The Pastor and Me | A Guide to Church Leadership
I used to think the pastor was the boss; I thought everyone from the volunteers in the nursery to the church janitors all reported to the pastor. And as a young person, this didn’t seem that strange to me.
At Fellowship, when we walk through the doors on Sunday morning, it's easy to notice all the people working and serving. We are blessed to have such a good number of helping hands contributing in different ways. Yet, because church is a unique setting, the authority dynamics can be tricky to identify.
In the home, however, the positions of authority are more straightforward. Mom, dad—whoever takes care of you—is in charge, whereas the children…well, let’s just say you’re not in charge. Going any higher than mom and dad gets complicated. Who has authority over them? Does anyone? As young people, you probably don’t have it all figured out, though it’s likely you have developed a general understanding of authority from the institutions around you. But what about the church? In some ways, Church feels structured like school, while in other ways it's more like a family. The question is, is someone in charge? This month, we’re going to take a quick look at God’s special design for His Church and how we can faithfully participate.
The Offices of the Church
Pentecost marked the beginning of what is called the “Church Age,” a period we are still in today. As part of this age, God instituted two offices for the leadership of His Church. The offices of the elder (or pastor) and the office of the deacon. In this piece, we will concern ourselves with the office of the elder.
In the Bible, the term “elder” is used interchangeably with “overseer.” As such, every elder is tasked with overseeing or shepherding his flock or congregation. A more familiar term, “pastor,” means the same things but is often used to identify elders who are especially gifted in teaching, preaching, or care. At Fellowship Denver, we have a group of eight elders, two of which we commonly refer to as pastors. However, since a pastor, elder, and overseer are the same biblical office, will call them elders going forward.
Elders are appointed, usually by other elders, according to the strict qualifications in the Bible and the specific needs of the church (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tt. 1:5-16). All elders are under the authority of Christ, striving to know Him better and to exemplify the principles set forth in God’s word. They are uniquely accountable for their work as elders, which we will cover more later (Jas. 3:1). When there is more than one elder, like at our church, the elders form an elder board or a “plurality of elders.” In this case, elders are also accountable to one another and for one another.
The Responsibilities of an Elder
As faithful shepherds of God’s people, elders have a number of important responsibilities both for individuals and the big-picture decisions for the church. In Bible times, shepherds were men who cared for flocks of sheep. These sheep needed food and water and would sometimes wander off or invite attacks from wild animals. To be effective, then, a shepherd was required to have a certain set of skills, including the tender nurture of the sheep and their courageous defense. In the same way, elders are charged with the provision of spiritual nourishment for their people through teaching, pastoral care, and the protection of the Church (Ac. 20:28; Tt 1:9). Shepherding language is deeply connected to the work of an elder. We, like sheep, are prone to wander away and become lost. We need a healthy diet of God’s word and to be protected from false teaching and spiritual self-harm. An elder is someone who, like a diligent shepherd, performs these duties well.
An elder lives to serve Christ and the primary way in which he does so is in service of His bride. We are Christ’s bride, His Church (Rev. 21:9). As suggested by the introduction of the marital term, the responsibility of caring for the Bride of Christ is an especially serious one. Christ will someday return, and when He does, He is coming for one main reason—His bride. Christ is going to bring all His people, you and me, to Himself for a giant wedding. He will then establish His kingdom on earth forever, but for the time being, Christ has placed His bride under the care of His stewards (Tt. 1:7). Historically, a steward was the person who, when a king would leave, would become responsible for the kingdom while he was away. The steward may even be tasked with the care and protection of the queen. This was an important role because of how precious the queen and his kingdom were to the king. Any kind of mishandling of the king’s affairs or, heaven forbid, his queen, would mean trouble for the steward. As such, the stewardship of Christ’s bride is an important task not to be taken lightly. For when the King returns, every elder will have to give an account before God for the way in which he cared for His bride.
Parents as Shepherds
At this point, we need to talk briefly about your parents. As children, you actually have an additional level of authority that the Bible calls you to recognize and understand. Just as our church elders are tasked with caring for you, so are your parents. In fact, parents are themselves shepherds; they are your primary shepherds. This is what we in Children and Family Ministries mean when we talk about parents shepherding their families. Your parents are called to essentially the same duties the elders are, just on a smaller scale. They are to raise you up in the Lord, teaching you the Scriptures and guiding you in biblical discipline (Eph. 6:4, Pr. 22:6). This is by no means a simple task. You can honor your parents through your commitment to joyful obedience, and in submitting to their leadership out of love for them and love for Christ (Eph. 6:1; Col. 3:20, Ex. 20:12).
Our (Your) Responsibilities
Okay, you get that need to listen to your parents, but what about the elders at church? As a young person, you may sometimes feel overlooked or not as important as the adults. At Fellowship, we want you to know that you are exceedingly valuable, both to God and to us. In fact, you are just as much a part of the church as anyone else. This is not because we had a great idea to include you here at Fellowship Denver, but because God includes you (Lk 18:16). This means that you have the honor and responsibility of participating in God’s plan for His Church. Only a small percentage of people at our church are elders; the largest group is the members. The members are the sheep, the flock—you. It doesn’t matter if you are young or old, as part of Christ’s Church you are in a relationship with the elders God has appointed over you. As members, our responsibilities to the elders are like those to your parents. We are to honor them as they care for us (1 Tim. 5:17), respect them (1 Thess. 5:12-13), and submit to their leadership as ones who have authority, trusting them as God’s appointed shepherds over us (Heb. 13:17). This last one can oftentimes be the most difficult. Our elders are human, they experience the same pains and joys of life that you and I do, which means they are not perfect. Yet, we can trust them because God has entrusted them with us, and they love us well.
Everyone at Fellowship, including your parents and your friends in class, all need shepherds to care for them. Even though we can read the Bible and learn on our own, God has specially gifted and appointed our elders to care for us in ways we cannot. As members of Christ’s bride, we are precious to Him. Therefore, elders have a noble but daunting task, one which they perform with joy and humility. So next time you’re at church, keep your eye out for these men. Pray for them, and greet them if you would like as they would love this. These are your fellow-workmen in the cause of Christ, your faithful undershepherds (Christ is our “Chief Shepherd,” 1 Pt. 5:4). They love you and are always praying for you. Our task is to appreciate the humble authority God has given them over us and to honor God in our responsibilities as members of both our families and the flock.
The Bible calls Christ our "Chief Shepherd" (1 Pt. 5:4) because He is the true and better shepherd; He is a perfect example of what a shepherd or elder should be. This is why sometimes you'll hear elders referred to as "undershepherds." They are shepherds who labor under the authority and guidance of the Chief Shepherd. Therefore, there is an in-built theme of self-sacrifice for the elder. Jesus Christ is such a good and caring Shepherd that He laid down His life completely to rescue His bride from sin and death. In this way, the elder as an undershepherd lives out the gospel for his church in love and sacrifice.
This article has hopefully provided some anchor points for parents as you seek to instill a biblical understanding of authority in your families. There is a real sense in which the dynamics we want to foster at home are at work in the church. Consider reading this article as a family and testing your knowledge in the questions below.
- We covered a lot of names for elders in this article; what are some specific connotations of each? (pastor, shepherd/undershepherd, overseer)
- Who is the primary earthly shepherd of a child's heart?
- Why is it important to pray for our parents and elders?
- Can anyone be an elder?
- Why do we need elders?
- Pastor sometimes identifies an elder who is especially gifted in preaching, teaching, or care.
Shepherd/undershepherd highlights the unique ministry of the elder in nourishing and protecting God's people. It also emphasizes the elder's need to look to Christ as a supreme example of faithfulness in this work.
Overseer helps us understand the wholistic responsibilities of the elders as they guide both individuals and the church.
- Your parents, with special authority given to fathers for the whole family. // Eph. 6:4; Dt. 6:7, Pr. 22:6; Eph 5:22-33
- Because Scripture tells us to and they need it. // Eph. 6:18; 1 Tim 2:1; 2 Thess. 3:1; Col. 4:3; 1 Thess. 5:25
- Not anyone, only those whom God has gifted according to His word. // 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tt. 1:5-16
- Even as converted followers of Jesus, we are still vulnerable to the deceit of sin and the enemy. We are like sheep, we are made for community. Like sheep, we need shepherds to teach us God's word and keep us safe. // Is. 53:6; 1 Pt. 2:25; Ps. 119:176; Ac. 20:28; Tt. 1:10-16
This month, consider praying for our elders with your family.
Here is a simple prayer to get you started.
Your word is our holy guide and your Son is our good shepherd.
Teach us to honor our elders faithfully, and to understand that their service is a gift of grace to us from you.
Strengthen our elders in your word, granting them wisdom, discernment, and love.
And protect them as you protect us through them.
We love you Lord,