Elders (3): Further Functions of Oversight in the Local Church

In a previous article we considered the functions of oversight in the local church. These included guiding, giving food and governing. We briefly mentioned Ephesians 4:11-12 where we see pastor-teachers perfecting, or equipping (NASB/NKJV/ESV/Wuest), the saints for the work of ministry. We now want to develop that thought which we previously referred to as grooming the saints for spheres of service. A pious and pro-active Paul encouraged Timothy as follows: “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2Ti 2:1-2 ESV). The Apostle was preparing Timothy to prepare others to do what he himself was doing. He was not to be casual about the future but was to leave a legacy of truth for future generations of faithful men. Contemplate the impact that Barnabas, a good man, had on Paul, and see how in the Acts the team of Barnabas and Paul became known as Paul and Barnabas (Act 11:30; 13:43). Are we preparing others to be better than ourselves? Are we grooming and growing younger men and women for service?

Can we return to the thought of guarding for a moment? Shepherds guard the sheep individually (Luk 15:6). When we read again the Message from Miletus, we note that Paul, after reminding the overseers of the price paid for the flock, warned them of the perils faced by the flock: “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves” (Act 20:29-30 NKJV). Savage wolves and self-seeking workers! Can the little flock survive? Again, Paul said, “I commend you to God and to the word of His grace” (20:32). The Word has always been a necessary preservative. That brings us to the truth that not only must the individual sheep and the little flock be guarded, but overseers have a clear responsibility to guard the doctrine (Titus 1:5-11).

Ezra is a great example for us today: “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments” (Ezr 7:10 KJV). Notice his preparation, his pursuit, his passion, and his preaching.

Joshua is another great example: “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Jos 1:7-8 ESV). Joshua, the warrior, had a weapon – it was the Word. We must beware of moving into a post-biblical leadership pattern. Listen to the words of the Preacher: “And moreover, because the Preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; and he pondered, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs. The Preacher sought to find out acceptable words; and that which was written is upright, words of truth. The words of the wise are as goads, and the collections of them as nails fastened in: they are given from one shepherd” (Ecc 12:9-11 JND). Notice his prudence, his perseverance, his pondering, his pursuit, his preparation and his presentation. The goads encourage; the nails preserve. Shepherds must emulate him! There are no shortcuts in preparing food for the flock from the Scriptures.

There is an interesting word used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:28. It is kubernesis (Strong’s #2841-2). It is translated “governments” in the KJV. In Acts 27:11, it is translated “pilot” in the ESV and “helmsman” in the JND (see also Rev 18:17). It refers to the master of the ship and is pertinent to our consideration of guidance as a work of the elderhood. How is the ship to be steered in the wake of rapidly changing cultural climates and patterns of thinking? Do we cast aside the marine charts that have guided the little ships through the centuries since Pentecost? Paul expressed his purpose in writing his first letter to Timothy: “but if I delay, in order that thou mayest know how one ought to conduct oneself in God’s house, which is the assembly of the living God, the pillar and base of the truth” (1Ti 3:15 JND). In expressing his purpose in writing, he shows us that the primary function of the local church is to be the “pillar and ground of the truth.” Are we moving away from Truth? Are we asking by our actions, without articulating the question, “Does Truth really matter?”? Will counselling replace commandments? Will psychology trump precepts? Will rationalism replace revelation? Will we cringe from the Scriptures instead of clinging more closely to them?

Are there hills on which we are prepared to die? Consider a couple of items. First, Acts 2:41-42 lays down a pattern. The expression “received his word” reminds us that maintaining a clear public presentation of the gospel is imperative. Baptism of believers is imperative. Being added to the company is imperative, as are the apostles’ teaching, the fellowship (partnership, Luke 5:10), the Breaking of Bread, and the public meetings for prayer. The difference in spheres of service as they are connected to the biblical teaching on headship is imperative. We must always ask, “What do the Scriptures say?” Truth is not to be presented as rules to be policed but as revelation from the precepts of the Word. Truth matters in the house of God, the local church, the pillar and ground of the Truth!