be the lords over the heritage of God.  Do you realize that your people are the HERITAGE OF GOD!  They are not your legacy, they are God’s legacy. You don’t own the people, but you are responsible for them – they don’t answer to you, they answer to God.  God owns them.  You have to feed them, inspire them, challenge them.  But when they walk out the door of the service, then you have to relax and rest and let them be: because whether they believe and receive or doubt and do without is up to them!  That doesn’t mean your heart doesn’t bleed for them, that you stop loving them, but that you give up control of them to the Lord their rightful owner.  You can lead them to still water and green grass, but you cannot force them to eat and drink, no matter how good for them you know it will be!

Don’t become a little dictator, even out of the best intentions.  Love the people and be an example.  I never ask anyone in the Tree to do anything I am not prepared to do myself.  That’s what being an example means.

Now can you see the legitimate chain of command in the local church: the chief Shepherd is Jesus.  He rewards the pastor.  So Jesus connects directly with the pastor.  The pastor is an elder.  So Jesus is the chief pastor, and the pastor is the chief elder.  Each identifies with and leads the next one.  Jesus even though he is Lord of all has never stopped being a pastor.  I don’t care how awesome your church is – never stop developing the qualities of an elder.  If a pastor stops having an open house and stops having people round his house he is no longer hospitable.  Therefore he is not qualified to be an elder.  How can a pastor expect every elder to open their house up to the church and show hospitality to people, when he won’t do it himself.  in the qualities of those below him.

So, pastors be elders and shepherd and oversee the flock.  Don’t do it for money and don’t become a dictator, but remember the church is God’s heritage not yours.

Flock – learn to listen to your pastor.  He is put in place by God to equip and love you.

Elders – what you do will be revealed next week.

Grace and peace,

Benjamin

Be A Voice, Not an Echo!

I recently read an article on pastoral leadership, and as I was reading it, it just seemed inauthentic, and at the same time a little bit familiar.  So after a little time with Google, I found out this article was actually two other articles, both penned by experienced pastors, both of which I had already read – but they had been joined together by this guy as part of his blog.

Sometimes people come to our church because someone else told them we are an Andrew Wommack-church, or a Kenneth Copeland-church, or a Dave Duell-church.  They are soon shocked because I am not Andrew Wommack, Kenneth Copeland or Dave Duell.  I am Ben Conway, and I am very different from those three people, even though I love and honour all of them.  

A lady who was coming to our church on Sundays was starting her own church on Fridays, around the corner, trying to use our church as a base for inviting people to her church.  She used to take the teachings I wrote for my elders to teach and pass them off as her own teachings, even passing off my testimonies as her testimonies!

All three of these things have a similar link: and that is that church leaders can often be much more of an echo than a voice.  People find something that is popular and instantly try and emulate it, copy it, or in the worst cases – just simply rip it off.  It’s lazy, it’s inauthentic and it ultimately does not work.

Now, there is nothing wrong (IMHO) if you have been studying let’s say healing for the last year or two, to take one of T L Osborn’s sermons on healing and preach it.  It’s a great outline – it works, and it will be authentic because you are in the Word and know the Scriptures well, and understand the message for yourself.  Kenneth Copeland started off preaching Kenneth Hagin messages – and most people know that, but they forget that he soon stopped doing that and started preaching his own messages, and his ministry has gone a very different direction to Rhema because Copeland is not a rip-off of Hagin, he is a prophet and teacher in his own right.  Imagine how many great revelations and sermons would be lost to the body of Christ if Copeland was still teaching Hagin’s material.

There comes a day when you have to stop being an echo and be a voice.  People coming to the Tree looking for an Andrew Wommack church are often disappointed in me.  Some because they don’t know Andrew except as a voice on the TV, and are looking for a church that is nothing more than a voice on the TV where you watch and sometimes buy a DVD and are shocked when we speak about church things like culture, and serving, and punctuality, and dreaming and planning.  They are looking for a TV show and got upset when they found a church.

Other people are upset the first time they find out I don’t agree 100% with Andrew’s opinions on EVERY SINGLE VERSE!  Sorry, cloning hasn’t been invented yet – I am my own man with my own verse.  They are looking for an echo, but they found a voice.  But the truth is that I have a unique voice, and I have helped people in ways that other people could not – if I was still being an echo, the body of Christ would be diminished.

You have to find your voice.  If your blog is just other people’s posts and your Facebook is just what you share, how will people ever know what you give a damn about, what you love, what you hate, what matters to you.  Your voice needs to be heard.  John the Baptist was a voice, he knew what God had called him to do and was doing it.  That’s how you become a voice – you find out what God has called you to do and do it.  

Echos fade away, they are easily misunderstood, you can’t stop an echo and clarify.  If you are teaching sermons you could not answer questions on, you are an echo.  If you are always having to use other people’s testimonies to back up your point, you are an echo.  If you have to cut and paste other people’s blog posts and change the words slightly to appear wise, you are an echo.  

If that’s you, go and lock yourself in a cupboard somewhere with a Bible, get on your face before God and ask Him: What is my message?  Why am I in the body of Christ?  What have you called me to do?  It’s time to find out – we need voices in the body of Christ, and we need them now.

 

Leadership and Tithing

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Letting people know your vision as a leader is vital as a pastor as people give to vision. At Tree of Life, we want people to understand God and His nature and His principles, and how to live by faith in every single area of their life and finances is no exception. It would be hard to be at the Tree of Life for any length of time and not understand the principles of tithing and sowing and reaping. As a result, people in our church are getting promotions and new jobs all the time – finances are coming to them in abundance.

But we are still not at the place where I want to be, and that is at the place to bless London. And to progress in wealth increase, understanding must increase. People must understand what money has to do with the kingdom of God or people will not give and then they will not receive. If you don’t know something – you can’t walk in it. That’s why people are destroyed through lack of knowledge. I know pastors who are scared of talking about money, but if the shepherds of the sheep don’t talk about money and the prophets of God don’t talk about money, then people will only ever understand prosperity from a carnal, worldly point of view and that will never help them!

I would never want to be someone who did not teach the importance of the tithe. James 3.1 says teachers will be judged more strictly – because as a teacher of God’s Word you are not just judged on your lifestyle and your investment in the kingdom, but you are judged on what you taught the church. I would never want to be in a position where I am judged for failing to teach people the truth about tithing and how giving in faith is the single most important key to financial freedom. Paul taught the Corinthians and the Galatians about sowing and reaping, and in Hebrew’s he said that:

And here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth (Hebrews 7.8)

So, here on earth you tithe to a human being – a ministry, a church, a para-church organization – but something that is human. But as you take your tithe and give it to the local church and the leadership of the local church, in heaven, that money is presented straight to Jesus. That is an awesome truth. and one that people need to know. When you tithe, that gift is part of your worship, part of your sacrifice of praise to the Lord Jesus Christ!

So when you tithe, realize that your money is not just going to an earthly organization – it is reaching Jesus. Jesus receives tithes today. Worship the Lord through your giving.

And with the tithe, the local church then pays for pastors to love you, and shepherd you and teach you, it pays for training for musicians to lead worship, for children’s pastors to train your children in a godly way, for meetings and special speakers who bring you truth and freedom.

The tithe is doubly amazing as it produces fruit on two levels; the heavenly level and the earthly level.

To bless London as a church is more than just a gimmickly slogan with us, it’s what we genuinely want to do, it’s the life we want to life. We want London to be a better place because Tree of Life is there. Tithing is one of the ways we can lift people’s lives: we can encounter Jesus as He receives our tithe, and we can spend the money on earth to impact the city. Tithing is one of the keys to impacting a city with the love of God.

In Abraham’s life, tithing was a step of faith. In the Old Testament it became a mandatory law. Now in the New Covenant, it is back to being a privilege, a step of faith in God’s goodness and graciousness. Tithing is a step of faith which says that I believe God is first with my money, I believe God is the most important source in my life, I believe that God is first. If the church cannot make Him first with money then the city will never be challenged or inspired to make Him first in anything.

The tithe also is a step of honour and gratitude. By taking 10% of our income and giving it to Jesus, we are showing beyond the shadow of a doubt that we are grateful for the other 90%! Never pressurize someone to tithe, but do teach the Word and do press people to make a decision to honour God with their finances.

Finally, giving 10% does not mean you can then afford to be a poor steward with the other 90%. Some people think: right, I have paid God off now I will spend the rest on me how I want. Don’t be that person – ask God for wisdom and boldness with the other 90%, the way He leads may surprise you but I bet you end up better off living off of God’s wisdom than living off of your own!