The material in this sermon is heavily indebted to several pastors: Mark Dever, Jeramie Rinne & Alexander Strauch.
THE ELDERS OF THE CHURCH
The Household of God
1 Timothy 3:1-7
1983 – 43 people meet in the home of Jim & Ruth McDowall for the first meeting of what would become Lake Wylie Baptist Church. Jimmy Ezell is affirmed as the pastor. October 9th, the church is constituted with 33 charter members.
1984 – Having rotated through member homes for worship, Lake Wylie Baptist find its first permanent home in the offices of The Realty Plantation in Tega Cay.
1984 – On May 6th, LWBC moves location to begin meeting on the campus of AME Mt. Zion of Youngblood Rd.
1984 – October 9th, LWBC agrees to purchase 7 acres of land on Highway 49.
1987-89 – Construction begins on the new property. The church builds a worship space and classrooms all with volunteer labor.
Side Note – Spurgeon Dorton, FBC, 1960, East Huntersville Baptist.
2001 – Alan Smith is called as the 5th pastor of Lake Wylie Baptist.
2004 – Lake Wylie Baptist Church builds a new 120 seat sanctuary and adds acreage in a land deal with the Palisades development.
2016 – Lake Wylie Baptist calls Jonathan Homesley as the 6th pastor.
2022 – Lake Wylie Baptist agrees to sell 11.5 acres and relocate.
These are all big changes and growths in the life of our church… and there’s another on the horizon. Just as God was faithful to give us land and a new building in 2004, and as his is faithful in giving us a new facility in the coming years, I believe he will be just as faithful to lead our church from being lead by a single pastor, into a plurality of pastors—or elders.
I believe he’s going to do this for two reasons:
First, because he has told the church, in the Scriptures, that this is his desire and plan for every church.
Second, because our church is about to experience tremendous growth and expansion- and the need for Biblically qualified men to share in leading and shepherding the church the church is increasing by the minute. And the weight of that is too large for one man to shoulder.
Now—let me tell you—I thank the Lord every day for our deacons: Jim Hughes, Ricki Ingalls, Randy Warner, Marshall Hardin, and Jeff Williams. 5 men of integrity, who constantly lighten my load and encourage me. We will talk about deacons more 2 weeks from today in our study of 1 Timothy.
But today is about elders—men who shepherd, who disciple, who teach and who oversee the church.
BRIDGE THE GAP:
As we’ve been moving through our study in 1 Timothy you’ll remember that the Apostle Paul, preparing to leave on this 4th missionary journey to Spain was leaving a younger man, Timothy behind in Ephesus to help lead the church there.
Chapter 1 of the letter was all about the right teaching in the church.
Chapter 2 gives instructions on prayer, as well as instructions to men and women in the church.
Today we come to chapter 3. And here, Paul begins outlining the qualifications necessary for the two offices of the church: elders (or pastors) and deacons.
We’re going to be in this passage for several weeks. Today we’ll read Paul’s qualifications for elders—but we’re actually going to zoom out. Today I’m going to preach a shorter, more topical introduction to elders. We’ll skip around to various New Testament passages.
I want you—LWBC, to see from the NT that God’s plan for the church is to be led by a plurality of elders.
Then next week, we’ll dig into Paul’s qualifications. Those qualifications will help us accurately see who God is calling into leadership.
And two weeks from today we’ll take time to distinguish between elders and deacons. We’ll talk about why we need them both and where they serve in different capacities.
I realize this may not be the most scintillating material we’ve ever covered. When will Christ return, the 10 plagues of Egypt, and identifying the Nephilim are far more intriguing topics.
But we must not underestimate the importance of having a God honoring leadership structure in the church. We must not ignore the Biblical qualifications of those leaders. Too many churches are stale and stagnant—ineffectual for the mission of God… too many churches are filled with neglected and hurting people, too many churches are sidelined… why? Leadership.
READ THE PASSAGE:
3 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 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.
1. ELDERS ARE PASTORS
There are three words in the New Testament used interchangeably to refer to the office of pastor or elder. Those words are episcopos (which translates to overseer or bishop, presbuteros (which translates to elder, and poimain (which is the word we translate as pastor).
I realize that most Baptists hear the word “elder” and think, “That sounds presbyterian,” but the first and earliest Baptist—in fact, the majority of Baptists throughout history have taught from the Scriptures that eldership is a Biblical office of the church.
So, whenever the New Testament says “elder,” we should think, “pastor.” The same is true with overseer or bishop.
If you want a definition I like this one:
“An elder is a Biblically qualified man, recognized by his congregation as an elder, who leads the congregation by teaching the Word, praying for the sheep, and overseeing the affairs of the church.”
In short: elders are pastors. They are the spiritual shepherds overseeing the spiritual health of the flock.
2. ELDERS TEACH THE WORD
Elders aren’t the only ones who teach the church, but God has calls Godly men to lead his church, and the primary way they lead is through teaching and preaching God’s Word.
1 Tim. 3:2 – “able to teach”
An elder need not have a seminary degree, but he ought to be competent to open his Bible and teach the Word of God without error. He ought to be able to offer Biblical wisdom and counsel to church members. He should be able to explain the gospel to children and adults alike.
Where might we find an elder teaching? We might think of the pulpit of course, but there are plenty other venues for teaching the Bible in the life of the church:
We should find elders teaching an Equipping Hour class, or in a home group Bible study. They might be invited into the youth group to teach a lesson or studying Scripture with a church member over coffee.
As the Senior Pastor I always intend to do the bulk of the preaching on Sunday, but with Elders we have trusted men who can fill the pulpit from time to time in the year.
And it’s important to remember what elders are to teach: the Word. When I was called to be pastor, the search team told me, “We want a pastor who will preach the Word, unvarnished.”
Elders don’t get to make up their own teachings. They are to take the Word of God seriously. This isn’t a book of advice. It’s not a self-help book. It’s the living and active self-revelation of God.
3. ELDERS LEAD WITHOUT LORDING
Elders have a measure of authority over the local church. That’s why they are often referred to as “overseers.” Their authority isn’t absolute. It isn’t unquestionable, and it’s not to be exercised in a domineering manner.
Nonetheless, God calls elders to lead the flock, and all things even, God expects the church to submit to that leadership:
Hebrews 13:7 says: 7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
If you’ve been at LWBC for more than a year you’ll notice that we don’t have loads of church votes. We vote on really big issues—like the sell of the property. We vote annually on the budget and deacons. But by and large, we allow the leaders of the church to lead and make decisions.
We believe that if God has given us qualified leaders, then we ought to submit to them and allow them to make decisions for the church. Many churches are gridlocked because leaders don’t lead.
A few years ago repainted this room and resurfaced this stage… we didn’t vote on that. We knew that the church has bigger responsibilities to focus on rather than becoming divided over the color of the walls.
God expects the church to submit to godly leaders. God also expects leaders not to lord their leadership over the church.
The Apostle Peter reminds us that elders are to exercise oversight: eagerly – but 3 not domineering over those in [their] charge
Elders must remember that they aren’t Jesus. He alone is the chief-shepherd of the church. We’re just under-shepherds. We are temporary assistants.
Just because we have been called into leadership, elders must never forget that they are also sheep—in need of the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. Sinners, who but for Christ’s righteous life and sacrificial death, are doomed to an eternity separated from God because of our sin.
Being an elder doesn’t make you right. Being an elder doesn’t make you owner. We are to lead—but without lording.
4. ELDERS SHEPHERD TOGETHER
We always find elders (plural) in the New Testament.
When Paul was in Derbe and Lystra we’re told in Acts 14: 23 –
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.
When the church in Jerusalem had to judge in matters of doctrine in Acts 15 we’re told that
6 The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter.
As Paul was departing from the city of Ephesus in Acts 20 Luke tells us that Paull called…
the elders of the church to come to him.
Finally, in the letter Paul wrote to Titus, he gave this command:
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
In each instance we see that the church was being led by a plurality of elders. Why is that? Well, I can think of several reasons:
First, a plurality of elders promotes accountability. Godly elders are able to strengthen and spur one another on to godliness, humility, and integrity. Likewise, a plurality of elders distributes power, preventing
Second, a plurality of elders promotes wise decision making. Proverbs 11:14 says:
Where there is no guidance, a people falls,
but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.
Third, a plurality of elders provides balance. No one man has all of the gifts necessary to bring the church to maturity. One elder may excel in preaching while another in shepherding. One may lead in evangelism while another oversees discipleship.
Fourth, a plurality of elders prevents burnout. Caring for a growing church requires lots of man hours in visiting and counselling, in membership interviews, and overseeing discipline. When more qualified men are shouldering the weight of care, it lightens the load.
Fifth, a plurality of elders prepares us for kingdom expansion. God desires that LWBC play a part in expanding his kingdom—by sending missionaries, church planters, pastors, women’s ministry leaders, worship leaders and beyond. Having more elders allows our church to take greater part in the Great Commission to expand into all the earth.
Sixth, a plurality of elders prepares the church for pastoral transition. I have no intentions of leaving LWBC anytime soon—but should Christ’s return be delayed, there will come a day when I will no longer be your pastor—and friends—it will be the responsibility of the elders of this church to both lead the ministry in my absence, but also to work together with you to call a new senior pastor. I need not tell you how difficult the year and a half before I was called here was.
5. ELDERS MODEL MATURITY
1 Peter 5 says that elders are to:
2 shepherd the flock of exercising oversight,..not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock
Elders are not simply to lead the flock—primarily they lead by setting an example and tone for the church. Why is this so important? Because the church is not a company.
In a company, the bosses can increase profits, ramp up production, and bring greater organizational efficiency even while their personal lives are in shambles.
But the church is different. We aren’t producing products—we are cultivating disciples—which requires that our leaders are setting an example in holiness, hospitality, gentleness, and devotion to the Lord.
Modeling means that Elders are loving their wives well, they are ruling over their children and nurturing them in the Lord. Elders must maintain control over their emotions—you can’t lead the church if you cannot lead yourself.
Modeling also means that Elders spend time with the people of the church. Not ever lay elder will have the same bandwidth, but any man aspiring to be an elder ought to be open to church members, inviting them into their lives.
6. ELDERS PLEAD FOR THE FLOCK
In Acts 6 we’re told that the church was growing rapidly and there were physical needs in the church that were being unmet. Specifically, there were widows in the church who were being neglected.
2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
Likewise in James 5 we see this call specifically towards the Elders to plead for the flock:
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.
Church, elders are to be men of prayer. They are to realize how powerless they are in their own strength to bring the church to maturity in Christ—therefore they pray, asking the Holy Spirit to accomplish this work. They minister encouragement and comfort to the saints through prayer.
Church—this is a simple message. I pray it has laid the basic groundwork from the New Testament of God’s plan for leadership in the church.
I pray that you will commit to three action items:
First—pray for me. Pray that God keeps me humble and holy. Pray that God uses me effectively to shepherd and disciples.
Second—pray for elders. Ask God to give us men who aspire to the office this sermon has outlined. Pray that our church would follow in faithfulness to the Word of God.
Third—pray for yourself. As the membership of LWBC, it is your responsibility to recognize godly, qualified leaders. As you see God raising up men who meet these qualifications and responsibilities, tell me.