Hello again everyone,
Here are my thoughts about the next item from our whiteboard offered in the interests of keeping the church leadership conversation going: The Holy Spirit.
Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son.
Acts 20:28 NRSV
Paul’s farewell address to the elders of the church in Ephesus is very informative. He had sent a message to these elders to join him at Miletus on his way to Jerusalem (20:16-17) and what followed was a passionate plea for their diligence and faithfulness. In this context (20:17,28), as in 1 Peter 5:1-4, the terms elder (presbyter) and bishop (overseer) and shepherd (pastor) are used to describe the same church office or role. Biblically speaking: an elder is a bishop is a pastor. Paul impresses upon these elders the enormity of their sacred trust by reminding them it was the Holy Spirit that made them overseers and shepherds of God’s church which had been purchased with the blood of Christ.
The Holy Spirit makes bishops. One is reminded of the selecting and sending of Barnabas and Saul as missionaries from the church in Antioch which was credited to the Holy Spirit and facilitated by the Antiochian prophets and teachers who obeyed the Spirit’s direction (Acts 13:1-4). When Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, instructed Timothy (1 Timothy 3:1-7) and Titus (1:5-9) regarding the qualities and experience to look for in the appointing of elders/bishops/pastors, it was the Holy Spirit establishing the criteria. The Holy Spirit has continued to make bishops ever since: wherever and whenever men that meet the Spirit’s criteria preserved in Scripture are appointed by a local church to serve as their shepherds.
The Holy Spirit makes bishops. The kind of qualities to be sought in a man who would be suitable to serve as an elder are the result of the Spirit’s sanctification … notably manifest in the fruit of the Spirit which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23 NRSV).
The Holy Spirit makes bishops. Lord, please raise up godly leaders for your church. I may not know exactly how God might answer that prayer, but I do know that God hears and responds to such petitions. God is active in his world. I fear that reaction against the many speculations and doubtful claims surrounding the Holy Spirit these days leads some to neglect or even deny God’s providence. We must beware of subjective religious consumerism. We must also beware of rationalistic deism at the other extreme. The activity of God through his Spirit reported in both the Old and New Testament Scriptures suggests to me that much of God’s special providence is accomplished through his Spirit. Qualifications such as being a faithful husband and father presuppose a personal history of which God has been a part. I suspect God has had—and continues to have—a great deal of interest and involvement in my life, as he has in yours (Psalm 139). Where can we go from God’s Spirit? I am not suggesting any sort of determinism, but I do believe God seeks to influence us through various means for our good (Romans 8:28) while respecting our free will. Scripture is very clear that God allows and brings about circumstances, ranging from opportunities to trials and discipline, “for our good, that we may share in his holiness” (Hebrews 12:1-12; cf. James 1:2-4). That may include the circumstances which led to your conversion (the circumstances surrounding my own conversion involved a chain of events that were far too many and extraordinary, I believe, to be dismissed as mere coincidences). That may include our selection of a particular spouse (not all women will make a suitable elder’s or deacon’s wife, just as not all men will make suitable pastors or deacons), or some other decision made earlier in life that bears fruit in the direction of church leadership much later on. It may be the choice of one career path over another or pursuing this educational opportunity rather than that one. It may even reach back to include things that are totally beyond our control such as our parent’s genetics and personality traits and family of origin and cultural heritage factors (I think Saul the scholarly Roman citizen and zealous Pharisee who became Paul the apostle to the gentiles provides a classic case study in God’s special providence … as does, of course, Jacob’s favoured son, Joseph). If you’re not already doing so, perhaps a good consistent prayer might be that God and his Spirit influence and create opportunities to facilitate the development of elders and deacons and their wives. Lord, if it is your will (and we know it is your will), please raise up godly leaders for your church!
The Holy Spirit makes bishops. The Holy Spirit gives members of the body of Christ different gifts to equip them for service to and through the church (1 Corinthians 12:1-31). Leadership is a gift of the Spirit given to some (Romans 12:3-8).
The Holy Spirit really does make bishops (and, in similar fashion, the Holy Spirit also makes deacons and the wives of elders and deacons!). Our part is to cooperate with the Spirit rather than quenching or grieving him by neglecting his purposes for us and Christ’s church, or pursuing alternative agendas of our own. Our part is to be led by the Spirit who makes us holy and to bear the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. Our part is to be led by the Spirit through submitting to God’s will revealed in the inspired Scriptures and by being good stewards of the gifts he has given to each of us.
May God bless his church: all those “who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood” (1 Peter 1:2 NIV).
Looking forward to seeing you all in Melbourne at the APEDS2020 Conference!
Grace and peace,