Preached at Northwest Christian Church
David P. Kautt
Sunday Morning, August 14, 2011
1 Peter 5:1-4, “The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.”
What does it mean, what is required to lead in God's church? Last Lord's Day we began a look at the subject of church leadership in preparation for the election of church officers coming up next month. Though the national scene, straw polls, presidential debates and candidates announcing their intentions to campaign for the highest office in the land, though all of that political hype and hoopla may get a lot more media attention and to some seem more significant, listen, I don't think there are too many things more important than finding out what this Book has to say about leading in God's church. I don't think there are too many things more urgently needed than prayers for and insight into what God desires for His people. That's why I want to invite you and encourage you to be here each Lord's Day over the next few weeks, so that you can benefit, and so that you will know better how to pray for and encourage those who lead or will lead in this congregation.
What does it mean, what is required y God, if a man is to lead in God's church? I mentioned last Sunday that the nature of church leadership, shepherding, feeding God's flock, setting an example to the sheep, testifying to the saving work of Jesus Christ, all of that DEMANDS that we understand these things NOT from a world point of view, but from a Biblical point of view. And, where does that Bible-view point pertaining to church leadership begin?
It begins with the simply, yet profoundly critical fact that to lead in the church a man must be converted. He himself must be born again.
No, Jesus Himself is not here, in a physical body, to lead His church. But He has sent forth His Spirit to fill and empower men, re-born men, to lead in His stead. Before you and I mark out ballots, we must consider that weighty question: do these men's lives testify to the reality of the new birth? Have they truly been converted? Does it show?
And men, as we consider the calling and the responsibility, the accountability of the calling to lead in God's church, we must look into this 'mirror', God's Book, and honestly ask ourselves if the new birth, Christian conversion, is something that is true of us. 'Is my life producing the fruit of Christ-likeness? Am I truly born again?'
To lead in God's church is more than to wear a title, to win a popularity contest, to come out on top of a straw poll. To lead in God's church, one must be BORN AGAIN. Secondly, to lead in God's church, to lead in God's way, a man must be acutely aware of the needs of others. Priests and Levites may pass right on by the half-dead who lay helplessly beside life's road. But not good samaritans. Hirelings, self-centered hirelings may be blind to their predicaments and deaf to their cries of distress, but not good shepherds! They see the flock the way Jesus sees it, helpless and harassed, scattered and vulnerable and they realize that what they need, who they need is not a hireling, but a shepherd. Men, do you see the need, the needs of God's flock, the crying needs of the countless LOST sheep outside these four walls? To lead in God's church, what does it mean, what is required? Vision, listening ears, why? So that you might come to be aware, ACUTELY aware that people are in need, in need of what the GOOD Shepherd can bring to them, through you!
The nature of church ministry, the nature of church leadership is not a second, third or fourth tier issue. No! Rather, every year, every day it ought to be on the front burner for God's people.
Genuine conversion, an acute awareness of others' needs. Indeed these qualities should mark the life of the church leader or potential church leader. But so should two or three other important components. Let's take a look at them one at a time, shall we?
The next step toward active, vibrant, meaningful leadership in God's church takes us from a simply awareness of others' needs, to a desire, a willing, want, to meet those needs. There's an old adage that has a lot of truth to it when it comes to what we are discussing here. It goes like this, 'A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still.'
Notice how the apostle Peter puts this truth here in our text. He writes, “the elders who are among you I exhort, I, who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion, but willingly...” It's interesting, if not insightful to note carefully what Peter is saying here. In a manner similar to what Paul stressed when he said in 1 Timothy 3, that a church leader, specifically, an elder, must “desire the office,” he must aspire to be, year to become, all that church leadership requires; so Peter explains that the church leader is not really qualified, or at least not quite ready to take up that critical role, if he has to have his arm twisted to do so. “Not by constraint”, “not under compulsion”, “not because you have to, but because you want to”, because it is a part of who you are, a part of who and what God is making you!
In the flyleaf of my Bible where I have these gems regarding church leadership written down, next to this one, the one about a church leader having a DESIRE to meet others' needs, I penned these words: “Here am I, send me, use me, God, to meet those people's needs!”
What does it mean, what is required to lead in God's church? Genuine Christian conversion, an acute awareness of the needs of others, a desire, a willingness to be used to meet those needs. Then, next, an ability, a capability to meet those needs.
Of the five characteristics of the call to church leadership that I have jotted down in the flyleaf of my Bible, this is the one, it seems to me, that gives men the most trouble. Can I do the work that being a church leader would require of me? Without sounding too pious or super spiritual, allow me to answer that question this way: no, you can't! Without God's help, without the power of the Holy Spirit, you can't! And, without sounding like I'm double-talking, contradicting what I've just declared, allow me to answer your question this way: can you? Yes, you can! I mean, if the apostle Paul, a former blasphemer, an ex-persecutor of the church, a self-proclaimed 'violent man', the chief of sinners, if God can choose him, if God can use Him (see 1 Timothy 1:12-17), listen, brothers, He can use you! You CAN do the work of church leadership! If you are a Christian, truly born-again, and growing in your walk with Christ. If you have a desire, an eager willingness to be God's instrument to meet some of the needs of which He has made you aware, then, listen, “God has not given to you a spirit of fear [a timid, doubting spirit, 'I don't think I can!']...” No! Rather, 2 Timothy 1:7, “God has given to you the Spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”
Are you a Christian? Have you received the gift of His indwelling Holy Spirit? Then, listen, hear what His word says to you and to your doubts and uncertainties: Ephesians 3:20-21, “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to His power that is at work, in us [in you], to Him be glory in the Church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” In Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, instructed, shaped, equipped by His mighty word, you have the power! You do! So, then what? Last question, last characteristic of the nature of the call to church leadership. Do you have the opportunity? Has God opened a door for you to be His instrument to meet others' needs?
The subject of the open door, the door of opportunity, is an interesting topic for study from the Scriptures. It is one that relates directly to the subject of church leadership at this point. Open doors, doors of opportunity, what do you think of them? How do you react to them? Exciting – does that word seem appropriate? Frightening – how about that word? Exciting AND frightening... interesting combination, isn't it? Kind of like riding a double-loop roller coaster, right? “A great and effective door has opened to me,” is the way Paul described it to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 16:9). And then he added these words, “And there are many adversaries!”
“A door for the Word, an opportunity to speak the mystery of Christ” - that's what Paul asked the Colossians to pray for him. By the way, did you know that Paul was in chains, in jail, when he wrote that? A door, an opportunity to be God's man to meet others' needs. Exciting? Yes! Frightening? Yes! But, listen again to what the Spirit of Christ said to the angel of the church at Philadelphia: “I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, a wide open opportunity, and no one can shut it! [“I know, I know,” Jesus says, “I know that] you have only a little bit of strength [to pursue those open doors]” but listen, listen to Jesus' precious promise to all who will say, “Here I am, use me!” Revelation 3:7 - “I hold the key of David. I open, no one – no one – can shut and what I shut, no one can open!”
Exciting and frightening! When it comes to leading in God's church, I can't think of two more fitting adjectives, can you?
But listen – what are they in comparison to these nouns? God's unlimited power, Jesus' abiding presence and the Holy Spirit's infinite wisdom.
Brother, if God is calling you to lead, if you truly are His child, born again, if He has opened your eyes to the needs, stirred in you a zeal to address those needs, flung the door open for you to be His instrument to meet those needs – what are you waiting for? The excitement, it will be there, and so will the fearful adversaries! But, listen – best of all, God will be there. God will be there to lead you, to help you, to use you, for His glory, to feed His sheep.