We are back again to consider the distinctive traits of New Testament churches, and today I’d like to consider the fact that local churches always had leaders who were spiritually gifted and qualified, who were identified with individual local churches, and whose charge included the entire flock.
In the New Testament leaders are identified as elders (also addressed as pastors, overseers, and shepherds) as well as deacons in local churches. Both of these offices and their qualifications are described in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. And as I mentioned in the chosen channel, Paul charged Titus to “set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city” (Titus 1:5).
As with the truth that NT churches are identified by geographical location, the fact that NT churches had recognizable leadership also has some important implications.
First, notice who the leaders are. Actually, I really want you to notice those who the leaders were not. Fathers were not the ones addressed by default as the leaders of the churches. Though undoubtedly fathers have spiritual shepherding responsibilities for their families, “fathering” in the home is not equivalent to shepherding over the church. Fathers shepherd thief families–elders shepherd the flock (Acts 20:28; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:1-4). Though elders are oftentimes fathers, not all fathers are elders. (I suppose this may seem painfully obvious, but we should not take it for granted.) This means that church leadership is not equal to fatherhood (contrary to typical “house church” teaching).
This also serves to make the distinction between families and churches that we took into account on Monday.
A second major implication relates to where leaders lead. That shepherds in the NT are associated with definite flocks is quite clear. Elders (and deacons, though deacons are not by definition equivalent to shepherds) are identified with particular assemblies. They expend their energies in the endeavor to feed and protect the sheep in their own field.
This means that they are not gatherers of misfit or misplaced sheep from multiple other flocks. hey are not charged with creating or overseeing para-flock groups to reach all the brown-spotted firstlings or all the black-speckled females, etc.
Instead, they are called to “be on guard…for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). This directive from Paul to the Ephesian elders is both narrow and broad. It is broad in that they were to oversee “all the flock.” We’ll consider tomorrow how this broad element has implications for what leaders are to be doing.
But take in the significance of how narrow their calling was. They were called to concentrate on the flock “among” them. And who determined where they were and what sheep were present? The Holy Spirit! The Holy Spirit not only gifts certain men to be leaders, but He also providentially puts those leaders in particular places for the particular purpose of shepherding particular people. This is just a different way to say the same thing, namely, that leaders of the flock work with just one flock at a time.
More to come.