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Be Shepherds of the Church of God

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Be Shepherds of the Church of God

Acts 20:28-38

This Thursday an important step happened.  For five years, our daughter church (PH) has been governed by a management team: me, Tom B, Jim P, & Sean.

Sean has run the major big picture items and decisions by this management team for the year before the church launched and then through the four years of the church’s existence.

But it has been a far less than ideal situation. I don’t know most of the people who attend PH.  The decisions I make don’t really affect me; they affect others.  When crises arise in PH families, they don’t call me.  All of them call Sean.

But over the past ten months Sean has been instructed by the Mgmt Team to come up with a transition plan.

And this last Thursday was the last mtg of the mgmt team.  Later this month they will set aside three elders for the church and they have three more men who will walk alongside those elders for six months and then join them as elders if the body approves.

That is how God designed his church.  It is not to be governed by one man. It is not to be governed by popular vote.  It is not to be governed by some bishop or person elsewhere who is not affected by the decisions he/she hands down and who is not involved in the pastoral care of the church.

The New Testament model is for the pastor to appoint godly men to serve as the spiritual guides, the spiritual directors for the church. 

Acts 14:23: Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.

Titus 1:5: The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.

The concept of elder arose from the Jewish idea of elders. 

ELDER: Person who, by virtue of position in the family, clan, or tribe; or by reason of personality, prowess, stature, or influence; or through a process of appointment and ordination, exercised leadership and judicial functions in both religious and secular spheres in the ancient world, both among biblical and nonbiblical peoples.  (Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible)

The heads of each tribe and clan of Israel would gather and exercise leadership and administer justice for the nation.

In the church that concept carried over to the most spiritually mature and respected men in the congregation. 

While deacons (or ministry team leaders as we call them here), prophets, evangelists, apostles, teachers were both men and women in the New Testament, we only find men filling the role of elder in the Bible.

The pastor of the church and the elders of the church formed a close team.  Together they directed the affairs of the church…striving for the good of the local congregation. 

We see a picture of the closeness of Paul to the elders of the church which he served the longest, in Acts 20:28-38.

Paul had spent three years in the church in Ephesus.  It was the longest ministry that he had. 

And in Acts 20, Paul is on his way to Jerusalem.  The Holy Spirit is telling him that great hardship awaits him in Jerusalem. 

And so he wants, one last time to see the elders that he appointed at the church of Ephesus.  They are not able to stop in Ephesus itself, perhaps because of the ship’s schedule or perhaps because he knew if he went to Ephesus he would never be able to get away on time and he is hurrying to Jerusalem. 

For whatever reason, he sends messengers to the elders of the church in Ephesus and asks them to come to Miletus to see him.

Miletus is about 50 miles away from Ephesus.  It would be like Leroy Lawsons, the founding pastor or TCC sending word that he would like the elders of TCC to walk down to Turner, OR because he would like to meet with them.

I am preaching on this today for two reasons: 

1. We have come to Acts 20 in our journey through Acts. I am kind of picking up the pace because I want to finish with the book of Acts by the end of the month so that we can begin a Christmas series the first of December.

2. In two weeks we have our annual congregational meeting at which we affirm new elders for TCC.  And I believe that this is an important responsibility that the church has.  And so it is important to review what the responsibility of elders entails.

There are a number of places in the NT where the existence, appointment and requirements for elders are given. You particularly will find them in the Pastoral Letters of I & II Timothy & Titus.

But the most clear place where the work of elders is found is here in Acts 20.

(READ 20:17-18) 

In v. 28-38 he gives his charge to them: (READ)

Of all the things that Paul COULD have spoken about, he chose to speak to them of their ministry as elders.

1.     GUIDE (They are to be shepherds)

a.      Tasks of a shepherd

                          i.      Feeding

1.      No child or lamb is born full grown

2.      And even when it is full grown, it still has to eat to be healthy.

3.      Ps. 23 –he makes me lie down in green pastures

4.      Jn 17 –Do you love me?  Feed my sheep

5.      Elders are to be teachers

a.      I don’t know that that necessarily means they have to stand in front of a classroom, but there must be a teaching role.

b.      Doug D-on fam & med leave of absence

c.       Tom Richardson-leads REACH group

d.      Dan Wurgler & Norm Pederson –lead REACH group & SS class

e.      Mark Rust-teaches SS class

f.        Walter Germer-doesn’t formally lead a  group, but Walter is an incredible reader and you not be in discussion with him long before he is teaching you one on one something gleaned from his reading.

g.      I also serve as an elder and I teach through my preaching and leading ia REACH group as well as teach occasional classes.

                        ii.      Cleaning & healing

1.      He restores my soul…your rod and your staff comfort me.

2.      The rod was used to part the wool in order to check for sores, infections or parasites. 

                      iii.      Watching

1.      Much of the care of shepherds in NT times involved just watching over the flock.  They were not in pens, except sometimes at night and so the shepherd was watching to make sure all was well with the flock, that none were drifting off and that there were not predators around to harm the flock. 

2.      More about that in a minute.

b.      The flock does not belong to them (the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.)

                    i.            This is not Cal’s church; elders church; any one individual’s church.

                  ii.            This is CHRIST’S church.

                iii.            While the elders are appointed by the pastor or elected by the congregation as we do here, they do not report to the congregation.  They report to Christ, whose flock they have been given charge.

                iv.            I Peter 5:1-4 (READ)

2.     GUARD

a.      They are to guard first of all themselves (keep watch OVER YOURSELVES)

                    i.      When a pastor or elder

1.      falls into sin the affect in the church is greater than when one of the flock falls into sin. 

2.      falls into a plateau or a dry season, it affects the entire church. 

3.      is infected with spiritual sickness, it infects the entire body.

b.      There will be those who will seek to destroy the unity, love, or pure doctrine of the church.

                          i.      What is taught, both in the pulpit and in the classroom comes under the jurisdiction of the eldership.

                        ii.      When a curriculum is chosen for children or youth, particularly, it is run by the eldership. 

                      iii.      At time there are elders who think that this is just making sure that false doctrine is not taught in the church, but it is much more than that.  It is making sure that the whole counsel of God is taught and that a healthy diet is presented, not just in teaching, but in the life of the Church. 

                      iv.      When someone comes into the church and has (consciously or not) the intent to harm the body, (doctrine or attitude)  the elders have a God-given responsibility to act.

                        v.      When a church member goes “rogue” and the body is threatened, the elders have the responsibility to step in and separate that person from the body, all the while seeking to correct and restore them.

                      vi.      James Matlock was a Puritan who lived in New England in the 17th century. Apparently he was placed under church discipline. And the reason was because he wasn’t having sex with his wife. His wife complained to the church elders that her husband wasn’t fulfilling his marital duty to her. They investigated the matter and then excommunicated Matlock. And they told him he would remain under church discipline until he began satisfying his wife’s sexual needs. And most people think the Puritans were prudish and anti-sex! Not at all! They were very biblical in their approach to practical areas of the Christian life.

                    vii.      Doctrine involves both what is taught as well as the attitudes that are expressed.

                  viii.      W.F. Lown: When did love stop being a biblical doctrine?

3.      GIVE (This ministry is one of giving to others, not receiving.)

a.      You MIGHT think it strange that Paul transitions from discussion of the eldership to giving. 

b.      But his thought pattern is “I watched this flock at Ephesus for three years.

c.       “You know I did not do this for financial gain.  I worked (as a tentmaker) to provide the physical needs both for myself as well as the rest of my team.” (In other places, he says HE COULD have taken a salary, but he chose not to in order that they would have nothing over him.)

d.      Thus, I was an example to you of the words of Jesus, it is better to give than to receive.

e.      In the qualifications for eldership in Titus 1:7 “he must not be greedy for gain.”

f.        In my former churches, I have had the ability to check into the giving records of our elders (and did so) to make sure that they were giving what appeared to be a tithe or better to the church.

g.      Give of time

h.      Give of comfort level

i.        Hospitable

j.        Good stewards (Ray Stinemetz & his car & camera & home)


There is much, much more that could about elders:  their qualifications, our responsibilities to them, more specificity on their roles. 

But let’s let that suffice this morning.

What is an elder?    (Stamford CT, bulletin, July 26, 1987)

  "An elder is a husband, a father, a son, a son-in-law, a disciple of Christ, and a guardian of the faith.  He leaves for work each morning as early as anyone does and returns home as late . . .  but  then he heads for the church building or prepares for evening guests.  When the building's open, he's there.  He leads study groups.  He nurtures a young convert. He prepares a Sunday morning class.  Then late Sunday evening you'll often find him still at our building, planning, dreaming, and praying for our common future.  Some weeks he devotes parts of almost every day to working directly in God's kingdom. 

He's called on to be a referee, a diplomat, a lawyer, a psychologist, a judge, a sounding board, a friend.

"And he bleeds like everyone else!  He's no physically healthier than any of us.  His privacy needs are just as strong.  He has good days and bad days at home . . . and at work.  He enjoys no moratorium on parental anxieties.  His things break down just like yours.  He wonders just like you where the money will come from.  His future is no more certain than yours; but somehow by the grace of God he adds to his concerns, yours.

  "At times he feels personally responsible for the whole church and each brother and sister in it.  He is saddened by the creases on our brows and the tensions in our voices.  He wants to please everyone, but called by God to lead and love us all, different as we are, he simply cannot.  He recognizes harmful decisions and agonizes over whether to voice his concern or respect our privacy.  He hates confrontation but he knows eternal destinies are at stake.  Understanding spiritual realities better than most of us, he feels too often desperately inadequate and vulnerable.

  "Too often he goes unnoticed.  Who compliments him as they may a minister?  "Good eldering this week, brother!  It really made me think."

  "But he may just be  the  reason you and many you love are still loyal to God's kingdom.  Try to imagine your church without them!   -- Dale Pauls

A famous Methodist evangelist named Peter Cartwright was known for his uncompromising preaching. However, one day when the President of the United States, Andrew Jackson, "Old rough and ready," came to Cartwright’s church, the elders warned the Pastor not to offend the President. In those days, the President had great power to influence a denomination for good or bad. Content, that their Pastor would not say anything to discredit their church, the elders retired to the back of the sanctuary. When Cartwright got up to speak, the first words out of his mouth were, "I understand that President Andrew Jackson is here this morning. I have been requested to be very guarded in my remarks. Let me say this: "Andrew Jackson will go to hell if doesn’t repent of his sin!" The entire congregation gasped with shock at Cartwright’s boldness. How could this young preacher dare to offend the tough old general in public, they wondered. After the service, everyone wondered how the President would respond to Cartwright. When Andrew Jackson met the preacher at the door he looked at him in the eye and said, "Sir, If I had a regiment of men like you, I could conquer the world!" When we appreciate the power of the word of God and the Holy Spirit speaking from the lips of people with conviction we will make eternal differences.

A pastor thought God gave Him an idea, and he presented it in the monthly elders meeting. After giving his most impassioned plea and really “selling” the idea to the elder board, the board voted and voted down the pastors proposed changes 12-1. The head elder looked at the pastor and said, “Well pastor, it’s 12 votes to 1. Looks like you’ve been out voted. Looks like time is up for the evening, so will you please close in prayer.” The pastor, not wanting to give up yet on what he felt God was leading him to do then lead in prayer. As he prayed, he lifted his hands up to heaven and prayed, “Loooorrrdddd - I know my brothers here do not have the same vision you have given me. Please help them to see that this is not MY vision, but YOOOOUUUUURRRR vision!” At that exact moment, a lightning bolt with a loud clap of thunder burst in through the window in the meeting room, striking the table, splitting it in two and knocking all the elders to the floor. As the dust cleared, the pastor looked at the head elder and said - so, what do you think about that? The head elder, dusting himself off, sighed and said, “Well, I guess that’s 12 votes to 2, then...”

For a number of yrs. the Marine Corps has used a highly effective recruiting slogan: "The few, the proud, the Marines."  Not everybody can be a Marine. Recruits must go through grueling training process ("boot camp").  If they survive, they can become Marines.  No wimps need apply!  What's the message? Not everyone can be a Marine.   Not me!  Doesn't mean I'm a bad person/wimp--simply not qualified.  Like the Marines, the church is "looking for a few good men." Mature ... spiritual ... men we can look up to. That's what the qualifications are there for.After the 1992 PK conference ended in Boulder, CO, Joseph insisted that he wanted to take his son & grandson to the location which he cherished as "the most beautiful place on earth" --Grand Lake, Colorado.

On  Sunday morning they drove to the mountains. Michael said his dad was unusually anxious to arrive at their destination, even though he assured Joseph that they had plenty of time. Eventually, they parked in a lot which overlooked the majestic panorama of Grand Lake.

Michael, along with his 11-yr old son, helped his eager 70 year old father up a steep flight of stairs.  As they climbed, Michael asked his dad if he wanted to stop to rest. Joseph firmly replied, "No!  I'm going to the top!" When he reached the summit, Joseph was filled with joy and contentment as he looked at "his" most beautiful place on earth.  He, then, turned to Michael, fell into his arms, and died.

Michael, who had been led to Jesus Christ by his father, said that his dad's last words were his life's message: "I'm going to the top!" Michael Lazio said that Phil 3;13-14 embodied his dad's tenacity for his faith and life; "One thing I do:  forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal heavenward in Jesus Christ."

I tell that story because today we are going to look at elders.  And that is a picture in a family setting that fits elders in a church setting.  Joseph Lazio had led his son to Christ, passing on the baton as in a rely race, with the belief that his son would someday do the same with his own son.  It was as if he had successfully run his leg of a race and handed his baton to Michael as he fell into his arms and died.

Miss Jones, an elderly spinster, lived in a small midwestern community.  She had the notoriety of being the oldest resident of the town.  One day she died and the editor of the local newspaper wanted to print a little caption commemorating Miss Jones' death.  However, the more he thought about it, the more he became aware that while Miss Jones had never done anything terribly wrong (she had never spent a night in jail, or had ever been publicly drunk), she had never actually done anything of note.  While musing over this, the editor went down to have his morning coffee and met the owner of the tombstone establishment in the little community.  He poured out his soul to him.  The tombstone proprietor stated that he had been having the same problem.  He wanted to put something on Miss Jones's tombstone besides: Miss Nancy Jones, born such-and-such a date and died such-and-such a date," but he couldn't think of anything of significance that she had ever done.  The editor decided to go back to his office and assign the first reporter he came across the task of writing up a small article suitable for both the paper and the tombstone.  Upon returning to the office, the only fellow around was the sports editor, so he gave him the assignment. 

They tell me if you pass through that little community you will find the following statement on her tombstone:  "Here lie the bones of Nancy Jones,/ For her life held no terrors./  She lived an old maid./  She died an old maid./  No hits, no runs, no errors."

Elders are not appointed simply because no one has anything bad to say about them.  They are not appointed by default, simply because they’ve been a Christian a long time or “well what else do we do with old Bill.” 

They are appointed for the positive character of their lives:  not perfect, but men of whom it can be said, “Follow them as they follow Christ.”

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