A Charge to Church Leaders, Part 2

A Charge to Church Leaders, Part 2

When our oldest son, Alexander, was about seven months old Kimberly and I decided to adventure out on a date night to a Texas Rangers baseball game. At this point we didn’t have a regular baby sitter so we called a teenager in our church to see if she was available. Her mother had recommended her to us. We were thankful when she accepted the job. The night arrived and we kissed our little boy farewell as we entrusted our son to the care of this baby sitter. During the seventh inning stretch, I sought out a pay phone, as it was before the days of cell phones, and called home to see how Alexander was doing. To my surprise, the mother of our baby sitter answered the phone and she was frantic. She explained that there had been an “accident”. Evidently, the baby sitter had placed Alexander on the counter and turned away and as a seven-month old will do, he began to crawl and he fell headlong onto a linoleum-covered, cement slab in our kitchen. My heart began racing and pumping out of my chest so we drove rather quickly the 45-minute drive back to our home, trying to obey the laws but not very successfully. When we arrived home, we found our son with a huge lump on his head. We opted to take him to the emergency room for x-rays and evaluation by a doctor. Thankfully, they released him rather quickly to us, saying that everything looked good but to watch for certain symptoms during the night.

Of course, the young girl and her mother were horrified and most contrite as they apologized again and again for the events of the evening. They begged our forgiveness and, of course, we gladly gave it; we understand that accidents can happen to anyone at anytime. But, I will say, the next time we needed a baby sitter, guess whom we didn’t call? It was not because we were upset, resentful, or bitter, but it was because the task of keeping watch over our son’s life required wisdom, skill, and attention, qualities that we were confident this young woman possessed at that point.

Keeping watch over other’s lives is no frivolous responsibility. We come to Acts 20 and God tells church leaders that they are to keep watch over all the flock. Paul gives the charge specifically to these elders in the church at Ephesus, but it is a charge that every church leader owns. God desires church leaders to embrace the gravity of the responsibility that they have been given, but God entrusts to church leaders the care of people’s souls. This charge to church leaders is summed up best in Verse 28, NIV,

28 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.

There are two parts to this charge. The first charge is: keep watch over yourselves. The second part is: keep watch over all the flock. In the previous study of this section of Acts, we considered the first part of this charge: keep watch over yourselves. We understood that a church leader who is not walking in obedience to God will not be much value to the people which God has entrusted to His care.

Robert Murray McShane was right on when he said, “My people’s greatest need is my personal holiness.” Church leaders need to understand that; that our people’s greatest need, the flock of God’s greatest need, is the personal holiness of those who are stewards entrusted with the care of the flock.

Paul writes to Timothy, in 1 Timothy 4:16, NIV,

16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

The sad fact that some church leaders begin their ministries well but do not finish well is because they do not persevere in these things: their life and their doctrines in their daily pursuit of godliness. And yet, this is to be our focus.

One Japanese businessman was talking to a western friend and he said, and it is most sobering for church leaders, “Whenever I meet a Buddhist leader I meet a holy man. Whenever I meet a Christian leader I meet a manager.” Beloved, that ought not to be the characterization of church leaders.

The focus in this study is the second part: keep watch over all the flock. There are three aspects of this charge. We are first going to look at the scope of the church leader’s responsibility. Second, we look at the basis of the church leader’s responsibility. Finally, we will study the nature of the church leader’s responsibility.

Before we look at the scope of the church leader’s responsibility, notice the terms that are used to describe the leader in the church. First, in Verse 17, Paul sent to Ephesus for the “elders in the church”. This same group of people is being addressed in Verse 28, NIV, when he says,

28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.

The word elder comes from a word in which we get “presbyterian” and overseer comes from a word in which we get “episcopalian”. Then Paul admonishes them to be “shepherd” and from that word we get the word “pastor”. All of these terms are applied to the same office, whether we call them elder, or bishop, or overseer, or pastor. They all refer to the same office and the same work. Also, observe how they are referenced in the plural form; there is not just one person who is given the task over a single church, but there are a number of people over a single church, e.g., “the elders in the church at Ephesus”, and not the “elder”.

Let’s look at the scope of the church leader’s responsibility. Again we come to Verse 28, NIV, which is the focal verse of this study as it was in the previous study.

28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.

What is the scope of the work? It is all of the flock. Does that mean every Christian throughout all the world? No, it doesn’t because it says “of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers”. That means whatever portion of the flock which the Holy Spirit made them overseers that is the scope of their work. There are a number of principles, namely three, that come from an understanding of the scope of the work of the church leader.

The first principle is that pastors, elders, and church leaders do not have the right to determine for themselves the scope of their stewardship. As a pastor I do not have the right or the option to define what people I care for and what people I don’t care for and leave over into some else’s responsibility. God is the One who distributes this stewardship and in as many people as He gives stewardship, that is as many people who have responsibility or stewardship. In Titus 1:7, NIV, Paul would say,

…an overseer is entrusted with God’s work…

In 1 Peter 5:2 and 3, NIV, God said:

2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.

So, God gives a specific flock under the care of specific leaders and a part of God’s flock is not under the care of various leaders, but there is a part of God’s flock that is under their care. We discern from Scripture that God is the one who defines the scope of whom we are responsible, and it is those people whom the Holy Spirit has entrusted to our care. We don’t define that but the Holy Spirit does.

The second principle is that church leaders must labor to see that not one of his flock is neglected. Every person is precious because God has given each person, and purchased each person along with Himself, to the church and then entrusted each one unto the care and protection and shepherding of the church leaders. If we call a baby sitter and ask that baby sitter to watch over our four children and at the end of the evening we return and find that three of them are healthy and happy, but one is missing. Do we say, “You have done a great job,” because they have done a great job with three. They lost one and they don’t know where that one is at all and that one is completely forgotten. Has that baby sitter done well? No, because they have not been entrusted with one, two, or three, but with all four of the children. So it is vital for spiritual leaders to understand the scope of their stewardship.

If you are a member of Bethany Baptist Church, the leaders of this church have considered that God has entrusted you to us to help you in your life of in growing in faith, obedience, and your ministry unto God. Church leaders will one day give an account for the responsibility to care for each member of the flock that God has given to us.

This is one of the reasons, by the way, why church membership is so important and why it is a healthy thing for you to join a church. It makes clear to church leaders the scope of their ministry. How are church leaders to know, after you have attended one time, or three weeks, or six weeks, or for a year, that you have been entrusted to the care and protection of that group of church leaders if you don’t say, “I want to be a part of this particular body.” It helps clarify to church leaders the scope of their responsibility.

Bethany Baptist Church is large enough that no one person could possibly shepherd all of the members. It would be an impossible task. That is the reason why it is necessary for a church that is growing to continue to multiply leaders, shepherds, within the church; leaders who are on paid staff and leaders who are at a lay level so that every member of the church will be cared for as we distribute those responsibilities among the leadership team.

The third principle we get from this idea of the scope of our ministry: if you are a member of a local church your spiritual life is the business of the leaders in that church. If an elder or a pastor comes up to you and says, “I am concerned about your marriage,” “I am concerned about your salvation,” or “I am concerned about the ministry that God has called you to and your lack of commitment or how you are going about that ministry,” do not become offended and do not say, “That is none of your business. Why are you talking to me about these things,” because it is the church leader’s business. That is what the church is about and that is how God organized it.

It is vital that every member also understands that it is the specific business of church leaders to care for your soul. If you feel your heart in an irregular beat or you feel a pain going down the side of your arm most likely you will pay attention to those symptoms and go to a heart doctor. After the heart doctor examines you and consults with you and tells you that there are some things about your heart that concerns him. You don’t look at that heart doctor and tell him you are offended that he would think that your heart would have anything wrong with it. You don’t say that because you know that is the responsibility of that one and you have entrusted that person with that specific care, so they are right in asking you personal questions about your diet, exercise, and about the things that you are doing in your life. You expect that and you want that from one who takes that stewardship seriously.

We will look now at the basis of church leader’s responsibilities. What right does a church leader have to be involved in the care of another person’s soul? Again, Verse 28, NIV, tells us:

…the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

This is God’s church. It is not any human institution. It is not owned and operated by a specific human board. No, this is God’s church and God wants to make that doubly clear through Paul. The basis of a spiritual leader’s work is not one’s personal magnetism. It is not one’s personal authority. The basis of our shepherding is not because the growth of the ministry under certain leaders has qualified them or has given them this authority. The basis of this ministry is not because of a seminary degree or of a ministry experience or of a ministry skill. What basis do leaders have to care for the church? This basis is that God owns the church and God gives specific people stewardship within that church. God purchased the church with the blood of His own Son Jesus and He entrusts the church in the care of specific human leaders.

We all were bought with a price; we are no longer our own. We recognize that each one of us, at one time, were slaves to sin. We were separated from God and we were citizens of the dominion of darkness. We were, as the Bible says, children of wrath. That is what we were destined for and that was our nature. But, God in His grace sent His Son Jesus and in such perfection to die upon a cross so as to purchase us, to pay a penalty for the guilt of our sin so as to redeem us, to buy us out of this slavery to sin, out of its guilt, out of its power, and ultimately out of its presence, to rescue us through this purchase price from the dominion of darkness and to bring us into the Kingdom of His Own Son so that we would become adopted into God’s family.

The first question that all of us need to ask is: “Am I a member of God’s church?” It is God’s church and He defines membership. It matters not whether you have attained the membership of human representation of the church. You join God’s church not by baptism or family just because your family has been a member of God’s church for generations, not by class, not by signing a piece of paper, or not by any human actions. You join God’s church this way: by God’s grace. God graciously offers you an opportunity to be a part of His people. He says, “I have called out people and the people are separate from the rest of this world and everyone has an opportunity to be a part of My people. You have to choose, though; am I going to be a part of this world’s people or am I going to be a part of God’s people. You cannot have dual membership. You are either a citizen of the dominion of darkness or you are a citizen of the Kingdom of God.”

How do you receive, then, the grace of God to enter into this amazing group of people? It is through faith in Jesus Christ. We must simply believe. The first question that is important for you to ask is: “Am I a member of God’s church?” That is the most important question. I would encourage you today, if you are wondering if you are a part of God’s people to call out upon God through faith in Jesus Christ, “Jesus Christ, I desire to be aligned with you and your Kingdom and your family and I embrace what Jesus Christ has done for me in order to provide for me that which I could never provide for myself and that is access to you, entrance into your family, and eternal life itself. I reject this life in this world’s kingdom has any value what-so-ever and I call out to be a member of your family.” That is the first and most important decision that you can ever make in your life.

This is God’s church. I wince when people refer to a church by the pastor’s name. Someone may be out visiting and they may say, “I went to John McArthur’s church while I was out there.” “I went to D. James Kennedy’s church when I was in Florida.” “I went to David Jeremiah’s church.” I hope no one ever refers to Bethany Baptist Church as “Ritch Boerckel’s church” because it is not an ownership of any person. God owns the church. He purchased it with His blood.

There are two applications for this. First, church leaders have no authority to make decisions concerning the church apart from Jesus Christ. We are stewards. We cannot say, “This is our church and we are going to run it the way we want to.” No, we are stewards of Jesus’ church. We have no authority to make any decision apart from the direction and guidance of God’s Spirit through the Word and through His Son Jesus. So, the church is not to be driven by human, visionary plans or by personal agendas, or by personal preferences, but it is to be driven by instructions Jesus gave to us in the Scripture. Jesus is the only head of the church, so we search the Scripture and say, “Lord, what would you have us to do?” This affects, of course, a myriad of decisions that must be made about practical matters.

Let’s think of a couple of them. Who should we let join the church? Suppose that an upstanding businessman who is wealthy, powerful, and influential in our community came and said he wanted to be a member of Bethany Baptist Church. We ask them for their testimony of faith in Jesus Christ and there is not a clear testimony of commitment to following Jesus Christ through faith or a testimony of the redemption of being born again. On the human side, we look at this person and we don’t want to offend this person. They could possibly help us while we are in a building campaign, both personally, but they could probably influence others to help us. They have many skills which would benefit us. All of these things don’t matter at all. The one question we would have to ask is: “Jesus, what do you say? Should this person be a member of your church?” It is not our church and it is not our option to be able to determine those things. We ask Jesus is this person is one whom He has accepted and whom He has called. Jesus would respond, Matthew 19:23, “It is harder for a rich man to enter into Heaven than it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.”

So you go to the rich person, even at the risk of offending him greatly and deeply and perhaps having him turn from us and never talking to us again, and say, “We are concerned for your soul. You know what the Bible says: ‘You must humble yourself, even like a child or unless you do you will never be born again.’ We accept people upon the basis of what Jesus says and what Jesus has done.”

Imagine that same membership committee looking at another person who, until recently in their life had been a drunkard and had been one of those whom the whole community despised and looked down upon, and they come to us and they call out to God, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner,” and they say that they want to join the church. The committee says, “If that person joins the church, what will that do to our reputation? Should we let that person join the church?” It is not our decision. We look to Jesus for what He would say, and He says (Matthew 11:28), “Come to me all you who are weak and heavy laden and I will give you rest for your soul.”

We have been asking the question recently: should we build a new church? This is not ultimately the decision of men. We look to the Lord Jesus Christ and ask Him what we should do. We apply various principles to discern what the Lord Jesus would have us to do. Does He want us to be fishers of men or because our net is full do we stop fishing and be satisfied that our net is full? We say that we want to continue to be fishers of men which means we need a bigger net.

Do you see how these decisions are not based upon our own human preferences and our own human plans and our own human decisions? These decisions are based upon our asking Jesus what He would have us to do.

The second application is this: we must take great care for within the flock because they were purchased at such a great price. May we never hear the argument of Jesus Christ coming back to us that we have neglected certain ones, when He calls to us, “Didn’t I die for such a one? Didn’t I labor so long and so hard to bring this one into Me? Did I not entrust him to your care? Did I not give her to you to help and to shepherd? Were they not worth your labor after I gave my blood to purchase them?”

The last aspect of keeping watch over the flock is: the nature of the leader’s responsibility. There are two primary duties that are set before church leaders. The first duty is that of feeding the flock. The second duty is that of fending for the flock. These are not the only tasks that the New Testament gives to church leaders, but they are primary ones and they are the ones that Paul emphasizes in the text in 1 Peter 5:2-3. Again, in Verse 27, NIV, Paul says,

27 For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.

In the physical realm, if the shepherd does not feed the sheep he won’t long be a shepherd because the sheep will die. It is the nature of sheep not to be able to feed themselves, water themselves, or find pasture for themselves. They will become sick and emaciated unless the shepherd cares for them. Remember Jesus’ words to Peter just before Jesus ascended into Heaven? Peter is feeling sore from having denied the Lord Jesus three times and in John 21, NIV, Jesus says,

15 …to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”

Two times in those instructions He says, “feed, feed”, emphasizing the primary task among leaders to feed the flock of God nourishing food from the Scriptures, the Word of God itself. The goal of a pastor or church leader in teaching and preaching is not to entertain, not to give a few practical bits of human wisdom, but it is to nourish souls. Church leaders are not to offer candy treats, but they are to offer solid meals. A pastor has no right to decide not to preach the Word of God to the flock of God. That is not something a pastor can biblically choose to do and to say, “It doesn’t look like people today are interested in me preaching the Word so I will give them something else.” That is not an option biblically because God tells us, in 2 Timothy 4:2, NIV, and the pastor Timothy, and through that letter, every pastor after:

2 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.

The sure road to unbelief is not rebellion but forgetfulness. The road to unbelief for a church is the road of forgetting what God has already given to us and reveal to us and that is the fruit that God has given to us through His Word.

Charles Spurgeon would say, in lecture to his students and in instruction to aspiring young pastors, “Sermons should have real teaching in them and the doctrine should be solid and substantial and abundant. We do not enter the pulpit to talk for talk sake. We have instruction to convey, important to the last degree, and we cannot afford to utter pretty nothings.”

Paul would say, “I have not hesitated to proclaim Jesus to the whole counsel of God.”

The second duty is: fending, protecting, and guarding. You may ask, “How do I need protecting?” Listen to what Paul says in Verses 29-31, NIV,

29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.

We must never underestimate our ability to be deceived. All of us are able to be deceived in amazing fashions and in a great degree. That is the reason why Paul says to these elders who are mature leaders, “I never stopped warning you! If you need to be warned after you have become rooted and grounded in the Truth and you still need to be warned, how much more do the people, some of whom who have just are brand new in the faith, need to be warned?”

Who are these “savage wolves”? They are false teachers who distort the Truth of God. That is what we learn from that context. Please note that the dangerous ones arise from within the church; that is, they claim to be believers and they claim to teach the Bible. They point out verses and chapters of Scripture to back up their corrupt, harmful, and distorted teaching. Paul tells us that they distort and twist the Truth.

Such savage wolves rarely reject God’s Truth altogether. They take the Truth and they twist it a little bit; they hardly ever say, “Don’t read the Bible at all”. These are not easy to identify. Jesus says that false prophets come as “wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 7:15). These look as though they are friends of God’s Truth. They don’t appear to be opponents of it. These savage wolves appear to be loving, harmless, helpful, gracious, warm, and inviting. That is the appeal of false teachers and false prophets. They lead God’s sheep through a sweet melody into the desert where the sheep die ugly, spiritual deaths and we all face the fleshly temptations to take refuge in the myths that people from within the church propagate.

In light of this fact, as Paul explains it, a primary duty given to church leaders is to forcefully oppose these savage wolves. Unfortunately, today’s Christian leader often assumes that our duty, first and foremost, is to be nice and that is what a Christian leader is to represent: niceness. This is not God’s priority. What did God say, in James 3:17, NIV?

17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving…

Yes, we want to be nice and we try to be nice, but think of the picture that Paul draws – here is this savage wolf and he is now inside the flock. You are the shepherd, given the responsibility to care and protect the flock. You notice that there is a savage wolf and you come to the savage wolf and say, “Mr. Savage Wolf, we need to sit down and talk. I want to encourage you not to bite the sheep anymore.” That is not the picture, is it? The picture is one of ferocious conflict where you have this man with a staff in his hand and a ferocious beast with teeth bared and mouth foaming. These two are going to go at it and whichever wins get the flock!
That is the tenacity and aggressiveness which church leaders must have.

In 2 Timothy 4:2, Paul would encourage pastors to instruct, correct, and rebuke with gentleness. Some may say, “We are so tired of fighting. Can’t we all just get along?” God says, “No, not until the end of the day, we can’t all just get along. That is the nature of the conflict, the evil one, this world, and the kingdom that is opposition to us. There is a real enemy and we will have to fight the good fight and we must defend the sheep at all cost.”

Tolerating error is not better than appearing mean. It is much better to appear mean-spirited. When church leaders warn the flock, we are accused of being arrogant, divisive, unloving, and malcontent. In the past, I have known such an accusation and I will in the future. I have no doubts, but this is the sacred truth that God has given me. I do answer to other shepherds and I do not answer to other people. We, as shepherds of God in this church, answer to God and we give an account as to how we cared for the flock. God says, through Paul, this is what we must do: we must stand in the gap and warn, and fight the good fight for the sake of the flock.

What are the duties, the responsibilities, the scope of all the flock, and the basis? God purchased the church and we are to feed and we are to defend. May God find us faithful in so doing?