Well as we go through Acts 13-14 we’re going to unpack that over these four weeks. We’re going to study what Paul and his missionary band did as they fulfilled “the work” and evaluate how we are doing as a congregation in light of what we find.
Luke gives us a summary of this work in 14:21-23
21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. 23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
Equip: Preserve the Way for those to Come
Acts 14:23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
Notice: This is a work they did in every church. They raised up a plurality of men called elders who would preserve the way for those to come. This work of equipping and entrusting the churches to these elders was so important the the work wasn’t considered fulfilled until they had done so:
Titus 1:5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you
Timothy was another of Paul’s co-workers who had been sent to Ephesus to re-establish the elders there. And we get a glimpse in Paul’s letters to Timothy the importance of this work. Immediately after the section in the letter we call 1 Timothy in which Paul sets out the qualifications for those who would be appointed as elders and deacons in the church, Paul reveals why this house-order is so important:
1Tim. 3:14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, 15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.
Paul understood that he had to ensure that the churches be well established under faithful men that the church might stand firm as a pillar and buttress of the truth. This would allow the missionary team to continue on its way into new cities, new fields, because the churches were left in good hands. Those who stayed behind and led the churches were to guard the deposit of faith that was entrusted to them and pass it on to others, preserving the way for those to come:
What do elders do? The short answer is that they continued the work of Paul and his missionary team so that they could move on. But Peter, an elder himself gives insight:
1Pet. 5:1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
The key praise is: Shepherd the flock of God, exercising oversight. The two phrases are important. An elder is not simply a manager or an overseer, but also one who loves the flock and shepherds the flock through love and words and by example. So what do these shepherd/elders do?
Protect the Flock: We’ve already seen how elders are to guard the deposit of sound doctrine handed down to us, and sometimes that means that we have to protect the flock against false teaching. Paul charged the elders in Ephesus, warning them:
20:28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.
Please know that at times we will have to alert the flock of false teachings. This happens every so often. This is why a plurality of elders is important - it is hard for me to keep track on what every small group is teaching, or what questions you have. If you see strange teachings, speak to me about it.
Feed the Flock: Just as shepherd feed the sheep, so elders food the flock by teaching the Word of God. This ministry is described in 2 Timothy 2:1:
2Tim. 2:1 You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2 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.
We sometimes use this verse in speaking of campus ministry or any leadership transition; however, the context is that the churches must be left in capable hands, through faithful men. In the book of Acts and the rest of the New Testament, those men are called, “elders”
Qualifications: 1 Timothy 3:2 “able to teach”; Titus 1:9 “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” This doesn’t mean that every elder is a gifted preacher, but that they are able to handle the word well and instruct others.
Lead the Flock: Upon elders is placed upon the responsibility of leading the flock. Paul instructs Timothy
Tim. 5:17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.
As the office of elder carries with it a measure of authority in the church, Peter’s instruction is vital: “not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock”
Notice we lead by example. That is why the qualifications for an elder are so important. A man after whom we can model our family. These qualifications are found in 1 Tim 3 and Titus 1.
2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil
Care for Souls: James refers to this ministry of caring in James 5:13
James 5:13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.
One of the most important ministries an elder can have is praying for the congregation. Elder work is caring work, hard work, visiting them and encouraging them to continue in the faith. Paul writes of his care for the churches in 1 Thessalonians.
But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
1Th. 2:9 For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. 11 For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
How many elders should a church have? Enough that every member knows that they are being prayed for and cared for. This is why we need good men.
What about Women?
Elders are by definition and description in the New Testament men. The church is based on a household model, and thus the roles of husband and wife are preserved in the church. Does this mean that we do not equip women for ministry, as we do the men? No. That is an error that many conservatives churches fall into, and we do not want to.
Titus 2:1 But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. 2 Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. 3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.
While the office of elder is reserved for men, we do not limit the teaching ministry of the church to men, but wish to equip women to teach and train other women for godliness. We see that there may be value in training up a group of women who would work alongside the elders in their work of protecting, feeding, leading and and caring for the flock, though in ways that preserve the household order and the distinctive roles of men and women.
How do we intend to fulfill the work in the English Congregation at OCBC?
This has been a question that I’ve asked continually since I’ve been here.
- I am specifically asking some of you men and women to consider to begin training toward being part of our Congregation Oversight Team as leading men and women.
- I am asking others in the congregation to pray that God may raise up men and women for the team, keep them in your prayers, and understand that they are doing this so that our congregation may be better prepared for the years to come.
- Over the next two months, we will take some time in each of our English services to pray that God may call certain men and women to pursue this next step. I will be speaking with people who are interested in this pursuit.
- My hope is that we would have at least 3 men and 3 women who would start this journey together with the blessing of the congregation. That would give us 7 to start with (including myself). I am gong to commit to fasting and praying for these six.
- I’d like to narrow down our candidates this fall and begin training. We will bring the candidates before you publicly, and allow the congregation to privately address any concerns.
- This fall then, we will begin training our first group of men and women for our English Congregation Oversight Team. We will use materials from our denomination and BILD international to train together.
- As we train together, we will begin praying for the congregation and working together in appropriate ways.
- The length of the training will depend on the size and readiness of the group. there are specific benchmarks I will be looking for related to their theological training, character development and ministry competency. I’m actually excited about this as I myself hope to grow through this and become a better pastor as we sharpen one another.
- When we believe that we have a group ready to be brought before the congregation for approval, we will bring them before you for you to approve, and pray over.
- We do not want to be hasty in laying on hands and commissioning these men and women. Once we get our initial Congregation Oversight Team together, we will be looking at mentoring another group of men and women.
- This is the challenge set before us, to finish the work that is defined for us in scripture to do. I pray that some of you right now might hear the call of God on your life - that we wouldn’t stagnate, but this might be the mist important thing we do as a congregation. You may not think that you’re ready for this, but that is why we want to carefully proceed.
- Pray: As God brings names into your mind from our congregation, contact me:
Having received the faith from those before us, we equip faithful men and women to oversee the congregation, teach the faith, and care for the weak in our midst; that by God's grace, OCBC will stand firm in the Way of Christ for generations to come.