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

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