Monday, May 24, 2010

More thoughts on shepherding: Ephesians 4

I posed a couple of questions last week, Thinking About Shepherding, regarding the theology and practice of shepherding in the church and now I want to get at trying to answer those questions.

The first place I want to look are at the two Scriptures where shepherding is directly related to someone other than Christ, Ephesians 4 and 1 Peter 5. I am going to start with Ephesians 4: 11-16. Ephesians 4 is where we see much of the conversation turn because it typically is the only place in an English translation where the word “pastor” appears (although it is rendered “shepherds” in the ESV) and that word, which carries so much meaning in the church, attracts a lot of emotion. There is a lot more here than “God gave the church pastors”…

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4: 11-16)

Ephesians 4 needs to be carefully broken down to see what Paul is saying. All too often I hear Ephesians 4 quoted with a strong emphasis on the servants given to the church and not so much on what these servants (pastors, teachers, evangelists, apostles) are called to do for and in the church.

Why did God give these servants to the church?

- To equip

Who are they called to equip?

- The saints (i.e. everyone in the church)

Equip them to do what?

- The work of ministry (so everyone in the church is in the ministry business)

How do we know they are they equipped?

- They are mature in the faith (i.e. all Christians)

What is the sign of a maturity in the faith?

- A full understanding of the measure of Christ, a unity in the faith, not taken in by deceivers.

It goes without saying that some people in the Body are more mature than others. Those who are more mature should equip those who are less mature, those who have been Christians longer should equip those who have been Christians for less time. One of the key qualities in an elder is that they not be a recent convert so that they will not become prideful and led astray (1 Tim 3:6), which goes hand in hand with Ephesians 4: 11-16. Elders are to help equip Christians to come to a fullness of understanding in the faith. The three tier system where you have: 1) elders who are really mature, 2) some non-elders who are pretty mature and 3) lots of non-elders who are mostly immature even though they are not recent converts is not Scripturally healthy.

Ephesians 4 is speaking of the entire Body of Christ coming to a maturity of faith, not of making sure that the local pastor is orthodox so that the sheep are not led astray. This is so important because the truth is that elders of churches, even the famous guys like John MacArthur, are sheep and sheep tend to go astray. Unless the entire Body is equipped, empowered (I hate that word) and mature/maturing in the faith, it will be flabby and susceptible to false teachers or at least teachers who teach only a particular flavor of the truth with their own biases. All Christians are called to the work of ministry, not just a select few, but in order to do that they need to be equipped and then unleashed.

Now the question we face is how does this happen? How do Christians become mature in the faith, how are elders and other leaders in the church supposed to equip believers? I think the state of the church and the maturity level of most believers speaks to the ineffectiveness of “sermon listening” and Sunday school as the sole or even primary method to equip believers. Some of that may have to do with how we restrict teaching the Body. We can see that teaching is something elders are supposed to do but teaching is hardly restricted to elders. For example older women are to teach younger women (Titus 2: 3-5). In Acts 18: 26 we see the husband and wife tandem of Aquila and Priscilla teaching Apollos and there is no indication that Aquila is an elder. He might have been but he is never identified in this way. Paul exhorts Timothy in 2 Tim 2: 1-2 to entrust Paul’s teaching to “entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also”. That certainly should include elders but again it is not restricted to them. I have found that when I teach others I benefit from that at least as much as those I am teaching.

When we look at the next example, 1 Peter 5: 1-11, I think it will shed some additional light on the question of how elders are to shepherd and equip the Body.

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