Duties of Elders

Eldership  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  27:30
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When are they “elding”?

You can tell when a plumber is plumbing… s/he probably got pipes in his hands, cutting and gluing or brazing or just pushing them together it seems these days.
You can tell when a teacher is teaching… he (she) has a concept in their heads that they are using their skills to get across to a group of students (of course sitting in wrapt attention… hanging on every word).

But how does one tell when a church elder is.... well… elding?

In some churches, church folk know when the elders are elding because it’s communion Sunday and the elders are all sitting up the front of the church and then taking the communion elements around to the congregation.
Elding is what elders do when elders are at work.
But what does that look like?
What do they have in their hands… their heads… their hearts?
Well, of course we don’t make it up for ourselves what elding looks like. We take our cues from the Scriptures…
Earlier we read from Ps 2, thinking about God as shepherd.
Interestingly sheep and shepherding are important concepts in the Bible. We’ve already read Ps 23 where we said, “God is my shepherd, I have everything I need.”
Many of God’s leaders, like God, were shepherds.
Abraham, Isaac, Moses, David and Amos all shepherds.
Nowadays we put up fences and put sheep in paddocks and leave them alone for weeks on end.
In Bible days sheep and shepherds had a strong, personal relationship where the sheep were dependent on the shepherd for leading them, protecting them and finding constant food supply for them.
I think a case can be made that shepherds (graziers) still do all of that today… but it is in a less personal way.
In Bible times shepherds were constant companions of their sheep.
Now perhaps some of us are probably already thinking that it’s not that much of an honour to use a sheep metaphor for us.
Sheep are not known for brains, bravery or wise discernment!
But sheep are also social animals that don’t thrive or flourish without other sheep or the care of a shepherd.
And just to make sure we understand.... it’s not that elders are elevated from the flock to be shepherds and the rest of us are sheep!
John 10:14–16 (NIV84)
14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.
One flock and one shepherd.
Elders are regular flock members that the chief shepherd appoints as under-shepherds… people with all their gifts and abilities, faults and failings, hopes and fears… certainly a bit further along in their journey with Jesus… but still sheep in need of the Great Shepherd on a daily basis.
So what are these under-shepherds to do?
In 2016 I took some of the elders from Hamilton to Christ College in Sydney for a day with Tim Witmer. Tim is the author of a book entitled “The Shepherd Leader”.
In the course of the day we tried to understand what elding looked like by looking at God as Shepherd, some prophets and kings who were bad shepherds, Jesus as the Good Shepherd… and our role as shepherds under the good Shepherd.
There are four vital roles that elders are to perform when they are elding the flock of God…

Knowing, Feeding; Leading and Protecting.

They must know God’s people, feed God’s people, lead God’s people and protect God’s people.
Knowing, Feeding; Leading and Protecting.

Knowing God’s Flock - Accurate membership roles; Knowledge of the corporate strengths, weaknesses, culture and opportunities. Knowledge of each individual.

Like most people on social media I have joined a few groups. I am a member of the Newcastle Photographers Group on FB. A couple of times I have answered posts, I have posted a picture or two… but mainly I watch what is going on in the group. No one checks up to see whether or not I have been active in the last month or even year. I decide my level of involvement. I could post more and say more and be known better by other members but I don’t.
I’m a group member but I don’t really know people in the group… nor do they really know me.
But even in that group I am on a list with the administrators of the group…
And sometimes administrators go through and remove people who do the wrong thing or don’t do anything.
Surely if elders, under-shepherds of the Good Shepherd Jesus are to shepherd God’s people there must be accurate lists of who is part of the group and who isn’t!
Church must be more family than FB group!
When a family sits down to a meal at night, especially as the kid’s get older, there may well be someone missing from the table… but the family knows who’s missing and why they are missing and where they are.
Who’s not in church today?
Who hasn’t been for a few weeks, three, four, ten weeks?
Who’s is in a small group? Who hasn’t met for (post-covid lockdowns) months or years?
Now I can almost hear people saying that doesn’t happen here.
Well, sure. Regular members in groups are missed by someone if they don’t turn up.
But what about the irregular people; the quiet people, the new people.
The world says “I’m my own man/woman. I join a group as closely or distantly as I decide. I decide when I will turn up, what I’ll be involved in, how often I’ll make an appearance… and I’ll leave if I want!”
But we’re in the world but not of the world. We belong to the great shepherd. And he has appointed under-shepherds to know and care for his flock.
Hebrews 13:17 NIV84
17 Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.
Elders need to systematically care for God’s people, to have accurate lists, to encourage people to move from new christians to growing in Christian maturity and taking their place in what God is doing in rescuing and redeeming the world.
An elder is elding anytime he’s quietly listening, learning, caring, hearing.... getting to know God’s people.... and noticing who’s not there.

Feeding God’s Flock.

A second way elders can be about the business of elding is in feeding God’s people from the Word of God.
Ac 20:20-21 “20 You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. 21 I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.”
Elders are called to feed God’s people from the pulpit, in small groups and in private everyday discussions.
Plainly this church takes God’s word and the explanation and application of it seriously.
But let me just ask a couple of questions.
Are you happy to invite your neighbour, friend, relative to our worship services… or potentially, at least in some cases… to your small group?
Is the preaching on Sunday connecting with your real world daily experiences?
Over the years have you been taught about Christian living in family, work and leisure situations?
Over the years have you found Sunday mornings to be the highlight of your week… or just something you endure because you know you should?
Do you find the sermons on Sundays enlivening and uplifting, coherent and understandable?
Or are they too detached from your working week or full of Christian jargon?
Now this is not an invitation for everyone to come up to me after the service and tell me how unhelpful preaching has been for you!
But you can influence the way things are done.
Some years ago we had a man come to help us with our SRE seminars at the Inverell High Schools. He told a story about a professor in his university who was a very poor teacher and who was mocked openly and constantly by students and faculty alike.
This man, a student of this professor and a Christian, got a couple of the people he knew were Christians in the class to do something about helping this professor improve his classes.
Can you guess what they did?
They agreed together that every class each of them (2 or 3 people) would actively look for one concept, one attitude, something… anything in this man’s class that they thought, (genuinely thought, not made up… ) was helpful… and they would thank him for it at the end of each class.
He said it did take months… but 6, 9 months later the word started spreading about how much this man’s teaching technique and material had improved.
It makes sense to me.
So elders who are elding well know who they are responsible for, their strengths and weakness, hopes and dreams, success and failures and encourage people with relevant, digestible and encouraging feed from the word of God.... and listening for feedback about what connects with people’s lives and how to better communicate the word of God to the people of God.

Leading God’s Flock.

It’s fairly difficult to diagram a church but perhaps this might assist us think about church.
Here is a diagram adapted from Tim Dwyer.

An Ineffective Blob

Sometimes churches are just big blobs that simply exist.
Some people within them form groups, some don’t.
They’re not aiming for anything, they’re not going anywhere… so they always get what they’re aiming for (nothing) and arriving at the destination (anywhere)… and sometimes they may even be congratulating themselves on how well they’re doing.
If God is on mission to recreate the world to be a place where he can once again walk in the cool of the evening with his people in holiness and eternal joy… the church can’t be a blob that as Rick Warren says, “Sits, soaks and sours”!

An Ineffective Breakaway

So the church is to join God on his mission.
Sometimes the leadership in those churches decide that it’s not good enough going nowhere so they get their heads together and decide they need to go somewhere. So the blob gets a point… a direction. But because the leadership is not sufficiently connected to the people there is a risk that the leadership breaks off from the people.
(What’s the definition of a leader without any followers… somebody that’s simply out for a walk!)

A Church Fulfilling God’s Mission

So what is needed is a group of people scattered among the people, listening to them and talking with them about what life is about. Life for Christians is about taking our part in God’s mission to cleanse and redeem the world.
That’s a group of elders who know their flock… and know what God wants to do with and through his people. They’re pointing the church towards fulfilling God’s mission.
They know God’s people; they know God’s mission (on the wall!), and they have a strategy to achieve that mission. And because they are connected to the people in the church, they are trusted, communicating, listening, speaking, and perhaps most importantly… leading by example… the church starts moving to fulfil God’s mission in the world where God has us.
If a leader without followers is just a person out for a walk…
a mission statement without a strategy and a structure to achieve it is just a day dream!
When elders are elding they know what the Chief Shepherd, the Good Shepherd’s plans are for his flock, they have devised a strategy to fulfil that plan, implemented a structure as part of the strategy… and because they are connected personally to the people in the congregation they are leading people to fulfil that plan!

Protecting God’s Flock; Discipline - positive and negative

The last thing I want to quickly mention because it is an important and often blundered aspect of elding is the duty to discipline church members.
This is a highly charged topic these days and those who try to tell others that their lives need to change may find themselves very quickly in the secular courts defending their actions in front of unbelievers.
It seems to me that that alone is a very good reason to have a formal church membership. Those that become communicant members agree that the reputation of Jesus and our Christian walk is far too important to watch another believer destroy both.
If we become members we agree to hold one another accountable.
If you see me walking along the main street of Macksville/NH next week holding hands with a woman that is not my wife, daughter or mother please don’t look the other way. Love me enough to ask me who was that? Find out what is going on.
In some churches it’s called doing a Mt 18.
Go to your brother in private. If successful that great. If not tell it to the church (elders). It’s gracious, measured, patient, seeking the best for Jesus, for the person/couple/family and of course also for the church.
However a very large proportion of discipline should be positive. Pulpit ministry - declaring the word of God for the people of God; small groups ministry, asking what people think… then investigating as a group what God says… and just private conversations chatting together is to be 75%-95%??? of church discipline.
Positive, unnoticed, powerful and by God’s grace, effective.
Acts 20:28 NIV84
28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.
So I hope by now most people can sense how wise of God the H/S to raise up men to shepherd God’s people under the leadership of the Good Shepherd himself, our Lord Jesus.
The session has identified several men that we think may be men that God has appointed for these churches.
I will get around them in coming weeks and speak to them with their wives and talk about the possibility of putting their names forward.
Those that do agree will be added to a ballot to be voted upon by the congregation.
Please pray for me… and for these families. I feel hopelessly inadequate for this process… but I do take God at his word when he says...
2 Corinthians 3:5–6 NIV84
5 Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. 6 He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
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