THE SHEPHERDING OF THE CHURCH (Pt. 3)
(The Church – God’s Masterpiece – Part 13)
by Pastor-teacher Dennis Rokser
In our last two articles we considered the need and names of spiritual leadership in the church. In this edition of the Grace Family Journal, we want to devote our attention to the nature of spiritual leadership.
And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves. (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13)
BIBLICAL SPIRITUAL LEADERSHIP REQUIRES AN “AMONG YOU” PERSPECTIVE
While the emphasis of these verses are on the believers’ responsibilities to “know” and to “esteem… in love” their spiritual leaders, three vital truths emerge relevant to the nature of church leadership. First of all, pastors are to “labor among you” in the church. The word “labor” (kopiontas) means to toil or work hard to the point of exhaustion. When done properly, ministry is hard work – though accomplished by the grace of God.
But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10)
These verses are a rebuke to laziness in pastoral ministry. As someone told me in jest, “Pastors are too honest to steal and too lazy to work.”
In the apostle Paul, these Thessalonian believers were privileged to have a good example of one who “labored” for the Lord (2:9, 3:5).
Yet, this labor of love must not be merely an act of human achievement cranked out by the flesh. The divine power and enablement of the Holy Spirit is crucial in all of spiritual ministry.
Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily. (Colossians 1:28-29)
The words of our Lord and Saviour (who is our Life) could not be clearer when He told His disciples on the eve of His crucifixion…
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. (John 15:4-5)
And what is to be the pastor’s concentration and focus of labor?
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)
But note again that pastors/elders are to labor “among you.” This not only refers to physical location but should remind us of our equal spiritual position and equal priesthood in Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5).
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. (Ephesians 1:3)
For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26-28)
For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power. (Colossians 2:9-10)
Through the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:12-13), all believers are placed into union with Jesus Christ at the moment of faith in Christ. There are no spiritual “haves” versus “have-nots” in the body of Christ. Nor is there to be a “nico-laity” system in the local church. In His letter to the church of Pergamos our Lord declared,
So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. (Rev. 2:15)
The Scofield Reference Bible remarks…
From nikao, “to conquer,” and laos, the people,” or “laity.” There is no ancient authority for a sect of the Nicolaitanes. If the word is symbolic it refers to the earliest form of the notion of a priestly order, or “clergy,” which later divided an equal brotherhood (Mt. 23:8), into “priests” and “laity.” What in Ephesus was “deeds” (2:6) had become in Pergamos a “doctrine” (Rev. 2:15).1
While there are differences in spiritual giftedness and function in the Church, we must never forget that every believer in Christ has an equal standing and equal positional blessings in Him because of God’s amazing grace. Thus, pastor-teachers are to labor “among” the saints with this doctrinal understanding and grace-orientation so that fellow-believers could become equipped for their “work of ministry” (Eph. 4:13).
“Among you” also indicates involved and not detached leadership. These elders did not emerge from some ivory tower on Sunday in order to preach, only to immediately retreat into some holy huddle until next Sunday. They labored “among” the sheep. Frankly, I am flabbergasted and abhorred by hearing of pastors, how upon completion of their “sermon,” immediately leave the building and depart for home. These spiritual leaders may be “teachers” of God’s Word, but they certainly fail to understand or have the heart of a “pastor-teacher” to the detriment of their local church. And in some cases, they remain inaccessible or unapproachable the remainder of the week as well. On the other hand, some troubled sheep want their pastor to drop all other commitments and priorities to minister to their felt needs RIGHT NOW! When the tyranny of the urgent supplants God’s priorities for the pastor, it will be to the neglect of the overall needs of the church. This also underscores the need and value of having a shared spiritual leadership and the multiplicity of “them that labor among you.”
While it can be difficult to balance the demands of pastoral ministry, we pastors dare not reject or neglect this “among you” perspective or involvement!
Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. (Acts 20:28)
BIBLICAL SPIRITUAL LEADERSHIP REQUIRES AN “OVER YOU” PERCEPTION
And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you. (1 Thess. 5:12)
“And are over you” (kai proistamenous humon) means to have authority over; to preside or superintend over someone or something functionally. “Proistemi” is used in this way as a necessary qualification for both a pastor and deacon regarding their homes.
One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God? (1 Timothy 3:4-5)
Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. (1 Timothy 3:12)
This functional role of leadership needs to be perceived by both the pastor and the believers he presides over. On the one hand, this means practically that pastors need to recognize and become comfortable in their role of spiritual leadership and final decision-making. On the other hand, those under their leadership need to remember and submit to their functional authority (Hebrews 13:17). Both are essential for harmony instead of friction in the flock.
And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves. (1 Thessalonians 5:13)
Furthermore, the sphere and limitation of the pastor’s authority are underscored by the phrase “are over you in the Lord.” Leon Morris adds,
Being “in the Lord,” it is an authority to be exercised for the spiritual good of believers (2 Corinthians 10:8), and not to give the office bearers opportunity for lording it over them (Luke 22:25-27).”2
1 Thessalonians 5:12 (among many verses) highlights the New Testament pattern of elder rule with congregational input. You do not need spiritual leaders if they are not free to lead. As some wit has written, “For God so loved the world that He did not give us a committee!”
This verse also instructs us that a third function of spiritual leaders is to “admonish you.” Hiebert writes,
“Admonish” (nouthetountas) quite literally means “to put in mind” and usually carries an implication of blame attached, calling attention to faults or defects. It is the activity of reminding someone of what he has forgotten or is in danger of forgetting. It may involve a rebuke for wrongdoing as well as a warning to be on guard against wrongdoing. It directs an appeal to the conscience and will of one being admonished in order to stir him to watchfulness or obedience.3
While “admonishing” is not limited to pastors (see 5:14 “warn the unruly”), it is a necessary and scriptural aspect of their function. Mayhue insightfully notes…
Interestingly, these three basic functions correspond to the three titles given to the one role of pastoring the flock. Elder, Overseer, and Pastor are terms used interchangeably in Scripture, to describe the various functions carried out by the same person (cf. Acts 20:17,28; Titus 1:5, 7; 1 Peter 5:1-2). The pastors were to work diligently among the flock; the overseers were to stand before the flock in the Lord as examples and leaders; and the elders were to admonish the flock wisely from the Word of God.4
But in order for the spiritual authority of pastors to not be abused or misused, a third requirement is mandated.
BIBLICAL SPIRITUAL LEADERSHIP REQUIRES A “SERVANT” POSTURE
And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest. And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth. (Luke 22:24-27)
Though in a kingdom context, these quarreling disciples of Christ (who became the apostles of the Church beginning on the day of Pentecost) received here a serious rebuke from their Lord about the need for “servant-leaders,” as Jesus Himself was “among you as he that serveth.” This “servant” posture would also cause Jesus Christ to state,
And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:27-28)
The pastor’s “servant” posture begins vertically with recognizing who ultimately he is serving – namely, the Lord Jesus Christ first, not people.
For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10)
For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come. (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10)
It is one thing to be a servant; it is another to have the spirit or attitude of a servant. What is needed for this to occur?
Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews. (Acts 20:19)
Serving the Lord with the right spirit involves a humility which only comes by grasping the grace of God and relying on the power of God.
For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. (Romans 12:3)
Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. (2 Corinthians 3:5-6)
Though true service begins with the vertical, it overflows to the horizontal — the pastor’s service to others. Thus, all believers (including pastors) are instructed…
For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. (Gal. 5:13)
Apart from this servant posture, spiritual leaders can and will abuse and misuse God’s sheep for their own gain and purposes. Or being consumed with their own egos and rejecting all feedback from the flock, they will act as dominating dictators like Diotrephes of old, of whom the apostle John said…
I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church. Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God.
(3 John 9-11)
A number of years ago A.T. Robertson wrote an article on “Diotrephes” for his Baptist denominational paper. Robertson said that the result was that, “the editor told me that twenty-five deacons stopped the paper to show their resentment against being personally attacked in the paper.”5 Dear friends, unfortunately the Diotrephes dilemma has not gone away. Fellow pastors, may we increasingly have an “among you” perspective, an “over you in the Lord” perception, coupled with a “servant” posture as…
…we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake. (2 Corinthians 4:5) ¢
1 The Scofield Study Bible, (Oxford University Press.), pg. 1332.
2 Leon Morris, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, The First and Second Epistles to the Thesslonians“ Revised (Eedmans Pub. Co – Grand Rapids, MI). pg. 166
3 D. Edmond Hiebert, “1 & 2 Thessalonians” (Moody Press – Chicago, IL), pg. 249.
4 Richard Mayhue, “1 & 2 Thessalonians” (Christian Focus Publications, Great Britain), pg. 139.
5 A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville & Broadman Press, 1933), 6:263.
Dennis Rokser has been involved with the Duluth Bible Church for the last 17 years, serving as pastor-teacher for the last fourteen years.