It gets old….it gets REAL old when I hear of a church having issues amongst themselves. Especially when it’s between the pastor and the leadership. It has been well documented that Jesus Christ is the Shepherd to the lost sheep. In fact God states many times in the OT that shepherds are those who watch over and tend to the lost sheep of the world.
In Jeremiah 23:1-4, God specifically expresses His desire for Shepherd’s purpose in service to Him and what He doesn’t approve of:
“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the Lord. “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 23:1-4 NIV)
Who are the Shepherds? God’s chosen people to lead His flocks! We are all suppose to be leaders; some are just called more dominantly than others. Earlier in Jeremiah, The Lord declared, “Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding. (Jeremiah 3:15 NIV)”.
Look at the KEY PHRASE there….”After My Own Heart”!! Shepherds always keep God’s heart in focus of all they say and all they do! These people are typically called Pastors, Preachers, Reverend, Priest, or Teacher. These people dedicate their lives for the betterment of the Kingdom; they are in tune with the Holy Spirit’s guidance and influence over any other factor.
Where does that leave elders? The Apostle Paul puts it this way, “Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.” (Acts 14:23 NIV) Leaders to whom much time, prayer, fasting was committed to The Lord. Mainly men, whom have a desire to serve for The Lord and not themselves in the church body. Christian leaders & historians state an interesting observation saying, “It was necessary for a congregation to exist for some time before those whose growth toward maturity and whose gifts would be recognized by the local community could be appointed as elders. The religious con man might temporarily deceive with smooth words. But within a community that shared life intimately, time would reveal true character and motivations.”
Without trying to make all elders seem negative or like “con men” in the church, let me emphasise the reason I am pointing these specific scriptures out is because most of the dissension of the leadership is caused by unruly, and ill-appointed elders who gossip as fight for their own intentions. As a pastor, I have been unfortunately burned by this issue and currently have a dear friend of mine going through it now. This is NOT how the church was suppose to be!
The Apostle Paul stated this openly and honestly to Titus of how to qualify and prayerfully chose elders to lead the church: “An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. (Titus 1:6 NIV)” Likewise a Shepherd of the church (Pastor, Preacher, etc), described as an overseer, “Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. (Titus 1:7-9 NIV)”
Notice how Paul emphasized an overseer’s responsibilities being much deeper than even an elders? The relationship between the two must be in harmony and unity to make the church it’s must glorifying to The Lord! But the question that is tainted the most (in my opinion) is whose “in charge” of the other? Should either have more authority over the other?
As a body for Christ, the leadership (Elders & Deacons) can ordain a leader or pastor by how Paul described above (much fasting and prayer giving them to The Lord). Yet, when it comes to spiritual direction, one should not be over the other per say. The pastor should not become a “spiritual dictator” (see 1 Peter 5:3) and the elders should not be the preeminent “big shot” (see 3 John 9-10).
When conflict arises, we are told by Paul in 1 Timothy 5:19-21 that we are to “receive an accusation against an elder” (or in either case a pastor): “Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning. I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism. (1 Timothy 5:19-21 NIV)” Reprove before EVERYONE; not in gossip or selfish quarrelsome….but before the body of Christ!
When the church leadership take it upon themselves to deal with the conflicts without doing it scripturally; it allows Satan to manipulate the church body and bring potential destruction. Matthew 18:15-17, ““If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17 NIV)” It’s the right way to deal with it. What would the church be like if we just did what God has told is to in His word consistently?
This is why Paul can expect things to happen ‘in a proper and orderly way’ even without any apparent hierarchical leadership to enforce rules and regulations (see 1 Corinthians 14:40). If all Christians are guided by the Spirit, he reasons, and if it is God’s will that ‘harmony and peace’ should be the hallmarks peace should be the hallmarks of the church (see 1 Corinthians 14:33) then God will not only equip Christians for different ministries, but will also give others the grace to recognize and accept such Spirit-led leadership where it emerges.
My prayer is that someday the church will continue to raise above the petty arguments and gossip that cause God’s house to lie in darkness and ultimately turn the lost away. And for those like my dear friend having problems right now; stay strong in the word you’ve chosen to dedicate your life to teach and don’t allow Satan’s manipulation to tear you down. He will rise above the darkness, even the darkness people bring into His house!