Intro: There is a need for leadership. Good leaders are a treasure to a church. I want to call your attention to the article in today’s bulletin: Where Elders Come From, by Jacob Hudgins. That is a good question. Where can you go to get some elders? Can you order them on Amazon (be here in two days)? Can you hire someone to be an elder? We find them often in the NT, at Jerusalem, Ephesus, Philippi. How did the early church acquire them? Brother Hudgins makes four observations: Let me rehearse them for us…
1) They are taught; the qualities that God expects in a man who would lead are developed through a knowledge of God’s word. Men who are ready to serve have spent time in God’s word, learning it and learning to teach to others. “holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict” (Titus 1:9)
2) They are examples: Elders are men who live out their understanding of the word in life. They are showing others how it is to be done. So men who can serve must come to us through the experiences of faith. “Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct” (Heb 13:7).
3) They have disciplined themselves: Men who are ready to serve are those who have spent some time and effort confronting their own flaws. They control their life, they of not allow their desires or emotions control them. This again, is a fruit of a knowledge of God’s word, and life experience, or maturity.
4) They have proven themselves as leaders: Paul connects the proven ability to lead a family with the responsibility to lead the household of God. I might expand this a bit by saying that elders need to be men who have not only proven to be leaders, but proven to be servants. They understand that in God’s kingdom leading is serving. Those who do not put others ahead of themselves are not qualified to lead, and seldom do it effectively.
I. Learning to be a Shepherd: What seems clear is that overseers are made in a day. We cannot order them up. If we have those who can serve, they are those who have become qualified over a period of time and effort. If we do not have qualified men, and desire to have them, we must develop them over a period of time. For that reason I speak to the younger, men among us – you need to be preparing yourself now to be a shepherd. What does a shepherd look like?
A. Turn to Ezekiel 34 – Israel’s demise can be traced to poor leadership – politically and spiritually. The prophet often pointed this out. In Ezekiel 34, the prophet denounces the worthless shepherd of Israel. He is not speaking to literally sheep tenders. He is addressing the spiritual leaders of Israel – the kings, the priests and teachers of the people. Those who were supposed to protect and feed the flock with the words of God. How did they do?
1. Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? – Ezek 34:2-3 – “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy, and say to them: This is what the Lord God says to the shepherds: Woe to the shepherds of Israel, who have been feeding themselves! Shouldn’t the shepherds feed their flock? You eat the fat, wear the wool, and butcher the fatlings, but you do not tend the flock. (HCSB)
a. God’s question here is simple and powerful. Should not the shepherd feed the flocks? Isn’t that what it means to be a shepherd? Spiritually applied, the shepherd must be willing teach others and speak the scriptures to others. There are many Christians who are willing to read their Bible, even study the scriptures for themselves. They may even want to learn. But they have never tried to feed anyone else. But good shepherds do not just feed themselves. They lead others to the food. They speak for the good of the flock.
2. You have not strengthened the weak – Ezek 34:4 –You have not strengthened the weak, healed the sick, bandaged the injured, brought back the strays, or sought the lost. Instead, you have ruled them with violence and cruelty. (HCSB) The prophet points to a major flaw in the character of Israel’s shepherds. They did not take notice of the weaker ones. They did nothing to help those sheep who were sick or lost.
a. God’s shepherd are to be different. They are constantly on the look out for the sheep that is in danger, or weaker, or even is missing from the group. When they see those sheep, they do something about it. The shepherd is not passive. He is not looking for someone else to do it. We often fail at this. We know something should be done. But we simply hope someone else will do it. Christians who live that way do not qualify themselves to be shepherds. Shepherds must be very proactive, trying to spiritually build every person they can.
b. Shepherds are strong enough to rescue others. (stories on rescue attempts on “I shouldn’t be alive” – many times the rescuers needed to be rescued. They were not as strong or capable as they thought). Gal 6:1-2 – Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
c. Shepherds do not hinder the sheep who are walking in the right path. They do not make it more difficult to follow and serve the Lord. Jesus spoke clearly and forcefully toward those who would place a stumbling block in the path of the weaker disciple. It would be better for him to be tied to a big rock and thrown into the sea. On the other hand, a good shepherd will attempt to intercept the straying sheep and block his way. He will discourage him from moving further away from the flock. He will hold out the words of God and allow them to discipline the one who is headed for trouble.
3. Shepherds are not harsh or cruel toward the sheep. Ezekiel charged the shepherds of Israel with ruling the flock with violence and cruelty (v. 4) The ESV says …force and harshness. How do we do this?
a. Sometimes with our words. It is possible to say the truth in a wrong way. Speak the truth in love– Words that slander another, or are cruel and derogatory are not shepherd words. Shepherd do not speak to injure, discourage, or inflame others.
b. Sometimes in our actions. Paul tells Timothy that a shepherd must not be a contentious person or a fighter. He must not attempt to manipulate others to his advantage. . One cannot help but think of Diotrophes in John’s third epistle. He liked having a position before the flock and used his position to throw people out and drive away the flock. Shepherds act from love and compassion, not power or authority over others.
4. “My shepherds have not searched for my sheep…” – What hope does a lost sheep have if no one comes to look for them? Shepherds recognize that sheep are easily scattered when they are left unattended.
a. This is an important perception… We need to be careful not to do anything that would cause sheep to scatter. Glindle Johnson (a good and faithful shepherd) used to tell me often, Dave, when you deal with others try to do as much good as you can and no harm. Those are good shepherd words.
b. Shepherds know the dangers the sheep face every day. They are vigilant and watchful.
c. When Ezekiel prophesied these words, Israel had shepherds but they were so terrible that it was as if they had no shepherds. Bad shepherding is devastating to the flock. Those who are not ready for the task should not be given the task. It requires real dedication, sacrifice and spiritual strength. But those who love the sheep, like Jesus loves His sheep, will prepare themselves to lead. It is not a title, it is a work.
Conclusion: Each of us possess the responsibility to work toward the appointment of shepherds here at Southside. One of the things you can do is pray.
- Pray for the young men of this congregation to develop the spiritual qualities needed. Do not discourage them. Show them how to be servants.
- Pray for their wives to encourage.
- Pray for unity and love for each that the church needs to appoint leaders.
- Learn what God says about the qualities and spiritual requirements of those who should lead.
- I encourage all of us to develop a love for the sheep – all the sheep.