I said in the first post in this series (https://benjaminconway.net/2014/05/19/pastors-and-elders-ii-the-elders-conference/) that we would find out what Paul taught the elders at Miletus. And I give you my word that before this series is over we will look at Acts 20. But due to emails and questions that have arisen from the first post, I am going to answer some more questions first, laying a foundation to what we will say later. In Acts 14.23, it says that Paul ordained elders in the churches. Part of being a healthy New Testament church is having elders ordained by a pastor or apostle. In fact I would go as far as to say that if you do not have ordained elders, then you are not going to a church. Certainly the apostle Paul did not know a church without pastorally ordained elders! So elders are vital to any discussion of church health and leadership.
Today, I want to answer the question what is an elder. Great question – glad you asked, and glad the answer is in the Bible! Every church should have several elders. In James 5.14, sick people are told to call the elders (more than one – notice the “s” at the end) of the church (just one church, notice the lack of “es” at the end!). So a church should have some elders, and everyone in the church should know who they are. Eldership should not be a secret! Titus was told to ordain elders in the church as well. If you read Acts 15.1-2 you find out that the early church had apostles and elders. There was a plurality of elders in Jerusalem and they worked with the apostles. They had a discussion on the role of the law in the church – and Peter was the spokesman for all the apostles (see v. 7) but James (see v. 13) was the spokesman for the elders. Apostles – along with prophets, teachers and evangelists – are travelling ministries. Elders – along with pastors – are local ministries. James, functioning as the chief elder, was the pastor of the Jerusalem church. Later in history, you find James takes the title of pastor of the church of Jerusalem. And we can see that role developing here in Acts 15, and in Acts 21.18 when Paul visits Jerusalem with the phrase “James and all the elders”. That’s how a church should be run with “Pastor, and all the elders”. To meet Paul, James brought all the elders. They were all elders, but James was in a different role and office: James was the pastor – ruling over and shepherding the elders. Pastors are appointed by Jesus (Ephesians 4.11) but elders are appointed by pastors or apostles. Elders are to help the pastor oversee the church and love and disciple people.
The Bible tells us: Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation. (Hebrews 13.7). The elders are supposed to rule over the people – not in an arrogant hard-hitting way, but in the way of leading them to the Word, helping them be disciples, inspiring them to dream and challenging them to life the dream. They are supposed to teach in their house groups and they are supposed to both teach the Word, based on the apostle’s or pastor’s teaching, and then set an example for the faith. That is the role of an elder in one verse:
- Rule – through love and grace, make disciples.
- Teach the Word of God to people, based on what the apostles and pastors are teaching
- Set an example of faith for people to follow
That is what a Biblical elder should look like. They are not necessarily preaching – that is the role of the pastor and the 5-fold – they are not necessarily running the show, but they are looking after people in their house on a regular basis, showing love, setting an example, ruling in love and teaching the Word.
Next week: what are the requirements of being an elder
I am a grace man. Truly I am. All I want is the world to know about His grace and the complete work.
However, when dealing with pastors who want to leave all church growth to God I get wound up. I seriously want to spit bricks. The United Kingdom is in too much of a mess to sit down, sip lemonade and say “que sera sera”. We need large, healthy, growing churches – churches that change lives, churches that heal the sick, churches that both challenge and welcome the surrounding community, churches where people are getting born again, are grasping the gospel and living the kingdom. Churches which are not just healthy but safe. Churches which don’t have a large back door (you will always have some people leave – even Jesus had Judas, you can’t please everyone!) but that are mended nets – whole and secure, keeping the caught fish.
I have a dream. It is a simple dream. I dream of a church that is everything Jesus died for. Miracles are common in this church as everyone in the church is equipped to minister supernaturally. Lives are changed in this church as the gospel is the central message and foundation to everything the church does. In short, I dream of a church that looks like Jesus.
But dreams are easy to say. Anyone can dream. I am not opposed to dreaming, not in the slightest – I am a dreamer and I want everyone around me to dream and dream big. Part of our church’s vision statement is “Building disciples who dream big”. But dreaming can easily become pipe dreaming (a phrase I only recently learned comes from the people who dream after smoking an opium pipe! We need to be dreamers, not stoners!) unless we make the necessary choices to see those dreams come true.
Easter Sunday 2013 is now gone. Although I am overwhelmed by the fact we saw 6 salvations, countless healings (including a man healed of MS), and 20 new people at Tree of Life, I cannot rest on my laurels. I cannot say “Look that at” because we are absolutely not there yet.
This year I have already been to one leadership conference (One Way, at Kingdom Faith – with James Galloway, Clive Urquhart and Colin Urquhart. Absolutely inspired me to ensure that our church systems are robust and that I am raising leaders – something I am committed to anyway, but we all need fired up and given more wisdom on how to do it!), I have signed up to a leadership training course, we are hosting our own leadership conference in just a few weeks, I am then off to another pastor’s conference with George and Hazel Hill (who have planted 3000 churches in their lifetime!) and then another conference in October. I am doing everything I can to learn about leadership and pastoring a growing church.
Why? Because I want it to happen. And I know it will not happen by me closing my eyes and hoping and praying. It simply won’t.
In 1 Cor. 3.9 Paul says about the church, “For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.”
He opens the statement by saying he is a co-worker with God. Here’s a little bit of Biblical wisdom for you: co-workers WORK. There is no church growth without work. Save us Lord from lazy pastors. Sometimes I outline my schedule of work to other pastors and they cannot believe how much I travel, visit and prepare for everything we do. But it is only by working with God can we build the churches of our dreams. So many people have a dream, but never put it to work. That makes you a stoner not a dreamer. Get off your backside and do something.
For me I always work with the dream, the scheme and the theme. The dream is the end product – that is where I am going The scheme is the blueprint – that is the plans to do it. The theme is the step I am taking right now. Now most people get confused because the theme doesn’t match the dream, and a lot of people lack the humility to live the dream by taking the first step of their dream.
For example, you might have a dream to pastor a church of 3000. I know I do. But unless I am prepared to pastor a church of 10, I will never get there. There are no churches of 3000 in this nation that will phone you up and invite you to suddenly be the new senior pastor. And if they did you wouldn’t have a clue what to do anyway, and would lose and hurt, and seriously injure a great deal of people. So what is the first step? For me, it was building a church website and putting an invite in the local paper. One person came to our first meeting. We had no denomination, no back up, no covering, no help, no money, no wisdom, no nothing. But we treated that one person like a princess – loved her, taught her the Word. And then there were 5 (six months later, mind you), and then 7 and then 10 (double digits was revival in those days!), and it took on from there. All the time I was working as a teacher, working as a postman, my wife was working two jobs most of that time just to pay the bills. It did not look like my dream, but it was the first step towards our dream. It takes guts, character and wisdom to take that first step. It is my firm belief that most people know what the first step is, they just need to take it.
Your dream might be to lead worship in front of thousands. Guess what – your first step is when everyone else is going to the party, everyone else is watching the cool TV programme, you are sitting in your room on your own strumming and plucking, reading and praying. It doesn’t look like your dream, it doesn’t feel like your dream – but it is the first step to your dream.
You might dream of preaching like your hero – so go and learn more about the Bible. Go and study the Word, sign up for a course, systematically read the Bible. It won’t look like your dream but it is the first step to your dream.
Today – find out the first step. Before the end of this week, take it. If you want to build a Paul-kind of church, you need to be a worker. Make a decision that you want your church to grow. God wants your church to grow and He is willing to be a co-worker with you, so why not make the choice to be a co-worker with Him!
In the next part of this article, we will look at gardening! But until then – what is the first step and take it. Let me know if this inspires and challenges you because that is what I am praying and believing for!