Reflecting The Heart Of The Father. . .

Pastoring By Elders (Part 1)

Mike & Sue Dowgiewicz

[click here for a printable copy]

Men Over 40: The Father Wants You!

VIETNAM, 1972
My closest friend in Navy flight training was a husky Marine named John. A feisty Californian, John spurred me on to many a finish line when I thought I’d drop in my tracks. We were inseparable. After flight training I went to a helicopter combat cargo squadron while John was assigned to a Marine unit elsewhere. We stayed in touch as often as we could.

During my second deployment to Vietnam I was flying from Danang to my ship. A major offensive had begun a few days before around the city of Hue, not far from where I was flying. Suddenly, on my radio I heard a distress call from a unit that was being overrun near the beach. I recognized the frightened voice on the radio: It was my buddy John!
I shouted into the radio, “John, is that you?” John shouted back, “Dogger!! Is that you? Come and get us! We’re not going to make it!!”

Just as I began to turn the helicopter toward the beach, the Commanding Officer of my ship called: “Lieutenant Dowgiewicz! Return to the ship at once or face a court martial!” The court martial part didn’t bother me, but something deep inside caused me to obey orders.

Landing aboard the ship, I was almost overcome by sorrow and despair. I was promptly called to the bridge to face the captain, who had been monitoring the radios and had heard the whole interchange. Fighting back tears, I stood at attention in front of him. “What were you doing?” he demanded. I admitted that John was my best friend. Then he asked, “Dowgiewicz, how did you intend to rescue anyone in an unarmed helicopter?” Feeling stupid, I had no answer.

As we talked, the Captain recognized that I had not intended to be insubordinate in trying to save my friend. I had just given in to an error in judgment. Rising from his chair, the captain put his hand on my shoulder. In a fatherly tone he gently but firmly spoke. “Mike, I’m sorry about your friend and I appreciate the courage it took for you to return to the ship. But there’s a whole offensive taking place and we’re the only combat cargo ship for hundreds of miles. Ships and other units are going to be out of ammunition and supplies if you don’t do your job. I need your helicopter doing what it was sent here to do. Get back in your chopper and fly.”

It was five days before I saw a bed. My copilot and I took turns catnapping in the cockpit whenever we could. Even though I knew I’d done the right thing by flying back to my ship, the voice of John pleading for help haunted me. I wondered how I could ever face his wife back home.

A few days after the offensive subsided, the captain ordered me to fly to one of the amphibious ships that housed Marines. When I landed I was ordered to shut down the helicopter. That was strange. As I hopped onto the flight deck, up from the catwalk popped John, beaming from ear to ear! With a whoop, we hugged and cried and laughed like long-lost brothers. John related his story: A few minutes after I had headed for my ship, a Marine H-53 helicopter armed to the teeth had come in and rescued everyone. My captain had kept track of what had happened. At the appropriate time, he had surprised me in the most wonderful way. Deference to authority had its reward!

My heart had broken when I had thought my friend lay there helpless under fire and I couldn’t save him. Fathers, you’re feeling grieved and frustrated as you see the pain of destroyed families all around you. You want to jump in and rescue them but you are finding no forum or encouragement to do so, even in the Church. But there’s good news! Our compassionate Father in heaven wants to prepare men just like you to enlist in His service to heal His people.

God must weep as He watches the love of His people growing colder. Pollster George Barna will tell you that 43% of Americans consider themselves “born again” — yet families are fracturing at devastating rates and children are drowning in immorality at ever-earlier ages. Could these be your children and grandchildren?

Jesus forewarned us that this would occur: “At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other. . . Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold” (Matthew 24:10,12). Church programs cannot be counted on for the nurturing, loving warmth our Father would like to bring to hurting families. Nor are extended families available to offer the refuge and support that could have been expected only a generation ago. The divorce rate of believers in the United States now exceeds that of the world. Too many of our Father’s children lack either the desire or the ability to help the rest of their biological or spiritual family.

For men over 40 like I am, much of this destruction happened on “our watch.” While we were supposed to be standing guard over our families and faith communities as good soldiers of Christ, the enemy stole in to take us captive. We were duped into thinking that everyone else, from schools to Sunday school classes, would pass along moral and spiritual values to our children. We were wrong! As Sue and I travel around the country sharing Restoration truths, there is hardly a grandparent-aged person we meet whose family has not been touched by divorce.

What can be done? The pain and sorrow of broken homes has not gone unnoticed by our Father. He is recruiting older men whom He can use to undo this mess. God is prepared to forgive us for our mistakes and to train us to mend the hurt in our families and faith communities. He is looking for men who are humble enough to obey Him no matter what the cost. Out of His compassionate mercy He will do the rest.

God has given us the means in His Word to carry out His plan. He is restoring the influence and authority of older followers of Jesus to rebuild all that made the early Church so intimate and powerful. Pastoring by Elders amplifies the need to equip wise, older men in their fatherly role in the Restored Church. These men are being restored to the shepherding leadership that elders exercised in both the Hebrew Bible (Older Testament) and the Newer Testament. Older women, as well, are desperately needed to come alongside younger women as a treasured resource of compassion and wisdom.

We recognize that the restoration of pastoring by qualified older men will call for a fundamental change in the structure and operation of a large segment of the contemporary church. We also realize that any questioning of the contemporary role of pastor can become an emotional arena. Love for our Lord, however, compels us to bear witness to the truth. For too long those in leadership have been the successful, educated ones who can “get the job done.” Our intent is not to create a document of controversy. Rather, we are affirming the biblical foundations and relational processes of shepherding God’s people that were embraced by our Hebraic forefathers—our predecessors who first followed Jesus.

Being an “elder” goes far beyond holding a church position. Eldering is a reflection of our Father’s love and care for His people. Paul clearly understood this Hebraic view of the Father when he exclaimed, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1;3,4).

Our Father is a God of compassion and mercy. How very sad that many today, both churched and unchurched, have a distorted view of Him. Unloving treatment by their own earthly fathers and misuse of authority in many areas of church life have distorted the concept of fatherly loving kindness. Our Father is revealing His tender heart more and more as the Restoration continues. He is in the process of recruiting older men who will exemplify His loving nature to His people. Our Father’s nature resides in the hearts of His children, not in their minds.

Let’s focus on the question of age. Obviously, Scripture abounds with examples of younger men who served as priests, prophets, and even kings. The Levites served at the tabernacle from the age of thirty to age fifty (see Numbers 4:3,23,30). David was anointed king at Hebron at age thirty, and Jesus began his ministry at that age. Yet elders, the older men of wisdom, served the people in a far different capacity from those in other leadership roles.

This book is written primarily for men who are forty and older, not because Scripture mandates that as a minimum age but because our Hebraic forefathers understood that men usually do not have sufficient wisdom, experience, or capacity to minister to others before that age. Those who are somewhat younger will benefit by learning how to prepare for the type of leadership which represents the heart of the Father for His people.

There are three categories of men in the forty-plus group:

• Those of sufficient age and character who are biblically qualified to represent the Father in pastoring His people.
• Those who are of sufficient age but missing the complete character development which the Father requires of men who shepherd His people.
• Those who are approaching an age to qualify as an elder but still require more time and experience for mature character development.

And this is who this book is for—especially those who are part of a faith community that has few or no biblically qualified elders. In Bible times, everyone understood that a good elder had certain traits and abilities. Each chapter of this book tells you about one of those characteristics. The chapters overlap some, just as the varying experiences and wisdom of elders overlap to strengthen the Body as a whole.

If you enjoy scholarly research — searching out details on every reference to elders in the Scriptures — we recommend two books in particular: Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch and The New Testament Order for Church and Missionary by Alexander R. Hay. Both were designed as expositions of eldership and the operation of the Church as it would have been understood in the first century.

Who is the Father recruiting to join Him in His restoration? Everyday people who will permit Him to shine through them: “It was at that time Yeshua said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you concealed these things from the sophisticated and educated and revealed them to ordinary folks” (Matthew 11:25, JNT)1. In these pages you will find a composite picture of elders who fulfill God’s plans for Body leadership. And you will discern why strong, loving elders are needed so desperately today.

1. Jewish New Testament by Dr. David H. Stern, P.O. Box 615, Clarksville, MD 21029 (410)764-6144. Used with permission; pp. 15,16.

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SECTION I
Historic Hindrances to Biblical Pastoring by Older Men

Chapter 1
The Assault on the Hebraic Foundations

Let’s start with a surprise.
The clergy class that so prevails throughout the Church today does not find its basis in the Bible. Rather, it was adapted from the pagan practices of the Greeks and Romans who depended on priests to stand between them and their gods. The role of clergy got its philosophical underpinnings from the teachings of Plato in the fifth century BC.

Of profound influence in the second century church was Plato’s concept of cosmic dualism. He postulated that life was divided into two components, the transcendent spiritual arena of eternal truths which he deemed “good,” and the coarse physical realm of matter which he considered “evil.” Lofty spirituality was an ideal, a goal worth forsaking all other values to attain. Consequently, the earthly concerns of temporal life (food, shelter, vocation) were vulgar and common, though unfortunately needed for existence.

Dualism stood in stark contrast to the Hebraic world-view, in which man had been created in God’s image for personal relationship with Him both on earth and in eternity. The Creator viewed the physical body as “good;” joined with the spirit, it defined “man.” God placed such great value on man because, like all physical creation, it testified to His greatness: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Romans 1:20).

The Greek philosophers who converted to Christianity attempted through their writings to reconcile Platonic thought with the Bible. This merger led to a depreciation of life in the here and now, and created an unbiblical “relationship” with God that was mystical and virtually unattainable. Dualism set apart and exalted the clergy, who followed a “spiritual calling.” That kind of thinking is perpetuated today: Many seminaries infer or teach that those who choose to engage in a full-time ministry as an occupation are somehow more spiritual than those in secular vocations. God, however, makes no such distinction between the sacred and the secular, for all that His people do should be for His glory. If you still feel that only “professionals” can be used by God to share His truths, savor the Hebraic encouragement of A.W. Tozer in his classic, The Pursuit of God:

"The “layman” need never think of his humbler task as being inferior to that of his minister. Let every man abide in the calling wherein he is called and his work will be as sacred as the work of the ministry. It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it. The motive is everything. Let a man sanctify the Lord God in his heart and he can thereafter do no common act. All he does is good and acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For such a man, living itself will be sacramental and the whole world a sanctuary. His entire life will be a priestly ministration" (emphasis added).

Because of Plato’s influence, the Hellenistic culture that was so influential during the early Church times despised manual labor as degrading. The Hebraic culture, to the contrary, valued the worth of manual trade. Even before the Fall, Adam and Eve worked in the Garden. Rabbis as well were expected to participate in a profession: Jesus was a carpenter; Paul, Aquila, and Priscilla were tentmakers; noted Jewish teachers Hillel and Shammai were a woodcutter and a carpenter, respectively. Few today would disagree with this apt observation:

"An excellent plumber is infinitely more admirable than an incompetent philosopher. The society that scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water."
—John Gardner

Being in the world but not adopting its values was vital to Hebraic life. However, Church Fathers such as Clement, Origen, and Justin had been powerfully swayed by Hellenistic thought. As converts to Christianity, their combined influence fashioned a new theology for the Church based on Plato’s philosophy. Their emphasis on pietism, withdrawing from worldly concerns in order to focus on spiritual matters, was passed along for centuries within the church. Such personal withdrawal contradicted the family and community participation that exemplified the Hebraic outworking of faith as described in the Newer Testament.

Origen, Clement’s best-known pupil, was called “the father of Christian theology.” Origen had been enveloped by the dualist teaching that regarded flesh as evil and spirit as good. Carrying dualism to an extreme, he actually castrated himself in order to avoid sexual temptation! As he studied the Newer Testament, Origen discovered that he could allegorize the Older Testament away from what he considered an “earthy” perspective. So, for example, the graphic description of marital love in the Song of Songs was allegorized into the relationship between Christ and the Church. Eager theological students from all over flocked to Alexandria to be infused with these teachings.

How could believers so willingly stray from the truth as it had been presented in the Word? Initially, the majority of Christians opposed Origen’s teachings. The system that could explain away the context and content of the Word had risen out of the desire of Hellenist believers to integrate Greek philosophy with the biblical text. In time their writings became venerated as highly as the Scriptures, nullifying any pressure to stay true to what God intended. As students from the Alexandria schools spread out to establish their own arenas of instruction, these misguided interpretations gained ground steadily, ultimately achieving near-universal acceptance.

By the early fifth century, dualist practices had become thoroughly engrained in ecclesiastical thought. This was particularly due to the influence of Augustine. This late fourth century theologian taught that church authority superseded, or took on greater importance than, the authority of the Scriptures. Thus the educated clergy class were able to exert even greater power over the common, illiterate man. It was not until the Reformation — over a thousand years later — that sola scriptura, faith and practice based upon the Scriptures alone, was restored to the Church.

During the unfortunate earlier centuries, however, Christian doctrine shifted away from the trusting faith and spiritual wisdom that would have been imparted to each believer by the Holy Spirit. The increasing reliance on Greek reasoning removed the Spirit from His true place of empowering men and women to live a life pleasing to God. Instead, only the “elite few” could be trusted to interpret God’s Word for the rest of the Body.

The dualist concept also brought about the myriad of church rituals requiring an intermediary on behalf of the people. A priest, a professional clergyman, was required to sanctify, or make holy by prayer, that which God had already created and declared to be good. For instance, no longer could a group of believers simply share in the breaking of bread and passing of the wine cup as the early Church had enjoyed. Dualism viewed bread and wine as too “earthly” to be the body and blood of Jesus; the physical elements had to be spiritualized. And so a sacrament was born which only the clergy could perform on behalf of the congregants. Clergy control through sacraments would keep worshipers enslaved for centuries, distanced from their biblical privilege of walking as a priesthood of believers.

Other facets of our biblical heritage were discarded as well. When Greek oratorical skills replaced Judeo-Christian role modeling, the church lost the Hebraic approach to life’s difficulties: practical application of biblical truth taught by older, wiser men. Through the influence of John Chrysostom, a fourth century theologian from Antioch, oratory rose to new heights. Greek rhetoric (the structure and style of sermons) became the main teaching pattern in the church. Today’s seminary homiletics, hermeneutics, and oratory — all the related fields through which preachers speak at people—find their origins not in the first century Church but in the Greek teaching tradition.
Rejected as well was the halakhic teaching style of the early Church, an approach that relied on discussion and application of God’s Word. (We will discuss this in a later section.) The Hebraic vine had been hacked to the root.

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Chapter 2
Nicolaitanism: Repression of God’s People

Most Christians today are so accustomed to the clergy/laity arrangement in their congregations that they are amazed or even angered when it is questioned. Nicolaitanism is a system of control and power, a governmental system of suppression and subjugation. So how does this tie in with the separation of clergy and lay people?

Perhaps you’re not familiar with the Nicolaitan system that is so odious to God. (We gratefully acknowledge the research of F.W. Grant (1834-1902) in his work Nicolaitanism: The Rise and Growth of the Clergy.) The Nicolaitans were not a religious group. Rather, they promoted a doctrine that sundered the connection between individual believers and their God.

This insidious separation can be seen by the very definition of the name. The Greek word nicolaitane means “conquering the people.” The first part of the word refers to nikos, to conquer or have victory over. The middle of the word is derived from laos, which means “the people”. The commonly used term “laity” is derived from it. The Nicolaitan system subjugates the people by making “laity” out of them through raising up others who lord it over them.

The spiritual predominance of a priestly (or ministerial) system is maintained by the Nicolaitan spirit. Men with the most personal charisma or the greatest natural abilities are elevated to leadership. Believers learn to depend on these individuals for guidance and faith practice rather than on a vibrant personal relationship with the Lord. Such dependence on one man lessens the sense of personal responsibility for obedience that Scripture commands.

Thrusting responsibility for personal holiness onto someone else who will stand in the gap is nothing new. Jeremiah bemoaned the sin of this situation: “A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land: The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and My people love it this way (Jeremiah 5:30,31). Of course, the people themselves are part of the problem. By hiring an intermediary to represent them before God, they mistakenly believe they can hide behind his “holiness.”

In the letters written to the seven churches in the Book of Revelation, two churches are confronted with the issue of the Nicolaitans. The letter to the church at Ephesus states, “But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate (Revelation 2:6). These are incredibly strong words. Can you imagine being the object of something that God hates?

Again, to the church at Pergamum John writes, “Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth” (Revelation 2:15,16). At least the Ephesians hated the Nicolaitan practices as God did. Some of the Pergamum residents, though, embraced that teaching. What an awful situation to be in. How would you like to be someone against whom God Himself must fight?

This is exactly what the Lord is doing in the church today to expose and cast off that pernicious Nicolaitan influence. The church has become so proud in its system of man-made tradition that the Lord must oppose it. The immensity of clergy misconduct, a divorce rate on par with unbelievers, and worldly programs for “church growth” are all part of the delusion to which God has handed over the Western church. Believers can separate themselves so far from the Lord and His ways that He is then compelled to let them live the lie they embrace: “For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie” (2 Thessalonians 2:11).

A lesson for Christians today: Have you ever considered why more first century Jews didn’t devote their lives to the Messiah? Picture for yourself how hard it was for them to give up centuries of dependency on the annual Day of Atonement during which the blood of an unblemished goat was offered for their sins. Commitment to Jesus meant putting their trust in His shed blood alone, once and for all time. How do you change centuries of tradition? After the ascension of Jesus God allowed the Romans to destroy the temple in AD 70 so that the Jews wouldn’t have a place to keep that tradition alive.

Isn’t this what we, the followers of Jesus in the US, are facing today? Believers have had access to the Bible in English for more than four centuries. Why hasn’t the priesthood of all the followers of Jesus occurred before now? The Nicolaitan subjugation! This spirit’s control over much of the Church keeps us from carrying out God’s plans for us: “I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another” (Romans 15:14). The Church needs the freedom to walk in that truth!

Certain clues are evident when the Nicolaitan spirit is ruling:

• You discover that you are looking up to people “holier” than you to intercede between you and God. That mediation role keeps you from having to mature in the relational intimacy and accompanying responsibility that your Father desires.
• Perhaps there are ecclesiastical positions in your faith community that are reinforcing your spiritual infancy and irresponsibility — a “Care Pastor” who visits the sick on behalf of (and maybe instead of) your faith community, or a Youth Pastor who is supplanting the responsibility of parents to teach moral and spiritual standards to their children. Or maybe some in your congregation claim personal preeminence based upon their special spiritual anointing. In either situation, the nature of Jesus is violated, because in position and anointing He came to serve, not to replace.
• You begin to recognize that someone in authority has established certain practices of faith and doctrine with which you are pressed to agree, even if you have no personal biblical conviction about them.
• You encounter individuals who proclaim or introduce themselves by an honorific title, such as, “I am Apostle (or Bishop, Reverend, Prophet) Smith,” rather than as simply, “I’m Joe Smith.”

These indicators should warn you that someone is stepping into a position that removes you from personal intimacy and responsibility before God.

The Destructive Effect of Rule #3
Are you one of the few who is able to read the Bible in its original languages? Probably not. You most likely have a favorite translation which speaks to your heart and which you hope is accurate. However, each group of translators of the various versions are directed by certain rules to guide their interpretive efforts. For instance, the translators of the 1611 King James Version were required to follow Bancroft’s Rules to Be Observed in the Translation of the Bible. Rule #3 states, “The old Ecclesiastical Words to be kept, viz. the Word Church not to be translated Congregation, & c.”1

An unfortunate result of applying this particular rule was that Nicolaitan-supported ecclesiastical positions were reinforced in the church. Bancroft’s Rule #3 perpetuated a clergy class within the church that had been neither intended nor indicated in the Newer Testament. That rule not only negated the Hebraic relational framework that was required for the priesthood of all believers. It also perpetuated the anti-Semitic stance of the converted Greek philosophers and the Nicolaitan dominance in the Church. By maintaining the word “Church” with its structural hierarchical meaning, this rule of interpretation prevented a return to the more relational Hebraic understanding encompassed in “congregation.” The earliest followers of Jesus related to one another as family. They congregated as biological and spiritual families.

Let’s consider one of the examples of anti-Semitism preserved by the translators of the King James version. “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting” (James 1:1). Note that James (actually Jacobus — Jacob! But King James had to be appeased) is writing to the Jewish believers who are dispersed among the nations. In James 2:2 he writes, “For if there come unto your synagogue a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and then come in also a poor man in poor raiment.”

You’re probably thinking, “I don’t remember the word ‘synagogue’ in my translation.” That’s because it isn’t there. The Greek word sunagoge (soon-uh-goh’-gay), from which we get the word synagogue has been translated as “assembly.” Yet that same word is translated in Revelation 2:9 and 3:9 as synagogue of Satan, a truly repulsive-sounding gathering.

The King James translators further continued the Nicolaitan dominance by inserting the word “pastor” in both the Older and Newer Testaments instead of the more precise word “shepherd.” By this act they nullified the biblically-Hebraic basis for “pastoring”: shepherding in the context of caring for a flock of sheep. For example, in the King James version of Jeremiah 2:8, the Hebrew word raah (raw-aw), meaning “to tend a flock” or “to pasture” a flock, is translated “pastor” instead of shepherd: “The priests said not, Where is the Lord? and they that handle the law knew me not: the pastors also transgressed against me...” Emphasis is placed here on a position rather than on the function of a shepherd-leader.

The King James translators again substitute “pastor” for “shepherd” in Jeremiah 17:16: “As for me, I have not hastened from being a pastor to follow thee.” From the time of the Greeks and Romans, the definition of “pastor” has placed an undue emphasis on title and position rather than on the intimate and relational serving, caring, leading and protecting carried out by keepers of sheep. Contemporary use of the word “pastor,” as well, often refers to an occupation. Sadly, in many faith communities, a pastor has little or no intimate knowledge or understanding of the flock supposedly in his care.

In other verses where raah or a derivative is used, it is most often translated “shepherd.” In Psalm 23 the related Hebrew word ro’iy (roh’-ee), also translated “shepherd,” vibrantly depicts the personal devotion of the herdsman: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:1-4).

Intimate knowledge and interaction with the flock are encompassed in this passage. Similar “shepherd” uses appear in Zechariah 10:2: “[T]herefore they went their way as a flock, they were troubled, because there was no shepherd,” and Isaiah 40:11, “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd.”

As a result of the substitution of the word “pastor” for shepherd in certain select passages, then, a clergy class has unscripturally been perpetuated in the Church. Regrettably, the true shepherds whom God has called to “pastor” His Church in the intimate manner He has prescribed are most often prevented from doing so by clergy who have no biblical basis for the position they occupy.

To undergird a clergy/laity distinction in the Newer Testament, translators not only of the King James Version but of virtually all commonly read translations used the word “pastor” in Ephesians 4:11: “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors [shepherds] and teachers.” Had the Greek word used here, poimen (poy-mayn), meaning “shepherd,” been translated as such, this passage would have kept continuity with the other Newer Testament passages that refer to the shepherding role of the elder, presbuteros (prez-boo'-tair-oss). The inaccurate translation creates a false distinction between the Greco-Roman ecclesiastical position of “pastor” and the Hebraic biblical function of “shepherding by elders.”

1. Olga S. Opfell, The King James Bible Translators, Appendix II, p. 23.

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Chapter 3
Undoing the Effects of Rule #3

Buoyed by the dualism of the Greek philosophers and the fourth century Roman government framework, the Church leaders replaced the priesthood of all believers with ecclesiastical dominance. The Empire that had conquered much of the world established a firmly fixed hierarchical system that put power in the hands of a very few. (See our Restoring the Early Church, a free download, for further discussion of Greco/Roman intrusion.)

Because of the anti-Semitic stance taken by the Church in the second and third centuries, many of the Hebraic foundations readily built upon by the earliest believers were discarded. The functions listed in Ephesians 4:11 had been part of the synagogue prior to the advent of the Church. That the Holy Spirit had inspired the Church to keep these practices so that it might be unified and mature is evident in Paul’s letter. Ponder the following verses in your heart to determine our Father’s purposes for the cooperative use of each role:

"It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be shepherds and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:11-13).

Paul had no need to define these functions since they were so well known among the first century Jewish followers of the Messiah. The combination of these anointed functions that had been established in the synagogue would enable God’s people to serve Him, to mature in Him, and to attain the fullness of His Son.

• An apostle (Heb. shaliach/Gk. apostolos) was a person sent forth to an appointed place on a mission. This is not a position of dominance either through ecclesiastical position or anointing. An apostle is a person used by our Lord to complete a specific mission. The Twelve, then Paul, received special commissioning from Jesus. But note other believers referred to as apostles: Andronicus and Junias (Romans 16:7), Barnabas (Acts 14:14), Silvanus and Timothy (1 Thessalonians 2:7).

• An evangelist (Heb. magid/Gk. euaggelistes) was a synagogue planter and repairer. In the Church this person not only shares the Gospel, but gathers together a faith community which he will leave in the responsible care of the elders. Timothy and Titus were both evangelists and church planters: “But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5), and, “The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you” (Titus 1:5).

• A prophet (Heb. esha’elohim or nabi/Gk. prophetes) was one to whom and through whom God spoke for the benefit of His people. Prophets generally functioned beyond the confines of the Hebrew synagogue while Paul expanded that function to include prophetic messages shared within worship gatherings.

• A shepherd (Heb. zaken/Gk. poimen) was a gray-haired man of leadership who imparted wisdom and counsel to a specific group of people.

• A teacher (Heb. rab/Gk. didaskalos) rightly divided the Word to bring clarity to others and to exhort them to action.

God wanted these functions to continue so that His purposes could be fulfilled. Notice that the association of shepherd and teacher is consistent with other biblical passages: “Now the overseer must be. . .able to teach”; “The elders who direct the affairs of the congregation well are worthy of double honor, especially those laboring in speaking and teaching (1 Timothy 3:2; 5:17).

Mike was a counselor to church leaders for many years in southern New England. Many of the men who occupied the position of “pastor” were really evangelists, church planters of the synagogue/ early Church variety. So many of these men experienced difficulties in their ministries because God’s call for them was to share the Gospel, plant the faith community, and move on to start another congregation. The care and training of each flock was to be left to the shepherds, the older men of wisdom in each established fellowship.

Because their seminaries had not understood the Hebraic basis for the distinct roles of evangelist and shepherd, these distressed men had been trained to fill the wrong role. The sad result was tragic burnout in men who were trying to fill the position of “pastor” because they felt that was what they were supposed to do. Their spiritual gifting and anointing, however, lay in other areas. Tens of thousands of today’s “pastors” are actually administrators rather than nurturing shepherds!

The Hebraic understanding of these roles has been lost to the Church for centuries. Remember, the disavowal of Hebraic practices and the severance of Hebraic roots occurred primarily after Greek philosophers converted to Christianity. The writings of such men as John Chrysostom, Justin Martyr, and Origen not only introduced Greek philosophical practices and thought into the Church, but their anti-Semitic vitriol also ripped away and buried the precious Hebraic relational fabric on which Jesus had founded the Gospel.

Think about this: Might the loss of our Hebraic heritage be a direct result of the arrogant conceit shown by the Church toward the Jews? Meditate on Romans 11, especially verses 1 and 25: “I ask then: Did God reject His people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. . .I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.” Our Father has given the Jews numerous irrevocable promises that He will never reject them. Consider the word spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

"This is what the Lord says, He who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—the Lord Almighty is His name: “Only if these decrees vanish from My sight,” declares the Lord, “will the descendants of Israel ever cease to be a nation before Me.” This is what the Lord says: “Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done,” declares the Lord (Jeremiah 31:35-37).

History bears witness to the centuries of the Church’s persecution of the Jews. (See Restoring the Early Church for more on this.) Only in the last 40 years have several Christian denominations repented for branding the Jews as “Christ-killers.” It is difficult for Christians today to believe that God could relegate the Church to centuries of Greek and Roman domination because of its disdain toward the Jews. But consider this: How would the Jewish people respond if they fully realized that God had hardened the hearts of their people for centuries until the full number of Gentiles might enter the faith? Might they wonder, “Why have you Gentiles waited so long?”

For Jew and Gentile alike, our Father is vividly displaying His sovereignty and mercy: “For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all” (Romans 11:32). It is evident that God is in the process of restoring the Jewish people back to Israel. Since the fall of the USSR, 1 million Russian Jews have returned to the land of their forefathers! (That’s one-sixth of Israel’s current population. To put it in perspective, imagine if a flood of fifty million immigrants poured into the US in less than a decade!) The Lord promised this restoration through the prophets:

"See, I will bring them from the land of the north and gather them from the ends of the earth. Among them will be the blind and the lame, expectant mothers and women in labor; a great throng will return. They will come with weeping; they will pray as I bring them back. I will lead them beside streams of water on a level path where they will not stumble, because I am Israel’s father, and Ephraim is my firstborn son. “Hear the word of the Lord, O nations; proclaim it in distant coastlands: ‘He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd’” (Jeremiah 31:8-10).

At the same time, our Father is pouring out on the Gentiles an awakening of the Hebraic components that made the early Church intimate and powerful. An important part of this quickening will be that qualified older men will serve in their rightful place of shepherding in their faith communities.

Apperceive the Word, Don’t Revise It!
That which God is restoring today has not been experienced by the vast majority of the Church since the early centuries. Relational intimacy and spiritual power seem almost alien to believers today but not to those who authored the Scriptures. Since the role of elder in the Newer Testament follows the pattern of the shepherding elder in the Hebrew Bible, let’s review the part played by wise seniors in the Jewish society of the Older Testament. We propose that the pastoring role of elders was God’s plan for His Church just as it had been for the Jewish people.

In order to undo the influence of the Nicolaitan spirit we must apperceive the Scriptures as our Hebraic forefathers did. You might not be familiar with apperception. To apperceive is to return to the original framework of understanding that God gave the Scripture author as he wrote. Only by apperceiving can you fully grasp the background and intent of particular verses and passages.

Consider this example: “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). The Bereans were commended for studying the Scriptures by apperceiving Paul’s new teachings in light of Hebraic scriptural truths. So important were the Hebrew Scriptures as a basis for the gospel message that they were quoted apperceptively all throughout the gospels, the epistles, and the Revelation.

For instance, God commanded the people, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain” (Deuteronomy 25:4). Paul, apperceiving that command, teaches a new application:

"For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely He says this for us, doesn’t He? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you?" (1 Corinthians 9:9-11).

Paul looked back to the intent of the original writer and then brought forward a specific application of its truth. The apostle warns, “‘Do not go beyond what is written.’ Then you will not take pride in one man over against another” (1 Corinthians 4:6). That admonition is especially apt today, when so much of what is said or written is affected by “political correctness” or appeasement of unbiblical agendas.

Paul also cautions the Colossians, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8). Today, the Greek and Roman practices that the Church has inherited must be addressed in light of biblical precedents. If you do not apperceive and define your faith practices through the Scriptures, how can you be sure that you are not operating out of a framework of revisionism?

Revisionism restates historical truth and facts to manipulate them to fit current social or cultural standards. A major attempt at revision in the Church occurred late in the second century. Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyons in Gaul, claimed that the apostle Peter was the “rock” upon which his successors could claim church primacy as the Bishop of Rome. In so doing Irenaeus ascribed ecclesiastical power to Peter which the Bible did not support.

Revisionist writings and councils convinced the Church to adapt the autocratic system of the Roman government with which it became enmeshed. Revisionism within the church has had a profound effect down through the centuries, reflecting customs, practices, and organization far different from what had been intended by our Lord. Revisionism is by no means a problem of the past. Many current history books have been revised to downplay the quest for spiritual freedom sought by America’s Founding Fathers. These texts instead reflect a lust for greater economic prosperity in the New World.

Another current example of revisionism comes from across the Atlantic. In order to appease the Arab countries that provide them oil, several European universities are teaching from revised history books which claim that the Jewish Holocaust never took place. (An ancient proverb says, “Lies written in ink can never replace facts written in blood.”) And to appease feminists, the Bible has recently been revised into a version that promotes a genderless God!

Followers of Jesus who want to be true to the Word of God must be willing to leave behind certain church practices and traditions that may seem “sacred” yet have no biblical foundation. Appropriate the nobility of the Bereans and investigate the Bible yourself to apply what God has said. Like the Bereans, you, too, may yearn to share in the practices of faith that “do not go beyond what is written.”

A simple illustration of apperception and revisionism was shared by Dr. John Garr of Restoration Foundation. A man sets about to build a house. He carefully measures out a pattern for a roof joist and cuts it, then uses that joist as the pattern for the second one. For each and every joist, he uses his original as the pattern. This describes apperception—going back to the pattern of the Word for every application and religious practice.

The revisionist carefully measures out and cuts the first roof joist, then makes a second one from that. But instead of using the original joist as his pattern, he uses the second joist as a pattern for the third, the third joist to make the fourth, and so on. By the time he finishes cutting his last joist and lays it against the original one, he discovers that the measurements are way off. What started as minor deviations added up to major differences. So too with revisionism. As God’s Word was subtly altered to accommodate ever-changing cultural standards, the original pattern of God’s intent was lost.

Consider this: Suppose that in conjunction with restoring the Jewish people to Israel, our Father is restoring to the Church the shepherding by elders which blessed our Hebraic forefathers. Shouldn’t followers of Christ clearly grasp how shepherding people was understood in the Hebrew Bible, the Older Testament? Ask yourself:

• How was the function of elder understood by Paul and the other Jewish believers of the first century Church?
• Was it really God’s intent that pastoring by elders evolve into the clergy hierarchy so prevalent in the western Church today?
• Did God turn the Church over to pagan practices adapted from the Greeks and Romans because of its arrogance toward the Jews?
• Is the current system of clergy dominance a direct result of the Nicolaitan spirit warned about in the Book of Revelation?

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Section 2
The Biblical Basis for Leadership by Older Men

Chapter 4
Shepherding by Elders

Proven leadership was key for the men of Israel who wished to be elders. The Hebrew word for elder, zaken (zah-ken'), connoted men who had proven themselves worth following. Over the course of their lives these men exhibited servant-like character qualities that took into consideration the welfare of others within their family, clan, and tribe. Because the nation of Israel saw itself as a singular “extended family,” each body of elders possessed an inherent interest in the directions and decisions that were made: Their own kin would be affected.

The role of elder was a life’s goal to which men who sought wisdom aspired. Zaken, by definition, means “gray-bearded,” and suggests wisdom gained by many years of life experiences. In Middle Eastern culture, the oldest members of a family were respected and given deference. Thus, the elders—the wisest and most respected men of the families—were venerated and honored.

Biblically, wisdom is generally considered to be embodied in older people: “Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?”. . .“I thought, ‘Age should speak; advanced years should teach wisdom’” (Job 12:12; 32:7). Not all older people are wise, however. Some have wasted their lives as fools by remaining hardened in their ways or mocking those who truly are astute.1 But in general, men are expected to grow in wisdom as they advance in years. And those who evidenced wisdom were sought by God’s people as true leaders.

Dr. Ron Moseley offers this cogent insight: “In Judaism, those who had reached the age of forty were considered to have attained understanding, and those who were over fifty were considered worthy to counsel the younger people.”2 These men were esteemed for their maturity, wisdom, and experience. No problem was too trivial to be disregarded by these spiritual leaders. They were dependent on the Hebrew Scriptures to determine God’s will for those in their care. The elders were also responsible, along with the priests, to ensure that the people were instructed in the Law of God. Faithful obedience to God by applying His Word was paramount, and these older men served to make sure the people did just that.

God Recognizes the Shepherding Role of Elders
Let’s head back in time to explore the historical context for elders. Even before the Exodus, God noted the position and influence of elders. These men served as both a support base for Moses and as representatives of the nation of Israel as a whole. From the burning bush He commanded Moses,

"Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, “The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt.” The elders of Israel will listen to you. Then you and the elders are to go to the king of Egypt and say to him, “The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. Let us take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God” (Exodus 3:16,18).

The elders were to accompany Moses as a unified leadership before the king of Egypt to request permission to worship God in the desert. But these men were far more than silent witnesses. In order to disseminate God’s commands to His people, Moses first addressed the elders because of their recognized influence. He knew that their leadership would carry weight with the rest of the people: “Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, ‘Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb’. . .So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the Lord had commanded him to speak” (Exodus 12:21; 19:7).

Later, God commanded Moses to select seventy of these family heads for His specific purposes. Each of these seventy had proved himself and was known by Moses to be a leader among the people. Because of the intensity of responsibility that this role entailed, empowerment by the Holy Spirit was crucial:

"The Lord said to Moses: “Bring Me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the Tent of Meeting, that they may stand there with you. . .So Moses went out and told the people what the Lord had said. He brought together seventy of their elders and had them stand around the Tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and He took of the Spirit that was on him and put the Spirit on the seventy elders" (Numbers 11:16,24,25a).

The elders operated as a collective body. Their wisdom, rule, counsel, and advice were crucial to the religious and social welfare of Jewish society. The plurality of elders within each community helped to forestall a “power play” by any one individual who might view himself higher than he should.

Let’s consider for a moment the impact this heritage of oversight had on the early Church. The Church was called to be a living organism that drew its power from the Holy Spirit. Therefore the leaders too were Spirit-appointed: “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).

Elders were not elected by popular whim or personal prestige. Because of their age, the fruit and outcome of their lives were readily apparent. Also, others were already following their leadership. In effect, these men were not made elders. Rather, they were recognized by God and man as leaders. They were accountable to God for the diligence with which they ministered His care to equip the saints for service.

The community of believers needed to be trained and encouraged to minister to one another through their gifting. As they reached out to non-believers, they needed to see the example of these godly, wiser believers. What a blessing to see that the Holy Spirit chooses those whom He knows are best suited to serve! And key to that suitability is humility. We know from Scripture that those who humble themselves before the Lord will be the ones lifted up by Him (James 4:10). The character trait of humility does not seek elevation. On the contrary, those who are humble of spirit seldom see the profound impact they are having on others.

Jesus often stressed the importance of servanthood among His disciples. He warned that those who were tempted toward personal recognition would miss the inner blessing of greatness in God’s sight in their scramble for public adulation (see Matthew 23:11,12). Thus Jesus prohibited the use of any titles of honor—“Rabbi,” “Father,” “Teacher”—that would draw attention away from the Father Who alone is worthy of honor (see Matthew 23:8-10).

Historical Note: The body of elders that so often confronted Jesus in the Newer Testament were generally the wealthy council members of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, the scribes (experts in the Law of Moses), and the priests who offered sacrifices. Local communities at the time of Jesus, however, looked to their own autonomous group of elders for representation and guidance. For example, recall the “elders of the Jews” who came to Jesus on behalf of the centurion’s sick slave (see Luke 7:3-5). The local elders were more concerned about the daily needs of their townspeople than about events that might be happening in Jerusalem.

Elder: A Place of Honor in the Family and Faith Community
A Jewish person belonged to a family which was part of a clan which was part of a tribe which was part of the nation of Israel. Leadership at each level was provided by the appropriate elders. The council of elders within the Hebrew community directed the course of life for the whole “family” of Jews who lived there. Every Jew knew that the elders over the city where they resided could be found at the city gate to address issues and problems. We see this in Proverbs 31:23, “Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.”

The synagogue operated as extended spiritual family. The influence of elders within the synagogue structure was as profound as that exercised at the city gates. As pointed out by Ron Moseley, leaders of a synagogue “would join together to form a tribunal for judging cases concerning money, theft, immorality, admission of proselytes, laying on of hands, and a host of other things mentioned in the Sanhedrin section of the Mishnah.”3 Again, the elders functioned as a plurality to better ensure impartiality and justice.

As undershepherds of Christ, new covenant elders were under His authority. As brothers in the faith, they were also mutually accountable to one another to guard and instruct the flock. Just as a husband was the head of his household (a family), so, too, the elders led, protected, and trained up the family of believers. Note the “family” words employed over 250 times in the Newer Testament: brothers and sisters. And what functions and purposes do such intimate family members do for one another? They build each other up by obeying the fifty-four “one-anothering” commands found in the Newer Testament!

Just as each synagogue was autonomous, so too was each Newer Testament faith community—that is, each extended spiritual family. These faith communities, although self-governing and independent, recognized their “family” sense of belonging to each other as did the Jews worldwide. That is why they could be called on to contribute donations for the needier congregations, to share apostolic letters, and to pray for and entertain in their homes believers from other congregations.

A significant example of personal sacrifice for the good of “family” in the larger spiritual context is seen in Acts 11:29,30: “The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.” The believers knew that they could trust the elders of Judea to disburse their offering where it would most benefit their needy family in Jesus.

The practice of gathering funds for the needy had long been practiced in the synagogue. Jewish men known as “almoners” collected money (alms) and distributed it to the poor, a practice hearkening back to the exile period. The same charity was encouraged by James regarding the care of widows and orphans (see James 1:27), as well as by the apostles and their concern for the care of widows (see Acts 6:1-4). Paul extended this concept of “family” responsibility by commanding Timothy to make sure that widows who were really in need were helped by the Ephesian faith community (see 1 Timothy 5:3-10).

This sense of connectedness cries out for restoration. Families today, even in the Church, are fragmented, with little sense of relational responsibility. Several years after we were married, Mike’s dad phoned to ask how much money we had in the bank. One of Mike’s relatives was out of work and his wife was having a baby. Dad recognized the need and felt responsible for the family to join together to meet it. Because Dad held a place of honor in the family, he could exercise the privilege and responsibility to intervene when necessary.

Paul exhibited the same caring concern when he encouraged the Corinthians to give generously: “Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: ‘He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little’” (2 Corinthians 8:13-15).

Succession: An Inherent Process for the Family and Faith Community
The Bible proclaims that our spiritual father Abraham’s trust in God was credited to him as righteousness. Trust in the shed blood of Jesus does the same for believers today. Yet Abraham was chosen by God because He could trust him with an important responsibility: “For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what He has promised him” (Genesis 18:19). God knew that Abraham would instruct in His ways the children who would succeed him. Preparing others to be successors is a critical factor for those who would lead God’s people. The Psalmist reinforced this:

"We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, His power, and the wonders He has done. He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which He commanded our forefathers to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget His deeds but would keep His commands (Psalm 78:4-7).

Why should it matter if someone is prepared to take up a mantle of counsel and leadership? One fact affects all families: Everyone dies at some point. As our society has moved off the farm, succession, or who will serve in place of a certain individual, has been forgotten. Except for those in some family-owned businesses, few of us think about succession. Yet God wants His people to be diligent about the spiritual inheritance we leave to succeeding generations. He desires that each generation “bring up [their children] in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Regrettably, the 50% divorce rate in the church today has proved that we are not succeeding in passing along a vibrant trust in Jesus.

Succession was a vital feature in Hebraic society. The oldest son received a double portion of the family inheritance, not to spend on himself, but to maintain the family property and carry on the family estate. As the oldest, he represented the authority of his father in the family. That is why it was extraordinary for Jacob to favor the younger Ephraim over Manasseh in his blessing, and for Jacob to be favored in God’s sight over the older Esau. Everyone could recognize the privilege and the responsibility of the successor.

Our spiritual heritage indicates that each family and faith community faces two crucial questions: Who will succeed the current leaders? How well are potential successors being trained to lead?” Moses understood the importance of succession. For many years he trained Joshua to succeed him. The succession was complete when Moses passed on the mantle of leadership to the younger man in front of the whole nation: “Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, ‘Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their forefathers to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance’” (Deuteronomy 31:7).

Yet it wasn’t long after the people entered the Promised Land that something failed to get passed along: “After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10). Even great men may fail to properly train the next generation. Samuel was confronted by the elders of Israel because they did not want his sons to succeed him: “So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, ‘You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have’” (1 Samuel 8:4,5). The consequences of his failure to train up successors was profound.

Unlike a tangible inheritance passed along regardless of the heir’s qualifications, succession in leadership demands specific requirements of judgment, maturity, and wisdom. Succession in a family or faith community places great emphasis on understanding the processes needed if future leaders are to be skillfully prepared. Those who succeed must bear at least the same concern for the welfare of the family or faith community as those who are passing on the “mantle.” If not, the family or congregation will suffer the consequences.

An illustration of this concept: As the time drew near for Mike to return to the US from his first of three deployments to Vietnam, the enlisted men in his detachment came to him with a serious concern. Mike’s soon-to-arrive replacement, Gerry, had a reputation as a man who would claw his way to the top no matter what. The men shared their fear that Gerry would care more about his own advancement than for their welfare. Mike knew that what they were saying was true.

Gerry met the ship in Hong Kong. On their last night in port, Mike took him to a viewing deck on top of a hotel that overlooked the harbor. Grabbing Gerry by his shirt collar, he hung him out over the edge. As the startled man gaped at the street some thirteen stories below, Mike rebuked him. “My men are afraid that you’re going to push to advance your career even if it costs them their lives. I want your promise right now that you’ll care for them as I have. And if you don’t promise, I’ll drop you.” In tears he gave Mike his word.

Months later the entire detachment returned to the States. The enlisted men couldn’t rave enough about what a fine officer Gerry had been. Gerry came to Mike to thank him for the tough love he’d shown him. That rebuke had altered his entire outlook and persuaded him that an officer should put his men first. (But he never did ask Mike if he really would have dropped him!)

Time and again Paul admonished the congregations of believers to aim for spiritual maturity. Mature people display an awareness and concern for the well-being of others. Colossians 1:9-12 depicts the results: fruit born in every good work; growth in the knowledge of God; strength from Him for great endurance and patience; joyful thanksgiving. As these inner qualities deepened in the lives of early followers of Jesus, the evidence was obvious to those around them. The men who were mature in these qualities would then be encouraged to lead other spiritual families so that the Kingdom could spread.

A leader who has a shepherd’s heart, which is really akin to our Father’s heart, can readily discern the training and preparation a young man needs to succeed him. Family successors came from within the ranks, not from outside. Eldership was home-grown through the many varieties of relationships that influence a person’s development. An elder’s personal trust and exercise of scriptural obedience required a lifetime of individual decisions. Unfortunately for our faith communities today, however, a spiritual intermediary from the outside, such as a “clergy” person, lessens the NEED for personal intimacy or relational responsibility within the Body. Intimate Body life led by qualified mature men is absolutely vital for the accountability and encouragement so needed to develop future leadership.

1. For further discussion of the various types of fools presented in the Older Testament, see Our Father Abraham by Marvin Wilson.
2. “Evidence of the Jewish Background of the Early Church” Restore! Summer 1996, p. 40. Taken from Philip Blackman, Mishnah; Avot 5:21 (New York: Judaica Press, 1983).
3. Ibid., p. 39.

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Chapter 5
Shepherds: Our Father’s Concern for His People

Scripture abounds with references to an occupation about which most of us today have very little personal knowledge: tending sheep.
Tending sheep was not an esteemed position. In fact, it usually fell to the youngest child in the family who was capable of protecting the animals. Unless you have personally been involved in the care and nurture of these woolly creatures, you cannot fully understand the implications of people as sheep or of shepherds as their leaders.

Having spent ten years raising them at a retreat center, we know firsthand that sheep require tremendous care. We had no prior farming experience, but Mike had been asked to counsel pastors who were under strain in their ministries. Since the Bible refers so often to the relationship between shepherds and sheep, what better way to understand them than through firsthand experience!

When you are around sheep for any length of time, you become identified with them by their odor and by their timetable of needs. Sheep have a flock identification gland in their front hooves. When they rub against each other, this gland gives the flock members a common odor. Their strong olfactory system compels them to be close to one another—they find security in their mutual identifying odor. This is why sheep flock together.

So many potential dangers and disadvantages confront sheep. They are subject to internal parasites if they are not led to different pastures regularly. They are practically defenseless, and with their short legs and hefty bodies, are much slower than most predators. When confronted by danger, they will often stand paralyzed in a huddle, allowing the enemy to pick them off at will. The ewes frequently need manual assistance in giving birth. Can you see how important the shepherd is to the well-being of the flock? Goats, which we also raised, are independent, intelligent, and quite capable of surviving without constant care, but sheep would die without a shepherd.

Human beings require that same loving concern by mature men who represent the Father’s heart. Without diligent care, people are bent on their own destruction. Our Father intimately understands the frailty of His creation. Both testaments depict His appraisal of mankind: “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5); and, “[F]or all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Yet God’s love is steadfast.

Similarities between the needs of humans and of sheep abound in Scripture. The classic Twenty-third Psalm indicates all that God’s people need to prosper in spirit: a faithful, loving shepherd who cares for us; a place of rest where we can feel accepted; restoration and refreshment in his presence; direction and protection; confidence in trials; tender mercy and care; and hope for a wonderful future.

That mankind as well as sheep need the personal care of a shepherd comes as no surprise. Our Father knows that without someone to point the way we will either drive ourselves in frantic pursuit of success or fall back into lethargy and inactivity. Both result in destruction. In order to bear much spiritual fruit we need the role modeling and guidance of men more mature in their pilgrimage with Him. That maturity is hallmarked by diligent and sacrificial care: “He tends His flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young” (Isaiah 40:11).

Moses spent forty years of his prime tending his father-in-law’s sheep, and another forty years leading a stubborn band of wanderers through the desert. This preparation opened his heart to the desperate need of his people for an equally attentive leader who could be trained up to replace him: “May the Lord, the God of the spirits of all mankind, appoint a man over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd” (Numbers 27:16,17).

The shepherd must lead the way with courage and conviction, identifying and confirming the path of safety and righteousness. Paul stresses wholehearted participation: “If it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully (Romans 12:8).

What can we learn about godly leadership from the most famous shepherd in the Hebrew Scriptures? David spent most of his youth learning that shepherding involves intense self-sacrifice, intrusion, and personal discomfort. Time and again he got into situations that endangered his own well-being in order to protect his father’s sheep. Such was God’s training ground to develop Israel’s mightiest warrior. Note David’s honest, forthright response to King Saul about his ability to fight Goliath:

"Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:34-37).

When you are accustomed to disregarding your personal safety for a cause higher than yourself, “self” does not enter into the picture. This is a vital point to remember for elders who would shepherd the Father’s flock. Our Father evaluates the inner motives of a man: “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart’” (1 Samuel 16:7). Human achievement will never be our Father’s criterion for selecting His shepherds. Men who trust in the strength of their own hands—their ability to succeed at all cost—will fail to reflect Him to His flock.

Intimate Contact and Personal Understanding
Sheep are not driven along as are cattle or horses. They need to be led. Our flock knew that when they saw us approach, something interesting was about to happen in their midst: some grain to be dispersed, a move to another pasture, a gathering of the flock to the barn. So they would follow, waiting to see what their shepherd had in store for them. Somehow they knew that we understood their needs and consistently filled them.

Jeremiah put it this way: “Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding (Jeremiah 3:15). Shepherd elders lead their people in righteousness with knowledge and understanding of what is good: to instruction that will prosper their souls and encourage them to bear fruit; to comforting pens for nurture and guidance; and to admonition and correction for attitudes or behaviors that are harmful to both the individual and the rest of the watching flock. A shepherd whose heart is truly after the Father’s own heart, as was David’s, will pour himself out on behalf of those in his care. He will constantly ask his Father for righteous understanding of each situation.

Since each believer is at a different point along his or her pilgrimage, shepherds need intimate knowledge of each one: “Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds” (Proverbs 27:23). One thing you learn from tending a flock: You cannot move them faster than the weakest one can travel. To do so creates a lot of tension for a ewe with lambs; her flocking and mothering instincts collide. Every sheep needs careful attention.

A flock that congregates together is more easily managed. Once the sheep are scattered due to carelessness or laziness on the shepherd’s part, it’s much harder to lead them and they are susceptible to attack. Lack of diligent leadership can bring disastrous results: “So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals” (Ezekiel 34:5).

Human sheep, unlike their woolly counterparts, can hide their pain and needs behind a facade. It takes close contact and mutual trust for some people to open up. Individuals who have no mature believers to come alongside them or who have no access to brothers or sisters for “family” relationship are like the lost sheep of whom Jesus spoke: “When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). Every follower of Jesus needs attentive shepherding as well as close spiritual companions to “one-another” with!

The sheep/shepherd analogy that Jesus paints in John 10 is a poignant model for elders to emulate: “I am the good shepherd; I know My sheep and My sheep know Me (v. 14). Because the sheep have experienced such high commitment from their shepherd, they eagerly respond to his voice: “He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3). In fact, he is intimately aware of the character and quirks of each one, for he knows each by name.

Most visitors to our sheep flock were mystified that we were readily able to identify each ewe, even at a distance! To the casual observer they all looked alike. But we, the shepherds, knew which was the outgoing, bold one, which had a favorite post to rub against, and which one loved to have her ears rubbed. And yes, each one indeed had a name!

Although opportunistic to snag a treat even from a stranger, our sheep did not allow outsiders to get too close. But when they heard the familiar “Sheep, sheep!” from their devoted caretakers, their heads would jerk up and their pace quicken. Even if no goodies were at hand, they’d linger to be scratched or to follow us. Maybe we thought they especially enjoyed our company, but more likely they just felt secure when their shepherds were accessible.

How sad it is that so many congregations have only one individual to look to for leadership. This is generally the “pastor,” the hired position found neither by scriptural precedent nor by command. Such a singular elevation of one person involves incredible stress and responsibility. Little wonder that an article in Leadership magazine revealed, “Ministers had the third highest divorce rate, exceeded only by that of medical doctors and policemen.”1

One leader of a major denomination shared with Mike that the adultery rate among their clergy was approximately 50%. Another denomination has spent in excess of $400 million in out-of-court settlements due to clergy sexual misconduct. The overwhelming burden hefted onto these individuals is crushing their spirits, their marriages, their very integrity.

The number of believers in a home fellowship cannot get so large that the necessary intimacy and attention that are defined in the Word are impossible. Satan himself delights in helping a faith community grow larger than the shepherds can personally render account for to God. Regrettably, some congregations led by elders tend toward rule by oligarchy, or absolute rule by a few. This impersonal system offers control with minimum personal sacrifice. Through this type of closed leadership a small group of men can direct the affairs of a faith community despite inadequate personal knowledge of each individual in the flock. Yet God is looking for more than well-run church corporations. He is judging the so-called “shepherds” whose hearts are not folded with their sheep.

Leadership Through Example
Anyone can be taught information that will add to his knowledge. But a man is changed by what he observes by interaction with role models and through personal confrontation.

Hebraic teaching can be summed up by this: “Do as I do.” The converted Greek philosophers introduced into the Church the concept of education based on disseminating content. The character and experience of the teacher were unimportant, an intimate teacher-student relationship unnecessary. What a fallacy to believe that a biblically knowledgeable society would become morally upright! You have only to look at the Germans of the first half of this century, a culture full of Bible knowledge. But that knowledge did not stop them from the Holocaust atrocities, nor did it motivate many to halt Nazi inhumanity.

How important the criterion of intimate care was in determining leadership in the early Church! The way a man lived reflected his true measure. The writer to the Hebrews reaffirmed this understanding: “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:7,8). Leaders lead by example. What they want to produce in others must be seen in their own lives. In current vernacular: “Does he walk the talk?” Since elders are the undershepherds of Jesus (see 1 Peter 5:4), and Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, the same qualities of caring and attentive leadership should be expected in any era or culture.

The relevance of leaders as godly examples whose lives matched their teachings was reinforced by Paul: “Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church” (1 Corinthians 4:16,17). And Paul elevates Jesus as the model Shepherd in any age when he writes, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).

Our Father loves us too much to allow us to remain uconfronted in our own sin. So too are biblical elders compelled by the Spirit to confront those in the fold who are straying from the Lord. Confrontation can run a gamut from mild chiding to a strong rebuke. Appropriate confrontation by an older man who has intimate knowledge of his disciple is vital because it can incite a younger man to change his course: “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who are working hard among you, those who are guiding you in the Lord and confronting you in order to help you change. Treat them with the highest regard and love because of the work they are doing. Live at peace among yourselves” (1 Thessalonians 5:12,13, JNT)2 Some might call confrontation “tough love”; others recognize it as fatherly concern that clearly exposes evil and points the way to righteousness.

For a number of years at the retreat center we administrated, a singles group from another state came two or three times annually. Although the average age of the group was late 20s, they were led by two young men, ages 21 and 20. Their loving devotion for God and for their brothers and sisters was evident in both these guys. Also in the group was Bill, a man in his mid 30s. who was mainly interested in scoping out the women for dates.

During one of the summer retreats Mike privately asked Bill to walk with him in the pasture, downhill from the lodge. Addressing him in a very fatherly manner, Mike said, “Bill, what you’re doing in this group is wrong. As one of the older men, you’re setting a bad example for the younger guys. Your actions are hindering what those two young leaders are trying to accomplish. I don’t want to see you back here again unless you’re leading this group—and leading them in the path of Jesus!”

Several months later the group returned, with Bill leading them. Several of the singles took Mike aside and told him how, after the last retreat, Bill had asked if he could lead. He had been changed, no longer obsessed with women. Later, when Bill suggested another retreat at our center, some spoke up. “Bill, why would you want to go back there? We heard how tough Mike was on you!”

The singles told Mike Bill’s response: “No one has ever loved me like Mike did. It took love to tell me what I needed to hear.” This was a man who had chosen the path of wisdom: “He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise. He who ignores discipline despises himself, but whoever heeds correction gains understanding” (Proverbs 15:31,32). (See our book Growing Relationships Through Confrontation, a free download, for more on biblical confrontation.)

The Cooperative Leadership of the Jewish Elders
Let’s look at the development of the pattern of cooperative leadership in Jewish history. From Moses onward we see a certain trend: Those who were anointed by God for leadership sought out the elders for guidance and affirmation.
For example, Moses recognized that the Israelites needed more enforcement to follow God than he himself could muster. So he called together the elders whose leadership would reinforce his authority: “Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people: ‘Keep all these commands that I give you today’” (Deuteronomy 27:1).

Following the defeat of the Israelites at the city of Ai, “Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the Lord, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads” (Joshua 7:6). The elders understood the communal responsibility they carried before the Lord in regard to the entire nation. Joshua, who had been mentored by Moses, was their role model for humility and dependence on God. Later, near the end of his life, Joshua would entrust to the elders their primary assignment: to lead the people in obedience to love the Lord their God (see Joshua 23:6-11).

David, too, was mindful of God’s design for the powerful influence of those who were wise and experienced. Although chosen earlier by God to be king and anointed by the prophet Samuel, it was not until he was anointed by the elders that David began to reign: “When all the elders of Israel had come to King David at Hebron, the king made a compact with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel” (2 Samuel 5:3). David understood, as did Moses, that the rule of an entire nation was beyond the capability of any one man. By making an alliance of loyalty with them, he could be assured that his authority would be recognized in every city and town represented by those elders who were present.

David’s successful alliance with the elders of the people continued through his son Solomon. God’s favor rested on the young man, for his heart’s desire was to represent his nation justly: “When all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice (1 Kings 3:28).

Unfortunately for Israel, however, Solomon’s wisdom and willingness to receive counsel from those who also were wise did not pass on to his son: “Then King Rehoboam consulted the elders who had served his father Solomon during his lifetime. ‘How would you advise me to answer these people?’ he asked. . .But Rehoboam rejected the advice the elders gave him and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and were serving him” (1 Kings 12:6,8). From that point on, the kingdom would be divided and ultimately fall.

God had set into place in every Israelite community accessible elders who could be accountable to one another through plurality. No single elder could dictate to others the course of direction for either an individual or for the collective community. Therefore the sheep could find a measure of security in the care of their local shepherds even if the ruler of the nation proved unreliable.

This practice of relational accountability is especially needed today. One of the safeguards that comes from a plurality of elders who serve a congregation is the variety of spiritual gifting that will be present in their midst. It is the combination of all the gifts in synchrony that completely equips the saints for service. Believers need the interplay of individual gifting so that no one individual burns out or races ahead of the rest because of pride or impatience. A far wider breadth of perspective on a given situation comes forth when the collective input of much varying experience, wisdom, and gifting is meshed. No one individual is called to meet all the needs of a faith community. Elders must work as a team.

The “council of the elders” referred to in Psalm 107:32 sensed heavily the responsibility to protect those under their care from insidious influences that could destroy them all. Therefore they stood steadfast on their knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures and their determination to trust God even in unpopular decisions. Study, for example, what appears to be a harsh dictum from God regarding a continually rebellious adult son:

"If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard.” Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid" (Deuteronomy 21:18-21).

God’s reputation was at stake among the nations. Fear of Him had to far surpass any reluctance of His people to obey His commands. The council of elders shouldered that responsibility, even to the extent of determining who needed to be excluded for the good of the nation.

Any good shepherd must know which sheep to eliminate from the flock. When we first started our sheep flock, we were given sixteen ewes. Two of the ewes would prowl the fence line to look for weaknesses. They would push against it until the fence fell down. Then all the sheep would exit the pasture with these two to eat the grass on the other side. We tried all sorts of methods to stop this behavior but none worked. Finally a wise farmer counseled us to cull these two from the flock. They were, in effect, training the others to be rebellious. They were fostering habits that were detrimental to the safety of the rest.

As we gained wisdom through the helpful advice of other knowledgeable shepherds, we realized how important culling was for the health and overall purposes of the flock. In order for the flock to pay for itself we needed each ewe to produce two lambs a year. If, after several tries, we didn’t get twins, we’d sell the ewe. We also looked for lambs who weren’t overly afraid of people since we had so many guests who enjoyed visiting the flock. Unlike goats, sheep are not normally “people friendly.” We kept the lambs that showed a predisposition toward people, and the others we sold. Some people may think our methods were severe or unkind. But consider John the Baptist’s meaning when he tells the people, Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8).

Jesus looked for fruit as a parameter to identify who really belonged to Him. False prophets would bear bad fruit, and like a bad tree, be cut down and thrown into the fire (see Matthew 7:15-20). He commanded His disciples to “go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in My name” (John 15:16). Ask yourself, was the discussion between Jesus and the rich ruler (see Luke 18:18-23) a culling process by which the man himself chose to be culled? Look through the Newer Testament and see who and how God culls. Not everyone who cries “Lord, Lord,” will be welcomed by Him. God’s criterion? “He who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).

1. Richards, Larry and Gene Getz. “A Biblical Style of Leadership?”, Leadership (Fall, 1981), p. 119.
2. Jewish New Testament by Dr. David H. Stern, p. 277.

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Chapter 6
Shepherding: A Father’s Heart

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

No greater purpose can there be for an elder than to accurately represent the Father’s love as he serves fellow followers of Jesus.
The central issue of the Ten Commandments is God’s love toward mankind and man’s responsibility to love God and keep His commandments: “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commandments (Exodus 20:5,6).

The Hebrew word for love in the above passage is ahav (ah-hahv’), a passionate desire to cherish and to be in the beloved’s presence. This kind of love has tremendous emotional connotation, a devotion which produces the fruit of obedience. The hallmark of a shepherd our Father chooses is his love for Him and for His flock.

The same emphasis on ahav is found in Deuteronomy 6:5-7: Love [ahav] the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Again the connection is made with loving God and keeping His commandments, and passing them on to succeeding generations.

The kind of love our Father is calling for can be obtained only through personal repentance and supplication. The issue of love is reinforced in the Newer Testament by agape (ah-gah’pay), the Greek equivalent of ahav. In 1 Corinthians 13 the whole issue of agape love is so important that Paul could state that without it, “I am nothing.” Gifting, faith, wisdom—without love, these are worthless: “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (v. 2). Paul emphasized for the Galatians, besieged by agitators teaching them perversion of the Torah, that, “In Christ Jesus the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through [agape] love (Galatians 5:6).

The issue of ahav and agape love is the critical character element for the shepherds our Father is choosing. This love is first nurtured in a man’s home. In Ephesians 5:33 Paul stipulates, “However, each one of you also must [agape] love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” By growing in love toward his wife through God’s grace, a man is then more prepared to fulfill the Lord’s words, “But I tell you who hear me: [agape] Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27,28).

Again, the type of love that really matters comes only through repentance and supplication for our Father’s empowerment. Agape love is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (see Galatians 5:22), while humility of heart causes this love to grow. Armed with humble love, a man can truly lay down his life for others—a genuine mark of leadership. Humility mirrors a sacrificial heart that sets others before self.

Our Lord looks for a correct heart in his leaders, the heart of the Father. The Pharisees perverted the Torah by demanding blind obedience to man-made traditions. They evaluated everyone by correct behavior. A man who develops a correct heart toward God and his fellow-man will have a heart of ahav and agape. On the issue of love are the Law (Torah) and the Prophets based: “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).

A true shepherd’s heart is really a father’s heart. Impregnating an ovum technically makes a man a father. But the heart of a father is developed over many years as a man learns self-sacrifice and acquires wisdom that is motivated by love. Paul displays his spiritual fatherhood as he emphasizes, “Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?” (2 Corinthians 11:28,29). Fatherhood shoulders concern even when the loved ones are out of reach and all the shepherd can do is pray for them.

Our heavenly Father reveals Himself as He describes shepherding with a father’s heart:

"As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after My sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. . .I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice" (Ezekiel 34:12,16).

A wealth of fatherly instruction for elders pours out of these two verses. It is easy to recognize the parallels between fathers and shepherds. Both keep a close eye on their charges, not confining them with a leash or rigid boundaries but allowing them a certain amount of freedom to make choices. Yet there are always consequences to wrong choices, and children as well as immature Christians need help in facing those situations with integrity. Learning to take responsibility is an important lesson. Otherwise the inexperienced will repeat their foolish errors or learn to blame others.

A godly shepherd searches for and brings back the strays. He feels a responsibility for every single sheep in the flock, not just the ones to whom he is partial or who are easy to care for. At our retreat center we had one sheep in particular that Mike just plain didn’t like. She was our most independent ewe and was frequently sidetracked from following us to the barn with the rest of the flock.

One harsh winter morning she was missing. It was lambing season and Mike suspected she must have wandered off to have her lambs. Frantically he prayed that God would forgive him for his hardness of heart toward that sheep and allow him to find her. Suddenly, down in the woods he spotted faint wisps of steam: newborns! With streaming eyes he rushed down the hill and there she was, a new mother once again. Gently scooping up the wet lambs and holding them close enough to her so that she would follow, he led that stray sheep up the hill and back to the warmth and protection of the barn.

Referring again to the Ezekiel verses, see how diverse is the pattern of care that is poured out by a shepherd who has the Father’s heart:

persevering enough to keep on searching.
loving enough to sacrifice comfort and energy to rescue his sheep.
merciful enough to bind up their wounds and nurture them to recovery.
discerning enough to know which ones to cull for the good of the rest.
just enough to impartially care for them all.

You can see why Paul was so detailed in his listing of leadership qualifications in his letters to Timothy and Titus. These characteristics represent essences of a mature, caring, responsible person. Biblical elders are very special men of God!

Indispensable Suffering
People who have gained wisdom over many years of life experience are not surprised by suffering. Pain comes from the refining fires that help to conform us to the image of Christ. The apostle John recognized the truth of this when he identified himself as “your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus” (Revelation 1:9).

Those who have tasted God’s compassion over the course of many trials know the limitless extent of His mercy. Such men (and women) are neither speechless nor helpless when confronting tragedy in people’s lives. They understand that God alone is the Comforter. They are just His vessels to pour out comfort to the grieving. Peter, whom the Lord forewarned that Satan desired to sift, realized the developmental value of suffering:

"Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name" (1 Peter 4:12-16).

While many younger people have faced severe trials and overcome them with victory, it is over the stretch of many years that they learn the pattern of our Father’s faithfulness. As a youth you are tempted to feel that your own fortitude has carried you through some tough times. Unfortunately for those around you, you might expect that they, too, should just pull up their bootstraps and get on with life. After all, that is what you did! However, people who have received and extended God’s mercy over a long period of time can see past the mystery of a tragedy. They can offer hope and comfort to the weary, even while identifying any actions that need to be taken. This is the picture we get of our Lord: “He tends His flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young” (1 Samuel 40:11).

What a picture of compassionate intimacy! The Shepherd can recognize the special need of those who just can’t go on without personal help—the lambs—yet he doesn’t separate them from the flock or push them beyond their capability or rebuke their weakness. He comes alongside them, bearing their load and helping them to remain connected with the others. Only a man who has suffered and understood our Father’s purpose in it can have such a heart.

Let’s translate this into the service of an elder. Like a father he knows the condition of each of the people in his care—which ones are strong and healthy, which need some “one-anothering” from the rest of the flock, and which are temporarily disabled by a catastrophe and need his immediate attention. Just as a father trains his children to be mature and responsible citizens, the elders should be training up the flock to be aware of each other through exercising their spiritual gifts and growing as extended family toward one another. As part of their flock training, fatherly elders encourage more mature sheep to come alongside those who need special attention. Sheep nurse lambs; shepherds help the sheep do their job well.

Lambs don’t stay little for very long. A shepherd or mature sheep is not meant to “carry” a distressed person on a long-term basis—just long enough for trust in God’s faithfulness to strengthen that needy individual. By tactfully mentoring and guiding others in the flock to assume relational responsibility for each other, elders are not overwhelmed by a myriad of difficult life problems confronting their faith communities. They are gently leading those who have “younger” believers in their care so that both discipler and disciple will grow in spiritual maturity.

God looks at the trusting heart of an elder to be a vessel through whom He can display His loving care. That is why elders are called to minister to the sick through prayer and anointing (see James 5:14). Through discerning prayer these men can perhaps also discover if this is an illness for chastisement, or for the glory of God, or unto death. By this act of mercy they are following the example set by Jesus and His disciples in anointing the sick with oil and healing their infirmities. Through faithful ministry to the afflicted, elders can compassionately point the weary and sick toward a greater trust in God.

A Father’s Larger View
As a shepherd to Israel, David understood that the Father’s purposes for His people extended far beyond the problems and joys of day-to-day living.

God had defined the borders of Israel for Abraham—from the River of Egypt in the South to the Euphrates River in the North. Given the vast number of enemies arrayed against them before they could take that land, the troops needed training—not just military preparation but spiritual training so that they could be victorious through righteous obedience. “In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns. And the Lord said to you, ‘You will shepherd My people Israel, and you will become their ruler’” (2 Samuel 5:2). The mission God entrusted to David involved both the knowledge and compassion of a shepherd as well as the skill and courage of a general.

Like a father with his children, spiritual shepherds see beyond the immediate needs to the larger purpose God has for their faith communities. Training up the flock in one-anothering is vital for growth in maturity, for reaching the lost for the Kingdom, and for developing new gatherings. This is one reason why the epistles address all the faith community family, not just the leadership. Busyness can create a short-sightedness that robs both the elders and the flock of the opportunities God has prepared in advance to further His Kingdom. Availability is a key need for all followers of Jesus. Your neighbors and co-workers need to see Him “with skin on” to know that He indeed lives!

When a faith community that is intent on Jesus reigning in their lives comes together, it is a time for mutual encouragement and edification as well as worship and intercession. When they are apart their concern for one another continues, as well as their burden for the unsaved in their neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and community.

The Body of Christ is far wider than a single congregation. The multiplicity of small faith communities in biblical times were called “the church at Ephesus” or “the church at Jerusalem.” In the same way, each flock must begin to see itself in unity with other flocks so that Jesus’ will might be fulfilled: one flock and one Shepherd.

David understood the importance of unity in his big, sweeping kingdom. He established over forty fortified cities in Israel, each autonomous under the leadership of elders. But the residents of each city understood their connectedness with the rest of Israel and their responsibility to their fellow Jews nationwide. Therefore they could respond to the king’s call when they were needed for battle against Israel’s enemies.

The leadership of our faith communities must have a larger view of their flocks. They must see their congregations as part of the Father’s family at large. Relational connectedness by the shepherds is an important feature for faith communities today if we are to obey our King’s commands and take the land for Him.

Picture each time you meet a new person as if your index finger was extending to touch his index finger. If your relationships remain surface, each meeting will continue to be like one finger tip touching another. But as relationships deepen among believers in a faith community, the fingers begin to slide down alongside each other until they are meshed together. Continued one-anothering strengthens those relationships to form a sturdy bond of relational responsibility for each other.

As a counselor to church leaders, Mike would ask the elders of a congregation, “If you weren’t in positions of leadership in this Body, would you be friends with each other?” All too often the answer was a resounding “No!” These leaders had never been connected relationally, only positionally. They had assumed positions of control and direction in their faith communities but had failed to exemplify the relational leadership that true shepherding calls for.

A certain group of clergy met at our retreat center each month for years. During that time several were driven from their congregations because of their own failures. Mike knew that others in the group could have shared the wise counsel and personal support that might have forestalled the dismissals. At one of the meetings Mike asked those present, “If you were shepherds in the Older Testament and one of you were ill, what would you do?” They responded that they would have helped him care for his flock until he returned to full health.

Then Mike rebuked them: “We’ve lost five men from this group in the past few years because their churches have removed them for cause. Some of you, if you’d had the heart to, could have come alongside to keep them from destroying their own ministries. How many of you here feel better about yourself when you hear that some other shepherd has failed in his ministry?” Every man, some with tears in their eyes, raised their hand to acknowledge their competitive attitude, their jealousy of those who had been successful, and their lack of relational love for those who needed help.

Jesus rebuked His apostles for their sectarian perspective: “‘Teacher,’ said John, ‘we saw a man driving out demons in Your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.’ ‘Do not stop him,’ Jesus said. ‘No one who does a miracle in My name can in the next moment say anything bad about Me, for whoever is not against us is for us’” (Mark 9:38-40).

The apostle John warned his friend Gaius about men who use their position for their own gain: “I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church” (3 John 9,10).

The nature of the shepherd our Father is recruiting and using sees himself as “his brother’s keeper.” A caring shepherd who sacrifices for his flock can easily relate to other shepherds. Together these leaders can more clearly discern the larger interests of the Father and can cooperate with Him with yielded hearts.

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Chapter 7
Authority: God’s Training Device for Faith

The word “authority” can conjure up all sorts of images, either positive or negative depending on your framework. Authority is not authoritarianism. Authoritarianism uses power and position to control and conform people to meet someone’s agenda. It serves the interests of the few who dominate the many. In the Church this system can even use the Scriptures as a series of regulations to control the flock. Authoritarianism will never produce responsible spiritual growth.

Authority, on the other hand, is based on love, not power. Authority is given by God for the orderly passing along of a loving obedience to Him to succeeding generations. Authority confronts the selfish and self-centered focus of human nature and, through instruction and role-modeling, helps a person live for purposes beyond his own personal goals.

From a biblical standpoint authority entails the right to praise or to punish, to include or to exclude. Peter presents particular purposes for authority: “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right” (1 Peter 2:13,14). Paul puts forth the responsibility to protect the Body: “When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5:4,5).

The operation of authority embodies a jurisdictional limit, or boundary. Within his jurisdiction the person in authority has certain supervisory responsibilities and a defined framework in which to function. For instance, the authority of a parent is limited to his or her household. A policeman in Colorado cannot arrest someone in New Mexico. The President of the United States has no authority in France. This seems obvious, doesn’t it? Yet in the church, the biblical lines of jurisdiction and authority have become blurred.

In the early Church, elders pastored the men, who then “pastored” their own families. The Bible states that a man has jurisdiction over his family: “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, His body, of which He is the Savior” (Ephesians 5:22,23). Again, “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord” (Colossians 3:18).

The incursion by clergy into a husband’s jurisdiction has left many men feeling undermined as they have tried to carry out the biblical responsibilities for their families. The pastor, youth group leader, or Sunday School teacher displaces the father’s spiritual influence in his family. Fathers are commanded to “bring [their children] up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (see Ephesians 6:4). If the church jumps in too readily to fill the need, why should a father bother? How much more biblical if an older man came alongside these men to train them to train their families!

Why are men so conspicuous in their absence from faith community participation? Not only do many men feel inferior when they compare themselves to their pastor or youth group leader, they also feel uncomfortable in settings in which people “spill their guts” in front of each other. While women often are able to share openly in any kind of gathering, men often are embarrassed to do so, especially in mixed company. To avoid discomfort the men just stay away from any church involvement at all.

Does this mean that wives and children whose husbands and fathers shun congregation participation have no “court of appeal” if they are suffering abuse? Not at all. Shepherding elders are responsible to protect and counsel those in distress. But clergy who lord their position over other men are treading on the jurisdiction of these individuals.

Biblical jurisdiction is an extremely important issue for God’s shepherds to consider. The unchecked pattern of clergy elevation has resulted in spiritual irresponsibility among husbands and fathers. Mike asked a number of church leaders if they used programs designed to compensate for fathers who were negligent in the spiritual training and oversight of their families. Everyone admitted that many of their programs were designed with that purpose in mind. Instead of coming alongside the man to shepherd him to be a biblical husband and father, the leadership substituted programs that interfered with his jurisdictional responsibilities. The personal investment of time and care that would have modeled godly home leadership had been replaced by increased knowledge dissemination that cost the leader nothing personally.

Authority in a Nutshell
Authority and leadership are not necessarily synonymous. Among God’s people, all men who have authority should be able to lead. However, not all leaders have authority.

Biblically, both men and women are capable of leading. Yet authority is reserved for men within their jurisdictional boundaries. Consider this: A football coach has full authority over his team. The coach is the one who puts players into the game and takes them out. He decides who to include or who to remove from the team. Although the team captain may lead the team, he has no authority over the players. Similarly, deacons may lead by displaying God’s charitable concern for people, but the Bible does not give them authority in their faith communities. A worship leader may facilitate worship, but he or she does not have authority over the people.

“Delegated authority” refers to the limited responsibility a person in authority grants. It should be commensurate with the task to be accomplished. The conditions and limits of this responsibility are normally stipulated in advance. For instance, a father has authority over his children. He may give a babysitter certain responsibilities commensurate with taking care of his children. But authority over the children always rests with the parent.

The foundational understanding of authority is summed up in the phrase, “The buck stops here.” In our faith communities and families our Father establishes those who are in authority: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God (Romans 13:1). He will not accept excuses from those in positions of authority who fail to fulfill their responsibilities. And He will not allow those who exercise authority to blame the ones in their care when they themselves have failed.

In officer candidate school Mike was taught the only acceptable response when confronted by a senior officer: “No excuse, sir!” After several years in the Navy, he began to read the Bible for the first time. One of the things he noticed immediately was that God didn’t accept excuses either. Moses had tried to use his speech impediment as an excuse to stay out of Egypt. When he pushed his point, “the Lord’s anger burned against Moses” (Exodus 4:14). From personal experience Mike could understand that kind of “heat.” When the Lord undertook to recruit Gideon to fight the Midianites, the fearful man offered an excuse: “My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family” (Judges 6:15). Yet armed with God’s assurance, he still ended up leading his troops.

Ponder these Scripture examples:

• When confronted about eating the fruit, Adam could have sought God’s forgiveness; that is, the buck of responsibility could have stopped with him. Instead, he forfeited his jurisdiction by blaming his wife, and they were cast from the Garden of Eden.
• King Saul was confronted by Samuel for failing to completely destroy the Amalekites. The monarch blamed his fear of the people for his act of disobedience. For passing the buck, Saul lost the kingdom, his jurisdiction.
• King David repented for adultery and murder when confronted by the prophet Nathan. By taking full responsibility through repentance and by not passing the buck, David kept his kingdom.

When parents habitually blame their children for the sorry condition of their own lives and excuse themselves for not having fulfilled their parental responsibilities, they risk the possibility of losing jurisdiction over their offspring. Cults today are filled with the children of Christian parents who forfeited their jurisdiction through negligence or blame.

Now think about how all this ties in with God’s view of church authority: “Obey your leaders and submit. They keep watch over your souls 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” (Hebrews 13:17). This verse encompasses two areas of responsibility. First, the Lord commands all his people to submit to the authorities who render account to Him for their souls. These are the men who are willing and able to be where “the buck stops.” God tests the humility and submission of His people by establishing a particular criterion: Do they make it a joy for those in authority to have them under their care?

Second, the Lord demands that those in authority, the men who are willing to be the “buck stoppers,” render account to Him about each one over whom they watch. Any excuses for not knowing the condition of each person become grounds for removing their jurisdiction.

Do you have an intimate relationship with an older shepherd—a caring man who is rendering account for you as part of his flock? Pause to ask God how you might help to make his work a joy rather than a burden. Those who are entrusted with leadership are delighted to see members of the flock taking on joyful responsibility on behalf of each other. For those in authority there is great delight when the people for whom they are responsible seek and obtain God’s wisdom: “My son, if your heart is wise, then my heart will be glad” (Proverbs 23:15).

Remember, submission to authority was nothing new to the Hebraic people. In fact, their ancestors themselves had submitted to the authority instituted by God among His chosen people: “‘Choose some wise, understanding and respected men from each of your tribes, and I will set them over you.’ So I took the leading men of your tribes, wise and respected men, and appointed them to have authority over you—as commanders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens and as tribal officials” (Deuteronomy 1:13,15). The need for order demands that authority and administration be entrusted into capable hands.

In light of this understanding, Peter could write to the believers scattered throughout the Roman Empire: Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right” (1 Peter 2:13,14). Jesus had not raised up a church of revolutionaries or insurrectionists. On the contrary, in those matters in which the Word of God was not violated, his followers were to be models of obedience.

Jesus was pleasantly astonished to discover in the Roman centurion an understanding of deference to authority that paralleled His own relationship with His Father. That is why this man who had charge over a hundred could be commended by Jesus for his strong faith. When Jesus spoke, the soldier could readily identify His submission to His Father’s authority. In that light the centurion was assured that Jesus’ words would be accomplished.

"The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have You come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, He was astonished and said to those following Him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith (Matthew 8:8-10).

Jesus was truly under His Father’s authority, for all that He said and did was aimed at giving glory to His Father in heaven. This fact was readily recognized by the throngs. Throughout the gospels, whenever Jesus did a mighty work, the people praised God.

Because Jesus bore authority as the Anointed One of God, He could delegate authority to His disciples to drive out evil spirits in His Name—and the spirits, recognizing the authority in the name of Jesus, had to obey! “He called His twelve disciples to Him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness” (Matthew 10:1).

Power in the spiritual realm comes from the One with the most authority. Therefore, the presence of the Spirit of Christ in each true follower of Jesus offers the same power today to drive out the workers of the enemy: “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you” (Luke 10:19). Trusting reliance in the Person Who has given this authority to His people brings about victory in spiritual confrontations. (See our book Demolishing Strongholds, a free download, for more on the subject of spiritual warfare.)

With the requirements of the atonement for sin fully and irrevocably fulfilled, the resurrected Messiah could leave His disciples prepared to receive spiritual power from on high. All they needed was His delegated authority to carry out His mission on earth: “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18-20).

Remember, without the authority of the Lord Jesus, these men were ordinary, unschooled laborers. That was obvious to the Sanhedrin whom they confronted (see Acts 4:13). Under His authority, however, these common men were able to shake the world.

Godly Submission: A Matter of Choice
At the retreat ministry, we led a singles group representing over fifteen congregations. When the group first began, most of the women lived alone, away from family or roommates. The average age of the ladies was around thirty, and most of them wanted to be married. After several months we helped a number of the women realize that they had developed a strong attitude of independence and self-will when they had fled the protection of their father’s authority. By allowing themselves to be available to almost any guy who called, many had become hardened to trusting God for the husband He was preparing.

Out of concern, Mike initiated an unusual requirement for the group: Before any man could date the ladies, he had to first ask permission from either the woman’s father, her pastor, or Mike! At first there was some moaning, but soon the women began to feel cherished as jewels of the Lord. And their willingness to have an authority in their lives weeded out the men with wrong motives!

Another interesting point surfaced as the women were able to treat the men as brothers rather than as potential dates. A man needs to be needed. Independence from the protection that godly authority offers had actually proved to be a barrier to the very relationship the women desired, marriage. The women had unconsciously been training themselves to need no one. Many of the women moved back home to come under protection once again. Not too long after this change in the group’s outlook toward godly authority, a number of weddings took place!

Submission to authority, even to those as publicly identified with God as were Moses and Joshua, does not come readily. Rebellion and hostility always seem to be lurking under the surface, prepared to attack God’s shepherds:

"Korah son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and certain Reubenites. . .became insolent and rose up against Moses. With them were 250 Israelite men, well-known community leaders who had been appointed members of the council. They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?” When Moses heard this, he fell facedown" (Numbers 16:1-4).

When those in authority come under attack, their only prerogative is to turn to God. He alone is the Vindicator.

Yet God’s people are commanded to submit to all authority, not just to those who are godly or just. For example, “benevolent” would hardly describe the rule of first century Rome. Oppressive and tyrannical, the Roman authorities could, and often did, steal, maim, or kill for little reason, particularly from those perceived as enemies of the State. Those such as Jewish believers Aquila and Priscilla were ordered along with all Jews to leave Rome (see Acts 18:2). It was in this severe environment that Paul could still write to the believers in the heart of that Empire:

"Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing” (Romans 13:1-6).

These commands must have been particularly difficult for believers to comprehend, much less obey, given the subjugation and atrocities to which they were exposed. Yet Paul does not mince words. God’s goal is much higher than fairness or personal comfort. By responding to injustice with loving trust in their Sovereign Lord, these early Christians were able to win over the hearts of many of their persecutors and expand the Kingdom of God in a way that zealous rebellion could never have done.

So needed was this reminder about the proper place of authority in God’s order that Paul reiterates the same message to Titus on the isle of Crete: “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good” (Titus 3:1). Think how countercultural that message was to people who had a reputation as “liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons”! (See Titus 1:12.) Yet only through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit can people’s character and nature be changed. Thankfully, our yieldedness to that Spirit is what He is really looking for!

Rejection and disdain of authority are counterproductive to God’s will. Refusal to submit to God-ordained authority stems from rebellious self-will that chooses to make and follow its own decisions. Peter goes to great length to list the dreadful consequences for those in antiquity who refused to submit to authority: chains of darkness in hell for the rebellious angels; the devastating flood that destroyed the ungodly of the earth; the fiery devastation of unrighteous Sodom and Gomorrah (see 2 Peter 2:4-6). These rebels chose to “follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority (2 Peter 2:10).

We know from Scripture that Satan understands the concept of authority. In his dialogue with Jesus as they viewed all the kingdoms of the world, he could confidently say, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to” (Luke 4:5,6). Because of the usurped authority that Satan had exercised over the sinful kingdoms of the earth, he could offer these to Jesus in exchange for worship.

Thus we see the danger of abusing authority. Jesus identified a particular area of training that the disciples would need before receiving power from on high: humility, learning to be servant-leaders. He therefore reiterated the difference between His Father’s method of rule and the system of rule that Satan offers the world:

"Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many’" (Matthew 20:25-28).

The pride that caused Satan to be thrown out of his heavenly home is exactly opposite to the humble service that our Father requires of His shepherds.

The commands for God’s people to “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience [and to] bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another” are all the more mandatory for those who have authority in His Body (see Colossians 3:12,13). Paul emphasizes the value of following the example of godly men. Elders who are caring for the flock should zealously desire to draw close to their Father so that their pattern indeed mirrors His heart.

Jesus led through example, humbly washing His disciples’ feet. “Foot-washings” by today’s elders may vary according to the Spirit’s guidance. But there is one constant: Humility produces the leadership character needed for unity in the Body.

Because spiritual leaders are called to see themselves as servants, a sign of mutual submission to one another for the good of the flock will be unanimity. By looking to the interests of others more highly than to your own, humility can truly be a hallmark of your council of elders. Also, prayer and fasting can work wonders to bring about unity of heart and spirit.

The essence of leadership is having those who willingly follow. In our book Restoring the Early Church we mentioned two questions we’ve asked people within congregations and home fellowships:

• Name three people in your congregation to whom you would turn in time of deep trouble in your life.
• Name three people in your congregation with whom you would ask to do an activity.

When those who claim to be in authority barely show up in the responses, there is a grievous problem. A man cannot lead if there is no one following him. On the other hand, Paul commanded Titus to recognize by appointment the older men by whom the new Cretan converts were already looking to as leaders (see Titus 1:5).

Authority: Responsibility to Correct and Admonish
Because authority can so often be abused or misunderstood, Paul offers this insight: “For even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us for building you up rather than pulling you down, I will not be ashamed of it” (2 Corinthians 10:8). The authority which represents our Father is seen by the Christlike fruit it produces.

With the privilege of authority comes the responsibility to discipline. Discipline covers a range that extends in degree from instructing in the way of truth, to a mild chiding, to admonishment, to expulsion and excommunication. Discipline is part of our Father’s loving design for training His people. His love for those in His Kingdom is displayed in His discipline:

"Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:7-11).

The painful discipline that our Father knows we need helps us to better understand His love and sovereign authority over us. This concept flies in the face of current platitudes: “Love means high self-esteem,” and, “A loving God wants me to be happy.” The truly loving Father Whom the Bible depicts has ordained that the road to intimacy with Him means self-denial—trustingly picking up a cross of obedience each day to submit to His will, not our own. Yet mastering obedience comes by training that is repeated over and over in the classroom of submission to God-given authority. Jesus affirms the importance and goal of discipline: “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent (Revelation 3:19).

The first people to correct you are generally your parents. Part of the training process involves learning to respect their position of authority rather than giving in to rebellious self-will. Learning to bring joy to parents is valuable preparation for understanding the application of Hebrews 13:17, making it a joy for the elders who are over you in your faith community: “The father of a righteous man has great joy; he who has a wise son delights in him (Proverbs 23:24).

Foolishness is hidden in the heart of all mankind. That is why the Bible so often repeats a parent’s responsibility: Discipline your son, and he will give you peace; he will bring delight to your soul” (Proverbs 29:17). Discipline develops in a person’s life as he learns to conform his will to that of those in authority over him. When a willful spirit keeps the child from recognizing the importance of obedience, God’s Word again has an answer: “The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself disgraces his mother” (Proverbs 29:15).

If parents continue to offer excuses for their child’s stubborn disobedience or blame parental weariness for their failure to correct their child(ren), destruction and pain are sure to come: “Discipline your son, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to his death (Proverbs 19:18).

Consistent discipline of a child demands self-discipline on the part of the parent. Likewise, discipline development within the flock is a responsibility of elders: “Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who are working hard among you, those who are guiding you in the Lord and confronting you in order to help you change. Treat them with the highest regard in love because of the work they are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:12,13, JNT)1. Not only are elders responsible to serve diligently, but the spiritual family are commanded to respect and honor them for their service.

One point deserves special emphasis. Paul specifically instructs Titus to make sure that the elders he appoints hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that [they] can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it (Titus 1:9). Diligence in personal study and application of the Word is so vital. How else can these shepherds discern false doctrine and heresy, such as present-day gnosticism, Nicolaitanism, legalism, and antinomianism? By biblically confronting those in the flock who are not walking according to the true faith as outlined in the Scriptures, elders can admonish and exhort the errant ones to alter their course.

Those who receive biblical advice, counsel, or rebuke from their elders and mentors should render account by implementing what they have received. When brothers and sisters share with the fellowship what they have learned from applying the counsel they have received, the Body is edified and the elders are encouraged too!

“For these commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light, and the corrections of discipline are the way to life” (Proverbs 6:23). Habitual failure to follow through is often indicative of a spirit of rebellion (remember Deuteronomy 21:18-21) or insubordination (see 1 Samuel 15:23). Recognizing wisdom, receiving it, and applying it are all vital steps in each person’s pilgrimage: “He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise” (Proverbs 15:31).

Authority: God’s Means of Character Development
Below you will find a comparison of biblical characteristics and natural human characteristics. The biblical characteristics that are listed may be viewed as facets of wisdom. The human characteristics may be summed up in the word “folly.” The contrast of wisdom and folly is enormous: “I saw that wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness” (Ecclesiastes 2:13). And people are born bent on foolishness: “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him” (Proverbs 22:15).

As you go down the list, circle the number that best represents your own development level. Ask one or two people who are close to you to review your list with you. Discuss ways in which you can develop some of the godly traits.

Biblical Characteristics < versus > Human Characteristics
Open-handed 100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 Tight-fisted
Joyful 100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 Depressed
Yielding 100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 Defiant
Accessible 100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 Aloof
Zealous 100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 Lazy
Courageous 100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 Fearful
Forgiving 100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 Bitter
Caring 100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 Selfish
Honest 100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 Deceptive
Confident 100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 Worried
Longsuffering 100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 Irritable
Trusting 100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 Cynical
Chaste 100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 Sensual
Thankful 100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 Grumbling
Organized 100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 Sloppy
Merciful 100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 Indifferent
Fair 100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 Biased
Humble 100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 Proud
Gentle 100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 Harsh
Submissive 100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 Bossy
Vigilant 100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 Careless
Hospitable 100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 Isolated
Frugal 100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 Wasteful
Generous 100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 Greedy
Prompt 100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 Late

Your willingness to receive correction in characteristics that are lacking in godliness is a sign of wisdom. Paul reiterated the need for confrontation to Titus as one who was preparing elders for leadership responsibility: “These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you” (Titus 2:15).

The ability for anyone to receive correction becomes increasingly more difficult in a rebellious society that does not abide by the commands of God. As our society turns its back on the standards of the God of Israel, biblical wisdom is disappearing from the public venue: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline(Proverbs 1:7). No matter what society embraces, within the Church God has ordained corrective processes to restore reconciliation and order:

"All Scripture [Paul is referring to the Hebrew Scriptures, the Older Testament, here] is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of His appearing and His kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction" (2 Timothy 3:16-4:2).

Family Authority: Developed in the Home
In 1960 children had a 90% probability of living in a two-parent home. A child born in 1980, however, had less than a 30% chance of being raised by both birth parents. In a very short period of time something important has been lost. We’ve failed to show our children how to succeed us in marriage.

Two factors in particular have contributed to the demise of healthy marriages: the diminished exercise of godly authority in the home, and failure to realize God’s purposes for marriage and child-rearing. Much of what has always been considered parental responsibility has become the domain of schools, including Sunday schools. A father’s leadership—his God-given authority and accompanying responsibilities to his wife and children—have been drastically undermined. His jurisdiction has been taken from him.

The Hebraic Restoration returns God’s people to the issues that made our spiritual father, Abraham, acceptable to God our Father. Abraham was a man surrounded by a culture as pagan as ours. Why did God choose this man in particular? Again, Genesis 18:19 gives a clue: “For I have chosen [Abraham], so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what He has promised him.”

As we mentioned earlier, Abraham believed God which resulted in a trusting faith that God credited to him as righteousness. Your trust in Jesus results in the same credit to you as His follower. Abraham was a man who lived out God’s principles: He allowed Lot first choice of where he wanted to dwell (Genesis 13); he risked his own life to rescue Lot (Genesis 14:1-17); he gave a tenth of everything to Melchizedek (Genesis 14:20); he refused the King of Sodom’s offer of goods in order to keep the pagan king from claiming credit for Abraham’s success (Genesis 14:22-24).

Abraham’s leadership qualities were based on a relationship with the Father that was so intense that it denied self-interest in order to uphold God’s principles. How blessed is the man who has learned self-sacrifice during his own upbringing or from other older men before he takes a wife. Marriage is the arena and agape love the motivator for Christ-like qualities to be matured. Slowly the Church is recognizing that most contemporary men are not prepared for the sacrifice that marriage entails. To meet this need, some faith communities are creating environments in which younger men can have meaningful access to older men, such as early morning accountability groups.

The manner in which you treat your wife and children suggests the level of caring leadership you have developed: “[An elder] must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)” (1 Timothy 3:4,5).

In order to maintain order in the home as well as in the faith community, God has established certain principles of authority. He designed these to bring harmony to your marriage relationship and peace to your home. Just because His principles run counter to today’s platform of gender equality in no way nullifies the words of scripture: “Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God (1 Corinthians 11:3). Headship certainly does not erode dignity or worth—look at the example of the relationship between Jesus and His Father.

Some of the verses that pertain to a woman’s place under authority are difficult to understand, such as 1 Corinthians 11:10, which deals with the “sign of authority” on a woman’s head. However, anyone who submits to authority is submitting to the position ordained by God, not to the person per se. This makes submission to husbands, for instance, far easier for women who realize in their hearts that they are in this way observing the authority of the Lord that has been given to their mates: “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord (Ephesians 5:22), and, “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord (Colossians 3:18).

During women’s retreats we would often ask wives about their feelings toward their husbands. One of the more frequent statements indicated, “I love the man, but I don’t like him.” As we probed, it became clear that many women had a difficult time respecting their husbands. They failed to see in their husbands the humility and concern for God’s principles required for family leadership.

Paul addresses the issue of respect: “However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband (Ephesians 5:33). The command for a wife to respect her husband has too often been demanded unilaterally. Respect has to do with the manner in which a person leads; therefore it must be earned. Blessed is the wife whose husband is in relationship with older men who operate as fathers in his life, role-modeling and confronting him to enable him change. This man is developing into a husband that she will find easy to respect! A man who lacks the wise counsel and advice of older men will thrust upon his wife the difficult burden of trying to respect a foolish husband. Remember, those in authority should also make it a joy for those in their care to mature with them!

1. Jewish New Testament by Dr. David H. Stern, p. 277.

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