Gospel Gazette Online
Volume 17 Number 9 September 2015
Page 9

The Servant Elder

Jerry Bates

Jerry BatesFrom the very beginning of the church, God ordained that she be led by elders and deacons. Throughout the centuries, man has perverted this divine plan of organization into several alternative systems. Nevertheless, those churches who desire to follow God’s plan continue to be led by the simple plan of elders and deacons. The question we want to consider in this treatise is, “How are elders to lead the church?” I submit that most elders are very conscientious about their duties and sincerely do their best to lead and oversee their respective congregations in the way that God would have them to do. On the other hand, some lead in wrong ways or with wrong motives.

Leadership is an awesome responsibility. Some of the harshest words in the Bible are reserved for men who should have been leaders but weren’t. A picture of the bad shepherd is painted in Ezekiel 34:1-6, and Isaiah described Israel’s leaders as blind watchmen and dogs who do not bark (Isaiah 56:9-12). Consider the words of Jesus in Matthew 23 to the scribes and Pharisees in which we find a series of woes. These Jewish leaders should have been examples of righteousness. Instead, Jesus called them hypocrites eight times in that one chapter. Clearly, that is not the model one should follow.

Some see business as the model by which an elder should lead. Elders attempt to manage the congregation like a board of directors and act as the bosses, making decisions that the rest of the congregation must follow. They hire various staff members to do the work, and if they do not produce the desired results, replacements are found who will. However, the above model is not biblical. The dominant metaphor used in the Bible for spiritual leadership is the shepherd and his relationship to his flock. It is used more than 500 times. Jesus is the Chief Shepherd, and today’s spiritual leaders are to imitate Christ through loving service and genuine relationships. It should not be a relationship of lords over servants, but one of love and service.

The imagery of a shepherd and sheep to describe the relationship of elders to the church implies at least three things. One, the elder must be available. Just as the shepherd spends much time with the sheep, time must be spent with the spiritual flock to develop that relationship. Secondly, the shepherd is committed to the sheep. Whatever the sheep needs, the shepherd will try to provide it. Thus, the elder must be committed to the spiritual welfare of the flock. The elder will not be judgmental over the weaknesses of the sheep; rather, he will show great compassion over the shortcomings and weaknesses of the flock. Finally, trust is earned and built over time. The sheep trusts the shepherd, and the church must be able to trust the elders. However, this trust must be earned, and obviously, it should be there even before one becomes an elder. We trust Jesus because we know He keeps His promises; thus, an elder must be trustworthy in all aspects.

Elders are to be the examples to the flock. Some have falsely concluded that elders have no real authority and that they only lead by example. Rather than this imagery reducing their authority, it simply describes how they do their work. Someone said, “When a person needs to assert his authority, it usually means he has very little of it.” When an elder is the right example, others are usually glad to follow his leadership.

Their work is not merely telling others what to do. Instead, they are to show others how to live and to work for God. Their work is one of mentoring, similar to how Jesus related with His disciples. Jesus said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to be great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave -- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28). Mentors model the way that one should live. Paul said something very similar in 1 Corinthians 11:1 when he wrote, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” Mentors inspire hope, and they know how to point others to Jesus.

Elders should also equip others for better service to God (Ephesians 4:12). Equipping is not merely giving people jobs to do. It means to help people discover and develop their own particular talents and abilities. When each member is properly equipped and working for the Lord, the body will grow both numerically and spiritually.

One final function and possibly the most important function that we should consider is one of protection. Just as the shepherd protects the sheep from wild animals, etc., the elders should spiritually protect the flock. Paul warned the Ephesian elders that “…savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among ourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch…” (Acts 20:29-31). The duty of elders is to protect the flock from false teaching, from both within and without. This requires a great deal of courage as well as knowledge and wisdom to be able to distinguish false doctrine from opinion or simply a different way of doing things.

To perform all of the above functions is an immense job and an awesome responsibility. However, there is no greater work that one can do for the Lord. “If a man desires the position of a bishop he desires a good work” (1 Timothy 3:1), and he is worthy of great honor and encouragement.

Jesus Knows, Jesus Cares

Russ VickersPeople who loved Jesus beyond measure asked Him two of the most amazing questions recorded in the New Testament. When a powerful storm threatened to capsize their boat in the Sea of Galilee, the disciples asked the question, “But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’” (Mark 4:38 ESV). On another occasion, Mary was relaxed and listening to Jesus, and a stressed-out Martha came from the kitchen and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me” (Luke 10:40).

Both questions were asked by people who had been with Jesus prior to these events. They had listened to His teaching and had seen His miracles and the power of God at work. They fully expected the Lord to step in to relieve their anxiety. It seemed that the Lord was ignoring their situation, and we can tell that there was some exasperation and weariness added to their questions: “Don’t you care about us?” or “Don’t you care about me?”

It is difficult to judge the tone of Jesus’ reply in these passages. It seems that Jesus did use a tone of caring, gentleness and love. Notice the Master’s response: “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40). “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things…” (Luke 10:41).

Often, we feel overwhelmed and utterly alone in our circumstances. One of our hymns is titled, “Does Jesus Care?” Of course He cares! He is the One who calms the storms in our lives. He is the One who knows our names. He is the One who cares for us!

“O yes, He cares, I know He cares
His heart is touched with my grief;
When the days are weary, The long nights dreary,
I know my Saviour cares.”

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