If you were here last week we began a series called “By Design” which is really, the whole series an exposition of one verse Ephesians 5:21.
So if you are a Christian, if you have trusted in Jesus as Savior and Lord, then you are a part of the people of God, or the church, and the Bible tells us that Jesus gives his church this incredible gift called the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is God, the Holy Spirit is the third person of the trinity that comes to dwell with the heart of a Christian, changing that person, conforming that person into the image of Christ.
In Ephesians 5 Paul tells the church to be filled with the Holy Spirit and when you are filled with the Holy Spirit there are necessary changes in your life, your life is necessarily different. And as we said a few weeks ago one of those changes is that you will sing and make melody to the Lord, one of those changes is that you will be grateful always no matter what is going on in your life.
But a third evidence of a Spirit filled life and really what we are going to be thinking about for the next several weeks is Ephesians 5:21
21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Christians recognize that God is a God of order, that there are certain rhythms and patterns that God has put in place and the better we understand these the better we will live and the more our lives will reflect the glory of God.And part of understanding the order of God is understanding the authority structure that God has put in place in society, in the workplace, in the home, and also in the church.
So if you were here last week we talked the Authority of the Church, so where does the church get its authority from. And as we said last week the very clear patter in the Bible in the New Testament that the church the congregation gets its authority from the congregation, from the people that make up the church. Jesus has given you, the church, his people his authority, and his has promised to be with you and to give you power
But how then does a church organize itself, because remember God is a God of order, so how do we understand Authority in the Church, and how can a church organize itself to where it is really effective and powerful for ministry. Well, fortunately the Bibles gives us answers here also.And so today we are going to look at a passage that comes from the very early days of the church, from the first days of the first church in the book of Acts. So lets turn in our Bibles to Acts 6. If you remember the story of the church in Acts 1 Jesus tells the disciples that they will be his witnesses in Jerusalem in Judea and Samaria and even to the utter most parts of the world.Then in Acts 2 the Holy Spirit comes and everything changes, Peter preaches in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, and actually today is Pentecost Sunday when we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit. So Peter preaches on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem and 3,000 people are saved that day, so now all of the sudden the church that was about 120 people is a Mega Church and the disciples are thinking ok how do we lead this thing, how do organize this thing? On top of all of that this new church has enemies, many of the Jewish people hate this new church. And they begin persecuting and even jailing these new Christians. Through it all the church had incredible love for one another and they were committed to taking care of the needs of others.
In fact I have always loved what the Bible says in Acts 4:32 – 35 describing this new church.
32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
So I have always loved this the result of apostles preaching, the result of the power of the gospel, the apostles preaching the power of resurrection is that there was not a needy person among them. No one had needs but the church was taking care of one another, and loving one another.And you know I get to see this at Valleydale all of the time, members here saying to other members you have a need? Well, I can help you, you need housing? You need food? You need a job? Well let me help you. In fact just this week there were some Valleydale members they are from another country and one of them hadn’t been home in 5 years. Can you imagine not seeing any of your family for 5 years, but resources were limited with this couple, so another Valleydale member heard about this and because of the generosity of some other Valleydale members this couple was able to get $1000 toward their trip home. Now that is just a simple story but I hear these stories all of the time.
And so Valleydale does this because we were taught this from the first church, this is the way the first church was operating. And there was true love and true community, and it was awesome. But along comes Acts 6, and just like in any church, a problem arises, a division comes, some people get their feelings hurt.So lets jump into the text and see what happens.
Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, so this is incredible the church is growing, new people are coming to follow after Jesus. But a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. These were mostly likely Hellenistic Jews. Jews who had gotten disconnected from Israel in the Exile and being separated had become more Hellenistic or Greek than they were Jewish both in speech but also in the way they acted. But bottom line what you have here is an ethnic divide in the church, not unlike a lot of the divisions that we have today. The Hellenist in the church arose against the Hebrews. The young in the church arose against the old, the white in the church arose against the black, the poor rose against the rich, and I mean pick your division. But the Hellenists are saying hold on our widows are being neglected in the daily distribution. We are supposed to be taking care of one another; we are certainly supposed to be taking care of the widows.
Now there are many reasons why this could have been true, one is most of the disciples were Hebrew, I am sure they knew the Hebrew widows better. Secondly, these groups the Hellenists and the Hebrews would have also lived in different neighborhoods and maybe the disciples lived farther from these Hellenist widows, but whatever the reason was for this neglect of the Hellenists it ultimately came down to time. There were only 12 disciples, the church was growing, and the disciples were trying to take care of this mass of people.
So the dispute arises and I love what happens the disciples address the issue. So verse 2
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.”
Now as we said last week, what do these disciples do they go to the congregation and say here is the issue we need 7 men bring these men to us and that is exactly what happens. Look at verse 5.
5 And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.
And so what this is, is the establishment of office of deacons. Actually it is interesting if you just look at the names of the deacons you can learn a little bit about what they are doing. It is likely that all of the deacons were Hellenists since all of the names listed in verse 5 are greek names. Even if some of them were Hebrews with Greek names we can guess that at least several of them were Hellenistic. It is also interesting to note Nicolaus who was a gentile that had come from Antioch, an outsider, but he is a part of this church and it he was chosen to be a leader
So, these were the first seven deacons in the church, and because the church had these deacons, it solved the issue, the Hellenist widows were having their needs met, and it appears that everyone is happy, and the church continues to function in a healthy and missional way.
So verse 7.
7 And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. – Which actually that last verse is a big deal because of the way the church operated, because of the love that the church had for one another, because of the power of the church in Christ. Jewish priests, Jewish priests who many of their leaders and their peers hated the church, they hated Christianity, because of the power of the Gospel and the goodness of the church these priests are coming to faith in Christ.
We can learn a lot from this passage about the church and specifically about church leaders but two things I want to look at today. First of all, the Offices of Church Leadership and secondly and it will have to be briefly the Character of Church Leadership.
Lets begin with the Offices of Church Leadership.
One of the things that are very clear in this passage is that there are different offices in the church with different responsibilities and we learn that, that is a good thing for the church.
So what are those offices?
Now just so you know I have served in churches with all kinds of leadership structures and congregational churches organize themselves in all sorts of ways. So my first church in Southern Indiana had 3 Elders, a few deacons, no committees. Very small simple structure.When I first got to First Baptist in Covington it had like 25 committees, and it was a rule by church council and the committee chairmen and chair women really had the decision making power in the church. So for example the leader of the flower committee had just as much authority of anyone else in the church. So that wasn’t really a functional system or a biblical system. Then here at Valleydale we are very much a pastor led church and a staff led church.So what are church offices according to the bible and how should the church understand church structure?
Well there are namely three offices if you will that we see in the New Testament.
The first office is an Apostle.
Now I believe this is a special office that came with special authority.
And the church has long affirmed from what we see in the New Testament that Apostles have two qualifications.
1. Had to have seen the Resurrected Jesus
2. Had to have been commissioned by Jesus himself.
So for examples the disciples, minus Judas, were apostles, they saw the resurrected Jesus, and they were commission by Jesus. Paul for example even though he wasn’t one of the disciples, and even though he didn’t become a disciple until more than 3 years after the resurrection, he saw the resurrected Jesus and was commissioned by Jesus on the Damascus Road.
We know that James the brother of Jesus who wrote the book of James even though he wasn’t one of the disciples, he was an apostle, he had seen the resurrected Jesus and he was commissioned by Christ
We don’t know exactly how many apostles there were. They were a special gift to the church for a specific time, they guided the church, they helped shape the church, they often times were used by God in supernatural ways, and they gave us the Bible. We call this era, which is about the first 70 years of the church until about AD 100 the apostolic era. And since then because of course now we have the New Testament, the Bible has shaped the church.
Now though an Apostle was an incredibly important office in the church it is an office that we no longer have because I don’t know anyone who has seen the resurrected Jesus and has specifically been commissioned by Jesus.
Secondly, we see in the New Testament the office of Elder.
Other words for the office of Elder is pastor/ overseer/ and Bishop – Elders very simply are the Spiritual Fathers of a particular congregation. They oversee a congregation, they keep the congregation faithful to biblical doctrine, and they pray for the congregation, they guide the congregation.
In Acts 6 we see these Elder duties very clearly outlined look with me at verse 2
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,
So, you see the disciples, or Elders of this congregation could devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word they guided and led the congregation to elect deacons.
So the pattern of responsibility here is clear. An Elder’s responsibilities are primarily 3 things.
1. The ministry of the word – And this certainly includes teaching and preaching but it isn’t just teaching and preaching, it also includes guarding the doctrine and belief of the church. It is amazing how quickly churches can slip away from Biblical doctrine and fall into theological and doctrinal error, the elders of a church are to keep the church pure and committed to the teaching of Christ.
2. The ministry of prayer – Elders are to be focused on prayer for the congregation, to pray for the sick, to seek God’s guidance and vision for the church, and to be intercessors for the church.
3. Leadership/ Guidance/ Vision – The elders are to give leadership guidance and vision to a congregation. How does a particular congregation operate, where is it using its resources.
Now there are other more particular things that elders do but they fall into these three categories.
Now something else we see in the New Testament is the plurality of Elders. This is an office that is shared by more than one man in a church. All throughout the New Testament we see Elders in the plural being referred to in the church. Now this doesn’t mean that a Senior Pastor doesn’t have a unique calling or a special place in the church but it does mean that he is leading with other godly leaders.
So this is a big change for us in the upcoming Bylaw decision. We are looking to move from a single Elder model of church leadership to a plurality of Elder model. And there are many benefits to the church and to the Senior pastor in this type of leadership.So not only do I believe it is the Biblical model there are a lot of practical benefits.
It gives us five things.
1. Broader Perspective – Perspective is a good thing, being able to look at things from multiple perspectives is great for leadership and this is one of the things that multiple leaders gives a church.
2. Shared Spiritual Weight – The weight of a church on a pastor is a big thing. And you really don’t feel that until you are a pastor. To know that God has given me a measure of responsibility for you guys is a huge thing to hold onto. To know that I will stand before God someday and give an account for this church is an awesome thing to think about… It is a weight that I gladly take on but it is a big weight.
3. Accountability – Accountability is always a good thing and multiple Elders can keep one another accountable. Not only in their own personal lives in their fight against sin and for righteousness but also in the leadership of the church, is the church moving in the right direction, is the church doing what it should to be doing
4. Better Teaching – One of the things that we do here is review our sermons, evaluate our sermons, and we plan our future sermons as a team. An Elder board will only help with this and make this more applicable.
5. More Efficient Leadership – A lot of churches that have a single Elder model will say well don’t move to a plurality of Elders because it will slow you down, but I don’t believe that, I think that a plurality of Elders only helps with communication between the leadership and the congregation. And with a plurality of Elders typically better decisions are made even if it takes a little longer to pray and talk through things. Bad decisions are what really slow down a church.
Now these are just a few of the benefits, but again the best benefit to Valleydale is that this is the pattern that we see in the New Testament and we want to organize our church in the most biblical way that we can.
The final office is the office of a Deacon.
Deacons are servant leaders within a church context, and I really believe this, when your deacon culture is working, your church really works. This is such an important office. Deacons are role models of service, and people need good models when I was a kid I built a lot of Legos and you know what I did to build those Legos, I looked at the picture and by looking at the picture I knew exactly what I needed to do. Deacons are servant models for a church, meaning that what Deacons do, we really want every church member to do, but deacons serve as leaders and models in that role.
So this past year we completely reorganized our Deacon ministry and let me tell you, Jeff Weathers has been a fantastic leader for your deacons this year. So rather than asking all of the deacons to do everything, we have asked the deacons to focus on one primary and maybe a secondary task.
So the teams are as follows.
1. Pastoral Care – This team really focuses on the immediate pastoral needs of the church, if someone gets sick, or goes to the hospital, it is this team that ministers in that situation.
2. Pastoral Ministry – this team takes care of the more long term pastoral care needs. For example if someone is homebound, or for example last week this team hosted a banquet for all of the widows in the church.
3. Communication – This team is in charge of communicating what is going on with the church, they will regularly come into your life group.
4. Sunday Morning/ Outreach – This is the team that helps us to create a great environment here on Sunday morning and this team is charged with outreach to help bring others in, to connect people to the church and to the Gospel
5. Prayer – Finally we have a team that covers everything we do in prayer, in fact right now during this service there are people backstage and up on the track praying over what God is doing in here.
So the Offices of Church Leadership that we see in the New Testament are:
Apostles which we don’t have any more
Elders – Which are the leaders or Spiritual Fathers of a church, given to the word of God and prayer
Deacons – Servant leaders and models in the church
Lastly I want to look at the character of leadership here at Valleydale. On June 29 we are going to have a church business meeting and at that meeting a new church Constitution and Bylaws will be presented to you the congregation. This has been prepared by a committee for the past several months and we have garnered a lot of congregational input, and it addresses everything from church membership to church ordinances to church leadership, and I strongly encourage you to go and read through these over the next few weeks. So, if we as a church adopt these Bylaws we will be moving from a single elder model to a plurality elder model and you as a congregation will be called upon to nominate Elders, leaders for our church, spiritual fathers for the church, who will then have a lot of bearing on your soul and your spirituality. So this is hugely important.
Now there are two main places where the Bible outlines the character or the qualifications for an Elder but the most thorough is 1 Timothy 3 and so I just want to basically read through this as we talk about what we ask of our leaders at Valleydale and this specifies 14 qualifications.
1 Timothy 3
3:1 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, – being a leader means that people will ask more of you than they ask of everyone else, and we should have leaders with unquestionable character.
The husband of one wife, – now there is a lot of talk what does this mean does this mean that an elder can never be divorced or does this mean that an elder must be married to one woman at a time. Well the best translation of this is that an elder must be a one woman man, meaning he shouldn’t be with more than one woman at a time. So can he be a widower remarried, well yes, can he be divorced, well yes but it of course depends on the circumstances and that is a longer conversation than we can not have now.
Sober-minded, – He is not overly excited he is cool headed. Not a hot head.
Self-controlled, – This of course is one of the fruits of the Spirit an elder must be under control. Self controlled, he must control himself.
Respectable, – His life is marked by self discipline, order and balance.
Hospitable, – I like this, he must be willing to open his home and his life to people, he must be able to take care of people, he must love people
Able to teach, – Now this is not that he is just a good teacher, this also implies that he knows the word of God, he can rightly divide the word of truth
3 not a drunkard, – Some translations say, not given to much wine. I think this is broader, he is not controlled by any vice. This of course goes back to self control
not violent but gentle, – A gentle man, a peace maker
Not quarrelsome, – he isn’t always looking for a fight. There are a lot of guys like that out there, especially guys who are able to teach they are always looking to prove someone wrong, but not an elder. He is not quarrelsome.
Not a lover of money. – He is not controlled by money but controlled by the Lord
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? – Whenever selecting a church leader, you must select a good home leader. Can he manage his wife and children, instruct them, discipline them, have hard conversations with them?
6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. – his spirituality must be tested with time.
7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. – He must have a good name in the community, well thought of by those not in the church.
So as you see we all have a lot to think about and pray about as we nominate spiritual Fathers for our church and certainly not many among us are qualified for this task, but I truly believe when we get men like this leading our church, we will see fruit and life and depth like we never have before.
Jesus came from Heaven because he was in love. He was in love with his church, and he came to rescue his church, he came to pursue her, he came to give his life for her. He was so in love that he was willing to take on your sin and my sin, and to die for us on the cross.
He loves his church fully. But more than that, he invites us to live with him by the power of his resurrection forever and forever, and he invites us to be a part of his work.Don’t you want a savior like that, don’t you want to follow a God like that.
I do and it is because I do, it is because I want to please Jesus, that I want to be a part of a church that is orderly and that functions in a beautiful way. So as we close today, I am going to invite you to pray for Valleydale. That she would glorify God.