Be Shepherds of the Church

Acts 20:28

A few weeks ago, as we announced that the elders had asked Wade Higgins to join them in shepherding the church here, we asked you to affirm and encourage Wade and Kellie in this new leadership role.

This is a momentous occasion this morning as we install a new elder in the leadership. This doesn’t happen every day. It has been two and a half years since Clark and Dennis were added to our leadership. So this morning is a special occasion as we do something that will profoundly affect the direction of this congregation for years to come.

Today is a day of dedication – we are asking Wade to dedicate himself to the work of leading and shepherding the flock here at Glenwood. He is officially accepting the roll which the Lord has called him to, and which the congregation has already recognized.

In Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus, Paul paints a picture of the kind of men who should serve a congregation. It’s especially interesting in both of those letters that Paul never sets out a job description for what an elder does. The emphasis is not on what they are to do, but on what kind of men they are to be – what sort of personal qualities they are to demonstrate. These are not the qualities of a “charismatic” leader, but one who is morally stable and a good leader in his family. You’ll notice that the two lists are not identical. They are not intended to be a checklist of qualifications, but a portrait of the kind of man who will be able to effectively shepherd a flock.

Paul wrote to Timothy about the kind of men who would be good leaders in the church: In 1 Timothy 3:1 he writes: “If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task.” There is a fine line between desiring to serve and seeking power. Plato once wrote, “Only those who do not seek power are qualified to hold it.”

When you look at the lists in both 1 Timothy and Titus, you find different kinds of qualities – some are lifestyle, some are character, some are family and relationships.

Think for a moment about the family and relationships of an elder:

“He must be the husband of but one wife.”  Literally, it says: “a one woman man.” That implies a number of things – he must be married, but not a polygamist. He must be faithful to his wife, not an adulterer, not a womanizer. Paul is addressing the importance of a man’s faithfulness and dedication to his wife. In other words, his marriage must be rock solid. There must be no question with those who know him that he is a man who loves his wife.

And every serving elder will tell you how important his wife is to his ability to serve – not just in being supportive, but in her own right as a servant herself – an elder’s wife is a partner in his ministry. A leader’s wife can enhance his ministry or cripple it. We need men whose relationships with their wives are models that can be looked up to and imitated.

Concerning the elder’s family, Paul writes to Timothy, “He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect.” To Titus, Paul writes that he must be “a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.” In 1 Timothy, Paul goes on to explain, “If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?”

What Paul is saying is that you can tell a lot about a man’s ability to lead a congregation by how he leads his family. Has he passed on his faith to his children, or have his children rejected his faith? And certainly we recognize that a parent’s influence has a limit. When children become adults they can make choices that are contrary to their raising and their faith choices especially are beyond the parent’s ability to direct. But during those years when a man’s children were under his guidance, did he raise them to love and serve God?

And in addition, are his children obedient and respectful, or are they wild and rebellious? If he can’t guide and mold his children over whom he has the most influence and opportunity, how will he fare with a congregation of people who look to him for guidance?

And when it comes to relationship skills:

He must be “hospitable,” he must “not be violent, but gentle,” he must “not be quarrelsome.” To Titus, he adds, he must “not be overbearing, not quick-tempered.” Do those words paint a picture for you? This is a man who not only gets along well with people, but enjoys being around people and opens his home to others. Working in a group, he is going to be gentle and humble, not overbearing or quarrelsome or quick-tempered and certainly not violent.

Paul addresses several lifestyle qualities:

He must be “temperate” – that is literally “not mixed with wine,” then a verse later he says, “not given to drunkenness.” Paul’s concern is that an elder not be a man of addictions. There is just no place in the life of a Christian, let alone an elder for a dependence on alcohol or drugs. He must live a sober lifestyle.

Paul also says he must “not be a lover of money.” With Titus, he is even more pointed: “not pursuing dishonest gain.” Paul is concerned with how a man handles his business and finances, and even more personally, is he a man who just seems to focus his life on money and possessions? That kind of man will bring an ungodly perspective to a very holy undertaking.

That doesn’t mean a person can’t be a successful business man or even that he can’t be wealthy. I’ve known wonderful elders who were both. But if that is the focus of their life, what Paul says later on in 1 Timothy is doubly true for an elder: “People who want to get rich fall into a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (6:10). And as Jesus said, if you divide your loyalties between serving God and making money, you are trying to serve two masters, and you’ll end up loving one and despising the other. And God rarely wins that battle for the human heart.

And then, most importantly, let’s talk about character:

Paul tells Timothy an elder must “be above reproach,” “self-controlled,” “respectable,” and “he must also have a good reputation with outsiders.” In his letter to Titus, twice Paul says, “he must be blameless,” and also adds, “one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.” These are the qualities of a man with integrity and inner strength. He is a man who lives the same kind of life when everybody is watching and when nobody is watching. He is a man who is absolutely honest and trustworthy. He is respected by both the church and outsiders because of the kind of life he lives in public and in private.

Paul also speaks to an elder’s spiritual maturity when he writes, “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.” Being an elder brings a unique set of temptations and trials, that an immature Christian would have a difficult time withstanding. Rushing a man into a position of leadership simply because he shows potential is never a thing that is beneficial to the man or helpful to the church. Paul says, give him time to grow up or he’ll get puffed up.

And then finally, a couple of qualities that speak to an elder’s leadership:

To Timothy Paul says simply that he must be “able to teach.” To Titus he says, “he must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.”

Not every elder needs to be a Bible class teacher, but every elder must be a student of God’s word and able to communicate it to others whether in a congregational setting or one-on-one. And every elder needs to have such a grasp of God’s Word that he can defend it against false teaching and guide and encourage others with right teaching.

The thing we need to understand most clearly about our elders is that we are not selecting men to set on a pedestal and admire, or parade around as super-Christians. We are selecting men who will be the point men in our journey to heaven. These are not men who live the kind of life none of us can hope to live, but the kind of life that all of us aspire to live.

I want men as my elders who know me and care about me enough to spend time talking about important things, who will challenge me and encourage me, who will lead the way so I can follow, but will also bring up the rear and pick me up if I stumble. I don’t want them just to know my name, but to know me and know when I need a pat on the back, and when I need a kick in the pants, and when I need an arm around my shoulders.

I need men who have the heart of a shepherd and whose faces shine with the light of Jesus. And I can honestly and confidently say that I have seen all these qualities in Wade.

Wade has already been a leader. I have seen him display his leadership and wisdom on numerous occasions over the past ten years and have seen him grow and mature in his understanding of God’s word and his ability to teach it.

Leadership is at its heart influence. Wade has already been leading by example. He is a proven servant. We are not asking of him anything he has not already been doing. His horizons will be a little broader, his responsibilities a little weightier. But he has already been a leader, and we are simply acknowledging that by asking him to lead us as a congregation. He is accepting that responsibility this morning, and responding to our confidence in him by allowing us to call him one of our shepherds.

Paul’s words to the Ephesian elders give us a sense of the dedication which is required: “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God which he bought with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).

Wade, your dedication this morning is first to God – this isn’t merely accepting a position on the board of directors of some human organization. Your accountability isn’t ultimately to the congregation but to God himself. And he requires faithfulness to the task and sacrifices that will make your head swim at times. You will pour yourself out in ways that you can only begin to imagine right now. And it won’t be because we’re the most loveable group of people, but because he is the most amazing God. This is his church and he is entrusting us to your care.

Remember that elders are not called primarily to be decision makers, but to be shepherds. Urgent decisions about parking lots and air conditioning and carpet color will beg to fill meeting agendas, but don’t let them take over. People are more important than programs, souls are more important than budgets. In all the responsibilities that will come your way, don’t let any of them take priority over shepherding – don’t ever move very far away from personally caring for the people you lead.

This isn’t just a day of dedication for Wade. It is a day of dedication for every single member of this congregation. As we make this request of Wade to lead us, we must also make a promise to him that we will follow his leadership.

The Hebrews writer says this: “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith… Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Heb. 13:7,17)

If we’re not willing to do that, then these men cannot lead – I don’t care how gifted and spiritual and dedicated they are. You cannot lead a flock that will not follow. We owe it to these men – to all five of our elders – to follow their lead – humbly submitting to their leadership.

There is no place for critical, divisive spirits at this church. We cannot sit on the sidelines and Monday morning quarterback – believe me, it’s an easy thing to do. We all have opinions on how things should be done. You can always second-guess and find fault, but if you think you have the gift of criticism – it wasn’t given you by the Holy Spirit.

I love the spirit of our shepherds. Their door is always open. When you have a concern or a need – you are always welcome to come to their meetings. And beyond that, they are true shepherds. You can go to any one of them and they will spend time with you and pray with you and do whatever needs to be done to help you. And many of you have experienced that kind of shepherding already. You know the servant hearts of our elders who pour themselves out for us.

Let’s make their work a joy, not a burden. Let’s commit ourselves to their leadership and allow them to do what we are asking them to do – to help us individually and as a congregation to draw closer to God.

Being good followers doesn’t mean we sit back, keep our mouths shut and let them work. Being a good follower means we follow their example. God doesn’t want a church full of passive spectators cheering on the leaders doing all the work. Paul writes this in Eph. 4:11-12,16: “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

Our shepherds are in the equipping business – their job is to prepare each of us for the work of ministry. The church thrives when leaders lead and members follow. As we ask Wade to join these men who have dedicated themselves to the important task of leading us, are we willing to dedicate ourselves to the equally important task of following?

As we dedicate Wade to the work of shepherding this congregation, I’m going to ask Wade some questions and ask him to respond, and then I am going to ask you some questions and ask you to respond.

Dedication of Elder

  • Are you willing to accept this responsibility of shepherding God’s flock here at the Glenwood Church of Christ?
  • Are you willing to lay down your life in serving and protecting and nurturing this church family whom God has put under your care?
  • Do you promise to let God’s Word guide you in every decision you make, take every decision before God in prayer and make the kingdom of God your highest calling?
  • Are you willing to work together with your fellow elders in the work of God’s kingdom here at the Glenwood church and strive for harmony and unity in every endeavor?
  • Will you imitate the Chief Shepherd in every way as you seek to shepherd this family of God’s people?

Dedication of Congregation

  • Are you willing to allow these men to lead you in the work of God’s kingdom here at the Glenwood church?
  • Do you promise to make their work a joy and not a burden as you humbly and willingly follow their lead?
  • Will you dedicate yourself to being a good follower and willing servant as we strive together to bring glory to God and to his son, Jesus Christ?