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The Stewardship of Souls
Saturday, March 02, 2013
The work of the Elder in the church.
ver the past month or so we have been exploring what it looks like to be faithful in our stewardship in all kinds of areas. This has been an issue I have wrestled with in my own life in regards to leadership and my role as the pastor of GBC. What does stewardship mean for the Elders (which includes me) of this church? And how can people best support and encourage our work?
The writer to the Hebrews gives us a succinct and challenging response to both of these questions...
Hebrews 13: 17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
Here we are told that those in leadership are to act as caretakers of other people’s souls. In other words the Elder’s role is not simply organising and facilitating your Sunday mornings, running meetings or doing business and visiting.
While it includes those things and many other things, it’s primarily about looking after souls. In fact, the picture the writer has in mind here is one of a shepherd who watches over the flock, seeking to guide them to good pasture, to direct them away from danger and to ward off any intruder or enemy. Am I calling you stupid animals - of course not! Do I know how wayward and weak the human heart is – absolutely, I have one. It’s for this reason God has called some to lead as Elders or overseers. To keep watch over souls as the under-shepherds. To even write that terrifies me. What a responsibility those in leadership are called to bear!
In fact this is a responsibility that involves accountability. People often struggle with the first line of this verse where they are exhorted to submit to leaders but notice that the leaders must submit also. They are not to lord their role over others but instead they are to surrender it to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the great shepherd. For it is to Him we must ultimately give an account.
...this is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.Moreover,it is required of stewards that they be found faithful...(1 Corinthians 4:1)
In other words, biblical leadership is not a blank cheque of privileges. It is about profound responsibilities to do good to God’s people and bring Glory to God’s name.
In light of this can I ask for your prayers for me and the Elder team? Can I ask that you would see to it in your heart to assist us in this great work?
In fact the writer to the Hebrews goes on to exhort believers in how specifically they can support and encourage those in Leadership. He says they should make this work a JOY! Because of the people of God and the way they act and react (putting aside all groaning) the elder should have more cause for gratitude in his soul-stewarding work than cause for grumbling or discouragement.
Does that mean people in church should hide all their problems? Never present issues or air differences? Certainly not, that kind of fellowship together would be totally inauthentic. How would our love for each other ever grow if it is not tested in the crucible of Christian community? I wholeheartedly believe that Body-life is where God has called us to work things out, including our mess. It’s in the safety of the spiritual family of God that we are called to exercise and grow in practicing the covenant keeping love of the Gospel, and endeavour to extend the same grace we have been shown by our Saviour.
What I think the writer means is this. Those under the care of Elders should not grumble in resistance to leadership, or reject the counsel of God’s word which it is their responsibility to teach and handle. I can honestly tell you that I am just as terrified and humbled as I write about your call as I am when I consider my own role and responsibility in this.
At the end of the day the challenge is clear...we ought to bring one another joy in the Lord. The relationship between the Elder and their people needs to be one of mutual love and concern and submission as we stand and struggle together to serve the kingdom of God in our lives, and in the community where He has placed us.
This is maybe the most difficult article I have written to date but I have given this whole matter much prayer lately and wanted to share my heart with you. Please receive what I am saying with the love in which it is intended. Let me close by sharing a helpful quote I found lately from Bonheoffer related to this whole wonderful God-ordained idea of growing in the Christian life together...
“Christian community is like the Christian’s sanctification. It is a gift of God which we cannot claim. Only God knows the real state of our fellowship, of our sanctification. What may appear weak and trifling to us may be great and glorious to God. Just as the Christian should not be constantly feeling his spiritual pulse, so, too, the Christian community has not been given to us by God for us to be constantly taking its temperature. The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will fellowship increase and grow from day to day as God pleases.”
If you’ve been reading the bulletin lately you will have noticed one persistent point of praise every week in the prayer section: Praise God for the fellowship we enjoy in Him - pray for the peace, protection and unity of our church.
Let this be our heart as we journey on together in His grace and for His glory.
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