I Thessalonians 5.12-13a — Church Leadership Helps Keep Us on Track
We have to recognize their value because elders are a critical part of setting the tone of a church family.
Because of their work, God expects us to consider them the MVPs of our congregations.
God will personally reward elders who do good work (I Pt 5.4; Hb 13.17; Acts 20.32).
God expects us to show elders the highest respect and love. We’re all human and we’re all going to mess up. Last anyone checked, elders are human too. God hands out grace generously, and demands we do the same for his elders.
5.13b-22 — God Expects Us to Do Some Things…
Live peacefully with each other.
Keep each other accountable.
Patiently work with weak Christians.
Stay on top of doing good things for people.
Don’t put a wet blanket on God’s work.
Make sure everything we teach is legit.
Avoid evil proactively.
5.23-28 — If We Try Our Best, God Will Make Sure We’re Ready When Jesus Comes Back
We can trust him to make us ready when he comes back because his grace is extremely powerful. We know what we struggle with, but God is more powerful than our guilty hearts (I Jn 3.20). He’ll make sure we’re ready when he returns.
In the meantime, he expects us to stay on good terms with each other.
Everything we do has the last day in mind. It’s why we don’t live the way we might want to.
It’s why we love people when they’re often not easy to love.
It’s why we go through pain with our heads held high.
We want to wake from death’s sleep to the incredible sight of Jesus’s angels bringing us to him (Mt 24.31; I Thess 4.17).
When taking a look at the book of Acts, many insights can be found about the church. From the Lord’s supper to the appointing of elders, there are many things that can be learned about the Lord’s Church and how it should act. Today there are far too many churches that have left and strayed away from the original design. Since we have one Bible, there should be one church. Out of the many things that can be learned from Acts, one of the most prominent aspects seen is the local preacher in a congregation and how he should behave.
Today when we look in the denominational world, we see the preachers as a sort of leader in the church. The names given to preachers can sometimes be misleading. But the preacher has a very significant job, and hopefully by the end of this article series we will see that the minister is not too different from the member of the body. He is one that proclaims the word. His main job is to be an example and one who can take the word of God and turn it into something that God’s people can learn, and then apply to their christian walks. By looking at the examples given in Acts about the local preacher, we are able to answer quite a few questions.
Probably the chapter that contains the majority of these insights is chapter 20, specifically verses 17 through 38. These articles will be an in depth study on this section of Acts, and how it applies to a preacher in a local congregation.
Acts 20:17, “Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him.” Notice that Paul met with the Elders of the church at Ephesus. The word for elder here is the word presbuteros, and we know that this is in reference to those who held the office of elders, and were not just older men. We see this in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6ff.
To be a successful local preacher it is vital to talk to, and build a relationship with the elders of the congregation. Elders play an extremely vital role in churches, and to be an effective minister we must make sure that there is a healthy relationship between the elders and the preacher. Paul set the example, and now we follow what he has set. It makes sense. The elders are the leaders of the congregation and if the preacher is leading in a way other than what the elders have asked then how will the members react? The preacher must be one that uplifts and submits to the authority of the eldership. Paul was a great man. He had given up so much for the gospel yet even he submits himself under the elders. God knew what He was doing when He designed the church, so it is no wonder that many denominations fall away from the original design, and then run into many issues.
The local preacher is a member, therefore he must submit to the oversight and leadership of the elders.
A researcher at the Royal Society of Medicine in the UK published a paper called “The Spoilt Generation.” He ties the alarming rates of child depression, teenage pregnancy, obesity, violent crimes by adolescents, and more to a basic lack of respect for authority (Daily Mail). The Cato Institute published a study simply entitled, “Respect For Authority.” One of its most basic findings is that the public believes social instability follows disrespect for authority (Cato).
What do you think? Have you noticed a decline of respect in society for parents, teachers,the police, employers, and others in a position of authority? Most of us would agree it’s happening, and that it is not good. Peter warns about it in the most sobering of terms, speaking of the unrighteous who face eternal punishment as those who, in part, “despise authority (2 Pt 2:10). Jude offers a very similar warning, describing those who turn God’sgrace into permission to do whatever they please (4), and this includes their “rejecting authority” (8). So why do we often have a problem with authority?
We have a problem with rebelliousness. Saul, the earthly king, had a problem with rebellion (1 Sam. 15:23). Paul writes Timothy, discussing why the Law of Moses existed. It was for unrighteous people, and at the top of that list were the lawless and rebellious (1 Tim. 1:9). Rebellion is insubordination. It characterized the period of the Judges, when everyone did what they thought was right to them (17:6; 21:25). As we look at crime in our current society, we see the fruit of rebellion. CNN reports a 33% increase in homicides in major U.S. cities from 2019 to 2020, and now it is up another 24% since the beginning of 2021 (CNN). Yet, cities like Baltimore no longer prosecute drug possession, prostitution, and other low-level offenses. In California, shoplifting has in some places ceased to have any legal ramifications. How many looters in major U.S. cities have never served a day in jail or paid a penny in fines? Romans 13 clearly condemns this. Paul says “whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves” (2). Most of us would condemn this nationally, but do we struggle with rebellion against authority closer to home? Do we struggle with it against employers, elders, and parents? Rebelliousness can be milder than murder and more limited than against government. Do we only submit if we accept what they lead us to do? Do we maintain meekness and gentleness only if we agree with them? Rebellion is not the mark of a disciple of Christ; such have a different master.
We have a problem with respect. Paul says, “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you,and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves” (1 Th. 5:12-13). Esteem, as a verb, is found 28 times and means to think, consider, or regard. Paul is telling the church how to regard their leaders (“very highly in love”) and why (“because of their work”). Interestingly, the noun form of this verbs is often tied to various types of leadership–“Ruler” (Mt. 2:6), “leader” (Lk. 22:26), “governor” (Acts 7:10), “chief” (Acts 14:12) and “leading men” (Acts 15:22). But in 1 Thessalonians 5:13, it is a verb and means to engage in the intellectual process of thinking of them with the highest respect. The word “esteem” deals with our character generally and not just how we treat elders and any other leaders. Philippians 2:3 says, “With humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.” But Peter speaks of some who “count it a pleasure to revel in doing wrong” (2 Pet. 2:13). Respect is a matter of how you set your mind. If we don’t have it in our hearts to respect those in authority, it can’t help but show in the way we speak to them or about them. Our children learn how to treat authority figures by watching and listening to us. What are we teaching them?
We have a problem with our religion. “Religion” is only found four times in the New Testament. It means appropriate beliefs and the devout practice of our obligations (Louw-Nida, 530). How do we properly express our religion? It is not just about worshipping the way God commands. That’s a vital part, but only one way. Paul tells us what his pre-Christian religion looked like (Acts 26:5). He tells us about the false religion of some, ruled by their fleshly minds (Col. 2:18). James uses the word “religion” twice, in James 1:26-27. He teaches that pure, untainted religion is proven or disproven by your thoughts, words, and deeds. When I show disdain toward those in authority in or out of the church context, I’m telling everyone who witnesses it about my religion. I am making an impression on them that will either lead them closer to God or farther away from Him. Whatever I tell them about the one(s) in authority, I am telling them far more about me. If they follow my lead, will they stumble (cf. Lk. 17:1-2)?
Our problem with authority is ultimately a problem with God. When Paul tells Rome that those who resist authority oppose God’s will, he was talking about a government ruled by wicked Caesars who murdered Christians. When I disapprove of or disagree with those in positions of authority, in the nation, church, workplace or home, I must respond how God says respond. I must leave the rest to Him.
Whenever we hear about the United States Secret Service, we generally picture an elite agent with dark sunglasses and an earpiece. They certainly are elite, with only 1% of 15,600 applicants being accepted as Special Agents in 2011. They have extremely important jobs, from protecting the president and his family to investigating financial crimes in order to protect our economy. Being a Special Agent or any of the other elite positions in this government branch is not easy to achieve. These government agents have a huge responsibility and the public often keeps a close eye on them.
It’s no wonder, then, that they would come under scrutiny when something goes wrong. In 2014, Omar Jose Gonzalez jumped the White House fence and ran across the North Lawn with a knife. He was able to make it through the front door and past a security guard, making it as far as the East Room before being tackled by another guard.
The church is made of imperfect humans. We are called to live to a higher standard and to hold one another to a higher standard. Whenever someone makes a mistake – especially someone in a position of leadership – it’s easy for us to gossip, condemn, talk about “what we would have done,” or offer insincere criticism. Worse yet, it’s easy to tarnish the name of the church just because of the mistakes of someone inside. Yes, sin must be dealt with in a godly way. But using the mistakes of others as an excuse to damage the bride of Christ is inexcusable. Let us always strive to not only hold ourselves to the highest possible standard, but to also keep the name of God’s people in high standing with the world and with each other.
In the opening verses of Exodus 17, the faith of the Israelites is being tested. They’re in the wilderness and their human limitations begin to lead them to say and do things that end up defining their character for all eternity. It’s chapters in the Old Testament like this that set the stage for God to teach difficult lessons for them— and us.
There’s no water for them to drink and the feeling of thirst ignites a wild-fire of complaints. The text reads, “‘Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and they said ‘give us water to drink!’ And Moses said ‘Why do you do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?’” From here, it only escalates. The children begin to accuse Moses of attempted genocide. They say, “Why did you bring us out here from Egypt? To die of thirst?” These people have seen the power of God, and they knew that the miracles which Moses performed were evidence of his Divine connection. The fact that they ask him for water when there is none proves that they knew Moses could do something about it.
It’s not only the Israelites that struggle with their rocky faith in God, however. Moses also pleads with the Lord. He prays, “What shall I do with these people? They’re almost ready to stone me!” God responds by saying in verse five, “…take in your hand the staff which you struck the Nile, and go.” The wording is deliberate here. God is reminding Moses and the children what He has already done with that simple wooden staff in their past. As Moses walked through that wilderness leading his people, he holds in his hand a constant reminder. In his hand is a stick— a stick that God used to provide for His people.
If God can use some wood as an instrument to satisfy thirst and protect a large crowd of complainers, why do some still question God’s ability to care for us today? The place where Moses struck the rock was named, “Massah and Maribah” which translates, “Is the Lord among us or not?” It’s both a name and a question His children still ask from time to time today.
In the last section of this chapter, we can observe an intentional layout of the text. The army of Amalek challenges the Israelites to battle. With his faith restored in God’s power, Moses says, “Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” On the day of battle, Moses holds the staff above his head. Whenever it was held up, the Israelites prevailed. When the staff was lowered, Amalek’s army prevailed.
Verses twelve and thirteen carry much application for us today. They say, “But the hands of Moses grew weary, and they placed a stone under him and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands on either side. So His hands were steady until the going down of the son.” At least three major lessons can be derived from this section of scripture.
Lesson one, church leaders can’t lead us to our eternal victory alone. Moses did not win the battle that day. God did.
Lesson two, church leaders need help because even a stick can become heavy after a while. God never intended for one man to lead His people. There must be an eldership so that these men can help each other hold up the word of God. Their victory came when four more hands took on the burden and shared the weight.
Lesson three, there is no obstacle we will face that God’s faithful people can’t overcome. Even if all the armies in the world had decided to attack the Israelites that day, three men and God would have still brought them to victory. If God can accomplish so much with a piece of wood, who are we to limit His power today? There is nothing we can’t do under the leadership of, not mere men, but God. Moses knew God could accomplish anything through him and some wood— today we would do well to remember what God can do with us and our willingness to serve.
In Luke 14, Jesus gives a couple of short parables about counting the cost of discipleship. He prefaces them by saying, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be my disciple” (26-27). If we drink deeply of this statement, we see exactly how challenging it is. The choice is always between Jesus and everything and everyone else. How badly do we want what only Jesus can give? Think hard, then decide!
Then come the parables. The first is a construction parable, of one building a tower. He first sits down and calculates the cost in order to be able to finish and avoid ridicule (28-30). The second is a military parable, of a king going into battle. He first sits down and considers whether or not he can win (31-32). The common denominator in both parables is to first sit down and deliberate. Ultimately, there is action which follows, but the planning precedes it.
In how many congregations do elderships or men in the absence of elders never get proactive and formulate a plan for the immediate, intermediate, and far off future? Leadership must cast the vision and deliberate about where that congregation is going and how it will get there. What will be done to grow? How can we get more members active? How can we best utilize the collective resources of the congregation? The Bible reveals all the answers, but it is essential for the church’s leaders to gather around the drawing board.
It was exciting to spend a few hours at the Lehman elders’ 2019 retreat to discuss the short-term plans of the congregation. These men are convicted about the stewardship of the work they eagerly consented to do as our shepherds. They want us to be more effective, but they are determined to set the tone and example for us. I’m amazed at how deeply they care about us and the growth they want us to collectively experience. Words like emphasis, accountability, and purpose continually came up. Building a biblical culture, which works against our contemporary culture of consumers rather than producers, is foremost in their minds. They desire for us to “grow together” as a church, drawing those outside of Christ to our spiritual family.
I cannot wait to see what God will do through such capable leaders in 2020 and beyond. We are blessed with such godly, conscientious elders. Please don’t miss a day praying for Russell, Riley, Kevin, John, Darrell, and Bobby and their families. Also, please never miss an opportunity to express your love, encouragement, and support of them as they strive to do their best to fulfill their God-given duty. Or, as Paul put it, “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another” (1 Th. 5:11-12).
They are first sitting down this weekend, but then they will challenge us all to “rise up and build” (cf. Neh. 2:18).
I met him 20 years ago, the man with the twinkling eyes
He and his wife opened their home to me, and I could recognize
Their love for Christ and Christians, and how well they’d harmonize
Those loves in all their actions, it was there in those twinkling eyes
He shepherded me for several years, the man with twinkling eyes
He had a tenderness so deep, he’d often maximize,
His laugh infectious, his insight savvy, so tough to criticize,
He loved Bear Valley with all of himself, this man with twinkling eyes
I visited many members here with the man with twinkling eyes
Spent hours in meetings and planning, trying God’s will to realize
He was youthful and spry for his age, his resources he’d optimize
A steward of stewards in every way, the man with twinkling eyes
A servant’s heart with savvy hands, the man with the twinkling eyes
Involved and willing, helpful and hopeful, we couldn’t help but idolize
When hearing and memory faded, you still could characterize
This man of God, through ups and downs, by those twinkling eyes
I saw him last week, he greeted me with joyful, twinkling eyes
So hard to believe this morning he gained his heavenly prize
While his long life is fresh in my memory, I’ll try hard to memorize
As kind a face and heart as I’ve seen, the man with the twinkling eyes
He was appointed an elder during the Reagan administration. At the very time he was appointed, the congregation was reaching the climax of a very traumatic incident. A man who was a charter attender, but not a member, when Bear Valley began meeting, he has seen every great work this congregation has dared to do, walked through its every valley, and he has done so with as even-keeled and unflustered way as I have ever known. I have heard him preach both here and abroad, watched him do short-term missions, make difficult shepherd visits, hug and encourage more people than I can remember, and seen his kindness and humor generously displayed. He was not usually the first to speak when elders conversed, but his insights have always been profound. He always did what he did with class and compassion.
I was crestfallen when I recently heard Maynard Woolley tell the eldership that he was ready to step aside as an elder after nearly 30 years of service. Only Harry Denewiler served more years in that role for the Bear Valley church of Christ. He stayed on a couple of years after five great men were appointed to this work in 2016, helping them to acclimate, learn, and grow under his, Ernie Barrett’s, and Dave Chamberlin’s tutelage. A telling tribute to the breadth of his leadership was the collective, deeply respectful, regret that he was going to resign. Maynard is a man who one appreciates more and more the longer one works alongside him. His faithful wife, Donna, has both encouraged him and endured, as an elder’s wife for so long, what not many women living have.
Some men impress with refined oratory, outspoken and charismatic ways, and larger-than-life personalities. Others live more understated ives, but their value cannot be overstated. Maynard Woolley is such a man. We will miss his formal oversight, but we look forward to his continued faithful service and loving example. Thank you, Maynard, for what you’ve done and for who you are. Bear Valley bears the imprint of your bearing.
He shouts at his TV with a mouthful of Cheetos. “I can’t believe you! Four receivers downfield and you throw it behind the line of scrimmage to a man who’s double covered! You’re pathetic. Must be nice to get millions of dollars to make awful decisions. Where do I sign?” After several additional one-sided conversations with the TV, Mr. Potato (first name: “Couch,” aka “Armchair Arnie”) dusts crumbs off his potbelly with those trademark orange fingertips and limps into the kitchen, stiff from sitting three hours, to get another snack before the second half of the NFL doubleheader.
Water cooler wide receivers. La-Z boy linebackers. The game’s true experts do not prowl the sidelines with headsets, nor do they actually suit up, strap on, and sweat it out. The guys with all the answers are the ones who would crumble with fear if placed on the same field with the athletes they so roundly criticize for bungling with the ball.
I have observed that the same temptation can occasionally strike some with regard to elders. Whether it be their judgment or painstaking decisions, their handling of a member’s problems or needs, or their overall “job performance,” elders get taken to task more often than they realize by pew chair presbyters. They may criticize elders for what they did or for their failure to act, for being too strict or too lenient, for showing favoritism or trying to please everyone, for being too conservative or too liberal–all with the regard to a single action taken or decision made.
There is a striking similarity to the “armchair quarterbacking” done by unfit, unqualified spectators at sporting events. Those who can’t are apt to criticize those that can and do. It is far easier to question and condemn the actions taken by elders without the benefit (and angst) of wrangling with problems and decisions oneself. How we can eloquently outline the plan of action we would take absent the pressure and responsibility of being in the position.
Let’s pray more for our elders and pass judgment less! Let’s support them with might, not scrutinize them under a microscope. They need our cooperation and submission (Heb. 13:17). They could do with less backbiting and murmuring (cf. 1 Co. 10:10).
That’s not to say that elders are beyond reproach and rebuke (1 Tim. 5:20). Occasionally, an elder or eldership may be deserving of question–particularly in the area of doctrine or their personal qualification. As a longtime Falcons fan, I had to endure the likes of Scott Hunter, Pat Sullivan, and June Jones! They were terrible quarterbacks, though much better than I could ever have been. Elders will answer directly to Christ for their shepherding of the local flock. We, as embers, will also answer for how we cooperated with and supported them. Let’s all resolve to get out of the chair and join them on the field (cf. John 4:35)!
We are blessed with seven wonderful elders here! They span in age from 48 to 81, are of varying backgrounds, personalities, and skillsets, but collectively they reflect God’s wisdom for a plurality of godly men shepherding the flock. With the magnitude of the work and workload here, I cannot help but stand in awe of the great job they are doing. To watch men like these, I’m reminded of the powerful good done by apt, able elders. Far from an exhaustive list, they:
Show Hospitality—They open their homes freely and frequently, getting to know the sheep.
Keep Track—They make it their business to account for the sheep, knowing they will give an account for each of them ultimately.
Cast Vision—They do not lead from the rear; they thoughtfully, decisively get out front and show the way.
Greet Visitors—They care about our members, but they are constantly focused of who’s new around here.
Contemplate Problems—In the spirit of Solomon, they are presented with and must decide often complex, hairy matters…in real time.
Faithfully Pray—Listen to men pray and you get a pretty good idea how practiced they are. These men are devoted to it.
Show Heart—They aren’t afraid to demonstrate their care, concern, and love. We see it in their passion, their tears, and their involvement.
Manage People—Sheep are also of differing temperaments, needs, problems, and levels of maturity. They deal with “all kinds.”
Consult God—How exciting to see overseers humbly searching for and submitting to a “Thus saith the Lord.”
Balance Time—They do all of this while being competent employees, conscientious family men, and character-filled Christians.
Set Direction—They are tone setters in a basic way; What they emphasis, we will make important. We hear their voice, in the assemblies, meetings, and private conversations.
Make Mistakes—Despite sometimes unreasonable expectations from some, they are terminally human and inevitably subject to imperfection.
Follow Jesus—They are good shepherds walking behind the Good Shepherd. They want to serve, please, and imitate Him. Ours do a fantastic job of that.
Have you seen what a great job these men are doing? Have you taken the time to stop and let them know? Many churches veer from the straight and narrow path because of ungodly elderships. Thank God for the shepherds at Bear Valley!