Jump Start # 2122
1 Timothy 3:1 “It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.”
Yesterday we shared some thoughts from this passage about the need for leaders in the church. We took a look at the concept of desiring or aspiring the grand work that is before us in helping people live righteous lives. It is one of the greatest things a person can do in this life. More need to give this serious thought.
But there is another side to this desiring the office of overseer. It’s a negative side. It’s not pretty. Some see this as a position of power and authority. Finally, they think, they can run things the way they want. And, to be sure that they get into this position, some politic. They do favors for others, hoping to win their “vote” in the process. The whole thing stinks to high heaven of arrogance, misunderstanding what is involved with shepherding and why one wants it in the first place. It’s not a badge of honor. Rather, it’s a roll up your sleeves and get busy helping people. I knew one church who appointed a man to be an elder and he made the claim, “I don’t like people.” That’s like a mechanic who doesn’t like to get his hands dirty or a doctor who doesn’t like to see sick people. Shepherding is about people. It’s about us, all of us. Some of us are pretty easy to take care of. We are serious about our faith and our walk with the Lord. We want to help out where we can and you’ll find us at worship when the doors are open. Others seem to struggle more. Family problems pulls them down and away. Messy marriages, where trust and communication seem to fail. Problems of addictions, whether gambling, alcohol, porn or drugs. Each of these impacts lives and families. Then there are the financial issues. Some folks just haven’t learned how to budget and say no to their buying habits. They spend more than what comes in. They’d probably make pretty good congressmen, but running a household like that doesn’t work well.
Shepherding is about working with people. It’s about helping people. It’s often dealing with people when they are at their worst or when the bottom seems to have fallen out in their lives. It’s not running the corporation. The church is not a corporation. It’s not about barking out demands and ordering others around. The church isn’t a military, even though some act that way. Shepherding isn’t even about getting your own way. Like most decent fathers know, taking care of others often means missing the ball game you really wanted to see. It means doing things for others that you probably would never do on your own. It’s sitting through recitals, watching the same Disney movies over and over and over. Dads do that because that’s bonding, connecting and doing things that are meaningful for the little ones. Shepherding is like that. It’s putting the people first. It’s listening to people complain about things that really do not matter, but it does to them. It’s trying to keep folks calm and focused.
Philip Keller wrote a masterpiece book years ago about Psalms 23. Keller was an English shepherd and he made brilliant parallels between tending real sheep and tending people. He pointed out that sheep don’t do well if any of three things occurs. They don’t like bugs in their ears. They don’t like to be hungry. They don’t like tension in the flock. So, the shepherd not only had to be watching for those three things, he had to be the solution. With bugs, sheep can’t scratch their ears like a dog can. So, the shepherd had to put his fingers into the sheep’s ears and pull out any bugs. UGH. Disgusting. That’s shepherding. He had to recognize what pastures were best for feeding the flock. Some fields had weeds that were harmful to sheep. The shepherd had to be able to recognize those. He had to watch for dangers, such as cliffs, fast moving water. Then, he had to watch for friction in the flock. He had to separate some sheep. He had to see who was being the bully. This was constant. Overseeing wasn’t letting the sheep loose on a field and then spending the rest of the time on your phone playing games and texting. His eyes were always on the sheep. Wolves love sheep. The shepherd had to watch for tracks and signs of wolves. Sudden storms could scare the sheep into running. The shepherd had to watch the weather. Day dreaming shepherds wouldn’t do well. Those that didn’t like to be around sheep wouldn’t do well. After a while, the shepherd smelled like sheep. I knew a guy years ago who was a pig farmer. He smelled like pigs. He kept a bottle of Brute cologne in this glove box. He poured that Brute on. He smelled like a pig wearing Brute. When you are around something a long time, you just pick up that smell. Shepherds are around sheep. They smell like sheep.
Shepherding isn’t about running the church. It’s about helping God’s people to become strong spiritually. It’s moving us out of our comfort zone and out of complacency. Shepherding is about listening to others. It’s having a heart of compassion. It’s knowing the Scriptures and how to use the Scriptures to help others.
I have been around all kinds of shepherds in the church. Some have been disastrous and nearly ruined the church. Bossy, mean, uncaring, harsh, the people worshipped in fear. There was little joy in that church building. I’ve seen others who were good men, just not leaders. They didn’t like confrontations and they didn’t like problems. So problems came and they stayed. They never went away. And, I have seen men who have the heart of true shepherds. They are compassionate about the work that they do. They are serious, godly and brilliant leaders. Today, I am among some of the best shepherds I have ever seen. Compassionate, concerned, visionary, helpful, thoughtful and godly. These men are doing things that most would never do. They continually go out of their way for the Lord. They would and have fallen on their swords for the sake of the kingdom. I wish others could see what a blessing these men are. Our lives are better because these men surround us.
A church should never appoint a man to the leadership role with the hopes that he will step up his game spiritually. If a man isn’t attending as he should, he needs to be taught, not appointed. A man who has shown little concern about the church should never be appointed a leader. A man who sees the role of overseer as a stepping stone to the top should never be appointed. He misunderstands the work he is to do.
I have found that as hard as it is to find men to be elders, it is even harder to get one to step down who isn’t doing the job right. Some are abusing their roles. Some show little compassion. Some are making a wreck of things. The church would be better off if such men were not in those roles, but there they are, and there they will be until death comes. And the church suffers. It becomes stagnate. It drifts under the heavy hand of someone who has no idea what he is doing. What can be done? In some extreme places, all the other leaders resigned, forcing the one abusive elder to have to resign as well. But teaching is always the solution. Study shepherding. Invite men in who have studied and taught this well. There are several men that come to my mind that really understand this Biblical concept of leading. Have them over for all day sessions on learning how to be better at what you do.
My wife is a nurse. She’s been nursing for a long, long time. Yet, she still has to take educational classes to keep up with things. It’s required if she wants to keep her license. Yet, many men who are serving as elders, have never looked deeply at what they are doing. They do not keep up with leadership ideas. They don’t read books about spiritual vision. They got in and they haven’t grown in their roles. It shouldn’t be that way. Once a year, the shepherds of a congregation ought to spend a day together talking, sharing and learning about how to be better at what they do. They ought to be reading material and keeping folders on all kinds of ideas. They ought to talk and listen to others. Learn. Be better. We do this in every aspect of life, but leading in the church. A guy proudly told me, “Once in, I know all that I will ever need to know.” I shook my head and walked away from that closed minded person who was clueless to all the wonderful things he could learn and help others with.
Desire the office. We ought to have that, but we ought to have it for the right reason.