Elders as shepherds
Elders as shepherds
The heart of an elder
Doxology “We will give thanks to Thee” (Scripture in Song)
Call to worship
Declare God’s glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples. For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; He is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before Him; strength and glory are in his sanctuary. (Psalm 96:3-6)
The Lord’s Prayer
Grace to you from God our Father, Jesus Christ our Lord through the powerful working of the Holy Spirit.
Hymn No 32: “God is our Strength and Refuge”
Prayer of Adoration and Invocation
Gracious God, we worship you for your steadfast love and faithfulness to us, your redeemed people. We are so thankful that you have loved us from eternity past, before time began. We cannot begin to comprehend the length and breadth, the height and depth of the love you have for us that has been so wonderfully expressed in the Lord Jesus Christ, yet we have believed in and have come to know something of the love you have for us. Help us to remain in your love so that we may live in you and you in us. Help us to love you whom we have not seen by loving our brother or sister whom we have seen. Teach us to love as you first loved us.
Shed abroad your love in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. May we never be reduced to the level of a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal, and become as nothing, for lack of love. Grant to us the patience and kindness of love in all our dealings with others. Help us increasingly to reflect the likeness of him who gave his life in selfless love. Grant that we may faithfully bear the image of our Creator, who is the very essence of love, so to love you with heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbour as our self.
Teach us today something more of your amazing love for us, unworthy as we are and increase our love for you through time and eternity, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.
Scripture Reading 1 Peter 5:1-11
Prayer of Confession
Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him, and to our God, for He will freely pardon. (Isaiah 55:6-7)
Hymn: “As the deer” (Scripture in Song – 4 verses and chorus)
Offering and Dedication
On my holy mountain, … there in the land the entire house of Israel will serve Me, and there I will accept them. There I will require your offerings and your choice gifts, along with all your holy sacrifices. (Ezekiel 20:40)
While the stewards gather in the offering, remaining seated all sing:
Hymn no 615: “Let your heart be broken”
Prayer for others
Almighty God, who has built your church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone: grant us to be so joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching that we may be made into a holy temple, acceptable to you, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen. God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Saviour, and Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to consider the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions. Take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever may hinder us from godly union and harmony: that, as there is but one Body, and one Spirit, and one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all; so may we from now on be all of one heart, and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of one faith and love, and with one mind and one mouth glorify you;
Our Heavenly Father, look with tender mercy upon your church, purchased with the precious blood of Christ. Deliver her from the enemy without and from the enemy within. Cause a godly fear to come upon your church that would prevent any one of your people from being taken captive by the evil one to do his work. Remind us of our accountability to Christ, the king and head of the church. Indeed, remind ministers and elders of our double accountability and of the consequences for others of our words and actions. Grant there to be an abiding in Christ, such that in vital union with him, your people may bear much fruit, fruit that shall last. Cause there to be a waiting upon you, a keeping step with you and for hearts to be stayed upon you. Strengthen your people to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with you, our God. Deliver us from merely believing the right things. Help us also to do the right things, with a right heart attitude toward you and one another. Remove from our hearts any sense of mischief, any touch of evil. Purify your church and be glorified among your people.
Merciful Father, look with tender pity upon those who do not love you. Redeemer, look upon them with those eyes which are as flames of fire. Let them see how badly they treat you. Help them to realise the dire consequences of ingratitude, indifference and neglect of our Saviour’s blood. Bring those who are careless and godless to seek mercy, to seek the Lord while he may be found. Let all who are resisting or postponing a response to the claims of Christ see that it is both treason and folly to do so. Saviour, fire off your darts, to prick the consciences of many, so that they may fall down before you and cry out for mercy.
We continue to be amazed by your grace in which the worst of sinners who were afar off have been brought in by your grace. But Lord, do more of this amongst us. Let us see greater things than these. Where we have seen one saved, let us see one hundred, to the praise and glory of your name.
Gracious Father, you who makes wars cease to the ends of the earth, who breaks the bow and shatters the spear, come quickly to restore the blessing of your peace. Grant that our present troubles be overruled to your glory, and the extension of your kingdom and the union of nations in faith and love of you.
Lord Jesus Christ, who by your coming to us in great humility sanctified the life of the home: we commend to you our homes and the members of our families, near and far. Unite us in your love and guard us by your power from all evil, harm and danger. Make us thankful for all the blessings of family life and keep us mindful of those for whom home has no meaning,.
Almighty God, who gave marriage to be a source of blessing to mankind, we thank you for the joys of family life. Pour upon us your Holy Spirit, so that we may truly love and serve you. Bless all who are married and every parent and child. May we know your presence and peace in our homes; fill them with your love and use them for your glory. Give patience to those who look forward to marriage. Give courage to those who face trials within their marriage. Give comfort to those whose marriage has broken. Give gratitude to those whose marriages are successful and fruitful and let all our lives reflect Your love and power.
We pray that marriage may be held in honour everywhere: that husbands and wives may live faithfully together and that members of every family may grow in mutual understanding, in courtesy and kindness; that we may learn to forgive one another as you forgave us; that we may bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Scripture Reading Ezekiel 34:1-24
Sermon The heart of an elder
My dear brethren in the Lord,
I my years as Presbyterian Inland Mission travelling padre I have seen quite a lot of places and I was privileged to meet quite a lot of people. The areas I covered in the north-western parts of NSW were wool-growing areas. In the dry areas a sheep farmer would need 15 acre to the sheep to make some sort of existence. The paddocks are big and the task demanding. You can imagine the size of a property big enough to carry 9,000 sheep.
But can you imagine the expression on the face of a farmer, who in sheering season could muster only 7,000 out of the 9,000 sheep? There were 2,000 lost, not to be found! Were they stolen, were they strayed, were they still alive? It is in times like these that the wool-grower wishes he was more diligent in looking after his flock.
8 A neglected flock – hopeless shepherds
The chapter of Ezekiel we read together tonight uses one expression after the other to describe a neglected flock. It is described in terms of weak, sick, injured, strayed, lost, wandering, scattered, lacking, and plundered.
Why was that? It all boils down to poor shepherding. Or let’s put it in other terms: poor, undernourished and careless leadership.
In his book “Growing up to be a man”, a book with the sub-title “Concerning spiritual maturity”, the Dutch minister Jan Overduin writes:
8 “Like pastor, like congregation. When there are hardly any sign of spiritual maturity within the congregation, we ask ourselves if the Bible is preached is biblically in order to edify the church to spiritual maturity.”
He then goes to point out that in most cases the spiritual immaturity of pasters and church leaders leads to spiritual immaturity of the members. Like pastor, like congregation.
One cannot take the congregation above your own level of spiritual growth. That is one level of neglect.
8 But there is another: Let’s put is simply as abandonment. And that’s the sort of neglect the prophet is talking about in Ezekiel 34. Actually, is its part of the undergirding message of Ezekiel. Through him the Lord said to his people, who were in Babylonian captivity at the time: Look at you; you are here because of bad leadership. Your leaders neglected and abandoned you. They were supposed to be the watchman on the wall (as we heard it this morning); they didn’t warn. Everyone was allowed to stray, in the meantime the judgment of the Lord was at the door.
What did these watchmen, these elders of the people do? We see the charge against them stacked up in verse 4.
You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. (Ezekiel 34:4)
As the elders and leader and pastors of the flock were more concerned about themselves and their own comfort, something happened with the flock: it became weak, sick, injured, strayed and scattered. The hopelessness and inadequacy of the leaders are summed up in the fact that they did not even bother to go and look for the lost.
Let’s look at each of these expressions in this verse.
8 “Feed” or “strengthen” the flock: The Hebrew word is probably a word borrowed from the Aramaic, meaning pasture. In the sense of tending the sheep, it can be translated as to provide pasture. In a spiritual sense it means to provide for and care for the longings and needs of the flock. It describes something of a situation of distress and the help provided to alleviate it. A variation of this word describes the idea of being a friend or neighbour.
Let’s put it within the framework of the church: God has ordained some people to be elders to provide pasture and to provide spiritual nourishment for the spiritual longings and needs of his people. Indeed, God’s people need support to prevent distress. In all of this the elder needs to be a real friend and neighbour to his fellow brother and sister in the Lord.
8 Weak: sick, weak, diseased, grieved, sorry; “sick of heart” or “mind,”. Saul complained that nobody was “sick,” i.e. “felt sorry”, “concerned” for him (I Sam 22:8).
Amos speaks of those who are “at ease in Zion” but “are not grieved (i.e. “made sick”) for the affliction of Joseph” (Amos 6:6) and Isaiah speaks of a “day of being sick” (translated “day of grief,” Isa 17:11).
The elder, as a pastor of the sheep, should be moved, or concerned, or have compassion with the sheep. What would the overseer of the flock be if he does not tend the flock? If he one day must find out that this flock was sick to death and he assumed they were doing fine?
Strengthened: restore or repair; encourage and help.
Bound up: to cause to be healed; to cause to be recovered.
8 The “injured” or “broken”: This of course is a description of the flock: there are some in the flock who have a feeling of sorrow or regret, being lowly and humble, and even humiliated. In the normal sense of the word it would mean to break or shatter a pot. David in Ps 51 used this word as he prays:
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:17)
This is where the elder takes up his pastoral duties and care: when he is moved by the state of brokenness in some under his care. Empathy is a very important characteristic of an elder. But then not in the humanistic sense, or in a pure sense of being kind to the other. The main driving force is his relationship before God who called him and ordained him to be an elder to God’s people. He looks at people as God would look at them. God’s compassion for them then becomes his compassion for them.
But there is another side to it. He also stands in the shoes of the contrite and lowly. He has compassion with them as they would seek the face of God for outcome and deliverance. In this sense he is also standing in the shoes of the flock.
8 “Return” or “brought back”: This word is also used in the sense of repentance.
We cannot really understand this expression in isolation. We need the next two words.
The “strays” or the “driven away”: the lost; we understand this term clearly when we keep in mind the idea of the sheep. As sheep can sometimes be very stupid. Only bottle-feed a few lambs and you will understand. Unlike a pigeon or dove, which seems to have some sort of compass built into its mind, sheep has no sense of direction. If there is no-one to tend them, they go astray. They get lost easily.
Applied to the church it would then figuratively mean that as sheep, sinners don’t have that inbuilt sense of direction. By nature we don’t come home; we rather stray and get lost. As a result we find ourselves to be in a state of hopelessness. Sin causes us to lacking confidence in the future. And we are lost.
Now we can come back to the “return” or brought back” of this verse: by definition the elder would have the heart to look for the lost and the stray. His looking out or “search” is within the context of inquire about; associate, be in association, formally, seek the face of the lost, be in relation with him, seeking to be in the presence of that person. And that takes us back to the “brought back” or “return” of the verse. When the elder as pastor goes looking for the distressed and the lost, he has one purpose in mind: their coming back, their conversion, the restoration of their relationship with the Shepherd of the flock. To this end he will search, seek, pray for and pray with, and plead with lost to come back home to the Shepherd, Jesus Christ.
There are so many contenders for the minds and hearts of or people in this world. So easily do they get lost. So easily do they start thinking along the pattern of this world. I think it is of very important significance that in the same chapter the apostle Peter writes about elders and their calling, and the submission to the leadership of the elders as representatives of the Lord Jesus Christ, we also find this verse:
8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)
And it is within this context that we need to understand the role of the elder as a shepherd and the church as the flock: there is a lion out there, the devil. The lost sheep will be devoured. And this is where elders need to understand his job: come what may, even if he has to put his own life in danger, but he will go and search for the lost: with the weak and the sick he will plead; he will bind up the wounds of those attacked by the prowling lion; he will strengthen them; he will plead with them to repent and come home.
A church without such a leadership is not church according to the principles of God. Leaders in God’s church are not necessarily those who runs a business well. In an article by Ron R Ritchie titled “The need for godly elders” he writes:
“Each church in which I participated had a struggle in understanding the office and the function of elders. But then, as I studied church history, I discovered that this has been a 2,000-year struggle in the church. Some churches I attended appointed as elders men who were successful in business. Other churches appointed elders because they had financial status, they were well accepted in the community, they were popular, because they loved people, because they were faithful in their service, etc. I have been in some churches that are buying the current, popular theology of appointing women elders – some have even appointed practicing homosexuals as elders.”
8 What happens in a church with bad elders?
It seems as if some might say, “Well if our leaders can do it, we can do it too!” Verse 17 reveals something of the judgment of God upon his people. They were neglected by their leaders, so they started neglecting one another. Their leaders could only be bothered for their own concern by figuratively eating the good pastures; well, the people followed suit. The leaders muddied the water and the people had to drink it. Form verse 21 and on, we see the effect on the church: 8 they started shoving and flanking one another with the shoulder, just as they were shoved and flanked by the shepherds. The whole spiritual climate in the church of God dropped. Infighting and bickering becomes the order of the day. There is no cohesiveness as members of the same body. The church becomes a organisation of a club. Of working together in holiness and unity for the sake of the glory of our Lord and Saviour, nothing happens.
8 The perfect Shepherd
On what would an elder model his eldership? What is the perfect model of being a shepherd and an elder?
Let’s not look in deep and hidden places for the answer: Our perfect model is Jesus Christ.
As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak. (Ezekiel 34:12-16)
8 Jesus said:
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” (John 10:14-18)
My dear brother and sister,
We will appoint new elders in three weeks. Pray that God will help you not to appoint your closest friend, or the one you will see as a good bloke in the session because he has some good business skills. Pray that God will help you to appoint men with the heart of a shepherd: to strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, seek the lost and bring them home to the Chief Shepherd.
There will be many names on the list. Some will have these qualities, others not. Not all can be elders. 8 Appoint men with the heart of a shepherd. Such are the men who must be elders. Men after God’s own heart. AMEN.
Hymn No 297: “Renew Your church.”
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14)