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!

Role of the Pastor 6: Training

Part of your role is training the sheep.  You will be loved for feeding them, and hated for training them.  You are responsible for training the sheep to embrace and understand the culture of your church, how to behave at church, and how to live the Christian life.  The worst pastors are the pastors that let anything go – their churches are not safe places to be.  Things will get out of line if you just leave them to their own devices.  That is a fact!

Paul asked the Christians in Corinth this pertinent question: “Shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?” (2 Cor. 4.21).  Most of the time you come to the sheep in love and with meekness, but there are times you have to lay down the law.

You have to purge certain tendencies and ideas out of your church.  If your sheep think you are a weak leader, then you will be exploited by your church, and taken for a ride more than once.

Many years ago, I was at a church once where the pastor called a young man to the front of the church.  It was a mid-week meeting, and I didn’t really know the church.  I thought they were going to honour the guy in some way, and to be honest, the guy looked like he did too.  But the pastor said “This young man is a thief and a liar, he has conned several people in the church by doing this and that.  Look at him, and do not be conned by him.  He has seduced several ladies in the church and blackmailed them and stolen from them.”  I was stunned, but the church applauded – they knew people that had been hurt by this man, and who had lost property to his con.  There as a young man, I learned the power of strong leadership to protect the sheep. You cannot let people come to your church and just do whatever they want. 

I was once physically removing a young man from a youth meeting for continually making sexually offensive comments to the young ladies, I was the youth pastor in that church.  The senior pastor saw me doing it and told me to be a bit more gentle.  When I explained what the young man had done, the senior pastor told me to be a little more rough!

1 Cor. 5.6-7 is clear: Know ye not that a little leaven leaventh the whole lump?  Purge out therefore the old leaven.  This is so important – people will corrupt people.  Negative, whining, complaining people will infect people.  You need to train your people to reject gossip and reject whining, and reject negativity.  

To some people in your church you need to be strong, and tell them that their behaviour was disappointing, was destructive, that was not healthy behaviour.  You need to have a statement of culture that you can refer to and let people know “this is not how we do things around here”.  In doing this, you do not humiliate people.  You don’t tell people off in public unless their behaviour is destructive and they have been warned privately several times (as happened in both above illustrations) – you don’t humiliate people.  Sometimes you have to be hard with people, but you never have to be harsh.

“Cast out the scorner, and contention shall go out, yea, strife and reproach shall cease” (Proverbs 22.10).  Sometimes you have to correct people right out the church.  But when you do, strife and reproach stop and it is the greatest feeling on the planet.  Some people just need to leave the church, their presence is nothing but disruptive and unhelpful.  It is that simple sometimes!

But for most people, training is a much more positive experience.  Correction is one side of training, but discipleship is the other side. Three things your church should have to help train people:

1. An obvious path of training.

2. An obvious place of training.

3. An obvious reward to training.

An obvious path to training means that let’s say someone gets saved in your church, or comes from another church, they should know immediately what to do if they want to be discipled.  For us in the Tree, it’s join a small group.  We also have a 5 week course called Vision and Values where we explain our vision and values to people and that ends with us making sure that we open to door for people to be discipled.  For me, the three main areas of discipleship for new Christians or Christians that aren’t growing are: how to read the Bible yourself, how to flow in the gifts of the Spirit and how to relate to a local church – so we do training on all of that.  The courses are offered as often as we can – ideally I’d like to offer them about twice as much as we do, but that’s ongoing development of the church.

An obvious place of training is that people know where they can go if they need help.  Again at the Tree that’s our small groups – the Living Churches.  You go there and you are trained, and taught the Word and encouraged.  You can receive prayer if you need and you will grow.  Any problems and the elder running the group can help or get help.

Finally rewards for training – people like to be noticed and acknowledged, so we celebrate training, we have a pathway for becoming an elder and we have a way into serving and helping and significance in the church.  People need to feel that they are growing.

Keep a strong handle on the church, and make sure that you are making disciples.