Summary: A sermon on elders (adapted from Daniel Overdorf's book, What the Bible Says About the Church: Rediscovering Community, chapter 11 Purposefully Designed, pgs. 288- 295)
Lynn Anderson, in "They Smell Like Sheep” relates this story: “Several years ago in Palestine, Carolyn and I rode a tour bus through Israel’s countryside nearly mesmerized as the tour guide explained the scenery, the history, and the lifestyle. In his description, he included a heartwarming portrayal of the ancient shepherd/sheep relationship. He expounded on how the shepherd builds a relationship with his sheep—how he feeds them and gently cares for them. He pointed out that the shepherd doesn’t drive the sheep but leads them, and that the shepherd does not need to be harsh with them, because they hear his voice and follow. And so on… He then explained how on a previous tour things had backfired for him as he was giving this speech about sheep and shepherds. In the midst of spinning his pastoral tale, he suddenly realized he had lost his audience. They were all staring out the bus window at a guy chasing a ‘herd’ of sheep. He was throwing rocks at them, whacking them with sticks, and siccing the sheep dog on them. The sheep-driving man in the field had torpedoed the guide’s enchanting narrative. The guide told us that he had been so agitated that he jumped off the bus, ran into the field, and accosted the man, ‘Do you understand what you have just done to me?’ he asked. ‘I was spinning a charming story about the gentle ways of shepherds, and here you are mistreating, hazing, and assaulting these sheep What is going on?’ For a moment, a bewildered look froze on the face of the poor sheep-chaser, then the light dawned and he blurted out, ‘Man. You’ve got me all wrong. I’m not a shepherd. I’m a butcher’” This poor unwitting fellow had just provided the tour guide and all of us with a perfect example of what a ‘good shepherd’ is not.”
Thesis: Let’s talk about the 3 terms that describe a special kind of leader in the church: Shepherd, Elder and Overseer
Godly leaders function like shepherds. In the NT, Jesus says of himself, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” John 10:11, NIV. Paul later used this image in talking to the Ephesian elders: “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” Acts 20:28, NIV. Peter also uses the shepherd image: Read 1 Peter 5:1, 2, NIV.
Pastor is literally shepherd. “It was he who gave some to be ... evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,” Ephesians 4:11, NIV. Have more than one pastor here, give names
It is a shame in our day and in our society that much of the imagery of a shepherd is lost to us. Need other descriptions to help us.
Like mentioned briefly last week, Mentors are people who are elders- older, more experienced, stronger members of the group to whom the younger look to. This is the term most often used when describing this leader today and it is talking about age and experience. “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited ...” 1 Timothy 3:6, NIV.
An elder is one that demonstrates wisdom and maturity, gaining the respect of the community. Such respect enables this person to lead through influence and example.
A church should formally recognize such a leader as an elder. However, such an acknowledgement only recognizes what has already existed in the life of that local church. Churches cannot make a person an elder; rather they can recognize that a person is an elder. Elders are those who have earned the respect of the church in such a way that people willingly and naturally follow their godly leadership.
Ideally, people follow biblical elders not because they have to, but because they want to, because they have grown to love, trust, and respect them as leaders. If people follow a leader only because that leader wears a title, they will follow only as far as they have to. If, however, people follow a leader because they have grown to love, trust and respect him, they will follow him a lot longer and a lot further than anyone else.
Two tasks naturally flow from the functional role of an elder:
An elder guides a congregation toward God’s purposes. Acts 15 illustrates this the best. This describes the church as facing a divisive situation. Should the church require Gentiles to practice Jewish customs, such as circumcision? “The apostles and elders met to consider this question.” Acts 15:6, NIV. This called for the leaders to determine the direction of the church- a decision that carried enormous implications for later generations. James spoke on behalf of the elders: "It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” Acts 15:19, NIV. They decided to instruct the Gentiles to abstain from “food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.” Acts 15:20, NIV.