The fourth duty of elders is to protect the church. Many dangers threaten God’s people and can cripple or destroy a local testimony. While no one enjoys the study of evil, it is comforting to know that every true danger the church can encounter is covered in the Scriptures. In one sense, every act of good leadership protects the church, and every verse in the Bible equips believers to stand against spiritual warfare. But what broad lessons about protecting the church can we touch on in a brief article? Three passages will help us.
Watching the Flock
The first is John 10 which sets before us the example of the Lord Himself as the Good Shepherd. As a true shepherd, His coming was announced to shepherds of His day. Every elder should study this chapter carefully. Above any shepherding skill or technique stands one great truth: “The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep” (Vs. 11). It follows then that “we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (I John 3:16). Shepherding is not a hobby or leisure pastime. It is in some respects a life and death struggle. Here too, we learn about the enemies of the flock: the thief and the robber, the wolf and the hireling. Clearly, the difference between the sheep and the wolf, between the shepherd and the hireling is not due to some learned behavior, but come from very different natures within. It is wonderfully true that Christ’s sheep hear His voice, they follow Him, and will never perish. But His under shepherds are responsible to safeguard the church so the sheep can learn to follow the shepherd’s voice and become fruitful in their time.
Defending the Fellowship
The second important passage is Acts 20. Here is the lesson that the church will face danger not only from outside (which we would expect), but also from within its own ranks. The warning points to dangers that may not respond to the gentle admonitions that are part of simple “overseeing work” (as covered in the previous article). Here, an individual (who may be considered a trusted brother) begins to divide the church by gathering a personal following. The motive is clearly stated: “to draw away disciples after them” (Vs 30). The method is often a corrupt message. The English rendering “perverse things” (KJV) might suggest things so wicked as to be devoid of any truth at all. But the passive participle more properly refers to real truth which has been twisted or distorted, thus attracting those who know some truth. We tremble at those words “not sparing the flock.” Devoid of pity, these can stand by and watch a local fellowship be torn to shreds and never shed a tear. The antidote is given in such words as “watch,” “remember,” and “warn.” But, let us remember that warnings with compassion accomplish more than cold harsh words. Paul gave his warnings with tears.
Protecting the Family
The third passage is Titus 1. Here the godly elder uses sound or healthy doctrine to refute those whose speech in public opposes or deceives while their conduct in private subverts (or undermines) entire families. This lesson is crucial. Most problems in the church —even internal ones — begin outside the church, often in the home. The family is the basic building block of the church as well as of society. Elders must take seriously those who are preoccupied with personal advantage or gain as they move among God’s people (Titus 1:12).
The Best Defense
How then can elders lead against all these severe trials? The answer comes from the Acts 20 passage: “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock…..to feed the church of God” (vs. 28). A godly example, pastoral care for the sheep and a healthy spiritual diet are essential. But note! Elders must not through fear of danger allow the church to sink into a negative ministry. It is not criticism of misguided people and groups that builds up the church. We must do as Paul did, and commend the believers to God and to the word of His grace (Acts 20:32). Regular visits in homes and families provide invaluable foresight into areas of potential trouble. Sheep that are loved and cared for will find it easier to follow Hebrews 13:17, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” At this season, may the words of an old hymn “While shepherds watched their flocks by night….” take on a new meaning.