10 Things Pastors Hate To Admit Publicly

I was fortunate to have a colleague from our sister church in Rincon, GA come for a visit to our church yesterday. I got to sit back and soak in the awesomeness of Scripture as Pastor Mike preached from Matt. 14-22-33. It was a blessing. Since I had a break I decided to post an article I read last month. The original post is found here.

 If you’re a shepherd or have a shepherd’s heart, you’ll find yourself nodding your head in agreement. I’m not saying these things control us. You’ll often hear me say it’s okay to have feelings – God gave them to you, but don’t allow your feelings to control your actions. Times do get rough and tough for me, but I keep going. That’s my mindset, that’s the way I’m made, that’s the right thing to do. I am content right where I am. I have no aspirations to go anywhere or do anything other than love my wife and shepherd the people God has charged me with. So here we go. Read on. The article posted in its entirety.

From Matt Boswell, Pastor/Elder of Redemption Church in Duvall, WA.

mb-postsWhen Ellen and I were first married ministry was not our 20-year plan, the Navy was. We had it all planned out; we were to spend the next 20 years with me being gone for 15. The Navy explained to my sweet new bride how grueling it would be, that I would be gone often and that even when I was around my mind would be elsewhere. Knowing that my particular career path in the Navy would be a marriage destroyer I pursued a discharge for the pursuit of higher education. With the promise of a difficult future behind us we embarked upon an easier dream where everyone would love us and things would be calm: pastoral service.

Twenty plus years later I can tell you it has been a ride we never could have anticipated. So much so that only now do I feel equipped enough to share a few things I either lacked the clarity or courage to share until this season of life. I want to share the 10 things we as pastors don’t really want you to know about us. Now in doing so my aim is not to rat out my fellow pastors. Nor am I doing this so congregants sleep with one eye open regarding their leadership. My intention is precisely the opposite. I hope that from this:

  • Churches will pray all the more for their pastors because they understand the challenges.
  • Churches will be doubly grateful for the fact that so many pastors stay in the saddle despite their fears, hurts and frustrations.
  • People in churches will think twice before engaging in things that sink deep into the soul of their leaders.

Therefore I give a glimpse into what we as pastors don’t like to admit about ourselves.

#1. We Take It Personally When You Leave The Church.

It’s just a straight up fact. We pastors eat, drink and sleep the local church and with that have a deep desires to see it thrive. Therefore when you leave to another church because…

  • you’re bothered by a recent decision, but didn’t ask about it…
  • the new church has a bigger and better kids wing, youth group, worship team, building space, (fill in your blank)…
  • your friends started going there…

… it hits us personally.

For us it feels disloyal, shallow or consumer driven. People affirm that church is a family, thus when you up and leave because the church down the road has Slurpee dispensers, a fog machine or it’s just cooler, well it jams us pretty deep.

#2. We Feel Pressure To Perform Week After Week.

The average TV show has a multimillion-dollar budget, a staff of writers and only airs 22 weeks out of the year; that’s what we feel we’re up against. Where the pressure is doubled comes from the previous point. We know there are churches near by with a multimillion-dollar budget or a celebrity pastor who have the ability to do many more things at a much higher level. From this a sense of urgency is created in our mind to establish the same level of quality, option and excellence to meet the consumerist desires of culture.

Now if this were exclusively in the hopes of reaching new people this wouldn’t be so bad, but increasingly pastors feel the need to do this just to retain people who may be stuff struck by the “Bigger and Better” down the way.

#3. We Struggle With Getting Our Worth From Ministry.

When the numbers are up, the complements are flowing and the people are lively we feel great. When everything is level, it feels like it’s in decline. When things are actually in decline, it’s a full-tilt tailspin in our soul. We almost can’t help but equate the growth of the church with our ability/inability to produce growth. Therefore if there is any appearance of waning we feel defeated and wonder how long before the church board wises up and trades us to another team. The “Idol of Ministry” comes on and off the shelf pretty regularly in a pastor’s office.

#4. We Regularly Think About Quitting.

This comes in two very different forms.

One form is the variation of perhaps leaving ministry all together. While there are some really great things about vocational ministry, there are also less enjoyable realities such as: pastors’ families are noticed (i.e. judged) routinely, pastors’ purchases are observed (i.e. judged) overtly and pastors’ words are weighed (i.e. judged) consistently. Therefore the ability to hide among the masses and not be noticed is very appealing.

The second form comes with the desire for a change of scenery. Pastors are shepherds, thus we love greener grass even more than sheep. To leave for a bigger budget, better building or a place with less difficult people (yeah, we get delusional sometimes) stands out as lush Kentucky Bluegrass when contrasted with the dusty patch of ragged earth called “our current church.” This “Greener Grass Gawking” usually occurs when we become too proud (“My gifts are better than this place”) or too insecure (“I stink and just need to start over”) and flows from #3.

#5. We Say We Are Transparent – It’s Actually Opaque.

Today pastors are generally more open about their struggles than previous generations, but we still sense there is a threshold that is not to be crossed. People want open, honest and real, but not too much. Generally churches want just enough so they feel safe with you, but not so much that it spoils the expectations they have of you. Unfortunately the threshold is a blurry line by which pastors never know how much is too much until its too late. After a couple of infractions we learn that opaque is safe – even if it’s isolating.

When pastors’ wives are polled on how it feels to be the spouse of someone in full-time ministry the #1 answer is one profound word, “Lonely.” They are around hundreds of people every week, but they never feel they can let their guard down because they know people have opinions on how a pastor’s wife should be. Now I know people say they don’t, but literally every church I have served in has shared unflattering stories of the previous pastor’s wife. Many of these stories came from the spiritually mature leadership who considered the pastor and his wife to be their friends. The real irony comes in when later in the conversation I would be told, “But don’t worry, we don’t have any expectations on your wife. We just want to love on her.” Right! Now I don’t blame people for this natural human tendency, but being aware of how things are keeps you relationally opaque. And it’s not merely pastors and their wives who insulate. Pastoral families at large feel alone because there is a certain level of unknown expectations buried like landmines through the field of the church and so there is a constant mode of mostly transparent.

#6. We Measure Ourselves By The Numbers.

Numbers don’t matter! Yeah right. No matter how badly we want to slap that bumper sticker on our Ford the reality is that numbers matter to us. And they matter to us it part because they matter to God. The problem however goes back to #1-3. The absence of growth in our churches can cascade into an internal turmoil by which we begin to scrounge for “The Next Big Thing” that will bring “Radical Growth” “Guaranteed.” So we read books on how to be a “Deep & Wide, Vertical, Purpose Driven, Radical Reformission, Creature of the Word, Big Idea, Center Church.” Then we jet off to a conference with thousands of other pastors who are seeking to glean the secret of success. And what is the first question we ask one another between sessions? “So, how big is your church?” Yep, we measure ourselves by the numbers.

#7 We Spend More Time Discouraged Than Encouraged.

Occasionally people say to me, “Must be awesome to get paid to study the Bible all day.” Every time they do I think to myself, “Must be awesome to be able to give someone the finger on the 520 without people saying, ‘The pastor at Redemption Church flipped me off today during rush-hour.’” I’m not fully sure why that is the comment that flashes across my mental dashboard, but I think part of it stems from what I perceive to be the tone of the comment. Rightly or wrongly I infer they are saying, “Must be nice to have such a cush gig as a paid quiet-time.” In all honestly it is pretty awesome to be paid study the Bible, but it’s a major downer when people:

  • tell you – after 2 minutes of un-investigated reflection – that your 30 hours of study and 2 collegiate degrees were wrong.
  • tell you that they just couldn’t stay awake today during your sermon, but no offense. (How about I fall asleep at your kid’s graduation and we’ll call it even.)
  • tell you how you should have also said…
  • tell you how Pastor So-N-So says…

Aside from these particular examples I find that for most pastors it generally feels like the boat is taking on water more than racing with the wind – regardless of size or rate of growth. Lead pastors particularly suffer from this since much of their job is to focus on seeing things get better, which often translates into focusing on the broken, lacking or unfilled parts of the church more than enjoying what is right and working. Many of the most faithful and fruitful pastors in history have suffered deeply with anxiety and depression for the same reasons.

#8. We Worry About What You Think.

We’re human and we want to be liked. Therefore when we know we’re going to do or say something people won’t like, we worry about it. Now when I say that I don’t mean to infer that it causes us to avoid the hard things. There are some of my fellow pastors who avoid challenging topics or decisions out of fear of people, but most of the ones I run with still choose deliver the mail regardless of the popularity of its message. Yet we still worry about how you may take it.

#9. We Struggle With Competition And Jealousy.

We like to hold ourselves above the petty fray and reiterate, “It’s all about the Kingdom,” but in reality pastors are a competitive bunch. As soon as one pastor asks another, “How big is your church?” the game is on if the two churches are within 20 miles of each other (past 20 miles we lighten up a lot and think each other is pretty cool). Within 20 miles however we begin to assess one another’s style, focus, message, sophistication and marketing. We gauge to see if it’s a “Goldilocks Church” – not to deep, not too shallow, but just right (like us). If you’re too deep we benchmark you as internally focused. If you’re too shallow we brand you as consumer-driven. If however we conclude that you too are a “Goldilocks Church” we then figure out how our church is still better than your church. If you have lame amenities, we critique that you will never grow until you reboot that 70’s sanctuary. If you have awesome amenities, we criticize that you grow only because people are shallow and care more about stuff than Scripture.

Yes we know it’s not right. We know that it’s ego driven, but we still fall victim to it. We believe our church is the best church ever and we can’t understand why everyone doesn’t see it.

#10. We Feel Like We Failed You More Than We Helped You.

Most pastors will never be famous. Most churches will never break the 100 mark. Yet we all entered ministry to change the world and reach the masses. With this we know it is the expectation of churches that we accomplish this very thing. Every job posting reinforces the idea with the sentence, “We are looking for a man that will take our church to the next level.” Then when the next level isn’t hit in the way anticipated or within the timeline envisioned – we feel like we failed you. This is especially true in light of the reality that we are our own biggest critics. We came in with expectations higher than anyone in the church. You look to us for direction and when we feel like we failed to produce we feel like we failed you.


The Warning

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Last week we looked at Peter’s admonition to the young men to submit to the authority of the elders. We saw that humility is an essential factor in unleashing God’s grace on us. God really does care for us and we can throw all the cares of this world on Him and He will cover us with His mighty hand. This morning, Peter gives us a very stern warning.

1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

Get ready. Peter says, “Be of sober spirit.” This is a reminder of what he has said earlier in this letter. In 1:13, he said, “Keep sober in spirit.” In 4:7 he said, “Be of sound judgment and sober spirit.” In each of Peter’s warnings to be sober, he conveys the idea of being calm, being self-controlled, and temperate. He means for us to have a cool head. “Be on the alert.” Be on guard, be watchful, be careful, be vigilant. The second general order of a sentry in the Navy is to, “Walk my post in a military manner, keeping always on the alert, and observing everything that takes place within sight or hearing. The eleventh general order is, “To be especially watchful at night, and, during the time for challenging, to challenge all persons on or near my post and to allow no one to pass without proper authority.” That’s the idea Peter is conveying in this passage. Pay attention to what’s going on around you. Don’t let anything catch you by surprise. Keep your eyes and ears open. Don’t let your guard down, don’t be complacent. Remain alert and watchful.

What’s the reason for the warning? We are to be sober and be on the alert because, “Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” The Bible is filled with word pictures and beautiful imagery to help us understand what it’s talking about and what it means. I believe this is an accurate, real world representation of what the devil is doing to Christians. What’s more disturbing than that though is that many Christians fail to realize it. The devil is your adversary. Adversary has a legal connotation. It means an opponent in a lawsuit. It also means enemy. It reflects the O.T. picture of Satan as the accuser of the brethren. In the book of Job, Satan is pictured as sort of a legal prosecutor of Heaven bringing accusations before the throne of judgment. Job 1:6-7 says, “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. The LORD said to Satan, “From where do you come?” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it.’” It looks like Satan was roaming the earth collecting evidence. Satan is not pursuing justice; he attempts to discredit God, His Word, and His works. In Zechariah’s vision, the Lord showed him, “. . . Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him.”  (Zech. 3:1)

Now we come to a great example of Satan’s subtlety. I hope you’ll take the time to look up Matt. 4:1-11. In this passage we see just how crafty Satan is. He attacks Jesus’ deity, attacks everything that Jesus stands for. Satan’s subtly is evident in the way he quotes Scripture to Jesus. Satan is opposed to everything good and right and pure and holy that exists. He is against anything we do that is in obedience to God and His word.   Jesus handled Satan’s attacks over and over. In Jo. 12:31-32 as the cross of Calvary loomed ahead, Jesus said, “Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out.  And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” In Lu. 10:18, Jesus told His disciples, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning.” Why is Satan so angry? Rev. 12:12 says, “For this reason, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them. Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time.” That’s why Satan is so formidable as an enemy. He knows his time is short and he doesn’t know when it will end. His anger against the Lord and those who love the Lord grows with each passing day. Sometimes Satan attacks the church from within by disguising himself as an angel of light. Jude told us, “For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”  (Jude 4) According to Rom. 16:20 we know the, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”

In Ja. 4:7 we are reminded to, “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” It’s not that we don’t have weapons to fight Satan, the danger is that we won’t resist the devil, that we won’t watch and pray, the danger is that we won’t heed the warnings of Scripture. The danger is that we won’t put on the whole armor of God and take up the sword of the Spirit. The danger is that too many Christians don’t think that Satan is real. A 2011 Barna study revealed that 56% of American Christians don’t believe Satan is real. If Satan is to be resisted, if we are going to stand against the devil, we have got to watch and pray; we have got to be vigilant.

“Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” There are some key things in this verse that you need to get a hold of. First, the devil prowls around. Prowl carries the idea of secrecy or moving about in darkness. It has the idea of moving about in a predatory manner usually in an unlawful manner. Second, the devil is like a roaring lion. The lion is a very cool animal. He is the king of the jungle, but there are some things you may not know about the lion that we can draw some very close comparisons to Satan. The lion is not a very fast animal – about 35 mph. His favorite meals are wildebeests and gazelles which can run about 50 mph. So how do lions catch dinner? Stealth. Lions are very good at hiding; they blend in well with their surroundings. They stalk their prey to get as close as possible and then run at them with a burst of speed. The lion surprises his food, catches them, and devours them. Satan roars like a lion to scare you, but he is tied to a chain held by Christ. Satan can tempt you, but “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”  (1 Cor. 10:13) Satan may be the prince of the power of the air and the lion may be the king of the jungle, but Jesus is the lion of the tribe of Judah, Jesus is the King of kings. Fourth, the devil is seeking whom he may devour. He is on a mission.  He wants to destroy you. Devour gives us the idea of completely eating up. Satan wants to totally consume you. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security.

Peter has warned us and given the reason for the warning. Satan wants to defeat you, discredit you, and destroy you. Be aware of this and don’t be caught off guard.

Peter’s Shift in Age

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Last week Peter spoke of the elder as overseer and he talked about the nature of the elder. Elders are examples not just to God’s people, but to people everywhere. This week Peter closes out this section by speaking to younger men.

1 Peter 5:5-7 says, You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”

Peter shifts from speaking about elders to the younger men, but what does younger mean? Some people get really hung on this phrase. Remember that Peter is writing to believers scattered across Asia. In 5:1 he speaks directly to the elders among the church. In light of this, it is likely that Peter is speaking to the younger men among the people as a specific age group. Why would Peter call out young men? The answer comes from what he says next. He says, “You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders.” Likewise – just like everyone else in the congregation. It’s a reminder to the younger men. Why them? Think about the young men you know. As a rule, are they compliant? This isn’t the first time Peter mentions the idea of submitting to authority. In 2:13, he told us to submit to every human institution. In 2:18, he told servants to submit to their masters whether they were good and gentle or unreasonable. In 3:1 and 5 he told wives to be submissive to their own husbands. The idea of submitting to others is not new. But it’s the younger men in particular that Peter reminds to submit to those in authority. There seems to be a rebellious streak in young men that may not be as prevalent in young women and Peter wants to be firm in his reminder to submit to those in authority. But it’s not blind obedience for any follower. We saw earlier that Peter told leaders not to use their authority as dictators. If teaching or guidance is given that is contrary to God’s Word, it shouldn’t be followed. At the same time, people should be inclined to follow the leadership and submit to their authority and not complain about everything that goes on.

Now Peter shifts again. “And all of you.” If there’s any doubt, he includes the entire congregation scattered about. “Those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” (1 Pet. 1:1) Everyone who is reading this letter, who is having this letter read to them. “And all of you clothe yourself with humility.”  Smooth relations will exist in the church if we have a spirit of humility. If we simply have the attitude that everyone is important, things will be smooth. If we have the attitude that we’re all on a journey of discipleship, we’ll get along just fine. Problems can arise when someone wants to exercise some kind of power over another, or wants to dictate how something must be done, or gets upset if their idea isn’t adopted or supported. The foundation of Peter’s challenge is found in Prov. 3:34: Though He scoffs at the scoffers, yet He gives grace to the afflicted.” James quotes the same proverb in 4:6 of his letter. God is against the proud. It’s as simple as that.

Peter’s concludes by saying, “Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your cares on Him because He cares for you.” Let’s look at the first phrase. The “therefore” is there to tell us that since God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble, we need to be humble. When we humble ourselves, we’ll experience God’s grace. We know contextually that believers are suffering through trials and persecutions and afflictions for their faith in Jesus who is the Christ. Believers are challenged to persevere regardless of their circumstances. We need to accept the suffering that God allows in our lives as part of His plan for our purification that Peter spoke of in 1 Pet. 4:7. He will lift you up at the proper time. When is that time? It may not be in this world, but we’re under God’s mighty hand.

The second phrase is one of the most often quoted verses in times of trouble. All you have to do, troubled Christian, is throw the cares or worries of this would to the Lord. It’s that simple! But too often, those words are hollow reminders of our inadequacy and we continue to worry over matters that are beyond our control because no one ever told us HOW to do that. Cast is a verb – an action word and it’s connected to the phrase humble yourselves. It tells us how to actually cast all your cares on Him. Here’s the relationship between the two. Believers humble themselves by casting their worries on God. If we continue to worry, then we are giving in to pride. How can anxiety and worry be characterized as pride? No one would argue that at the very least, worry could be a lack of faith, but pride? When we worry – also a verb – we’re convinced that we must do something to fix or control a situation. We’re trusting in ourselves. When we throw our worries to God, we acknowledge our trust in Him. We acknowledging that God is Lord and He is sovereign over everything. Peter knows the church is suffering; he knows they are under persecution and affliction. Casting your worries on God wouldn’t bring comfort if God wasn’t able to provide help in time of need. You wouldn’t tell someone your troubles or concerns that’s apathetic, cold hearted, or cruel. You wouldn’t do that because they don’t care. Giving your worry to God makes great sense, “Because He cares for you.” God is not indifferent and He’s not cruel. He has compassion on his children and will sustain them in every distress. Ps. 55:22, “Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.” Affliction and trials will either drive you into the loving arms of God or will separate you from God. You think Peter doesn’t know a thing or two about pride? Peter told Jesus in Matt. 26:3, “Even if I have to die with you, I will not deny you.” I’m sure Peter’s pride haunted him.

Regardless of your affliction or trials, God really does care for you. When you trust Him, you acknowledge His mighty hand, His power, His strength, and His sovereignty. When we humble ourselves before Him, it opens the floodgates for His grace to pour down on us.

The Elder as Overseer

You can listen to the podcast here.

Last week Peter introduced us to the concept of elders. We saw that elders act as shepherds in the church. We learned that he feeds the sheep and provides protection for the flock. This week we’ll see additional aspects of elders.

1 Peter 5:1-4 tells us, “Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”

The first thing we’ll look at is the elder as overseer. Overseer comes from the Greek word episkopeo. It means to exercise oversight or to be a guardian. Back in 2:25, Peter said, “For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd [poimen] and Guardian [episkopos] of your souls.” The word episkopos is also translated bishop in the N. T. Peter is thinking of the shepherd in terms of watchful care over his sheep. The idea of a bishop being an office set over presbyters (elders) and deacons does not appear in the N. T. Peter describes the work of elders as that of a guardian. In addressing the presbyters at Ephesus, Paul said, “Be on guard for yourselves and 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) Clement I was pope from 88-97.  In his writings, he used the terms presbyter and bishop interchangeably. Later these terms would take on a new meaning in a class of clergy that was above deacons. It is very interesting to see how some denominations establish a hierarchy of clergy offices. We don’t see this in Scripture.

The elder is a shepherd and he is an overseer.  The real issue is not necessarily the organization of the office, but the nature of the elder. In Heb. 13:17a we are reminded to, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.” Authority is given to the elders of the church. The exercise of that authority is supposed to be in service to the Lord. It is ministerial, not imperial. The New Testament picture of an elder is that of the shepherd, watching over and guarding his flock which is modeled after the good Shepherd who gave His life for His sheep. The elder does not rule under compulsion.  No one should force him. He rules, “Voluntarily according to the will of God.” 1 Tim. 3:1 says, “It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.” This is a general statement that the office is an honorable one. In the past, a minister was a man to be respected, a man that had high standards of character, a man of integrity. Only recently has the office of pastor or minister taken on a new meaning in society. In the early church, they appointed elders only after they had prayed and fasted. The idea is that the Lord would show them whom to appoint because the elder serves according to the will of God. The elder does not serve for “sordid gain.”    He is not in the ministry for the sake of money. He should not seek bigger and bigger pastorates because of the lure of bigger and bigger salaries. The elder serves with “eagerness.” Remember that in the context of Peter’s letter, persecution was the norm, trials for Christians abounded, and more fiery ordeals were on the way. There is every reason to believe that some might be hesitant about taking on the responsibility of overseeing the well being of the flock. Even today, in many parts of the world, giving yourself in the service of the Lord can come with a high price. Remember Christians are severely persecuted in: Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Egypt, Nigeria, Iran, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Pakistan, Belarus, Nepal, Yemen, and Jordan.  There are many others. The idea of serving with eagerness and willingness takes on a whole new meaning.

The elder exercises pastoral oversight, not “Lording it over those allotted to your charge.” He is not a dictator.  Lording it means exercising dominion over. You younger folks probably don’t remember Jim Jones. He was head of the People’s Temple. He was most famous for leading 914 people to commit suicide in Jonestown, Guyana. You might be thinking, “That was a cult.” A dictatorship begins when anyone ascends a religious throne and draws obedience to himself rather than the Lord. That’s not the way the elder is to be. The elder is to, “Be [an] example(s) to the flock.”      He is not the lord and master; he leads by example. He doesn’t talk about obedience; he demonstrates obedience in his life. He is not a, “Do as I say, not as I do” kind of guy. Remember that the elder is a servant to the Lord. He serves Jesus by serving the people. Yes, he loves the people and cares for the people and is the guardian of the people just like the shepherd. But the elder is looking forward to the day, “When the Chief Shepherd appears, [to] receive the unfading crown of glory.”

The office of elder is more than meets the eye. He’s not just the preacher. He feeds and nurtures the body of Christ, he provides oversight, and he is an example for all.

The Elder as Shepherd

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Last week Peter encouraged us with the fact that more trials are coming and we ought not be surprised about it. But he also said that judgment is coming and it will begin with the house of God. As we move to Chapter 5, Peter begins addressing a group we haven’t seen to this point.

1 Peter 5:1-4 tells us, “Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”

Peter talks about the elder as a shepherd and mentions the term elder here for the first time. He addresses the elders who are among you in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. He counts himself among them as a fellow elder. Peter exhorts them. This is an interesting word. It means to encourage or address in a manner of comfort and instruction. It was not a word that describes sternness or a command to obey. Peter says, “I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder.” Peter was an elder like those he was addressing. He did not approach them with the authority of his apostolic office. He did not use these words because he was the head of the church; or because, he had any pre-eminence over the other elders. Remember Alexander Haig? He was the Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan. After the assassination attempt on March 30, 1981, Haig was quoted as saying, “I’m in control here.” Do you think Peter would he have used this language if he was the “head of the church” on earth?

Peter wanted the elders to understand that he was one of them, not over them, but a fellow elder. He speaks with humility and compassion. Remember, he just told them, “Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you.” Peter is concerned about the order and government of the church as well as submission and devotion. It is with this background that Peter speaks with the elders, those who are leaders, administrators, and judges in the church.

Let’s look at the term so we can get a better understanding of what it means. Eldership in the N. T. church followed the example that the Lord established for Israel. Gen. 50:7 speaks of elders in the house of Joseph. Elders of Moab and Midian are mentioned in Num. 22:7. Abraham’s servant is mentioned as having charge over “all that he owned” in Gen. 24:2. During the exodus from Egypt, the elders of Israel formed a definite group whose authority was recognized in Ex. 3:16-18. The ordinance of Passover was given to Israel through the elders as recorded in Ex. 12:3. Moses structured the government of Israel to include judges to govern groups ranging in size from 10 to 1000. 70 elders of Israel were granted a vision of God in Ex. 24 and were later filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied in Num. 11. Elders continued in a governing fashion during the exodus, through the exile period, and after exile. Each Jewish community had a council of elders or presbytery as mentioned in Luke 7.  In Chapter 20, Luke also mentions, “the chief priests and the scribes with the elders” in the temple confronting Jesus. When Christ made atonement for sin on the cross, His sacrifice eliminated the need for a priestly office, but the government of elders continued. Paul distinguishes the gift of rule and the gift of teaching when speaking of the functions of the office and ordained elders in the churches he planted. Administrators as well as teachers served the church. Jesus spoke of scribes that seemed to indicate these men were specially gifted in teaching and preaching. The ministry of teaching elders is emphasized in the New Testament, but Peter seems to emphasize the governing aspect of elders and likens an elder to a shepherd, a term that means feeding as well as oversight.

Elder comes from the Greek word presbuteros, which means elderly. Some denominations are governed by a group called the presbytery or elders. There are several words for the office of pastor that are used interchangeably in the New Testament. Each describes a different function of the office. Here, Peter concentrates on the shepherding aspect of an elder. Peter exhorts the elders to, “shepherd the flock of God among you.” Shepherd comes from the word poimaino. Peter knows about this word first hand. It is the same word that Jesus used to describe Peter’s responsibility to His sheep in John 21 when He called Peter. Shepherd covers two aspects of an elder’s responsibility. The first is feed which represents the real aspect of feeding.  It is providing nutrients. For the shepherd, it means leading the flock to green pastures. It means making sure the flock has everything necessary to ensure their physical well-being. The second aspect of shepherding addresses the care, guidance, and protection of the flock. A shepherd was to offer proper food for his flock and to govern it.  We call this exercising the office of pastor. It means, as a good shepherd provides for the wants and needs of his flock, the pastor of the church is to furnish food for the soul so the faith of believers may be strengthened. Notice the elder is shown as a shepherd leading his flock rather than a cowboy driving them. Sheep do not respond well to force and neither do the people in God’s flock.

It takes a special man to shepherd the flock. It can be discouraging and disheartening when the sheep don’t follow the lead. But you don’t quit. The sheep need proper nourishment.

The Power of One

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As with most things now a days, we’ve redefined what it means to be useful, we’ve redefined what value is. Society has dictated what the best jobs are, and they normally involve what the job pays. Most people would likely agree that people want to be useful, to make a difference, to make an impact, to leave the world better than they found it. But is this another case where our actions betray what we say? In the church arena success is often measured by attendance, by the size of the budget. Is this where the power is? It is becoming more and more apparent to me that these are not the marks of success; this is not where the power is.

Grab your Bible and read Luke 5:1-11.

This is a story of obedience. Simon was no different than any of us. He had been out on the Sea of Galilee all night fishing. He returned from his fishing trip with nothing more than dirty nets. It is hard work being a fisherman, and Simon had returned empty handed. Simon and the other fisherman stretched out their nets on the beach to clean out the sea weed, shells, barnacles, and all the other stuff that was picked up during the night. Perhaps Simon was thinking of the next fishing trip that might be more profitable. Tomorrow was another day. The area that Simon and the other fishermen were cleaning their nets is a beautiful place. It has a white sandy beach sloping up from the gentle waters of the sea into a hill around the cove that formed something similar to an amphitheater. Josephus wrote that it was, “wonderful in its characteristics and in its beauty. Thanks to the rich soil there is not a plant that does not flourish there, and the inhabitants grow everything: the air is so temperate that it suits the most diverse species.”

As Simon and the other fishermen were putting their freshly cleaned nets back on their boats for the next trip, they heard what must have been a dull roar coming from the west. A crowd of people was coming toward him being led by a man that Simon recognized as Jesus. This was not their first meeting. In Luke 4:39, Jesus had healed Simon’s mother-in-law of a high fever. Verse 1 says, “ . . . the crowd was pressing around Him and listening to the Word of God.” They got close to hear the Word preached. This wasn’t a concert, but the spoken Word of God. Even at the young age of 12, Jesus was able to captivate teachers of the Word. He brought the Scriptures to life. His message was articulate and timely. His message was relevant before relevant became a buzzword. People were inspired and moved by His message so much that the crowd pressed into Him so that he was near the water’s edge.

So what’s a Messiah to do? Jesus looks at the crowd and at the boats, and gets on Simon’s boat and asks him to “put out a little way from the land.”  Why had Jesus come to this cove, at this time of the morning? Jesus wanted to see Simon. Jesus wanted Simon to hear this message and he has nowhere to go. Jesus wanted to spend time with one person. As Simon sat there, Jesus finishes His teaching and tells Simon, “Put out into the deep water, and let down your nets for a catch.”  This was instruction to Simon alone. Notice that Jesus is not suggesting obedience; he is demanding it. Simon says, Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets.” Notice what Simon didn’t say. He didn’t say, “Jesus, don’t tell me how to fish.  I’m a professional.” He didn’t say, “Jesus, stick to preaching and let me do the fishing.  I know the best fishing holes on this pond.” He didn’t say, “Everybody knows that nighttime is the best time for catching fish on the Sea of Galilee.  And the best fishing is in the shallow water along the Sea’s edge, not in the deep water.” He didn’t say, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Simon didn’t ask any questions, but I’m certain this instruction didn’t make any sense to Simon. Maybe he thought it a crazy idea, but he didn’t listen to his feelings.  I’m sure he was worn out after fishing all night. Maybe he’s remembering that Jesus did heal the fever in his mother-in-law. Simon put this out of his mind and simply obeyed. Jesus was still teaching, but Simon didn’t know it. It was a lesson on obedience and on making a difference. This lesson was to test Simon’s usefulness, to see if he had what it took to make a difference. So what was the result of Simon’s obedience? They caught so many fish that Simon had to call his partners for help. The catch was so big that both boats began to sink. Simon throws himself Jesus’ feet and says, Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Notice Simon uses the word Lord. In verse 5 Simon uses Master, but now uses Lord. Master simply means superintendent, but Lord is from the word that means Messiah. Simon knew, understood, and believed.

Here is a key perspective. The Bible is certainly filled with stories about groups of people. The feeding of the 3000 and the 5000. 3000 added to the church at Pentecost. We see the multitudes that followed Jesus. But even in the crowds, the focus is not on them, but often on an individual. The stories often relate how one person was radically transformed. Amidst all the people in those large crowds that followed Jesus, we see: the woman with the alabaster vial of perfume. The centurion with the sick slave. The woman that had a blood disease for 12 years. Jairus. Lazarus. There’s always a lesson to be learned. Notice that Simon’s not the only one in the story. Verse 10 tells us James and John were there. Mark 1:16 tells us Andrew was there. This story is not about them; it’s about Simon. We think we know what makes us “successful” as Christians. We want to believe that we must reach everyone. We tend to focus on what everyone else is doing or not doing. We focus on everyone and everything else and ignore who Jesus really wants to affect. Before we want to make a difference in everyone else’s life, we have to let Jesus make a difference in our life. This is Simon’s story –one man. This how Jesus radically transformed one man to serve His purpose. This is a story of obedience. Obedience to Christ and His words is one of the most distinguishing marks of a Christian. As with Simon, Jesus is not suggesting obedience; he demands it.  You cannot be a follower of Christ without being obedient.

Obedience demands action. Listening never substitutes for action. Simon heard the message of Jesus. He was a captive audience. But Jesus wanted Simon to do more than simply listen. Jesus wanted him to do something. James tells us to be, “doers of the Word and not merely hearers.” (Ja. 1:22) Simon sat in the boat with Jesus and listened to His words. Simon believed in Him and it was time to act. Obedience is faith in action. It is taking the promises and provisions of Christ’s words into service and obedient behavior. You never find Jesus simply saying, “Believe in me.” He always urged people to “Follow me.” In essence Jesus is saying, “Don’t just say you believe me, don’t just say you know me, don’t just say ‘I love you,’ He says, “Follow me.” Conference speaker and former pastor Peter Lord said, “What I believe I do and the rest is just religious talk.”

Obedience calls for moving out. Simon was comfortable fishing at night along the shore line.  To launch out into the deep during the day is another story. Most people live in the shallow waters. They simply exist on a superficial level. There’s little depth to their lives because they’re content to just play around the edge, never going out into deeper water. Why?  Because it’s safer in shallow water. Out in the deep water there might be waves, other ships, sea monsters. We think, “I might get in trouble so I’ll just stay back here where it’s safe and comfortable.” God’s call to obedience always involves risks, involves leaving our comfort zones, to sail into the deep. Only those people who are willing to follow the Lord into the deep where the waters are over their heads ever really make a difference. Obedience means doing things because Jesus says, even when it doesn’t make sense. There was nothing logical to Simon about going out in the open sea and fishing again. It didn’t make sense. Some would say it’s dumb. But Jesus told Simon to go and here is the key to the whole story; Simon said, “I will do as You say and let down the nets.” (Lu. 5:5) The most powerful test of obedience is to do those things that don’t make sense simply because Jesus says so.

Obedience in the little things leads to opportunities in the big things. The fact is that Simon obeyed Jesus. He obeyed when Jesus asked to use his boat for a pulpit. He obeyed when Jesus asked him to out into the deep water. Because Simon obeyed, he was in a position for greater usefulness. Many people want to do something really big for God, to find their “ministry calling” but aren’t obeying God where they are, right now. Based on what I see every day, I think this is where many people are. If we aren’t obedient in the little things, why would God use us in the big things of life? The reality is that if we’re not making a difference for God where we are, then we’ll not make a difference for God anywhere.

What’s keeping you from obeying? There is something present throughout this story. The boat. The boat was at the water’s edge.  Jesus preached from the boat.  The miraculous catch of fish happened on the boat. Simon recognized Jesus as Messiah on the boat. Yet in the end, Simon pulls that boat to the shore and leaves it behind to follow Jesus. The boat represents Simon’s livelihood, his business, his security, his peace of mind, his future. Simon made his boat available to Jesus, and Jesus used Simon’s business as a platform for ministry. We tend to separate the secular from the spiritual.  We try to partition off our Christianity from our career. But, Simon’s boat was what was keeping him from a life of total and complete obedience.  His boat and what it represented prevented him from living a fully devoted life of obedience.

What about you?  What’s your boat?  What’s keeping you from a life of usefulness? What is standing between you and a life of obedience?  What’s preventing you from making a difference for eternity sake? The power comes from the One, and in most circles, it happens just one person at a time.

A Good Testimony

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Last week we looked at John’s simple instruction to imitate what is good. It seems simple enough, but in our world today, there are many things that compete for our attention. Avoid what is evil; imitate what is good. If that’s a person, so be it as long as they are imitators of Christ. Authentic Christians do good because we are of God. This morning, John mentions another name and closes out his letter.

Take a close look at 3 John 12-15.

We start off with an example of a do gooder. We looked at what Gaius did, then we looked at what Diotrephes did and how John responded to that, now we have another example. Look at v. 12 which is really connected back to v. 11. Diotrephes is connected to, “what is evil” while a man named Demetrius is connected to, “what is good.” We don’t have an abundance of information about Demetrius. His name was pretty common in the first century. There is one other man named Demetrius in the N.T. back in Acts 19:24. He was a silversmith that made shrines to a worthless goddess named Artemis (Diana). He publicly opposed Paul and the Gospel so it is unlikely that this is the same man. All we know about this Demetrius is what is found here in 3 John. Unlike the four negative things about Diotrephes, John tells us three positive things about Demetrius. “Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone.” Wow – everyone, all inclusive. This doesn’t mean everyone in the whole world. This is everyone who has come in contact with Demetrius: everyone in his community, neighborhood, church, workplace. He’s not one type of person at work and someone else at church. This isn’t a used to be a good testimony; it isn’t about what Demetrius used to do. Received is in the perfect tense which gives the idea that Demetrius has been like this for some time and still is. This good testimony is who he is, what he is about. It means a good reputation. This same phrasing was used during selection of the first deacons in Acts 6:3, of Cornelius in Acts 10:22, of Timothy in Acts 16:2, of Ananias in Acts 22:12 and is the same phrased used in the hall of faith of Hebrews 11. Demetrius walked the walk that he talked.

Demetrius has received a good testimony, “from the truth itself.” Remember truth is a major theme for John. His devotion to the truth was evident in his life and evident to all those he came in contact with. Notice the pronoun “itself.” Some suggest this refers to Jesus remembering that He described Himself as the way and the truth in John 14:6. 1 Jo. 5:6b, “It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.” Perhaps when you line up his life up with Scripture, it matches up.  Remember Jo. 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” While we cannot for certain say exactly who or what itself refers to, we know that anyone who would observe Demetrius would come to the same conclusion about him.

John and his colleagues, “add our testimony.” If everyone’s testimony is not enough, if the testimony from the truth itself is not enough, John puts his stamp of approval on Demetrius too. It is a personal recommendation about the authenticity of Demetrius. He was the opposite of Diotrephes. Why does John feel the need to talk about Demetrius? Perhaps it was Demetrius who carried this letter to Gaius. Diotrephes practiced evil because that’s who he is. Demetrius practiced good because that’s who he is. He was consistent. He was steadfast. He was authentic.

John tells us three good things about Demetrius and concludes that by saying, “You know that our testimony is true.”If you want to doubt everyone else, fine, but you know that we speak the truth. Our word is golden. Some people have the attitude, “I don’t care what people think.” While that may be true to a certain extent, we need to ask ourselves why we don’t care. Demetrius had a good reputation in the church and in the community. He was well respected because he consistently acted in a godly manner. Don’t think I’m taking liberty with the Scriptures here. He received a threefold verification of his character. It came from outside the church, from the truth, and was verified by the elder and his colleagues. Demetrius is an example to follow and is a total contrast to the behavior of Diotrephes.

We now come to John’s final words. As he said in 2 John, he had more to write, but wanted to wait until he could be there face to face. As John is writing these final thoughts, you get the feeling that he really loves Gaius. He’s looking forward to spending some time with him. Remember though, this isn’t totally a feel good letter. John is really concerned with Diotrephes’ behavior and he is going to address it in person according to v. 10. Tit. 3:10 says, “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning.” Factious means inclined to dissentions. That’s Diotrephes. Rom. 16:17, “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them.”  John’s not letting this situation go hoping it will fix itself. For us, the application is the same. If there are issues around us as there will certainly be, we can’t just complain hoping it will go away. Something that I am often engaged in is conflict resolution. Situations rarely resolve themselves and we’ve got plenty of guidance in Scripture how to deal with these matters, but ignoring them is not one of them. John was, “Not willing to write them down with pen and ink.” If you think about this, it isn’t strange. He wanted to let Gaius know that he knew what was going on and to keep doing what was right, just as he had been. We should have the desire and courage to handle issues at the lowest level possible. John will deal with the issue just as soon as he can get there.

John tells Gaius, “I hope to see you shortly, and we will speak face to face.” This is nearly identical to what he wrote in his second letter. He wants to spend time with Gaius, to encourage him, to commend him, to tell him good job. Getting a note of encouragement is great, but it doesn’t beat sitting down over a cup of coffee or sharing a meal. Real relationships take effort and take time. The ever growing arena of social networking is leading to shallower and shallower relationships; impersonal relationships. Absolutely use social media to its fullest, but don’t think that writing on someone’s wall or mentioning them on Twitter is the same thing as talking face to face. John wanted to see Gaius face to face and we should have that same longing to spend time with the people that we love; with the people that love us. John finishes by saying, “Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends by name.” Even amidst the trials at the hand of Diotrephes, John says peace to Gaius. Rom 5:1 says, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” No matter the situation you’re in, the suffering you’re enduring, the heartache you feel, you have a peace that passes all understanding because that peace comes from Jesus Christ.

We looked at John’s final words, but I have some final thoughts. As we bring John’s letter to a close, I’d like to highlight a couple of important aspects. Abraham Lincoln once said, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” Nu. 32:23 says, “Be sure your sins will find you out.” Cain couldn’t hide from God. David couldn’t hide from Nathan. Judas couldn’t hide his betrayal of Jesus. At one time I’m sure the people around Diotrephes thought he was the real deal. We don’t know the time line of his behavior in the church, but one thing is for sure, it became apparent who he really was and what he was all about. You can probably fool me, but the Lord knows who you really are. You cannot keep your real identity secret forever. Is. 53:6 says, “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.” The good news is that Christ is not finished with us.

We’ve looked at three people that were involved in a local church. Gaius’ church was not without problems and neither is ours because it is filled with people. Until Christ comes back, we’ll continue to battle our human will, but we don’t have to give in to it. If you profess to be a child of God, there must be evidence to support it. Not evidence of what you used to do or used to be, but a continual transformation into what God wants you to be. We are being transformed minute by minute and day by day into Christ. Change is inevitable so the question becomes, “How much am I going to let Jesus change me?” Am I going to be like Diotrephes who wants to be first, or am I going to let Jesus be in control of my life? It’s a great question and only you can answer it.