Leaders In The Church

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What would you say most damages the church's efforts to make Jesus known to the world around?

I'd say two things. One is wrong living. Which leaves people saying, 'You Christians are just a bunch of hypocrites.' And the other is wrong teaching – when the message coming from us is not the message coming from the Bible. And those things are most damaging of all in church leaders.

And that's why Timothy was sent into this church in Ephesus. So would you turn to 1 Timothy chapter 1. We're in a series on this letter from the apostle Paul to his trouble-shooting assistant Timothy. Look at 1.3:

3 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer…

Ie, some of the leaders had gone off the rails - teaching wrongly and living wrongly. And Timothy's got to sort them out. So, look on to 3.14:

14 Although I [Paul] hope to come to you [Timothy] soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, 15 if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

And tonight's verses are on how leaders in the church ought to conduct themselves. Ie, how we should conduct ourselves if we're leaders in any way in church or CU's - now or in the future. And before we get into chapter 3, I need to explain the two roles Paul mentions.

One is the role of overseer. 3.1:

1 Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task.

Now look over to 5.17:

17 The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.

In the New Testament, the overall leaders of a local church are sometimes called 'overseers', sometimes called 'elders'. So, eg, you could say David is the senior overseer of JPC or David is the senior elder. Same thing. And 5.17, Paul expects elders plural – not just one, but a team. He expects some of them to be responsible for teaching the whole congregation. And last week's passage – end of chapter 2 - told us that they'll be male. And here in JPC, some of the overseers are staff, like David. And some are not – like churchwardens.

The other role is that of deacon. 3.8:

Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect…

The idea of deacons first appears in Acts 6.1f, where the church's practical needs were threatening to drag the overseers away from leading and teaching. So in came deacons to take a whole load of things off the overseers' plates so that the overseers could major on leading and teaching. So eg, I take it that our administrator Barbara is a money deacon; that our sidesmen are deacons; and so on. Again, some are staff, most are not.

That's 'overseers' and 'deacons'. Some of us are in exactly those roles. But the principles of chapter 3 apply much more widely to roles throughout the church. Eg, home group leaders. Being one doesn't make you an overseer of the whole church. But the principles for an overseer of the whole church do apply to you as you oversee part of the church. So let's keep one eye on the specific roles Paul is on about, and the other eye on the principles that apply more widely.

I've got 4 headings.

First, THE TASK (v1)

1 Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task.

Ie, a great task - a tremendous work to be involved in. Which made me wonder: why did Paul need to say that? And I think he was correcting a low view of the role. After all, it was being dragged through the mud by some of the people in it at the time.

Which is exactly where we are today. Eg, think of all the 'Vicar scandal' stories in the papers every week. Or think of the way the TV soaps and sitcoms portray Christian ministers. They're either wet or immoral. It certainly doesn't inspire you to rush out and be one. So it's hardly surprising that some friends I was at Bible College with even had parents - even Christian parents – saying it was such a waste giving up their career for the ministry.

And against that sort of pressure, Paul says, v1:

1 Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task.

I pray regularly that God will raise up full-time overseers of churches from this congregation. From CYFA, from among our students and from people already into careers and families. And if you're beginning to wonder if that might be God's will for you, the first thing he says to you tonight is: you desire a noble task. It's the greatest work there is. But you'll feel the pressure of the world saying it's a waste. And if you marry a 'full-timer', you'll find that pressure, too, when people say, 'My husband's a brain surgeon. What does yours do?'

Martyn Lloyd Jones was one of the greatest church overseers and preachers of the 20th century. He started out as a doctor and then began to feel this v1 desire to make preaching the gospel his life's work. But his seniors were urging him up the career ladder. His friends were saying, 'Can't you just preach on the side?' And then one day the Chief of Bart's hospital came into his room, and said that a good friend of his had just died and asked if he could just come in for some company. Lloyd Jones said, 'Yes.' And the Chief sat staring straight ahead for over 2 hours, unable to say anything. And it was one of the last prods Lloyd Jones needed to become a preacher. He wrote in his diary, 'That had a profound effect on me. I saw the vanity of all human greatness. Here was a tragedy, a man without any hope at all.' Verse 1:

1 Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task.

And the principle that applies more widely is this. If you have any responsibility for ministering God's word to others (to your children, in a group, one-to-one), take it with the utmost seriousness. It's the greatest work you do. That's the task.

Secondly, THE 'MUST' (vv2-7)

Verse 2:

2 Now the overseer must be above reproach…

Ie, his life must not discredit the Lord Jesus. You probably remember the Bill Clinton impeachment trial, where he became known as the 'Teflon President' because they couldn't get any accusations to stick. Not because he was above reproach. But because he had a lot of clever people working for him.

By contrast, the overseer is to be genuinely 'non-stick'. There must be nothing that can be fairly held against him that will discredit the Lord. And for an overseer or someone in a role where this principle applies, that's one of the most sobering verses in the Bible. But it's important to realize it doesn't mean 'must be sinless'. Which is impossible this side of heaven. It means 'must show tried and tested, settled holiness so that his life will not bring the gospel into disrepute.'

2 Now the overseer must be above reproach…

That's like the 'headline' to the 'article' that follows, so read on, v2:

2 Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife…

That probably doesn't require that he's married; Paul just assumes that the senior men in the congregation generally will be. Negatively, it does require that he's not divorced and re-married. Positively, it requires that he's a faithful husband. Read on:

temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil's trap. (vv2-7)

It seems to me that those verses don't need any more explanation. Like Mark Twain once said, My problem with most bits of the Bible isn't understanding it, but doing it.' But what's really striking is this. With one exception, everything that overseers are told to be is just what all Christians are told to be in other parts of the NT. Ie, the number one requirement of a Christian leader is to be an exemplary Christian. So, the Scottish minister Robert Murray McCheyne was once asked what he thought his people most needed from him – was it his preaching, or his visiting, or what? And he famously replied, 'My peoples' greatest need is my own personal holiness.'

The only thing in vv2-7 which is not required of all Christians is, end of v2, 'able to teach'. And can I say for the majority of you, that is not the issue. The majority of you are well able to teach. There are hundreds of capable Bible handlers here. Dozens of potential full-time overseers of local churches here. Ability is not the issue for many of us.

So, leading is teaching plus example. Which must mean life-sharing. And that's the big weakness of this kind of teaching. I can't act as an example to most of you because I can't share my life with most of you. And that puts the onus on small group leaders throughout the church. Because that's where we share lives – at least in theory. (And if we don't do that there, we're in real trouble as a church.) So, eg, take CYFA. Sunday CYFA, opening the Bible is vital. But you CYFA guys and girls need to see the leaders outside that. You need to see: how they treat their husbands and wives, or girlfriends and boyfriends; you need to see their houses to work out whether they're any less materialistic than the rest of the world; and so on. And that principle applies to any Bible-handling leaders here.

Leading is teaching plus example - plus one other thing. Verse 4:

4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?)

Teaching plus example plus managing. Down in v15, Paul calls the church 'God's household' (ie, family – same word in the original). So, the model for thinking about church is not school (with the leader as classroom teacher), nor business (with the leader as boss), but family (with the leader as father-figure). So there up on the screen [transcript readers will have to exercise imagination] is a family. The crown at the top stands for Jesus as Lord of everything. And under Jesus, the husband is the head of the family – he's overall responsible for its welfare, above all its spiritual welfare. And that upward arrow between family and Jesus stands for spiritual welfare - each family member growing towards faith in Jesus or growing up in faith. And a Christian father will contribute to that by teaching plus example plus managing: ie, leading, organising, planning, disciplining – most of which is a team effort between husband and wife.

And that's Pauls' model for the church. So there on the screen is the church. The overall leaders are the overseers. They're helped by the deacons. Which will lead to the whole church family growing up spiritually and more people being drawn in to the family.

So if you're a married Christian man, vv4-5 are especially for you. Set yourself to care for your family – above all its spiritual welfare – and God will be preparing you to take care of some part of his church. Possibly down the tracks, a whole church. Because the one is the training ground for the other.

So, that's the 'must': 'the overseer must be above reproach.' Some of you will remember John Chapman. I heard him speak on this passage at a minister's conference. And in his inimitable Aussie way he warned us of the 4 'G's – the areas in which we could discredit the Lord Jesus. Verse 2: 'husband of one wife' the area of girls (or more broadly, of sex and relationships). Verse 3 'not given to drunkenness' the area of 'grog' (from the Olde English); verse 3 again, 'not a lover of money', the area of 'gold' – watch your motives and keep your hand out of the till. And v6, not 'conceited', the area of 'glory' – as in, who gets it? Me, or the Lord?

Do pray for people you know with any form of oversight, that they (we) will not discredit the Lord. And if you have any form of oversight yourself, pray the same for yourself and get others to, as well.

The task. The must. Then,

Thirdly, THE HELP (vv8-12)

8Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain.

Remember: the deacon role is to help the overseer role to concentrate on leading and teaching. Eg, I hardly have to deal with the money side of JPC. If I did, it would be a disaster for my other work, and even more of a disaster for the finances of the church, I can assure you. Or take last week's Holiday Club. The time actually spent sharing lives and God's word with children is like the tip of an iceberg. Under the surface there's a massive great lump of deacon-type work – set-up, art-work, games, technical wizardry, legal and safety requirements, you name it.

Now just look down to v11 before we do deacons:

11 In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect…

Now the original just says, 'In the same way, women are to be worthy of respect.' Which could mean 'the wives of deacons', which is how this translation takes it. Or it could mean, 'women who are deacons'. Either way, the principles of these verses apply to both women and men in deacon-type roles.

And what Paul says is exactly the same 'must'. Back to v8:

8 Deacons, likewise [ie, every bit as much as overseers], are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain.

Verse 11:

11 In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. 12 A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well.

Which all sounds just like vv1-7. And that's the point. The same godliness is required whatever our roles. Whatever role we're in, we're to be an example to our fellow-believers and a credit to the Lord in the eyes of non-Christians. Eg, take our tea and coffee helpers tonight. It's not much good having a talk on serving in a godly way if you then ask for tea at the end of the service and they just sullenly tell you they've run out of cups and seem to show no inclination to find any more. (No pressure whoever's on tonight!) Again, it's no good the up-front teachers at holiday club being wonderful if one of the technical team gives a child a clip round the ear for treading on his cable. That's not the kind of video clip you want. Whatever role we play in Jesus' name speaks - either for him or against him. So, there's the same 'must' for deacon-type roles: whatever we do, we must be an example and a credit to the Lord.

And notice v9-10:

9 They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.

Now that goes without saying for overseers. You can't teach the truth about Jesus if you don't have a firm hold of it. But Paul is also saying: nor can you do tea and coffee, or be on the visiting team, or run a church football team, or be on the crèche rota, or be in music group or serve in a 101 different ways unless, v9, you 'keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience'. Why? Well, partly because without a 'hold of the deep truths of the faith', we won't have the motivation to serve. Eg, in order to commit to crèche, you have to believe it matters for the faith of mums and dads that they get that hour in church. But also because without a 'hold of the deep truths of the faith', we lose the plot. We run football teams and uniformed organizations and committees and music and so on for their own sake, rather than saying 'This is a means to the end of making Jesus known.' And if it isn't, something's wrong.

The task, the must, the help; and as a 'P.S.':

Fourthly, THE 'SPIN OFF' (v13)

13 Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.

We don't serve in church for our own sake - to feel fulfilled or recognised in a role or whatever. We serve (at least we ought to) for others' sake – above all their spiritual welfare. But, v13, there's a 'spin-off'. Set out to build others up in faith, and God builds you up in faith as you're doing it.

So Paul's comes full circle. He started out with motivation: v1, 'It's a great task' – it's the greatest thing you can do for someone to help them to faith or to grow in faith. And he ends with motivation, v13: it's not only the greatest thing you can do for someone else, it's great for you, too. It's a spiritual rule: set yourself to give and God sees to it that you receive in the process. And I guess our Holiday Club team would say, 'Amen' to that, even though they're shattered.

So, however you're serving in JPC, this passage says: it's a great work; being an example and a credit to the Lord is a must; and the spin off is that God will build you up in the faith.

But this passage also begs the question: should you be doing it 'full-time'? Should you be doing it 'full-time'? I help run an organisation called 9:38, to help people considering that possibility. If you want to know more about it, and our conferences, please do ask. Or:

e-mail:- admin@nine-38.u-net.com
web:- www.nine-38.u-net.com
post :- 9:38 Administrator, 2 Roger Bacon Lane, Oxford. OX1 1QE

But v13 is the thing to end on: 'those who have served…' Whether we're the senior overseer the tea-maker, or anything in between, we should only do what we do in order to serve. Because, as we remember in this communion service, we follow a Lord who said, 'For even [I] did not come to be served, but to serve and give [my] life as a ransom for many.' (Mark 10.45)

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