Church government is not by one-man rule, congregational rule, nor dominating control of a head office. There is a head presbyter (elder), but his decisions are based upon the function and input of the entire leadership team in relationship with the work of the Holy Spirit in their midst. Together the members of a leadership team advise and assist one another through a heart connection of relationship that brings a Spirit led balance in order to lead, protect, and mature the sheep in God’s purposes in their lives. The ruling elders are those who shepherd the flock. Their rule is not a rule of control, but a leadership of activation, facilitation, and release led by the example of Christ at work in their own lives for the sake of those they lead. The Greek word for “shepherd” is “poimen”. This word can also be translated as “pastor” when referring to the responsibility of elders in the role of oversight. This term is not that of the five-fold expression of Ephesians 4:11 and it is not referring to the equipping function of five-fold ministry. “Poimen” rather refers to the responsibility of the ruling elders in their role as shepherds of the flock. In view of this responsibility, each of the ruling elders may be referred to as pastors. This term does not refer to their equipping function of the saints, but rather their corporate responsibility in shepherding the flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2-3). This term also implies an honor of authority given to them by God on behalf of those entrusted to them to lead.
The laying down of one’s life for the sheep is a prerequisite for the true shepherd of God. This is also the attribute of a true father. The local church has to be viewed as a family. In many ways, local church elders represent the parents in the house. Together with the God-sent authority, they bring a tangible expression of God as their life-protector and life-giver. Elders must exhibit the attributes of spiritual fathers and mothers in the house of God.
The presbytery of the local church fulfills their role of leadership by giving to the flock, not by taking from them. The apostles of the first-century set an example to the elders of the early Church though their own willingness to give their lives freely for the Church. They were even willing to provide for their own necessities and proved through their own lifestyles that attitudes and actions of giving are better than those of taking from others (Acts 20:33-35). The lifestyles of the early apostles demonstrated that a priority of the eldership is to ‘feed the flock’ of God and not to take from them. It is honorable for a church community to take care of the needs of those who lead them, but it cannot be a demanded right in the heart of those who lead.
God requires leaders of His congregations to be sound examples within the family of God. Their attitude toward God’s flock must be that of parents, thus their character must be proven to be the character of parents and not merely servants nor opportunists. This is why Paul told Timothy that the character of the “bishop” (ruling elder) must be proven in his own family (1 Timothy 3:2-5). Embracing the responsibility of leadership means embracing the responsibility of taking care of people. The words ‘take care of’ involve the direction of the mind toward the object cared for. This term is both a term of interest in someone and a protecting of them because of their value. No one will ‘take care of’ the family of God better than a ‘family man’ or a ‘family woman’. Church leaders must assume the passion and the responsibility of spiritual parents in the house of God. Every dad and mom comes to know the basic responsibilities of parenting when they are faced with the responsibility of parenting. The heart of any loving parent is to protect, direct, and correct their children so they will grow to be well balanced, happy, and successful adults.
I have found that the most significant growth in my personal life as a leader is the increasing heart of the Father I find within me. I have been lied about, rejected, wounded, abandoned, and misunderstood, but my love for people is greater today than when I first began in leadership. I believe I began as a leader, but I am growing as a father. I find it most rewarding to see people come to maturity and act as the family of God. I feel proud when I see members of the church grow in their love for God and for one another. I don’t attribute their maturity to my leadership skills. I honestly view them as a father does his own children. I know, because I am a father of three grown children and nothing makes me happier than to see them excel in the things of God and life. I would rather see them flourish than even myself. My attitude toward the Church is continually growing in this manner also. I praise God for His increasing grace. I believe that having a father’s heart makes me a better leader than having the skill of leadership. I want this same revelation and attitude in the hearts of those who lead with me in ministry. May my children and my children’s children inherit this quality of life!
Food For Thought,
Ted J. Hanson