Hello again everyone,
People don’t usually plan to fail, they simply fail to plan. This oft repeated truism goes to the heart of a cluster of questions and issues of concern that were noted on our whiteboard. How can we be more intentional and effectual in developing the sort of disciples who will mature to become shepherds and deacons and their wives? And how great a priority is it for us … really? How is the need for biblical leaders reflected and addressed in our life together as the body of Christ?
The Lord commissioned his apostles just prior to his ascension (a commission which has passed down through the ages to us as heirs of the church Jesus Christ established through his apostles in the first century AD, John 17:20-21):
"Go therefore 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 that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
Matthew 28:19-20 NRSV
Making disciples of Christ (28:19). Maturing disciples of Christ (28:20). Any congregation without a plan to equip and encourage its members to evangelise unbelievers is neglecting Christ’s commission and is likely to fail within a generation or two. Any congregation without a plan to equip and encourage its members towards spiritual maturity is neglecting Christ’s commission and is likely to fail within a generation or two. I do not imagine that any church deliberately plans to fail in this way. It is just that churches, like individuals, too often fail to plan.
The development of church leadership belongs in the category of maturing disciples of Christ. What is your congregation’s plan to stimulate and nurture spiritual growth among its members that will facilitate the development of shepherds and deacons and their wives? Here are some of my suggestions based upon three recommendations recorded on our whiteboard:
Start young. This point reminds me of the formative role of culture—particularly the culture of the Christian home and the local congregation. Does your church reflect a culture that values biblically qualified leaders? What importance would a child of Christian parents growing up in your church learn to attach to the role of elders and deacons? What about a new convert to Christ? Is your local congregation instilling a sense of expectation among its newest members that the eldership and diaconate are achievable goals towards which they might strive? Paul told Timothy, “whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task” (1 Timothy 3:1). Are we saying amen to that in our churches? Are our children and our new converts encouraged to dream of one day being a shepherd or a shepherd’s wife serving the Lord’s church? If not, why not? Whether young in age or young in the faith (or not so young in the faith!), it’s never too early to start entertaining such noble ambitions, and the church should be encouraging aspirations in that direction.
Purposeful training. What would that look like I wonder? For starters, unless it flows out of a culture that truly values and nurtures spiritual maturity and is committed to developing and supporting biblical leadership, it will probably amount to little more than going through the motions.
If I were to briefly summarise the qualities of an elder as described by Paul to Timothy (1 Timothy 3:1-7) and Titus (Titus 1:5-9), and by Peter (1 Peter 5:1-3), I would offer something like this:
An elder is a mature and humble Christian man with the heart of a servant who
- Is respected in and out of the church—possessing Godly character (holiness)
- Is a faithful and proven leader of his family (faithfulness in loving dependents)1
- Knows and lives God’s will as an example to follow (faithfulness in loving God)
- Consistently bears the fruit of the Spirit—possessing Spiritual maturity (holiness)
So, I think training aimed at developing shepherds would seek to facilitate growth in these four areas.2 And, of course, points 1, 3 and 4 are areas of growth that concern any and every believer who is serious about their discipleship to Christ (I recognise that not every Christian marries or raises children and so point 2 may not be directly relevant to all believers, though the majority do marry and raise children). There is not space here to expand upon these four key areas, except to emphasise the need for purposeful teaching and equipping in the church that goes beyond mere creed rehearsal to develop mature and productive disciples of Christ; trusting that some of those disciples who are appropriately experienced and gifted will grow to serve as bishops and deacons, and as wives of bishops and deacons. Are these among the key areas and objectives of the teaching at your church? Again, people and churches don’t typically plan to fail, they simply fail to plan.
Prioritising. We all have limited time and resources. How and where we direct our attention and our resources reveals what we really consider to be important. I also think the priorities of a church will be reflected in the public and private prayers of that community. A church without elders is, according to Paul, unfinished business that needs to be addressed and brought to completion (Titus 1:5). Surely this means that developing and appointing biblical church leadership should be a priority for every congregation. Start with creating a culture that honours biblical church leadership and values the roles of elders and deacons as noble tasks worthy of aspiration. Pray regularly for prospective and established elders and deacons and their wives and children. Provide teaching and equipping that focuses on maturing disciples of Christ who will grow to exemplify godly character, faithfulness towards others and towards God, and bear the fruit of the Spirit. Make these things a priority and shepherds and deacons and wives willing to support their husbands in such service will surely follow. We do, after all, tend to reap what we sow (2 Corinthians 9:6; Galatians 6:7-9), which implies planning so as not to fail.
May our efforts to serve God his way bring glory to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who “put all things under [Christ’s] feet and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” Ephesians 1:22-23 NKJV.
Looking forward to seeing you all in Melbourne at the APEDS2020 Conference!
Grace and peace,
I use “dependents” here on the basis that “the fatherless and widows” were especially vulnerable in biblical times without the care and protection of a father/husband (e.g. James 1:27). Responsibility seems to be a key element here. ↩
Some might recognise a chiasm here (A-B-B-A) which, appropriately I think, reflects the Trinity (1 = the Holy Father, 2 & 3 = the Incarnate Son, and 4 = the Holy Spirit). ↩