While Scripture sometimes speaks distinctly in terms of qualities to look for in potential elder/shepherd candidates (e.g. – 1 Timothy 3.1-7; Titus 1.5-9), Scripture also gives us further clues as to what to look for by describing the function or role that elders/shepherds play. In yesterday’s post, we looked at two such passages: 1 Tim. 5.17-22 and 1 Peter 5.1-5. In today’s post, we’ll consider two more such passages: Acts 20.17-35 and James 5.14-16.
The words in James are clear enough: they speak directly to what elders do and they should do it. The passage in Acts, however, addresses the matter obliquely. In that text, Paul does give some directions straight to elders/shepherds, but much of what he has to say is based on his having modeled to the elders what he wants them to be about. That is, he holds himself up to them as a model of exemplary shepherding and says to them, in effect, “Do what you’ve seen me do. In so doing, you’ll be the sort of shepherd of people you should be.”
Now this tells us several things, two of which we should not fail to note. First, a great deal of the perspective potential elders/shepherds have developed about eldering/shepherding they have caught from others, rather than have been taught. And so, it’s only wise to consider those from whom potential candidates have received a great deal of influence. Who has taught them? What were they taught? With whose teaching do they fill their minds, be it by reading, listening, etc.? Who do they consider to be their models and heroes, as it were, of Christian faith and why? Do they learn from those with whom they differ in thinking or do they limit their interaction to the company of those with whom they already agree?
Second, from the perspective of Scripture, the majority of what elders/shepherds are to be about is not something they begin to do when they are appointed as elders/shepherds. Rather, most of what they will be doing they should have already been doing, though on a smaller, and in some measure, less responsible, scale. It is wrongheaded thinking to appoint someone as an elder/shepherd and then expect them to become one, as if they were one thing before they were appointed and are now becoming another post-appointment. No, if a church wants elders/shepherds who will serve as true elders/shepherds, they should look for candidates who have already been eldering/shepherding in their walk as Christians prior to their consideration for addition to a church’s eldership. And so, church: consider people for the service of shepherding God’s flock those people who have been modeling what it means to that very thing. To disregard this matter is to invite significant problems both for the individual and the church.
For the sake of brevity, we’ll limit our comparison of versions this time with these two texts (Acts 20.17-35 & James 5.14-16) to two renderings: (A) the New International Version (NIV 1984; MoSt Church‘s current pew Bible) and (B) the Common English Bible (CEB).
Note: Do recall, the numbering and lettering of the outline that follows corresponds to the more complete outline posted on Feb. 6, hence the “skips” in numbers and letters in this outline.
1. Is their character and behavior highly respectable?
h. Have they served the Lord no matter what they faced in life? – Acts 20.19
I served the Lord with great humility and with tears, although I was severely tested … (NIV 1984); I served the Lord with great humility and with tears in the midst of trials that came upon me … (CEB)
4. Are they giving and generous?
d. Do they work hard with such? – Acts 20.35
… hard work… (NIV 1984); … working hard … (CEB)
e. Do they give of themselves to help the weak? – Acts 20.35
… we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ (NIV 1984); … we must help the weak. In this way we remember the Lord Jesus’ words: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ (CEB)
6. Are they teachable and given to teaching?
d. Is there evidence they learn well from the example of exemplary others? – Acts 20.17-35
[Paul uses himself as an example to the elders of Ephesus as to how they should serve in this entire passage.]
e. Do they understand and live the message of grace? – Acts 20.24b,32
… if only I may … complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. … Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (NIV 1984); This is nothing other than the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus: to testify about the good news of God’s grace … Now I entrust you to God and the message of his grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all whom God has made holy. (CEB)
f. Do they tell people what they need to hear, not merely what they want to hear? – Acts 20.20,27
You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. … For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. (NIV 1984); You know I held back nothing that would be helpful so that I could proclaim to you and teach you both publicly and privately in your homes. … I haven’t avoided proclaiming the entire plan of God to you. (CEB)
g. Can it be honestly said it their life’s objective to help others change their hearts and lives with faith in the Lord Jesus? – Acts 20.21
I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. (NIV 1984); You know I have testified to both Jews and Greeks that they must change their hearts and lives as they turn to God and have faith in our Lord Jesus. (CEB)
8. Do they lead people rightly?
f. Could/would they help hold up those with whom they would serve to accountability? – Acts 20.28
Keep watch over yourselves … (NIV 1984); Watch yourselves … (CEB)
g. Do they live by faith, trusting God to work and provide? – James 5.14-16
Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (NIV 1984); If any of you are sick, they should call for the elders of the church, and the elders should pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. Prayer that comes from faith will heal the sick, for the Lord will restore them to health. And if they have sinned, they will be forgiven. For this reason, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous person is powerful in what it can achieve. (CEB)
10. Is the timing right for their appointment?
c. Can you envision God’s Spirit raising them up to serve as an elder/shepherd/supervisor/steward at this time? - Acts 20.28
… the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. (NIV 1984); … the Holy Spirit has placed you as supervisors … (CEB)
Our next post in this series on elders (Mar. 12) will consist of an update of the original outline (Feb. 6) to allow for the inclusion of all six of the texts we have considered thus far in our investigation of Scripture (Acts 20.17-35; 1 Timothy 3.1-7; 5.17-22; Titus 1.5-9; James 5.14-16; 1 Peter 5.1-5). We’ll consider that copy our final edition of our outline.