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Philosophy of Ministry - Part III - Church Leadership

The Leadership of Christ’s Church

In the New Testament God’s shepherds are called by Him (Galatians 1:15-16) and entrusted with the Gospel (1 Thessalonians 2:4) whereby the shepherd is gifted by God to teach people His Word (1 Peter 4:11) and be ministers who reconcile people to God (2 Corinthians 5:19-20).  The Bible gives several names for those who are to care for God’s people. In 1st Timothy 3:1 these men are called “overseers.” Men who are appointed by God to manage the church are also called “undershepherds” in 1st Peter 5:4 and “elders” in Titus 1:5. These three terms are synonyms of each other (1 Timothy 2:13, c.f. 3:1) and are all used of men who are spiritually appointed by God (Acts 20:28) to shepherd His flock. Men who have received this spiritual appointing of God are recognizable by their obedience to the specifications as given in 1st Timothy 3:2-7 and Titus 1:5-9. Only those who have this spiritual equipping and the desire (rather than having to be persuaded) should be elders (1 Timothy 3:1). When such men have been identified, and examined, they are to be ordained by the other elders (1 Timothy 4:14, 5:22).

The elders serve as a team of co-laborers in the cause of Christ who carry on the shepherding (1 Peter 5:2) and managing (1 Timothy 3:5) the congregation with oversight according to the will of God (1 Peter 5:2). They join together to “bear the burden of the people (Numbers 11:17). These men teach (1 Timothy 2:2) sound doctrine (Titus 2:1) and exhort and reprove as necessary (Titus 2:15). They have charge over the church (1 Thessalonians 5:12) and are responsible to the Lord for their decisions (Hebrews 13:17). Thus all elders are God’s servants who function as pastors.

While the role of these shepherds is given to us in various places in scripture, one of the longest delineations of a pastor’s duties is found in the Lord’s condemnation of the failures of Israel’s priests, listed in Ezekiel 34. In this passage, the Lord condemns the priest’s failure to shepherd His flock and He declares that He will replace their office with one that is in the line of David (Ezekiel 34:23-24). The Lord explains their specific failures in Ezekiel 34, verses 2 through 4.

In verse 2, the Lord says that those shepherds were feeding themselves but not feeding His flock. Feeding God’s flock is the primary responsibility of the shepherd. Note the primary purpose of teaching as explained above under the heading of “Worship.” This teaching is the food for our souls. Jesus said in John 6:48 that He is the bread of life, and those who feed upon Him abide with Him in active faith (6:47 c.f. 6:56). This is why pastors are mandated with teaching the Word to God’s people so that He might nourish them. Jeremiah 3:15 states when God’s sheep are truly hungry for Him, He will send them shepherds “after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding.” Paul exhorts Timothy to teach the word of God accurately because only God’s Word can bring a person to become adequate and equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17). Paul even gives the evidence of accurate teaching: a pure heart, good conscience, and sincere faith (1 Timothy 1:5). Those who are faithful to God are put into service (1 Timothy 1:12) and will have to give an account of their ministry to Him, not to the men they serve (1 Thessalonians 2:4).

Sadly, not all shepherds are faithful with this task and some teach a doctrine contrary to the sound teachings of God (1 Timothy 1:6-7). The teaching of these unfaithful teachers are as wind (Jeremiah 5:13) with tragic results. Ezekiel 34:5-6 depict the course of a flock without a shepherd—they are scattered and become food for every beast in the field (Ezekiel 34:5). They roam away and are left alone to perish (Ezekiel 34:6).  Because of this, if the pastor is unfaithful to the pure teaching of scripture, he undergoes a harsher penalty for failing to teach and obey the scriptures (James 3:1).

Ezekiel 34 goes on to further indict the pastors for their spiritual failure. God condemns them in verse 3 for gathering to themselves the material blessings of life while their own sheep are impoverished. As just explained, the pastor’s job is to feed the sheep and must have a heart that is content with what he has (1 Timothy 6:6). It is a tragedy when some “pastors” fleece God’s people, enjoying the comforts of this world, while the sheep are struggling spiritually and financially. Yes, the Lord has directed the minister of the Gospel to earn his living from the Gospel (1 Corinthians 9:14). Yet the ministry of a pastor is not for gains in this world, and while we ought not to muzzle the ox while he is threshing (1 Corinthians 9:9) and the workman is worthy of his hire (1 Timothy 5:18), at the same time God’s servant never is financially greedy (2 Peter 2:3) or “peddling” (2 Corinthians 2:17) the Gospel for sordid gain (Titus 1:11).

Returning to God’s condemnation of the unfaithful pastors in Ezekiel 34, the fourth verse gives the most specific duties a pastor should be doing. Looking at these duties through the lens of the priest’s failure, the Lord says, “Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost…” Carefully re-read this verse—the Lord gives pastors very tangible tasks that extend far beyond preaching and teaching. Pastors are to strengthen the sickly, heal the diseased, strengthen the broken. In the course of a pastor’s typical week, this will have a variety of manifestations: meeting with the broken hearted, bearing with people during suffering and trials, bringing God’s truth to bear in specific seasons of pain, identifying spiritual illnesses and applying the spiritual cure, etc.

In this passage, the Lord also says to bring back the “scattered”. In every church there are people who ebb and flow in their attendance. Often pastors can lose patience with these kinds of folks and dismiss them as a lost cause. But we have to remember that God gives us the mandate to pursue them. The Lord Himself said the healthy sheep have no need of the physician, so He would focus on the sick (Matthew 9:12). It is the sick who are scattered, who do not prioritize the things of God or follow Him with faithfulness. Often a pastor’s heart does beat for these scattered sheep—but sometimes the other, healthy sheep don’t have the same heart. They occasionally complain that these pastors focus too much on the “new people” or the ones who are “never there anyway” or on “numbers.” There needs to be a balance here—the pastor should never seek to build his own kingdom, and likewise, the “healthy” in the congregation should not begrudge the pastor for focusing upon the more needy. Indeed it is the healthy in the church who should also join in and minister to the scattered. What a glorious and powerful light to the world that would be!

Ezekiel 34:4 finishes with the Lord’s condemnation upon the priests for not searching for the lost. Again, this was the focus of the perfect Shepherd’s ministry who declared in Luke 19:10 that He came to seek and save the lost. Indeed, this is a direct reference to the tasks of the good shepherd given in Ezekiel 34:16 which says, “I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken, strengthen the sick.” This is God’s heart and passion for His lost sheep and when the pastor’s heart beats with God’s heart, he will likewise pursue the lost.

Often, though not necessary, a specific elder carries a larger portion of the ministry and sets aside his means of income and is supported by the rest of the body of believers (Galatians 6:6) so that he may focus his efforts and energies to equip the church for ministry (Ephesians 4:12, 16). His ministry is not a job, nor is it a career, but rather it is a life-task of serving God and the church throughout each day, week, month, and year. Even when there is only one man like this at a church (typically called “the pastor” or the “Senior Pastor”) we must understand that normally this man is not the sole leader church and the church is not his. Off-hand comments such as “my church is such-and-such” or “where is your church?” are indicators of the underlying incorrect assumption that the church is ours. It is not. The church is Christ’s body and He is its head (Colossians 1:18). It is God’s household (Ephesians 2:19; 1 Timothy 3:15). The Lord is the one who builds it (Matthew 17:18; Hebrews 3:3—Christ builds it; Hebrews 3:4—God builds it), causes it to grow (1 Corinthians 3:6—God), prunes it (John 15:2—the Father), strengthens it (Colossians 1:11), and brings it to perfection (Philippians 1:6). None of these things can be truly orchestrated through the will or actions of man. The Bible clearly teaches that unless the Lord builds the house the laborers work in vain (Psalm 127:1).


Russ Brewer

Russ Brewer

Rescued from the domain of darkness, transferred to the kingdom of the Son. Undershepherd of Grace. Husband of Corinne. Father of three. Chew-toy to Zeke...

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