Remembering Leaders in This Time
Faith Church is hosting the Global Leadership Summit this week (in-person and online) and also plans to install new elders and deacons at the weekend service, so it is a week that has a key theme and focus upon leadership. This year has proven to be a particularly challenging year for leaders in all spheres of life -- government, businesses, schools, community organizations, homes, and churches. We have seen constant new developments that people process in different ways and at different paces. Leaders have had to continually look back to the focus and purpose of what they do as they seek to move forward in the near and short term. In light of the events of this week and this year, I thought it wise to remember the nature of leadership in the local church, particularly the officers of our church.
Leadership in a Reformed Church - The Structure
As a Reformed Church, Faith Church has the Belgic Confession as one of its statements of faith, and the Belgic Confession states that the church “ought to be governed according to the spiritual order our Lord has taught us in his Word. There should be ministers or pastors to preach the Word of God and administer the sacrament. There should also be elders and deacons, along with the pastors, to make up the council of the church” (Article 30). Therefore, we have pastors, elders, and deacons at Faith Church.
We don’t have these officers, however, just because of the Belgic Confession, but because of the Bible, as we see these offices in Scripture. Philippians 1:1 shows Paul writing to the “overseers and deacons” in Philippi, and 1 Timothy 3 gives a list of qualifications for the offices of overseer and deacon. Titus 1 indicates elders and overseers to be the same, as what Paul calls an elder in 1:5 is called an overseer in 1:7. When speaking to the elders in Ephesus in Acts 20:28, Paul also notes that elders are to be overseers of the church, and 1 Peter 5 uses language of elders both shepherding and overseeing, showing the interchangeability of the titles “elder” and “overseer.” The fact that Paul distinguishes between elders who rule and who teach and preach in 1 Timothy 5:17 provides the rationale for a separate class of pastors who teach, along with elders who rule or oversee the church. Thus, we have pastors, elders, and deacons. Pastors, elders, and deacons come together in our church in what is known as the “Consistory” (church board) to govern the church body, evaluating its ministry, and making plans for the future in light of God’s call to His people.
Leadership in a Reformed Church - The Duties
We have discussed the different offices in the church and why we have them, but what are their responsibilities? In Acts 20:28-35, Paul tells the elders of Ephesus that they are to pay attention to the flock that the Holy Spirit gave them because there are “fierce wolves” that will come and try to destroy them. Because Satan is trying to pull people away from God, elders are needed to watch over the doctrine (teaching) of the church to make sure it is faithful to Scripture and also help guide people in conduct and behaviors as instructed in God’s Word. They do this by continually teaching the Word in public and in private and building relationships to dispense with the Word of God. Our Community Care Elders at Faith Church seek to do this, working with the pastors (elders who teach and give the sacraments); each campus has elders to help shepherd that campus.
Acts 6 is a good example of what deacons do, as seven individuals were appointed to assist the apostles because some widows were being overlooked in the distribution of funds, allowing the apostles to focus on the ministry of God’s Word and prayer. Similarly, the deacons of the church take care of some of the logistical issues related to finances and mercy so the elders can focus on our teachings and conduct. This is the purpose of our Stewardship Team Deacons at Faith Church, with each campus having deacons who help do this at their particular campus. (One way our deacons recently did this when COVID hit was by doing well-being checks of some of our elderly members and attendees to make sure they were okay and see how we could help.) This description of deacons does not mean that elders are “spiritual” are deacons are not; I like to say the deacons help us to put our money where our mouth is, to help make sure that our finances match our faith. In fact, the apostles did not look for deacons who had good financial backgrounds, but for those who were faithful and trustworthy, full of the Spirit, and wise to help in these matters (see Acts 6:3). The qualifications given for elders and deacons in 1 Timothy 3 show that both offices require great character along with certain skills and gifts.
Prayers for Leaders and Prayers of Leaders
The pastors, elders, and deacons of this church have been called to give oversight to this body of believers - to make sure we stay faithful to the calling of God. This involves thinking through how to care for people spiritually as well as physically and emotionally and how to be a good steward of the various resources (human and material) that the church has. The circumstances we are facing today (in which no present-day leader has navigated before) is a reminder of the call in James 1:5 to pray for wisdom: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” This challenging time has been a great reminder of the need to be in prayer for people who lead in various ways, as called for in 1 Timothy 2:1-2 (“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, or kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”). May we be a community of prayer in this time.
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