Saturday, January 23, 2010

Shepherd, pastor, elder, overseer; huh?

Good morning my friends. The structure of our churches are not what they started off to be and perhaps the Spirit has matured us to a better structure. It could also be that the wickedness of our hearts has deformed what God had intended. There certainly was not a clergy in the early Church but instead a set up that was similar to society at that time. Each community of believers had elders, also referred to as shepherds, who were responsible for that community. They had various responsibilities but they were all seen as the wisest, most mature and trustworthy of the community. They were responsible for guiding, teaching, correcting and strengthening the community; what we call our church. They are referred to by various names today but the most popular seems to be pastor. Unfortunately our titles today don't seem to imply the same thing that we see in the Word. Today it seems to denote simply that this person is in charge or is responsible for this part of the church ministry.

Paul's words to Timothy concerning the honour owed to an elder is direct:

The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, "Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain," and "The worker deserves his wages." Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning. (1 Timothy 5:17-20)

Elders are or were like shepherds in that they were responsible for helping and protecting what did not belong to them. Pastors do not own their church, people or building, even if they founded it and think they grew it. The Bride always belongs to Jesus. If a pastor losses sight of this it could spell danger for everyone. Thankfully most pastors/elders are keenly aware of this and they live their life in a sacrificial way for those they are responsible for overseeing.

A pastor should never see his place in the church as a job nor should the people see it as hiring or firing a pastor. Unfortunately I think this is the bad thing that has happened, everyone now sees it as a job, even a career. The desire of some pastors is to start in a small church and work themselves up to a large one. For them this is success. I don't even know where to begin to explain why this is totally wrong and is the furthest thing from Scripture one can arrive at. Is it any wonder that the respect and honour for elders/pastors is missing from many churches? When the church has the attitude of hiring their pastor he becomes their employee and must meet their expectations and do what they want. The tendency is then for the pastor not to do what is best for the people he is responsible for but instead to do what is best for his self preservation. This is wrong. When Paul quotes that a worker is worth his wages it is an allegory not to be taken as referring to elders as employees of the church.

For the Church to grow strong spiritually we need our pastors/elders to walk in their calling, free to be directed by the Spirit. They should only be in that calling according to the Spirit. We need to honour them for the life of sacrifice they have been called to but don't worship them or turn them into celeberties. We need to honour them for doing a great job at managing the affairs of the Church well. We need to encourage them by showing them the respect they deserve. They have a lot to carry on their plate. In turn Pastors/elders honour their people by being the servant they have been called to be and by loving them as Jesus does.

You may find this funny, being written by a pastor, but I am writing from my position of honouring pastors/elders I see as being over me. They are responsible for me, for my spiritual health, for checking on my growth, and I honour them for asking all the hard questions and insisting on honest answers. It reminds me that I must do the same for my people. We all need good, healthy, mature elders who we can count on and trust to guide us to the end. If you have such pastors guiding your church then praise God for them and pray for them constantly; they need your support and encouragement.

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