Yesterday was the first time I’ve felt truly nervous before a sermon in a long while. I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe it was because I knew this was the last sermon in a series that possibly may shape the future of the congregation for years to come. Maybe it was because the subject matter were texts that have tended to draw strong feelings from many people, that have divided more than united. Maybe it was because due to my own study from the week I’d actually changed (gasp) my views of a few things. Probably it was all of that.
Yesterday I preached on “The Characteristics of Qualification” out of 1st Timothy 3 & Titus 1 (with 1st Peter 5:3 stuck in there too). It was the last sermon in a series on leadership which has apparently been beneficial to everyone, not just our existing or prospective shepherds. This last one was the one in which I finally covered the New Testament “qualifications” for elders. I say it with quotes because I don’t believe they’re so much a checklist, but describing characteristics of a man already serving in that way. A shepherd in title should already be a shepherd in action & motive. Giving him the title of a shepherd is purposefully & prayerfully placing the responsibility of being accountable to that position to God, to his fellow elders, & to his congregation.
You can listen to my sermon from yesterday here at NHCC’s dropbox, and especially if you’re a part of the NHCC body I’d highly encourage you to do so. I’d like to offer three additional thoughts in addition to what I talked about yesterday about leaders & elders, specifically in relation to 1st Tim. 3 & Titus 1.
- We must have judgment when we appoint elders.
There’s a line of thought in the world when it comes to judging. When looking at Matthew 7 the world often see it like this…
Hopefully you see the ridiculousness of that. We must judge in certain instances. The lesson of Matthew 7 is don’t judge people in the way God does or unfairly, because that’s how then you’ll be judged. Much like the Golden Rule, judge unto others as you would be judged is the lesson. We should judge each others’ actions & lives in love according to Scripture to be able to encourage each other and keep each other walking in the Light. I’m glad that if I do something ungodly that someone in our congregation will judge it so, and let me know about it. When it comes to elders, I preach that we must look at the full measure of a man, & that a sin in itself doesn’t “disqualify” him from shepherding, whether this means at one time or another he was an alcoholic, went bankrupt, or even was divorced. Our judgment comes in looking at how he has dealt with his issues, & judging would this be something that would prevent him from shepherding like Christ. For example, was the divorce of a man “scriptural” (again in quotes because I believe while there are 2 exceptions where a marriage can end in a divorce & one person didn’t sin I don’t believe divorce is scriptural, but that’s another post) and has he proven he can be a faithful husband & manage his household well? Or even if it wasn’t, how does he address what happened? Where has repentance, making peace as it depends on him, prayer, asking forgiveness from God & all involved happened, or has it? Has God forgiven him? If it happened only a few years ago or if these necessary things (not just for being an elder but a Christian!) aren’t evident, maybe being a shepherd wouldn’t be a good thing right now. Same with alcoholism- he may be recovering, but what if it only last year? Judgment is needed, which leads me to point #2…
2. Spiritual maturity is key in all things.
It is written he must not be a new convert, which I believe the implication is that he is to be spiritually mature. What does this mean? A lot, but it comes down to has he dealt with his past mistakes, owned up to them, repented & asked forgiveness of God for them, learned from it, and has taken the steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again in his life? For example, if someone was divorced in their 20s, and now even if he’s had a marriage for 40 years to the same woman, if they have had to go to marriage counseling for the 9th time in the last few years we must judge if that is something that may prevent either the sheep from following him or him carrying out his shepherding duties to the fullest of his ability. Don’t hear me saying that marriage counseling is bad-far from it, in fact I advocate certain marriage programs even for healthy marriages- but a shepherd is to be as close to the ideal- Jesus & His picture for marriage & the church- as possible. This is not an issue of sinning or messing up, for we all do that. This is an issue of the maturity to have sinned & messed up and taken the necessary steps to correct & control whatever the issue is, first & foremost with God’s help. This is an issue of spiritual transformation, having been & continuing to be willing to let the Spirit & the Word do their work in transforming him more and more into the image of Jesus. It is again the complete picture of the man & His walk- it is a given that he will have sinned & messed up both before & after his baptism into Christ. What’s not a given is maturing into a more complete man, complete in Christ.
It is not even just an issue of does he currently meet the qualifications- it is a characteristic that the shepherd is to be hospitable, but is simply opening his home enough? Is there a Christlike attitude, a discipling spirit, a warmth & desire for fellowship as well? Is it enough that he’s been married to the same woman for ________ length of time? Has he nurtured her, built her up, loved her & shown her affection, shown that he loves her as Christ loves the Church? I encourage you to reread the characteristics in 1st Timothy & Titus 1 with the complete picture in mind- yes he may meet this characteristic, but is he mature in it? Is he someone that I can emulate & learn from in this category? There is always growing to do, and no mere mortal is the complete picture of Jesus, but part also of maturity is the willingness to mature into that which he lacks.
3. Qualities don’t always equal ability
This may sound funky, and it is a bit. Let me illustrate it when it comes to preachers. There are many people who have a heart for God, who love to study, & can communicate the Truth very effectively when in certain venues & situations, say one-on-one or in small groups. These same people may not be able to effectively preach a sermon week after week for a congregation. Why not? The qualities of study, of teaching, the love for God & His Word are all there, what’s missing? Put simply, he hasn’t been gifted the ability to preach. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, it just means he must use his gifts in a different way than someone who is gifted to preach week after week. Same with song leading- a lot of us know someone who has great heart & spirit, who has the musical knowledge & technical know-how, but are simply not gifted to lead a congregation in singing. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, and I believe it beneficial to sometimes recognize our limitations, either to be aware of them to let others serve in those ways and/or to work on them to grow the ability.
I believe the same applies to shepherding. There may be men who have all of the qualities talked about in abundance who may seem the ideal choice for a shepherd, but turn out to be non-effective leaders. Why? Perhaps its something he never wanted but feels an obligation to do. While this is admirable to an extent, 1st Timothy 3 begins by saying that he who desires the office, meaning who is willing & not compelled, desires a good task. While the qualities may be there the desire to be intentional in using them in seeking out sheep is not, which will doom an eldership from the beginning. Another reason may be that while the qualities are there he is not in a place to devote the necessary time or make shepherding & all it entails enough of a priority in his life & ministry. Is this good or bad? There is a season for all things, and if a man feels his season to shepherd is not here, it is best for him not to serve.
Another instance may be that while again the qualities are there he is unwilling to purposefully exercise them for the flock. This again goes back to maturity as well as judgment. If a man is unwilling to shepherd the whole flock, even “problem sheep” or sheep he freely admits he doesn’t care for, we must judge if the maturity is there to handle the demands of a congregation. A man may be respected among the congregation & willing & able to serve, but he intentionally does not purposefully practice shepherding to someone or any part of the congregation, he ought not to serve as a shepherd. Sometimes he’s just not gifted to lead, & what’s expected of him as a shepherd is simply beyond his ability, which is again not a bad thing, but must be recognized.
I hope that from the sermon series & even this last sermon we can see that there is much more to being a leader, a shepherd of the Church than checking off this qualification or that. It’s about more than did he or didn’t he do or not do this or that. It’s first and foremost about his walk with The Shepherd, & how he strives to first be like Jesus, and then how he can help those in a congregation work towards that as well. There’s a case to be made that that walk should include some things that “normal” people deal with, like anger, bad financial decisions, marital problems, etc to be a living example of what Christ can do in a life. Sometimes the best way to lead is to be able to tell people you’ve been there too, and you know the way out, the way to clean all that up, & His name is Jesus.
As we pray about our future leaders this week at NHCC, let us always strive to be the reflection of Jesus in all we do, & follow those who help us shine brighter into the world.
Grace to you.