Churches Don’t Make Pastors, Deacons, or Teachers; They Find Them

Churches often crumble into ruin because their members engage in king-making. Though some evangelicals show up at the polls every 4 years, their greatest power rests not in the public square but underneath the steeple spire. Here with the help of Jesus, church members elevate men and women to positions of authority, granting them the power to determine church policy, remove members, and allocate funds. With fifteen minutes, a clerk, and a few votes by acclamation, churches can turn just about anyone into an evangelical power broker. Churches appoint elders, deacons, and ministry leaders. They make evangelical kings, if you will.

Why Things Go Wrong

Though common, such thinking runs counter to teaching of Scripture. The Church is the Lord’s; it is not the congregation’s nor the denomination’s property. In Mathew 18:16b, Jesus proclaims, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Jesus, the head of the church, builds the church. Faithful church leaders acknowledge his authority, teaching and following the commands of Jesus as found in the Scriptures. Most churches nominally agree with this description.

But when deciding who to elect or who to appoint to the church office, the churches often attempt to transform ordinary members into extraordinary leaders. When the church family needs a willing or somewhat willing candidate, it sends the guy through a 6-week elder class or it lays hands on the soul, hoping that the wisdom of the other deacons will rub off on him. In so doing, the congregation often places men into leadership whose greatest qualifications consist of popularity, money, or a lengthy tenure on the church role. Sunday school classes also fall victim to such thinking. Such appointments prove dangerous as they give men and women the keys to the church who lack the character to exercise that authority responsibly.

God has a much better plan.  

God’s Work

In Micah 6:4, the prophet reminds the Israelites that God had appointed, “Moses, Aron, and Miriam,” to lead his people. The God who created the church provides each local church with the leaders it needs. Ephesians 4:11-12 declares

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.

No congregation should create elders and deacons or Sunday School teachers. Rather it should find them.

The process of creating church officers more closely remembers a search for Waldo than political election campaign or pickup game of kickball. Churches need to find the elders, deacons, and ministry leaders that God has divinely placed in the middle of the church family. As Richard Baxter noted in 1658 “God gives the qualifications which he requires…all that the church has to do…is discern and determine which are the men God has…qualified.” God gives us a divine description of who to look for. Paul tells Titus to appoint men who are “above reproach (Titus 1:6).” Those called to be elders should be above the charges of drunkenness, poor stewardship, greed, violence, exemplifying hospitality goodness, self-control, holiness, uprightness, and discipline (7-8). The elder qualified man must also be able to teach well. Similar qualifications are given for deacons in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. God also blesses the church with godly older women who are gifted to “teach what is good (Titus 2:3-4).”

The church does not make men and women above reproach or gift them the Holy Spirit. Instead, the local church vets and examines men to see to see if they are qualified to be deacons and elders. It also looks at the character of women to discern if they should serve the church teaching the younger women in their midst. Then when the church finds a man or women who has been serving faithfully, they recognize the service that exists and appoint that person to the appropriate leadership role. In short, the church does not make a man an elder. It bestows the title and privileges of eldership upon the man who is already serving as an elder, counseling, teaching, and serving the churcn. When the men circle the stage to lay hands on their brother, they are not transferring the Holy Spirit to him. They are recognizing that the Holy Spirit is in him and has prepared him to serve the church.

The church does not make kings. It discovers servants who have already been appointed by God to serve.

Why Leaders Are A Window Into Our Souls

Pastor-heartThe men we stick behind the pulpit of our church, place at the bottom of our bulletin, and stick int he pastors office reveal a lot about our hearts. I firmly believe that God has called local church members to wield the keys of the kingdom by overseeing member care and appointing elders and deacons. Quite often, we appoint men to church leadership because they share our worldview. We see this phenomenon take place 1 Samuel 8. The people of Israel want a king like all the nations. They want that king who is tall, handsome, and powerful because they have rejected the leadership of God. As God tells Samuel they,

They have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. – 1 Sam. 8:7b

In 1 Samuel 10:1-14, we  meet this worldly king. He is defined by three characteristics.

First despite his claim to be a nobody in verse 21, Saul is actually a somebody. His father, Kish, was a wealthy, military champion. The word used for wealth and prestige in verse 1 is the same word used to describe Goliath in 1 Samuel 17:51 and to describe David’s body guard in 2 Samuel 20:7. Saul comes from good stock. And to top it all off, Saul is also tall and handsome. Saul was not some buck-tooth, country boy struggling to get by with tobacco juice dripping down his check. He was strong, well dressed, and has access to a nice estate.  He was the ancient world’s version of JFK; he was the ideal of what secular king should be.

Sadly, churches often appoint men to serve as deacons and elders who closely resemble Saul. Bobby is appointed to serve as the chairman of the deacons because he ran the local gas station and earned a nice nest egg. Phil is elected to be an elder because he is the fifth Philip in a long line of Philips. His great ganddaddy Philip was one of the founding members after all. And, Hank is appointed to be the youth pastor because he is good looking, smooth, and relational. We often gravitate towards the pretty, the popular, and the wealthy.

While a good family name, money, and good looks are not inherently evil, they also are the worst qualifications for spiritual leadership. Remember Jesus, “had not form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him (Isa. 53:2).” True leadership consists not in good looks but in humble service.

Second, worldly leaders have noticeable flaws. We are not exactly sure why Saul struggles to find his father’s missing donkeys, but he does. Saul appears to lack vision. He wants to go home and his servant has to reason Saul into going to see prophet. In short, popular, wealthy, good looking, worldly leaders can struggle at life. They promise to come to this event and don’t make it. They promise to complete a project but only get half of it done. They promise that they will teach for you and then bail at the last minute because they had to stay up late watching March Madness. Worldly leaders look good but struggle to execute.

And lastly, wordy leaders have little knowledge of God. Notice, that Saul has no idea who Samuel is or what he true worship looks like. Saul thinks he needs to pay Samuel for some kind of psychic-like service. Again, we are not sure what sources Saul was pulling from when he created his theology. But we are sure that he was not drawing from the law of God. His approach to Samuel lacks biblical insight. Many in the church share Saul’s familiarity with the things of God. They know the Bible exists, but they don’t know much about what the Bible says. They can’t tell you the gospel. They can’t help you think through parenting, finances, or marriage from a biblical point of view.  And if they were honest, they couldn’t verbalize their testimony.

Such men should not be appointed to serve as elders and deacons. 1 Timothy 3:2 clear states that elders must be able to teach. And 1 Timothy 3:9 states that even deacons “must hold the mystery of faith with a clear conscience.” Men ready to lead the church are men who know the gospel well. Craig Hamilton noted,

The degree to which your leadership is built on, shaped by, conforms to, and is accountable to God’s word is the degree to which your leadership will be Christ-honoring and kingdom-building – regardless of how successful it looks at the time. Having Scripture as the basis and foundation of your leadership isn’t enough. Everything you build on that foundation must also be informed by Scripture and line up with it. We cut out and ignore any secular wisdom that contradicts the Bible. It’s a process that requires us to be discerning and gospel-focused. 

If we appoint biblically illiterate men to positions of leadership, we will ultimately undermine the gospel and our church’s health. Sure we may thrive for a time but eventually that feeding program for the poor will become a Sunday night program for the senior adult ladies. Gospel service will die, gospel proclamation will die, and attendance will dry up.

Friend who will be your next pastor or deacon? Are you in the love with the world or are in love with the Lord? Are you voting for that guy because he has connections, money, good looks, and charisma or because he is faithful, loving, and promoting the gospel? What will your next deacons or pastor say about your heart?

Your Church Needs Elders!

EldersThe church stands as a beacon of hope in this crazy fallen world. Believers are able to survive the trials and storms of life by depending upon the Holy Spirit who nurtures and sustains their souls through the faithful local church which preaches the gospel and administers the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

God cares very much about the leadership of his church. He does not entrust the local church to someone who may have a penchant for leadership, a lust for authority, or a heart for novelty.

He entrusts the church to elders. Elders are also called pastors or overseers and bishops in the Bible. Though Biblical writes use three terms to describe the office, all three terms refer to one office, the office of elder or pastor.

bible-2110439_1920.jpgIn 1 Peter 5:1, Peter addresses the elders in the church. He does not address the elder but the elders, plural. God designed his church to be ruled by a plurality of men. A quick survey of Acts and the Pauline letters supports Peter’s assumption. Acts 14:23 says, “And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” Acts 20:17 states,  “Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him.” In 1,2 Timothy and in Titus, Paul tells his sons in the faith to, “put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you.” And in Philippians 1:1, Paul writes to, “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.” The local church should be led by elders and served by deacons (Acts 6).

The traditional Baptist model of one pastor leading a church surrounded by a group of deacons may be necessary because the church is new or in a state of ill health. But, the Bible calls for the local church to have multiple elders. The church should be led by multiple godly men who fulfill the requirements of Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3. The presence of multiple pastors protects the church from being destroyed by the sudden impulses of one man and from being dominated by one’s man ideas.

What Do Elders Do?

Peter commands elders to shepherd the flock of God that is among them, by exercising oversight. Peter’s idea of elders and pastors who shepherd is not unique to him.  In John 21:16, Jesus commands Peter to “Tend my sheep.” Peter is commissioned by Christ to shepherd or tend the sheep of God. The elder the pastor is to care for the spiritual needs of the people of God. The elder is called first and foremost to be a preacher. The words of Paul found in Colossians 1:28 should be true of all elders,

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.

Elders have been appointed by Christ to care for the souls of their congregation by teaching them and warning them so that they may flee from sin, grow in their faith and find hope in Christ as the adversities of life crash into their lives like ocean waves pounding the beach. The elders tend the sheep through preaching. Yes, they also exercise oversight and provide direction for the sheep, translating the gospel into real actions that benefit the sheep. But the elders are under-shepherds who have been charged by God to tend the sheep through the ministry of the Word (1 Tim 4:16).

 How Do Elders Shepherd?

First, elders shepherd “not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you” (1 Peter 5:2). The elders do not have to be forced into the ministry like a Dad who took little league coaching because all the other parents twisted his arm. The elders are also not those who serve simply because no one else will serve. They do not serve because they seek to impress their wives, in-laws, or mentors. The pastors who have been called to pastor do not have to be pushed into the ministry.

No, the good elders are the elders who serve  willingly. The me who are qualified to pastor should already have a heart for people. They should not see counseling, evangelism, and teaching as burdens that have to be done, like some divine honey-do-list. No, the elders should be those who jump at the chance to counsel, share the gospel, and preach. They should be those who seeks to willing serve others.

Second, elders shepherd, “not for shameful gain, but eagerly” (1 Peter 5:2)!  The pastors should not shepherd for dishonest gain. Many men are attracted to the pastorate because they see some of the nominal perks of ministry. They see that the pastor is respected by some men and women. They see people care about the pastor’s opinion. They see that the pastor gets a nice gift for his tenth anniversary. And they say to themselves, “I like that.” I like being noticed and being well thought off. I like getting gifts. I would like having a nice office. I would like having nice things and the occasional conference trip. Brothers do not go into pastor ministry for what you can get.

Rather go into the pastorate because you can do nothing else. Go into it because you heart beats for one thing and that is to see the kingdom go forward by the preaching of the word. Romans 1:15. He says,

So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

The pastors preach because they cannot help but preach. Title or no title, office or no office, pulpit or no pulpit, the elders will preach and teach. John Bunyan, the man who wrote Pilgrim’s Progress, was a shining example of this truth. When his judges offered to drop the charges against Bunyan if he would promise to stop preaching, Bunyan responded,

If I were out of prison to-day, I would preach the Gospel again to-morrow, by the help of God.

Pastors should tend the sheep because they can do nothing else.

Lastly, pastors are called to shepherd, “not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3). Pastors are not called to domineer their flock. The word domineer is the same word used in Acts 19:16 when Luke describes the demon possessed man attacking the sons of the high priest Sceva. Luke writes, “16 And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered (domineered) all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.” Brothers, let’s not strip our people of their ideas. Lets not suppress their ingenuity and gospel gifts. Let’s not rule our church as a religious despot, manipulating the church structure to make sure our ideas always win out.  As Christ said in Matthew 20:25-28,

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant. and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The pastors are called not to domineer but to serve. They lead people to the truths of the gospel by serving them. advance the gospel by leading his family well, by visiting people in the hospital, by taking time to counsel with his congregation. The faithful elders lead by service.

And they serve willingly because they know their reward is secure. Their reward is not dependent upon the opinions of the old ladies, or of the choir members, or of the deacons. They are rewarded by God. Thus, the pastors willingly, eagerly, and sacrificially press on because God will give them, “the unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:4).

How about your church? Do you have elders? If not, Why not? And if you do have elders, are they shepherding well?