I was a member of the Rotary Club in Oxford, Mississippi. Here is the way the club selected their officers (which is probably characteristic of selecting officers in many civic clubs). First, you find somebody who was willing to be an officer. That's always the first criteria. When you find someone willing to be an officer, there are certain criteria that individual must meet. You examine your candidates to see who meets the criteria. Then you actively pursue that person as you encourage him to accept the responsibility. With our club, it was a graduated approach. The person served in the lowest office position for one year. Each year that person was "bumped up until you worked up" to a higher office -- until he was the president of the club.
I think it is too easy for us to look upon people who function as elders as being like the officers who serve in a civic club. Find somebody willing to accept the responsibility. When you find several persons, consider the possibilities. Select from those possibilities. Eventually, through the process, put the men in position to be officers of a civic club. Unfortunately, too often we consider what occurs within the church as being a civic activity with spiritual implications.
If that's the view you have of selecting men to work among us as shepherds, I beg you to consider what scripture has to say. Let scripture change your perspective. Selecting men to be elders is not a matter of finding men to function as officers in a civic club. To that end, I call your attention to Ephesians 4. The verses I wish you to consider are verses 11 through 13. [Christ] gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints, for the work of service and to the building up of the body of Christ until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God to a mature man to a measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ."
You would not claim that a person who decided he wanted to be an apostle could become such if he went through the right election process. You would not declare a person became one of the twelve by seeking the proper human acceptance. You wouldn't do that. Please understand the function of an apostle in the New Testament was not limited to the twelve. Many functioned as apostles, but they did not receive the commission or charge the twelve received.
I don't think we would suggest that a person just decided that he wanted to be a prophet (a significant, active role in the first century church) and said, "Okay, I am going to go through the election process necessary. Then you just recognize me as being a prophet." If a person didn't have the word of the Lord, how could he be a prophet? If the Lord didn't give him that word, how's he going to be a prophet? It was not merely a human decision.
Three places in the New Testament denote that God's work among His people was done on the basis of gifts. God selected those who had gifts. Because they had gifts, they served a special role of ministry or service within His body or His kingdom. The interesting thing in Ephesians 4 is this is one of those three lists of gifts. Some of the lists, like those that are found in First Corinthians 12, we look upon as being special acts of the Holy Spirit. Our discussion automatically focuses on the spiritual aspects of the gifts. But two of those listings of gifts, Romans 12 and Ephesians 4, do not focus on what we classify as spiritual gifts. They do not list things we regard as being miraculous. In fact, some of those gifts are very operative today--evangelists, pastors and teachers. Such gifts are so familiar, have such a "ring of familiarity" about them, that we acknowledge their existence without thought.
I think if you reflect a little, you are quite aware of the fact that not everybody has the ability (the gift) to be an effective evangelist. To be an effective evangelist, much more is involved than having correct information. If you reflect a little, you wouldn't say that everybody that knows the information automatically has the gift of teaching.
I was privileged this last week to study under a man who has an exceptional ability to teach which I truly. I appreciate his extensive information. However, I would never have grasped his information if he did not have the astounding ability to share that information, to make it understandable to me.
I think that we need a great awareness as we approach asking men to work among as additional shepherds. We need to have a great awareness that we are doing something far beyond electing officers in the civic club, something far beyond saying "Would you like to do this?" We are looking for men who have the gift. This goes far beyond just meeting the qualifications.
I have worked with a lot of elders in my years. I have worked with elders who were abundantly blessed with the gift. They were a real asset and a real blessing to the body that they served. They served God's purposes admirably in working with people. I also have worked with elders who did not have the gift. Quite often, because they did not have the gift, they created problems. Sometimes they created problems intentionally. Sometimes they created problems unintentionally. Unintentional problems occurred because their perspective of what needed to be done (and how) didn't coincide with the emphasis and the purposes of God.
Note in this passage Paul acknowledged that people had different gifts: some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some as pastors, some as teachers. Note the purpose. The overall purpose (this may not stand out in the English text) was for the equipping of the saints. The equipping of the saints fell under two categories, two objectives. Both objectives occurred in the process of equipping the saints, equipping Christians.
Many times we don't think of leadership as an equipping responsibility. One of the reasons for the high burnout rate among the elders is this: we expect of them things scripture never expected. We expect them to do virtually everything. Nobody can do everything. No group can take care of all of it. I hope that you will give our current elders and the new elders your encouragement to continue in the direction of finding people who will care for areas of responsibility. Our elders are trying to take care of far too many things. Their task is equipping, not taking care of everything--EQUIPPING.
What are they to equip Christians to do? They equip Christians to serve, to immerse themselves in the work of service, to immerse themselves in building up the body of Christ. They are to shepherd us in ways which will result in the fact that the West-Ark congregation serves wonderfully in seeking to accomplish God's purposes.
At the same time, we are not merely developing an effective way to get people to enter. The elders guide us in ways that help us work with each other so that we stay. It has been said that we have an excellent theology of "getting in," but we don't have a good theology about "staying in." Unfortunately, I think that is pretty accurate. We pride ourselves on knowing very well what to tell a person to "get in," but the truth is, we haven't grown much in developing an understanding of how to help people stay in. If you don't think that is a problem, go home and thumb through your old directory. Look through it.
How long were roles of giftedness to continue? How long were these first century roles of giftedness to continue? Paul said to a Gentile congregation in Ephesus these roles would continue "until we all attain to the unity of the faith."
We need to be very careful about what we define "the faith" to be. " The faith" is not what we decide the faith to be. "The faith" is what Paul had in mind when he wrote to these Gentile Christians. "The faith" was understanding that the eternal living God was at work in Jesus Christ to bring into existence His people, His body, His kingdom.
"The faith" was not talking about whether you do or do not have a kitchen in the church building. This is not talking about how you do or do not use the auditorium (heaven forbid we call it the sanctuary). This is not about what does or does not happen in the Family Life Center. Paul wrote to people who had been thoroughly pagan. These people had been converted to Christ.
It was very difficult to leave your baggage behind. It still is. Many of our problems in today's church are the result of people bringing their baggage with them. This baggage existed in previous commitments prior to conversion. These Gentile converts had a lot of baggage they brought with them. Look at the first three chapters. Go home and read them. Look at the way Paul tried to get them to understand this: "It is not your pagan past that defines spiritual reality. It is Jesus Christ that defines spiritual reality. Stop looking at your pagan past. Look at what God did in Jesus Christ. That's the only way you are going to define spiritual reality in God."
If they did that, he wanted them to understand "you fix your faith on what God did in Jesus Christ, not on what you thought the pagan gods did." We have taken "the faith" and applied a thousand different ways to address whatever irritates us or whatever we don't like. Paul is not talking about such matters. He said to people that came from a very paganistic background, "You no longer define what is happening in the world on the basis of your pagan experiences. You no longer define what is happening politically or in any thing else on the basis of pagan experiences. You see God actively working in our world through Jesus Christ, and you believe it. You believe it!!"
Further, Paul said to them, "We want to grow to a knowledge of the Son of God. We're seeking a commonalty in our knowledge of God's Son." They knew all about the pagan gods. They had known about the pagan gods for generations. They worshipped the pagan gods in the past. They didn't have the knowledge of Jesus Christ that they had of the pagan gods. He is telling them, "Knowledge of God's Son is the objective of men who provide leadership and teaching for us, who seek to equip us to serve, who seek to equip us to build up Christ's body (not to divide or fracture it). They will lead us in building up Christ's body so it will become stronger and healthier. This is the way they will do this: they will move us to a faith that focuses totally in Jesus Christ. We will grow to a common understanding of who this Jesus Christ is."
It saddens me to see how many Christians have a much better grasp of positions of the Church of Christ than a grasp of the positions of Jesus Christ. That really saddens me. It saddens me because they are not the same thing. They're not!! There are times that we take a very strong stance on something that represents the Church of Christ. Often that stance depends on our background and our heritage. That stance may not have a thing in the world to do with Jesus Christ.
Yet, we sometimes affirm that we have come to unity of knowledge. (Often that means the people in agreement with us declare that we have taken "the proper stance." However, it is NOT the claim that we had reached a common understanding of Jesus Christ.) Coming to unity of knowledge is presumed to be the common agreement about what is important.
What is important is Jesus, and the commonalty of knowledge that Paul wanted the church at Ephesus to attain was the knowledge of the Son of God. And what would be the result of that knowledge? Maturity. Knowledge of God's Son would not produce abundant evidence of spiritual immaturity. Knowledge of the God's Son would produce maturity. How would that maturity be evident? They would begin measuring themselves, Christ's body, Christ's community, by the fullness of Christ. The standard of measure would not be how many people thought they should follow a teaching of Christ, how many people were happy about what was taking place, or how many people were happy about the direction. They could look at Christ, and when we saw Christ, they could see themselves increasingly reflect Christ.
Fundamentally in this text, Paul said this would not happen by their wisdom. They would not become such good people, such marvelous folks, that they (of your own human wisdom and human devices) would become the body of Christ filled with the fullness of Christ.
The church has not become Christ's body filled with Christ's fullness (in human wisdom and behavior) in 2000 years. Do you want to talk about division in the church? You want to talk about personality conflict in the church? You want to talk about issues in the church? How many of those things are focused on issues of the 20th and 21st centuries, not on first century messages from Jesus Christ? It hasn't happened in 2000 years.
We are not a people who drink deeply from the spirit of Jesus Christ. We have become very humanistic in our perspective and focus. We have become convinced (even certain) that we can achieve God's purposes without inviting God to be a part of what we do. Oh, no we can't!!! If you disagree, look at our approach. It's our knowledge, it's our planning, it's our consideration, it's what we think is best, it is what we think will work, it is our methodology, it is our system. "No, it's not." Yes it is. Only when we really struggle do we say, "God, would You help us out here?" When God helps us out, too often we say, "Thank You, God; we can take it from here."
We cannot permit that to happen. We are in partnership with God through Jesus Christ. Unless God is an active partner, God's purposes will not be accomplished in us. It must not happen. How do we include God in this partnership? First, we put the focus where the focus should be--on Jesus Christ. That's where it needs to be; that's where it must always be; that's where it must remain-- ON JESUS CHRIST. Our commitment is to understand Him.
When you understand Christ, you understand God. If I understand Jesus' message correctly during his mission, if I understand his message in the gospel of John, this is his emphasis: "If you understand me, you understand God. I can't say anything except what I see and hear from the Father. So everything you see happening in me came from God. When you see me, you see God." We don't want to be like Thomas, "Show us the Father." We want to understand "If you have seen me, you have seen the Father." Jesus was not saying that he and God were the same "being." Jesus said, "If you want to see what God would be like in flesh and blood, look at me. If God the Father were flesh and blood, nothing any differently would happen. He would live like I live; He would emphasize what I emphasize."
The emphasis would be the same; the priorities would be the same; the focus would be same. So, if God came down and looked us in the eye and said, "This is what I am about", there would not be one iota of difference in what He said and in what occurred in Jesus' life. We need to get back to that faith. We really need to get back to "the faith" in the fact that God was at work in Christ. God will work in us as we focus on Christ.
The second thing that needs to happen is this: we need to understand that God must be an active partner in what happens. He must be. What we do cannot rest upon human wisdom. It must rest upon divine wisdom. We can't merely read and claim because we read that our conclusions (reached primarily by our own wisdom) are God's conclusions. Thus, we are involving God. NO!!!
"I don't understand how that works." I don't either. Paul didn't either. Paul said God is beyond our comprehension. Who is it that can search Him out? Who can know His ways? Jewish Christians were told that God accepted Gentile Christians as God's true children. Paul said (believe it or not) that Gentile Christians were a part of Israel. Talk about short-circuiting the entire Jewish religious system! When Paul told Jewish Christians that the Gentile Christians were Israel, they couldn't believe it. They couldn't grasp it. "You must be kidding!" Paul said, "No, I am not kidding. It is time that you realize that you do not possess the ability to understand all the ways of God. You can't fathom all the things of God. God does things that are beyond your comprehension."
I am here to tell you that in the business of us being a community of God's people, that God will do things in partnership with us that exceed our comprehension. If we are going to limit God by our comprehension, we will not be walking with God. Limiting God to our comprehension takes faith all out of it. "The faith" cannot be focused in us. "The faith" must be focused in God.
How will we to do that? Let me share with you how people did that from the Old Testament forward. They invited God to be in partnership with them. In this week's bulletin article, we cited Hosea's statement (8:4). That was just one reference; there are many references in the Prophets where the prophets say, "One of your big problems is you don't ask God for help."
Illustration: Your child is really struggling with a problem. He or she comes to you and says, "I expected you to help me with this." You say, "I would have (in fact I wanted to), but you never asked for my help." To those of us with grown children, do you just go and inject yourself in any problem that occurs? Aren't you pappa? Aren't you momma? You see your grown child making a very foolish decision which will absolutely, predictably lead to consequences that are very undesirable. Do you go get your adult child by both shoulders and shake a little sense into his or her head? Do you say, "Look! You are doing it all wrong." Well, I guarantee you if you do that, it won't work. If you do that once, he or she will never invite you to help with his or her struggles.
Sometimes about all we can do is let people make their mistakes. When they make their mistakes and say, "Why did you let me do that?" you tell them the truth: "You didn't ask me for help. You didn't invite me to work with you." We can say, "God, why did You let us do that?" God too often can answer, "You didn't ask Me to be involved."
"God, why weren't You involved?" "You didn't invite me. You didn't want me to be a part of the process." I think I can predict what all of us would like in our new elders. All of us would like men who have a special kind of heart to be elders, would we not? All of us would like men who would lead in the direction that would encourage us to become more spiritual than we are now, wouldn't we? We would like men who would help us understand how that we could reflect the light of Jesus Christ. We would like men who would lead us in ways that heal and help within the body and light of Jesus Christ, and lead us in ways to help in attracting people out of the darkness to Jesus' light. We would like that. We would like to have men in whom we have confidence. We would like men to whom we could go and discuss our problems knowing that they would keep confidentiality. We would like men who didn't pretend they had all the answers. They won't, nobody does.
We would like men who would say, "Yes, I see what is really weighing on your heart; let's pray about it." We would like men who would look you in the eye and tell you, "I am grieved that is troubling your life. I want you to know that I am praying about it." You know they mean it. Every day you had the assurance "They think about me; I am in their prayers." We would like men who provide spiritual help when they can be of help.
Isn't that what we would like? Of course, it is. Do you think that you are gifted enough that you can discern who those men are without God's help? How many of you can read hearts? How many of you can see what is going on inside a person? Does God read hearts? Yes, He does! Is that not the emphasis from Old Testament to New, that God is the God who reads hearts? Is it not the heart that determines God's receptivity to the individual? Isn't that the continuing evidence in the Old and New Testament?
If we want that kind of man with that kind of heart to be an elder, what do we need to do? The FIRST thing we need to do (not the LAST) is say "God, we want you in this partnership from A to Z. We want to invite You into a continuing partnership in everything we do."
Let me share with you what we will do to invite God into the partnership as we select elders. As I stated this morning, as you saw in the bulletin, we set aside 24 hours in which we as the community of Christians ask God to work with our hearts and the hearts of the men who will consider this service. We wish God to work with the whole process because the ultimate is God's purposes be done, not ours. That is what we want. For twenty-four hours we declare to God that it important to us for God's purposes to be done. We will ask Him to be active. We, as a congregation, will make a special appeal for God to be involved.
On the bulletin board are several sheets broken into 30 minute segments. Let me explain carefully what we will do. Number one, if you want, sign the list. Anybody can come and pray at any time. That is the bottom line. Anybody can come and pray at any time. Whatever is convenient for you, do it. It is come and go. If you can come 15 minutes, fine. If you can come 45 minutes, fine. Anybody at any time during the day or night in that 24 hours is invited to come to the building and pray.
We are designating two rooms (room 100 and room 106) as places for prayer. Room 100 will be for men and women who wish to assemble together with men audibly leading the prayers (if audible prayers are offered). You can choose any method of prayer you wish. Room 106 is set aside for women. If there are groups of women who wish to come and pray as a group, you are encouraged to do so. We have some deeply spiritual women who are quite active in this congregation with WINGS and other such programs. There may be a group of women who just want to get together and pray. Room 106 is for you women who wish to pray together in intercessory prayer on behalf of the congregation.
What's the list about on the board? The list on the board just states that someone will be here, physically present and praying. I've already signed it for 2:00 a.m. Saturday morning. I wanted one of the difficult times. All the list says is somebody has committed to be at the building at that time. If you sign the list, you are not responsible for all the prayers at that time. You are not the coordinator. You are not responsible for anything. You are only saying, "I will be here." Anybody who wishes to come will know someone is here. We would like to have somebody here and present all twenty-four hours. The building will be open. The foyer will be open. I hope before this evening, before we go home, a lot of names will be on that list.
Remember, if you sign the list you are not saying you will lead all the prayers. You are not saying that you are in charge of anything. You are just saying that you will be here at that time. If you want to come 30 minutes, that's fine. If you want to come an hour, that's fine. What we are hoping, what I am hoping, is that many of you who are retired can take the daylight hours that are not filled with conflicts such a jobs. Many work and can't come in the daytime. I am hoping that many who are retired will say, "I will be here."
Anybody can come at any time and join the persons here. I hope those of us who have fixed schedules will be present when our schedules permit us to come. I hope by Wednesday night that the list will be full.
Please remember, anybody can come pray at anytime.
Somebody asks, "Why do it at the church building? Why not just let's stay home?" We could. I want this to say something special to us as well as to God. I want it to say to us that we are willing to be inconvenienced because we believe partnership with God is that essential. We want to do something that we wouldn't ordinarily do. We want our prayers to make an additional statement to God about the fact that this is a serious invitation. We are not about business as usual. We don't want a future that focuses on business as usual. We want to be more God-centered and Christ-centered as a congregation. We need men to be our shepherds who will help us go in that direction. We need men who will care about us.
I am asking you to take one of the thirty minute slots and say, "Yes, I'll be here that thirty minutes." Sign it. Even if you do not sign the sheets, find a time in that twenty-four hours to come to the building and pray.
Separate the two things. If you can accept responsibility to commit for one of those 30 minutes, great, we need you. We want to know somebody will be here. If you can't accept that responsibility, find some time in that twenty-four hours to come and pray. Ask God to be very involved in our process. Use any method of prayer you wish--silent prayers, chain prayers, any kind of prayers you wish to pray; that's up to you. Just come in quietly, sit down, and be a part of the petition to God.
With God, we will succeed. Without God, we cannot succeed. I hope you believe that. I hope you believe that enough to be a part of this special day to invite God to be a part of what we do.
We need men who will be shepherds. Sheep are hard to take care of. Ask any elder. Sheep are hard to take care of. We are hard to take care of. We need men with the gift who care about hearts and who care about eternity to help us. We ask you to help by praying.
God loved each of us so much that He did something none of us would ever consider doing to create opportunity. He literally let His Son die. He literally let His Son pay the price for every sin we committed. He did that for those in His body, and He did that for those not in His body. We want you to know that He did that for you. If you need to do what Winston and David did this morning, (place God more at the core of your existence, your being) and you want us to pray with you, we would love to pray with you. If you reached the point in your life that you need to form a covenant with God by being baptized into Christ because you have repented, if the core of your being wishes to redirect itself to God's purposes, we would love to do that. If in any way we can encourage you, if in any way you need Christ, we invite you to him as we stand and sing.
Addendum to sermon after song:
There is something I want you to pray about. I want you to think about this. There wasn't enough time to say everything I wanted to say. But I want you to take this home with you. We don't think about this often, and we need to think about it seriously. In your personal prayers, please pray that God guides us not to hurt anyone. The people that you will recommend for consideration will be among the finest people in this congregation. They are already active in serving. We don't want their wives hurt, we don't want the men hurt. It has occurred. It commonly occurs.
Somebody asks, "Can I submit your name?" The person prays and agonizes over that request, and says, "Yes, you can submit my name." Your name is submitted, and nothing happens. How can that occur and the person not feel rejected? How can that occur and it not hurt his wife? Whatever happens, we want to do everything within our power to let these people know we love you. We love what you do for this congregation. We want God to give us the insight and the wisdom to show love, not to inflict hurt.
Sometimes people say to me, "I don't know how your wife does what she does." I don't either; I never have. It takes a special person to do what she does. Something does occur in her life that is extremely difficult, and it is very applicable to this situation. It really distresses her when somebody hurts me. Why? She has no recourse. She can't even say anything. But she knows when I am hurt. She knows when I am wounded, and it is extremely difficult for her to witness that.
It will be extremely difficult for any wife whose husband is under consideration. Let there be no wounds - let there be no wounds. Let there be a lot of love. And pray, earnestly pray, not only in those twenty-four hours, but also in your personal prayers. Earnestly pray that not only will we make wise decisions, but that we will make them with such love and with such respect that nobody is hurt.
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