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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).

 

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The Purpose of Worship

Jesus declared that God’s people would worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24)—that is, that they would worship God in their spirits according to His truths. Worship must captivate our hearts, it must feed our souls, and it is true worship when it is in accordance with His truth. Worship is giving God adoration and praise for things that are true of Him. If what is being proclaimed is not true, then it is not worship. Likewise, if what is being proclaimed is not praising Him, it is not worship. It is fundamentally not man-centered, but rather God-centered as the elders lead those in attendance to give God the glory, honor, and praise due Him (1 Timothy 2:7-8). Worship recognizes who He is and what He has done and offering to Him our lives as worship (Romans 12:1). All parts of the church service (and all of our lives) must be a continuous offering of the sacrifice of praise to God from our lips (Hebrews 13:15) and from our hearts with reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28).

There is continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament regarding the primacy of God’s people focusing upon the Lord and His word. In both the Old and New Testament, God’s people assembled before the Lord to learn His statues (e.g. Deuteronomy 1:6; Nehemiah 8:1-8). In the very first recorded worship assembly of the Jews, Moses and Aaron gathered the Hebrews before the Lord. Exodus 4:30 says, “And Aaron spoke all the words which the Lord had spoken to Moses.” The next verse shows the people’s response, “So the people believed…then they bowed low and worshipped (Exodus 4:31).” A similar event occurred in Exodus 24 where Moses recounted the words of the Lord (Exodus 24:3) and the people committed themselves to obedience (Exodus 25:7).

Deuteronomy 4:10 repeats this same idea, God tells Moses: “Assemble the people to Me, that I may let them hear My words so they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children (Deuteronomy 4:10).” Throughout scripture the people assemble before Him to accomplish two primary objectives: 1) to learn of His word and 2) to sincerely obey it with their whole lives. Note the following examples: Exodus 19:7-8, 24:1-7; Leviticus 8:5, Leviticus 9:6; Deuteronomy 5:27; Joshua 1:16; 2 Chronicles 34:14-33. The idea of God’s people gathering together before Him is carried through to the New Testament. Paul urges Timothy to “give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhortation, and to teaching (1 Timothy 4:13).” Repeatedly Paul exhorts Timothy to pay attention to his teaching and doctrine (1 Timothy 4:6, 11, 16, 5:20; 2 Timothy 2:15, 3:14, 4:2).

God’s people often went astray in the Old Testament when they failed to know the scriptures. For example, in Hosea 4:6 God rejected the leadership for not accurately teaching God’s Word, “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being my priest.” God promised His supplicant people, “I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding (Jeremiah 3:15, emphasis added).” Jesus, when speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well disassociated the entire Samaritan nation from God when He said their worship was invalid for their lack of knowledge of God (John 4:22).

Why such an emphasis upon teaching the scriptures? So that we might be obedient to Jesus’ final command to teach the world “to observe all that I commanded you (Matthew 28:20).” Jesus’ commands are given to us in the Word of God. Paul said that he was a steward, literally a galley-slave, of the Word of God (mysteries of God) (1 Corinthians 4:1). In the next verse, Paul declares that he must be found faithful to this calling (1 Corinthians 4:2). Paul is simply a servant of Christ, obeying the Lord, like Christ the Lord spoke about in Luke 17:10, “So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.”

Not all activities of mankind that calls itself “worship” is true worship. There are accounts in the Old Testament where people gather together for “worship” in a manner that does not please God. In Exodus 32, the people assembled before Aaron and said, “Come, make us a god who will go before us”—the people, dissatisfied with the time-table of the true Lord, demanded a God who met their desires. Then Aaron began working on a golden calf. When it was finished, they had a remarkable event, “So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink and rose up to play (Exodus 32:6).” What did the Lord think of this behavior? Exodus 32:9 says, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people.” What was the Lord going to do about this? Exodus 32:10 says, “Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them.”

God spared the people of Israel, but apparently Aaron’s sons didn’t get the message because Leviticus 10 records their sinful demise. Nadab and Abihu decided to modify the manner in which God was worshipped yet the Lord had already spent considerable time giving Moses clear, step-by-step directives regarding the modes and methods of acceptable worship. Ignoring the prescriptions of the Lord, Nadab and Abihu took it upon themselves to offer “strange fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded (Leviticus 10:1).” Presenting “strange” offerings was banned in Exodus 30:9. Although Nadab and Abihu apparently attempted to “worship” God, their disregard for His Word while worshiping displeased the Lord and resulted in their death. Leviticus 10:2 says, “And fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.” Korah and his family perpetrated the same kind of rebellion in Numbers 16 which records their uprising to lead the Jews in worship and then their literal downfall as the ground broke open and consumed them alive.

Clearly from these examples, not all that activities that are proclaimed as “worship” are pleasing to the Lord. In Acts chapter 8, Simon the Magician was a man who was amazed at the power of God and even became baptized as a follower of Christ. Sadly, however, he is another example of an outward follower who didn’t truly worship. Simon ultimately received this rebuke from Peter, “You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God (Acts 8:21).” It was a matter of his heart. Indeed, God condemns the Jews in Isaiah 29:13 for not worshipping God with the proper heart: “Then the Lord said, “Because this people draw near with their words And honor Me with their lip service, But they remove their hearts far from Me, And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote.”

The point that “not all worship is true worship” is further underscored in John 6:14 when the people are wildly praising Christ to the point that they wanted to make Him king. They were ecstatic with emotional zeal (John 6:15). Yet the next day Jesus tells them their motives were muddied (John 6:26) and that they actually didn’t even believe in Him (John 6:36). Clearly, their enthusiasm in John 6:14-15 was motivated by something other than worship and exaltation of Him or God. Likewise, in Jeremiah 2:19 the Lord condemns the Jews because “the dread of Me in not in you.”

True worship centers upon accurate truth. Consequently, right teaching is the foundation of true worship. Why? Because we cannot worship what we do not know. Man is separated from God and apart from divine revelation, without God’s revelation we do not know what pleases Him. There is no true worship apart from scripture. Even in the Old Testament days, if a gentile wanted to worship the true God, they had to come to the Lord as a proselyte. They could not just climb up some hill and begin praying to God. They needed to be right with Him through the sacrificial law in accordance with His prescriptions for valid worship.

Some people might say that worship needs to be updated to meet the needs of the people. Some people might say that changes should be made to the worship service to reflect the changes in society. Even though cultural modes of worship are secondary to scripture, church leaders must be careful in what manner they change how the people worship God. 1 Kings 12:25-33 tells of how King Jeroboam sinfully altered the worship to meet the needs of the people. He said to them, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt.” And like Aaron centuries prior, Jeroboam led God’s people astray in an attempt to facilitate their worship. He put unqualified people in leadership (1 Kings 12:31), he catered to the people’s tendency to laziness in worship (e.g. not to go all the way to Jerusalem to worship), he capitalized upon the people’s lack of knowledge of the law (e.g. apparently they didn’t know or were inclined to violate the first commandment in Exodus 20:4 not to make an idol). And although he acted like he was trying to help the people to worship God, his intentions were to gain power (1 Kings 12:27). Although the people followed his leadership, he was not led by God but rather his own heart (1 Kings 12:33). His policies appealed to the masses, but they were abhorrent to the Lord.

Just because something seems right to us does not mean it is right before God. In Jeremiah 6:20 the Lord condemns their fancy worship services that are not centered on Him and obeying Him. Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord asks why they are so fixated on bringing imported frankincense and sweet cane before Him. It’s as if they felt that expense and luxury would somehow impress God. But the Lord answers, “Your burnt offerings are not acceptable and your sacrifices are not pleasing to Me.” Why? Because ultimately the character and teaching of the prophets and priests were centered on preaching peace (6:14), ignoring the ancient and good way (6:16), and not listening to the words of God (6:17, 19).

Likewise, in John chapter 4, Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well that the Samaritan way of worship was invalid. It was invalid because the Samaritans rejected all the books of the Bible except for Genesis through Deuteronomy. Since they had set aside the Word of God, their worship amounted to an ignorant, man-made attempt to worship God according to their wisdom, but not according to the truth of God. This underscores the point that the worship service needs to be founded upon solid teaching because not all “worship” is true worship (John 4:22). In order for worship to be valid, it must align with God and what He has taught in scripture.

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PART I

The Purpose of the Church

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A few short words need to be stated about what the church is and its purpose. The church is the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:23) and subject to Him (Ephesians 5:24). It consists of members of Christ’s body (Ephesians 5:30) who have been born-again and regenerated (John 3:3), who have confessed their sins (1 John 1:9), who have called out to the Lord (Romans 10:13), and who have submitted to Him as Lord (Romans 10:9). Members of Christ’s body meet locally in assemblies to commit to fulfilling Christ’s purposes for His people. The Bible indicates that believers assemble for the purpose of worship (John 4:24), glorifying God (1 Corinthians 10:31), instruction (1 Thessalonians 4:1, 1 Timothy 4:13), fellowship (Hebrews 10:25), evangelism (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8), and service (Hebrews 10:24).

When believers commit with one another to regularly meet so as to fulfill these functions, they have become an organized local church. An organized church brings together many members of Christ’s body. Each member of the church has been distinctly gifted by the Lord (Ephesians 4:7-12). Christ gives them gifts based upon the present need so that each person might serve His people and fulfill His purposes both for their individual lives as well as the universal church. By being committed together, an organized local church provides the structure necessary to truly work out the will of the Lord in that community. Due to rare circumstances, a believer might be uncommitted from a local assembly for a time, but one’s ultimate spiritual efficiency and productivity is linked to one’s involvement in the body of Christ.

Several facets must be present in order to be classified as an organized church. 1) It consists of biblically qualified elders/bishops (Titus 1:5; 1 Tim 3:1-7) (the Bible uses the terms interchangeably: elders who shepherd in 1st Peter 5:1-4; bishops who shepherd in Acts 20:28). The actual number of elders may vary, except that virtually every reference to the leadership of the church is plural (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-4; Hebrews 13:7, 17) thus indicating there should probably be a plurality. Elders are to submit to the leadership of Christ and administer His will in the spiritual lives of the congregation (1 Peter 5:2). 2) Its members submit their spiritual lives to the leadership of the elders (Hebrews 13:17). 3) The church meets for the purposes noted above, namely worship, instruction, fellowship, evangelism, and service. 4) It honors the ordinances set down by Christ to administer believer’s baptism and communion (communion Matthew 26:26-29, 1st Corinthians 11:23-26; baptism Matthew 28:19). 5) The church honors the Lord by adhering to the doctrine and teaching of the scripture (1st Timothy 4:13); including all orthodox theology (Titus 2:1) as well as purifying doctrines such as church discipline (Titus 3:9-11). All of this should be performed in a manner that worships and glorifies the Lord.

Published in Ministry
Monday, 02 August 2010 20:54

Philosophy of Ministry - Introduction

Introduction

 

A Philosophy of Ministry is an organized statement of purpose for why the church exists and how it is to serve the Lord. It is a document that can serve the church in developing a particular vision statement for the church as a whole, as well as for individual ministries. The Philosophy of Ministry helps streamline the activities of the church by presenting a guide which helps determine if a ministry or method appropriately fits into how the Lord is working in His church.

Having said this, we hear talk of the importance of developing “a philosophy of ministry” and certainly every church and every pastor should have an idea of working action plan. A more probing question, however, should be asked and that is: “What is God’s philosophy of ministry?” How does God want His church to run? Since scripture does not command us to write down a philosophy of ministry or to establish a vision or purpose statement, nor are we commanded to pray and find out our specific “vision” for “our church”, the primary goal is to obey what God wants us to do. It would seem then, that any philosophy of ministry should really just distill what God has said to do and how it should be done.

Specific details and their timing will differ from ministry to ministry and setting to setting, but although the environment and circumstances vary, God’s overall purposes and intentions for the church will encompass every ministry situation. Likewise, each pastor and/or church develop their own set of beliefs and values about what is important and how ministry should be conducted. Thus while all philosophy of ministry statements should simply distill and reflect the teaching of scripture, they are to help explain and flesh out how that works in the lives of the church or individual.

The following document consists of several parts. These parts represent my current thinking regarding what God's Word has given regarding the leadership and direction of His church. I'd be glad to hear your feedback and thoughts. They are constantly being updated as I grow in my understanding of God's Word.

Warmest Regards,

Russ Brewer

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