Part 4: The Importance of the Local Church
by Pastor Paul M. Sadler
Several years ago my wife and I had the opportunity to minister the gospel of the grace of God in San Francisco. While we were there we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, which is one of the engineering wonders of the world. What many may not realize is the south pier of the bridge rests on the San Andreas Fault zone. It is said the Golden Gate had to be designed and built to withstand an 8.0 magnitude earthquake on the Richter scale. Consequently, the engineers knew they needed two things—a sure foundation and flexibility!
The two towers that grace the center of the bridge were sunk deep beneath the floor of the bay and rest squarely on bedrock. The upper part of the span is secured with thousands of steel wires which provide flexibility. According to the specifications, the bridge can sway 20 feet at the center without collapsing. While all of this may be true, I wouldn’t want to be traveling across it during an earthquake!
Like the Golden Gate Bridge that is dependent upon its foundation, those who provide spiritual leadership for the local assembly must be securely anchored in the Lord. They must tower above the circumstances by setting an example for all to follow. But effective leadership also entails being flexible. Paul instructed Titus to choose elders who were “not self-willed,” that is, someone who always has to have his way, overbearing, inflexible (Titus 1:7). While a leader must never compromise the faith, he should stand ready at times to bow to the collective wisdom of those with whom he is serving in the administrative affairs of the Lord’s work. I’ve had the privilege of working with godly men over the years who didn’t always see eye to eye, but by the grace of God we were able to work through the circumstances and come to a general consensus for the sake of the ministry. We all desired His will to be accomplished, not ours!
QUALIFICATIONS OF AN ELDER
“A bishop [overseer] then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach; not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous” (I Tim. 3:2,3).
The long list of qualifications the apostle addresses here is a solemn reminder to the local church that great care should be taken in the selection of spiritual leaders. Having touched on the first two qualifications in our last lesson, the apostle adds that those being considered for the office of overseer must also be:
Vigilant: Although this term in the original is usually associated with abstinence from the drinking of wine, seeing that the apostle addresses strong drink later in the list, he is undoubtedly speaking figuratively of being spiritually sober. An overseer must not have his senses dulled by the things of the world, but have full use of all his faculties. This will enable him to be watchful, alert, observant and more cautious. In other words, he will be attentive to what’s going on in the local assembly and community in order to prevent sin and error from taking hold.
Sober: This particular word has to do with being temperate, earnest. While there is a place for humor in the pulpit, it is inappropriate to turn a worship service into a comedy show. The Lord’s people are less likely to take a pastor’s ministry seriously if he’s always trying to impress everyone with his comedic skills.
Good behavior: The Greek word Paul uses here is kosmios, which has the idea of being well arranged or orderly. In the Pastoral Ministry class that I help to teach at the Berean Bible Institute, I always share with the students that their messages should not be like a shotgun blast that hits every subject under the sun. Rather, they need to organize their thoughts and presentation so everyone can follow the theme they are weaving throughout the message. Furthermore, the demands of the ministry call for someone who does all things in an orderly fashion.
Hospitality: In biblical times, it was fairly common for someone to open their home to a guest. But being hospitable had far more in view than simply inviting a Christian friend over for dinner. Travelers were often invited to stay for days and even weeks, especially during times of persecution when many believers were left homeless or destitute. Although some may have feared for their lives for hosting the persecuted, the leaders of the assembly were to set the example by opening their homes to Christian strangers.
Apt to teach: This is one qualification we strongly believe every overseer who is considered for the office should possess. The thought is, not one who might teach, but one who is skilled and willing to teach if called upon to open the Scriptures. During a time of crisis in the local assembly those who have willingly ministered the Word are more qualified to resolve the problem, and less likely to be the problem (II Tim. 2:24,25).
Not given to wine: While wine was freely used in biblical times at meals and feasts (John 2:7-11), it was not to be abused. Drunkenness is a sin! Since strong drink is so closely associated with worldliness, we feel it is best for believers today to abstain altogether for the sake of the Lord’s work. This is particularly true of those who hold positions of leadership in the assembly.
No striker: This is an individual who is quick-tempered. There are times in the ministry when the spiritual warfare becomes so intense you can cut the atmosphere with a knife. The last thing that is needed at such times is someone in a position of leadership who’s short-fused and flies off the handle. A leader must be calm under fire! Great care should be taken here by those involved in the selection process of an elder.
Not greedy of filthy lucre: The Scriptures are clear that the workman is worthy of his hire. Seeing that a pastor and his family live in the same community as his congregation, the price of housing, utilities, groceries, gasoline, and other expenses are basically the same. Therefore his salary should be equivalent to the average income of those whom he is serving. While the local church is responsible to meet the needs of the pastor, he is not to be a lover of money. If he is preoccupied with personal gain it will distract him from fully dedicating himself to the ministry of the Word. It is important that he has his priorities in place.
Patient: A leader is to be forbearing. Those called to a new assembly to minister the Word oftentimes have high expectations of the members of their congregation. Normally what they find after the first few months is that many of their people are struggling in the faith. Then there are those who should be teachers that need to be taught again the first principles of the Word of God. Pastors and teachers need to think in terms of years, not months, when ministering to the Lord’s people. This is what leadership is all about—it’s patiently teaching, challenging, and encouraging the saints.
Not a brawler: An overseer is not to be contentious. He isn’t to be looking for a good fight because he’ll probably find one, in short order. The opposite of brawler is peacemaker! It is enjoyable to work with godly leaders that are gifted in defusing an emotionally charged discussion. They are skilled in the fine art that a little honey goes much farther than a full measure of vinegar. In other words, they understand the difference between “tact” and “contact” in maintaining good relations among the brethren.
Not covetous: There are those who selfishly enter the ministry for all the wrong reasons. And they do so at their own peril! Since the apostle already dealt with the issue of the love of money he is apparently addressing other lustful desires, such as coveting what others possess, hoping to be rewarded by them in some way. There are also some ministers of the gospel who merely desire fame and popularity. Consequently, they use the Lord’s people to catapult themselves into the lime light. A pastor who humbles himself before the Lord is more precious than fine gold.
A SUPERINTENDENT OF GOD
“One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)” (I Tim. 3:4,5).
In these passages, Paul gives the local church a general guideline to follow in the appointment of a ruling elder or a pastor. The word “ruleth” here has the idea of one who presides over his home. A husband and father who upholds his God-given responsibility in his own house is usually a good candidate to serve the household of God. Leadership begins at home! If a man cannot manage his own family it is unlikely he will be an effective leader in the assembly. For example, if his children are swinging from the church balcony and fail to obey the warning of their father, why would we think children of God would heed him? They won’t take him seriously any more than his children do.
According to the Scriptures, the role of a husband/father is to serve as a household manager. Therefore he understands the importance of delegating authority in the home. If his wife is organized and enjoys working with the budget he may want to call upon her to manage the financial affairs of the home. He also takes the initiative to assign each of the children specific chores around the house to help ease the burden on Mom and Dad.
The same is true in the church. Although most local assemblies are convinced their pastor is Hercules, the truth of the matter is he’s human, frail, and given to bouts of exhaustion after working a 60-hour week. It’s little wonder that the most effective pastors in the ministry are proficient at delegating authority to others. It’s called survival!!
Delegation! A pastor should call on others (preferably two other elders) to assist him with hospital visits. The more outgoing members of the assembly can help him with the visitation of shut-ins and newcomers. The church services should always be conducted by someone from the congregation who feels comfortable in front of others, which includes leading the congregational singing. Throughout the week the church secretary or a volunteer should field phone calls for the pastor and assist him with all of his correspondence. By spreading the responsibilities of the ministry among the assembly it eases the burden of the pastor and involves others in the work of the ministry.
I am sure there are those reading these lines thinking to themselves, but we hired the pastor to do all this work! In fact, we pay him a good salary! But what do the Scriptures say? Please read prayerfully Ephesians 4:11-16! The concept of a “One-Man Band,” is not what the Lord had in mind for the ministry of the pastor.
The pastor of the local assembly is God’s superintendent. While he should oversee all of the above ministries, and even be involved in them from time to time, his primary responsibility is to research, study, and open the Scriptures so all can grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. When I had my pulpit ministry I used to deliver four messages per week, so I can speak from personal experience that it takes time, lots of time, to prepare messages that are edifying. In addition, a block of time is needed to go over each message to give an adequate presentation. Add to this the hours your pastor spends counseling those who are overcome with sorrow and you have a full schedule.
“Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ” (Eph. 3:8,9).
Our Grace Pastors and Bible teachers are to be commended for their willingness to stand in the defense and confirmation of Paul’s gospel. Our message holds out hope to all those dear saints who are entangled in the confusion of denominationalism. However, we are seeing a troubling trend in the Grace Movement. A growing number of pastors and teachers have taken up strange doctrines while others seem to always be dwelling on secondary issues. Essentially they are majoring on minors! The danger here, of course, is that the Mystery is increasingly becoming unimportant and even neglected in order to promote these teachings, which are questionable at best. We fear Satan is attempting to get the brethren sidetracked on peripheral issues.
We believe our time and energy is far better spent on preaching Christ according to the revelation of the Mystery and confirming the fundamentals of the faith that are time-honored. This we can and will fulfill by the grace of God. Paul never wavered in his proclamation of the Mystery. Can the same be said of us? There needs to be a redirection in the movement back to winning lost souls to Christ, making known the Mystery, and comforting the destitute with our blessed hope. In short, we need to return to the simplicity of Paul’s gospel.
When we consider the privilege of having an understanding of the Word, rightly divided, we should have an attitude of thankfulness like that of Matthew Henry, who after being robbed counted his blessings. Shortly after being accosted by thieves and robbed of his wallet, he wrote these words in his diary:
“Let me be thankful first, because I was never robbed before; second, because, although they took my wallet, they did not take my life; third, because, although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because, it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.” 1
May we be thankful first, for those who taught us the Mystery; second, for the God-given responsibility to make it known to others; third, for those of like-precious faith that we serve with in the local assembly; and fourth, for the opportunity to pray for one another.