April 7, 2008

What are Church Leaders Supposed to Be?

Posted in Church Leadership, Ecclesiology at 12:32 pm by Dan Lowe

 Following is a summary of the sermon preached Sunday morning, April 6, 2008, at Maranatha Baptist Church in Globe, Arizona.

What is the church supposed to be?

In our postmodern culture where the rejection of tradition and authority are the norm, it seems that a lot of people are asking this question and redefining the church around worldly paradigms.

Is there right and wrong where the church is concerned? 

Can we know what the church is supposed to be?

We must remember that the church is Christ’s Church.  He has purchased the Church with His own blood (Acts 20:28.)  He builds His Church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it (Matt 16:18.)  Jesus Christ is the One who sanctifies and glorifies His Church (Eph 5:25-27.)  He has revealed in His Word what the church is supposed to be and we don’t have the right to redefine the church according to our own liking.

What is the church supposed to be?  Acts 11:19-30 provides a good example of what the church is supposed to be.

We will examine this text in two parts.  This week, we will attempt to answer the question, “what are church leaders supposed to be?  Next week we will attempt to answer the question, “What are church members supposed to be?”

Acts 11:19-30 (ESV) – 19 Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. 20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. 22 The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, 24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. 25 So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. 27 Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). 29 So the disciples determined, everyone according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. 30 And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.

What are church leaders supposed to be?

We see four characteristics described here of church leaders:

1)    They are godly men.

In verse 24… Barnabas is described as being “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith.”

Being described as a “good man” doesn’t mean that Barnabas was perfect (no one is – Rom 3:23), but that he was a godly man.  He was a man who reflected the character of God in His life.  No doubt this is because he was “full of the Holy Spirit”, who produces Christlike character in our lives (Gal 5:22-23.)  He was also “full… of faith” or “faithfulness” (the Greek term πίστις (pronounced pistis) can be rendered with either sense.)  He was a man relying upon Jesus Christ and this produced a faithfulness to God in his life.

Scripture is clear that those called to lead the church must be men of godly character (see I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 for a listing of qualification which are mandatory for those called to be overseers/elders/pastors in the local church.)

Leaders in the church are called to be examples of the Christian life for the rest of the congregation.  They should be able to urge the congregation to “follow me, as I follow Christ” (I Cor 11:1.)

2)    They are set apart by the church to fulfill a unique role within the church.

Notice that it says Barnabas was “sent.”  The word here is not the typical Greek word for “sent” (πέμπω – pronounced pempo) … it is the word ἐξαποστέλλω (pronounced exapostello.)  It is made up of two Greek words… ἐκ, meaning “out” and ἀποστέλλω, which means “to send out as an apostle or messenger.”

Notice in particular that he was sent out “by the church in Jerusalem.”  He didn’t send himself out.  He was selected by the church to fulfill this role.  Barnabas is being set apart here by the church in Jerusalem to fulfill a specific role within the church.

This is a critical fact which is often missed today.  I have known far too many men who have decided for themselves that they are called to lead a church, even when their home church did not agree!  Far too often men go out under their own authority and establish their own church.  This runs contradictory to the typical New Testament model which consists of men being trained and equipped by church leaders and appointed by them to positions of leadership.  The congregation then recognizes those men and affirms them in this role (Consider II Tim 2:2-3, Titus 1:5, and Acts 14:21-23.)

3)    They provide oversight of the ministry of the church.

When Barnabas arrived in Antioch, he began to investigate what was taking place there.  We are told that he “saw the grace of God.”  He saw that God was at work there.  He observed that by the grace of God… a great number of these former pagans believed in Jesus Christ and turned to Him in repentance and faith (verse 21.)  This is the sovereign work of a gracious God.  Barnabas saw this and rejoiced.  The implication is that he praised God for the work which God was doing in Antioch.

Part of leading the church is observing what God is doing in their midst.  Church leaders exercise oversight of the church by seeing the evidences of the grace of God… and seeing where there are problems or needs… and then taking the appropriate steps to lead the church in the right direction.

Notice that when the teaching ministry got to be too much for Barnabas… he made the decision to seek out Saul in Tarsus.  When he found him, he brought him back to Antioch and began delegating responsibilities to him in the church.  All of this demonstrates the manner in which Barnabas was exercising oversight in the local church.

In order to do this… church leaders must be aware of what is taking place in the church.  We might say they must have their finger on the pulse of the church.  They need to be able to discern where it is strong… and where it is weak.  And, by the leading of God’s Word and His Spirit… they are to make the appropriate decisions to provide for the needs of the church.

4)    They preach / teach the Word of God (primarily the gospel.)

After praising God for the work He was doing in Antioch, Barnabas began “exhort(ing) them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose.  In other words… he began to teach them from the Word of God.

Teaching is by far the most prevalent activity engaged in by church leaders in this passage of Scripture.  Three times in this passage we see church leaders teaching the church…

          Verse 23 – Barnabas is exhorting them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose…

          Verse 26 – for a whole year (Barnabas and Saul) met with the church and taught a great many people.

          Verses 27-28 – Prophets came to Antioch from Jerusalem… and what do these prophets do?  They speak the Word of God to them…

Preaching and teaching is by far the predominant responsibility of church leaders in the New Testament.  If you don’t believe this, then just read the Pastoral Epistles and see how often Paul tells young pastors that they are to work hard in preaching and teaching the Word of God.  Specifically read the following passages (I Tim 1:3-4, 4:13, 4:16, II Timothy 3:16-4:2, and Titus 1:9.) 

It should also be noted that Paul’s ministry was characterized by a commitment to preaching and teaching the Word of God (Acts 15:30-35, 18:11, 19:8-10, and 20:18-21. Also see I Cor 1:17-2:5.)

In Antioch, Barnabas was “exhort(ing) them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose.”  This is an extremely awkward phrase to translate in Greek.   Bible translators render it in slightly different ways, but no matter how this phrase is translated, the sense is clear enough.  He was urging them to remain faithful to Jesus Christ.  He was exhorting them to “cleave” unto Jesus… to hold fast to Him and not let Him go. 

He was also calling them to a greater commitment to Jesus Christ.  He was exhorting them to hold fast to Jesus with a steadfastness of heart.  He called them to be wholly committed to Jesus… totally sold out to their Lord.  He called them to love the Lord their God with all their heart… all their mind… all their soul… and all their strength (Matt 22:37.)

How do church leaders exhort Christians to hold fast to their faith in Jesus Christ?  They preach the gospel… over and over and over again… urging everyone who hears to repent and trust in Jesus Christ… who lived for them and died for them… for it is by this good news alone that we are being saved (I Cor 15:1-4.)  A pastor’s primary responsibility is to preach the Word of God.  Specifically he is to preach the gospel.

This is questioned in a lot of circles today.  A lot of people are saying that preaching is an outmoded form of communication and that what we need is a dialogue in the church, not a monologue.  However, we don’t have the option of doing away with preaching, because this is what God has called pastors to do.  The leaders in Christ’s church are called, first and foremost, to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ… not self-help sermons…not how to have a better marriage… not how to raise obedient teenagers… not how to successfully manage our money… not how to have a better self-esteem.  These things may have their place… but this is not the primary responsibility of the leaders that Christ Jesus has given to His church.  Church leaders are called to preach the good news of Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

What are church leaders supposed to be?

They are to be godly men set apart by the church to oversee the life and ministry of the church and to preach and teach the Word of God faithfully and frequently.

Suggestions to apply this passage of Scripture:

1)      Pray for your church leaders.  Pray that they will be men of God.  Pray that they will work hard at preaching and teaching the Word of God.

2)      Follow godly leaders.  Christ has placed them in His church to care for and lead His people.  Don’t make their job more difficult by resisting their leadership.  If they are godly men… good men, full of the Holy Spirit and faith… then follow them as they follow Christ.  Consider Hebrews 13:17.

3)      Pray that God will bring about a resurgence of godly leaders in church all across this land in the days ahead.

 

 

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