THE SHEPHERDING OF THE CHURCH (Pt. 1)
(The Church – God’s Masterpiece – Pt. 11)
by Pastor-teacher Dennis Rokser
Recently I was reading a very interesting and informative book about the church. It explained its origin, its builder, and its durability. It was fact-filled about its spiritual leadership and members. This book discussed the purpose and function of the church, and how it is to be built God’s way.
I found it intriguing that this outstanding book challenged almost everything that the church growth movement encourages and promotes today. Instead of making the local church a place where the unsaved and unchurched feel comfortable, this book teaches not to be conformed to the world. Instead of pumping in rock music through the speakers so that the unsaved like it when they come, the music is to honor the Lord. Instead of the gathering of the church being primarily evangelistic in purpose, it is to be edificational in nature. Instead of marketing the church via worldly methods, it teaches to love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. Instead of having low-content, interactive Bible studies where the pastor acts as a moderator/facilitator, this book teaches that the pastor is to preach the Word of God so that the people of God have a steady diet of doctrine. Instead of being program-oriented requiring the solicitation of money from the saved and unsaved alike, its emphasis is on ministry to people and giving is only for believers. Instead of the meeting of the church being a time when people are worked up into an emotional lather and lose self-control, this best seller teaches that all things are to be done decently and in order.
Thus, the basic premise of this book did not begin with man and his ideas and felt-needs, but with God and His divine plan and purposes.
As you have probably already guessed, this interesting, informative, and outstanding book was titled . . . the BIBLE; the HOLY SCRIPTURES; the WORD OF GOD! And throughout our ongoing series, the basis of teaching, exhortation, and appeal has been the "thus saith the Lord" of the Word of God. This will remain the bottom-line as we start to consider in this article . . .
THE SHEPHERDING OF THE CHURCH.
When you hear the word "pastor," what mental images come into your mind? Someone who is tall, dark and handsome with the gift of gab? Someone who is a stern looking man in the pulpit? (If you mess with him, you are going to be zapped by God.) The person who hatches, matches and dis-patches people. (If there’s a wedding, a baby, or a death, call Pastor.) Someone who is a smooth talker? A clever fundraiser? A congenial handshaker? A caring hospital visitor?
In addition to these stereotypes of a pastor, TV and Hollywood over the last 20 years have repeatedly portrayed protestant pastors as either bumbling idiots or clever, hypocritical hucksters. And then let me hasten to add that oftentimes church boards and congregations have unrealistic expectations of the pastor as they look for the "perfect" pastor. Some wit has written,
"After hundreds of years, a model preacher has been found to suit everyone. He preaches exactly twenty minutes and then sits down. He condemns sin, but never hurts anyone’s feelings.
He works from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. in every type of work, from preaching to custodial service. He makes $60 a week, wears good clothes, buys good books regularly, has a nice family, drives a good car, and gives $30 a week to the church. He also stands ready to contribute to every good work that comes along.
He is twenty-six years old and has been preaching thirty years. He is tall and short, thin and heavyset, handsome; he has one brown eye and one blue, hair parted in the middle, the left side is dark and straight, and the right side is brown and wavy.
He has a burning desire to work with teenagers, and spends all his time with older folks. He smiles all the time with a straight face because he has a sense of humor that keeps him seriously dedicated to his work . . . and he makes fifteen calls a day on church members, spends all his time evangelizing the unchurched, and is never out of his office." (Author Unknown)
Now shift mentally from the word "pastor" to another term, namely "shepherd." What comes to your mind when you think of a shepherd? Does your concept of a "pastor" match that of a "shepherd"? This is a good question; for the Greek word "poimen" translated as "pastor" (Ephesians 4:11) literally means, "shepherd." So what’s involved in shepherding the flock of God called the local church? And how does God want believers in Christ, as sheep in God’s flock, to respond to the shepherd(s) He places over them in the Lord? To answer these questions, let’s search the Scriptures together in the next few articles regarding,
THE NEED FOR SPIRITUAL LEADERSHIP IN THE CHURCH
The character and effectiveness of any local church is directly related to the quality and convictions of its leadership. Both the Old and New Testaments repeatedly emphasize the need for godly spiritual leadership. Regarding the spiritual leaders of the nation of Israel, God through Jeremiah decries,
The priests said not, Where is the LORD? and they that handle the law knew me not: the pastors also transgressed against me, and the prophets prophesied by Baal, and walked after things that do not profit. (Jeremiah 2:8)
God indicts Judah’s spiritual leadership for not knowing their God; for not teaching His Word; for sinning against God; and for encouraging false worship and vanity. God takes seriously the failures of these spiritual leaders — shouldn’t we?
A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land; The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof? (Jeremiah 5:30-31)
The people of Judah had heaped to themselves teachers who told them what they wanted and not what they needed. They failed to teach them the Word of God. The result? God was going to judge them. May we evaluate our own hearts as to what we really want coming over our pulpits.
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children. As they were increased, so they sinned against me: therefore will I change their glory into shame. They eat up the sin of my people, and they set their heart on their iniquity. And there shall be, like people, like priest: and I will punish them for their ways, and reward them their doings. (Hosea 4:6-9)
What a terrible condemnation on the spiritual leaders of Israel. "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge" (4:6a). Would God say this about your church, or are you being fed the Word of God? "Like people, like priest" underscores the influence of leadership through their teaching and example for either good or evil. Thus, God holds those in positions of spiritual leadership tremendously accountable for their role in the spiritual care and instruction of God’s people. This is why our Lord verbally scourged the religious leaders of His day with such scathing charges as,
Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch. (Matthew 15:13-14)
But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. (Matthew 23:13-14)
Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. (Matthew 23:24-28)
Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? (Matthew 23:33)
So much for Jesus Christ being invited on positive-thinking Robert Schuller’s "Hour of Power." Yet our Lord once again highlights the seriousness and responsibility associated with spiritual leadership. And the pastoral epistles (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus) refuse to lower the standard even one iota when it comes to the leadership of the church.
For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers. (Titus 1:5-9)
Every church needs gifted and godly elders to feed and lead God’s flock. Your spiritual leaders occupy a place of great influence and impact in your life for either your spiritual help or harm. This is why it is imperative that the church is careful as to who is appointed to spiritual leadership, as well as being very prayerful for them. If you presently occupy such a role and responsibility, remember that potentially you may be doubly-blessed or doubly-cursed.
Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. (1 Timothy 5:17)
My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater con-demnation. (James 3:1)
WHO IS THE ONE TRUE HEAD OF THE CHURCH?
The answer to the above question will not be found by looking east to Rome or west to Salt Lake City. It is found by looking north (Isaiah 14:13) to the throne room of God itself; to our risen, ascended Savior — the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul prays that,
The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all. (Ephesians 1:18-23)
In this prison epistle which explains and clarifies the mystery of the church, the apostle Paul removes all doubt regarding the identity of the church’s head. In what is sometimes called the "twin epistle" to Ephesians, Colossians 1 reinforces this truth where Paul added,
Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. (Col. 1:15-18)
Jesus Christ is not only the "head" of His natural creation as the "firstborn of every creation" (1:15b), but He alone is the "head" of His new creation; the church, as He is "the firstborn from the dead" (1:18b). In both references (vs. 15, 18) the Greek word translated "firstborn" (prototokos) refers to a specific position or rank; it does not refer to an event in time.
This meaning is reinforced, as verse 16 makes it clear that Jesus Christ was the Creator, not created. Also, many people were "born" before Jesus Christ was in time. Furthermore, if Paul wanted to say that Jesus Christ was first created, he could have used the Greek word "protoklistos." Instead, the Holy Spirit employed "prototokos" which refers to the supreme position in a family as the father’s heir. Normally, the first born son in a Jewish home was the heir. But if for some reason he became disqualified, the father could give the inheritance to another who would then become the first in rank, though not first in birth. He would be the "prototokos." Psalm 89 clarifies these truths when it reads,
I have found David my servant; with my holy oil have I anointed him: With whom my hand shall be established: mine arm also shall strengthen him. The enemy shall not exact upon him; nor the son of wickedness afflict him. And I will beat down his foes before his face, and plague them that hate him. But my faithfulness and my mercy shall be with him: and in my name shall his horn be exalted. I will set his hand also in the sea, and his right hand in the rivers. He shall cry unto me, Thou art my father, my God, and the rock of my salvation. Also I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth. (Psalm 89:20-27)
In this messianic psalm, Jesus Christ (as the son of David) is predicted to become the "firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth." Though Solomon would actually be David’s first son through birth, he would not he his heir. Why? For the Messiah Himself would become the "firstborn," having a position in rank over all the kings of the earth. This meaning is further established by the writer of Hebrews who stated,
God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds. (Hebrews 1:1-2)
Colossians 1:18 teaches us that Jesus Christ is the "head" of the church as He is God, the originator ("beginning") and sovereign ruler, and heir of the church. He alone died for our sins and rose out from the dead. And what are the implications of this truth? Let me underscore two of them.
What this means practically is this: the bottom line issue is not, "What do the people want?" Instead, it is, "What does Jesus Christ mandate in His Word?" Dear friends, people today in the church feel they need . . .
How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. (1 Corinthians 14:26)
And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; (Luke 18:1)
Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. (2 Timothy 4:2)
But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
(2 Peter 1:19-21)
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21)
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)
Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. (Mark 16:15)
… is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. (1 Tim. 3:15b)
Beloved, is your church and its leaders recognizing the headship of Jesus Christ? Are you letting Him (through the Holy Spirit and via His Word) direct your church?
What is the ultimate purpose and desired result of all this? "That in all things He might have the pre-eminence" (Colossians 1:18c). This verse does not read "in some things" but "in ALL THINGS." Jesus Christ does not merely deserve the prominence in your church and life; He desires the pre-eminence. Fellow-shepherds (pastors), are we recognizing in our preaching and practical decision-making the "chief shepherd" — the Lord Jesus Christ? If not, we need to immediately and personally repent (change our minds); as God wants us to,
Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. (1 Peter 5:2-4)
In our next article we’ll examine the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the spiritual leadership of the church. ¢
Dennis Rokser has been involved with the Duluth Bible Church for the last 17 years, serving as pastor-teacher for the last fourteen years.
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