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In our present series of studies we are dealing with the five main ministries which Christ has set in His church for the upbuilding of His Body. These five ministries are stated by the apostle Paul in Ephesians chapter 4 and verse 11, “apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers.” And we have divided them up on the basis of whether they are to the Universal Church or to the Local Church. Those ministries which are to the Universal Church we have called Mobile. Those ministries which are to the Local Church we have called Resident. And I have suggested to you that out of these five ministries, four are to the Universal Church and are Mobile ministries—the apostle, the prophet, the evangelist and the teacher.
Now this morning we are going to deal with the Local Church and the Resident ministries which are set in the Local Church. Before we deal with the Local Church it is extremely important that we understand and agree together as to what we mean by the Local Church.
For a good many years in the past I preached with great emphasis, fervor and conviction about the Local Church. I was a kind of fanatic about the Local Church. I think you could describe me as a kind of Pentecostal Southern Baptist. I believed everybody should be a member of the church and if it wasn’t the church that I approved of I didn’t believe in their membership. I really believed that people should have a membership card, and I believed that there should be meetings of the Local Church which were open only to card-carrying members.
Actually I really received much of this teaching and pattern from Sweden—from the Pentecostal movement in Sweden. And I’m not criticizing the Pentecostal movement in Sweden. It was a very pure, strong, effective work of God. But they laid great emphasis on the local congregation. In many ways they were right. They laid emphasis on local ministries and this was their emphasis. And I saw so much that was good and so much that was useful accomplished that I became a kind of propagator of this teaching everywhere I went.
However, looking back I realize that when I was preaching about the Local Church I was talking about something that I did not myself understand. Consequently even though the things I said might be right, my application of them was frequently wrong. It’s as if, for instance, if the doctor advises you that what you need for your condition is to eat plenty of fresh shredded cabbage, so you get the idea in your mind cabbage is what I need. But by a lack of understanding you mistake artichoke for cabbage. And so you go out and buy artichoke by the bushel, shred it up and eat it. You believed you’re eating cabbage but you’re eating artichoke. What the doctor told you was perfectly correct. You need shredded cabbage. But in actual fact because of your misapplying the word cabbage you’re not getting the results that the doctor prescribed.
Now it was the same with me. I was teaching people things that were true about the Local Church, but I was misapplying the phrase the Local Church. Consequently I was misdirecting people in all sincerity, and though the actual words I used were good, their application was unfortunately misleading.
So let us begin this morning by considering what do we mean by the Local Church. Now I’m one of these persistent people. I go on preaching about a thing until I understand it. Sometimes it takes me years. And my criteria of understanding is, is that I am able to express it simply. If I cannot say it simply the reason is because I have not understood it clearly. I’m always sorry for my poor wife because she’s sat for years and listened to me preach as I’ve struggled to come to the place of clear understanding and simple expression. And I believe now, by the grace of God and years of patient study and prayer, I have come to a clear understanding of what the Local Church is. It is fantastically simple. The Local Church is that part of the Universal Church resident in any given locality. That’s all it is. Nothing more and nothing less.
Let’s look at this statement. I’ve put it our here because I want everybody to se it clearly and absorb it, no merely with the ears but with their eyes. The Local Church is that part of the Universal Church resident in any locality. Therefore, for membership of the Local Church there are only two requirements. First of all a correct personal relationship to Jesus Christ, secondly residence in a locality. So you see it is very much the same as the Universal Church which we discussed earlier. The condition for membership of the Universal Church is one thing only—a certain specific relationship to Jesus Christ. If you are in that relationship to Jesus Christ, you are a member of His church. You do not have any choice about belonging to the Church of Jesus Christ. The only choice you have is whether you will enter into that relationship with Jesus Christ. If you enter into that relationship with Jesus Christ and remain in it, you are a member of His Church whether you wish to be or not is irrelevant. Whether you know that you are or not is of secondary importance. A certain specific relationship to Jesus Christ, which we have already defined, makes you a member of His church—the Universal Church.
Now the only difference about membership of the Local Church is that it is confined to those who reside in a certain locality. In other words, in any given locality every member of the Universal Church who resides in that locality is also, by that very fact, a member of the Local Church in that locality. And the Local Church in that locality in its entirety is made up of all the members of the Universal Church resident in that locality. There are only two requirements—let me say it again. First of all relationship to Christ, secondly residence in a locality.
Now in any given locality the Local Church unfolds in its growth and development somewhat like the development of a human body out of a biological cell. And I have given you in your outline four phases of development from the cell to the completed body. Let’s look at them in succession. The four phases of development: the cell, the appointment of elders at which point disciples become churches, the leadership completed—bishops, deacons and saints or all believers,—and then the ministries completed. Now that’s the outline.
Let’s turn to the Scriptures and look at them one by one. Matthew chapter 18 beginning at verse 15 and reading through verse 20. Now there are only two places in the discourses of Jesus recorded in the gospels where He uses the word church. The first place is in Matthew chapter 16 and there is no question, He’s speaking about the Universal Church. The second place is this passage in Matthew chapter 18 and there is no question that He is talking about the Local Church as you will see when we read. All right now with this in mind let’s read these verses. Matthew 18 beginning at verse 15.
Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. [Or in other words, he is no longer to be considered and treated as a believer.]
Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven,
Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.
For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
I believe this is the cell out of which the body must develop. And it its simplest form it is two or three who have been led together into the name of Jesus. That 20thverse I prefer to translate this way.
For where two or three have been led together into my name there am I in the midst of them.
When we use the word ledwe imply there must be a leader. Now who is it that leads Christians? Romans 8:14 tells us very clearly,
As many as are consistently lead by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
It is the Holy Spirit who leads God’s children. So where two or three have been led together, by implication by the Holy Spirit, into my name. The preposition is intonot in. This brings out the fact that the name of Jesus is the focal point of meeting. The Holy Spirit brings people together into the name of Jesus. The Holy Spirit does not gather people on the basis of a denomination or a doctrine or a human personality. The Holy Spirit never gathers people around the person of Luther or Wesley or around the doctrine of sanctification or water baptism or any other such basis. There is only one authorized point of meeting that is acknowledged by the Holy Spirit for New Testament believers and that is into the name of Jesus. Under the old covenant, under the Law of Moses, God told His people Israel that when He brought them into their inheritance He would establish one place where He would put His name, and to that place they must bring all their sacrifices and their offerings. And in no other place were they permitted to offer sacrifice of offering. And that place, as you know, was the area on which Solomon subsequently built the temple. And so the only authorized place of worship and offering under the old covenant was the temple area. That’s why today the Jews cannot build the temple until they have the temple area. Because they know well enough there’s only authorized spot in the whole world where they must meet and offer sacrifice and worship to God. If they do not control that spot they cannot have a temple. This is the crux of the Jewish dilemma at the present time. Now it’s now our purpose to go into that, but it’s just to point out that the Jews clearly understood this teaching.
Now in the New Testament it is not a physical locality, but the only authorized point of meeting is into the name of Jesus. Any other basis of meeting is unauthorized. We are not authorized to meet on the basis of adherence to a human leader, adherence to a specific doctrine, or membership to some particular denomination. All those basis of coming together are unauthorized. The only accepted basis is being led by the Holy Spirit into the name of Jesus. And Jesus says,
Where two or three have been led by the Holy Spirit into my name, there am I in the midst of them.
This Scripture is so often misquoted. A group of Baptists meet and they say, “Lord you’re in the midst.” They have no guarantee of that. First of all were they led by the Holy Spirit, secondly did they meet as Baptists or did they meet into the name of Jesus? Do you think that Jesus attends all board meetings of all churches? I don’t. I think He’s too much of a gentleman. There are many, many Christian gatherings that do not qualify for the promise of Matthew 18 verse 20. But here is the nucleus, here is the cell out of which the church will develop just as a body develops biologically out of a cell. And so it’s in the connection that Jesus uses the phrase, tell it to the church.
Now it must be the Local Church because you could not tell it to the Universal Church. That would mean getting on a jetliner, flying around six continents visiting every city and it would be a physical impossibility. So when Jesus says tell it to the church, He’s talking about a local group of believers. Here is where the authority is vested.
If two or you shall agree, harmonize together by the Holy Spirit touching anything that you shall ask, it shall be done.
Whatsoever, ye, met in this way shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven. Whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Here is the focal point of all power and authority in the church. It’s just the little nucleus that have been led together by the Spirit into the name of Jesus. And out of this nucleus, this cell, develops the whole local body of the church.
Now we’ll go on to the next phase of church development which we turn to Acts chapter 14. Acts the 14thchapter and just reading two verses, verses 22 and 23. This is part of the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas, and it says in verse 21,
When they had preached the gospel to that city [which was Derby] and had taught many, [but a better translation is had made many disciples] They returned again to Lystra and to Iconium, and Antioch,
Confirming the soul of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.
And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they had believed.
Notice the transition of language. Verse 22, they confirmed the souls of the disciples. They were just groups of disciples at that point. But verse 23, they ordained elders in every church. In other words, groups of disciples become churches, assemblies, when their leadership is appointed. It’s the appointment of elders that actually turns a group of disciples into what qualifies to the title Church. Here is the vital transition. At this point when elders are appointed, disciples become churches.
All right, now we turn to the third phase of development for which as an example we can turn to Philippines chapter 1 and verse 1. Philippines chapter 1 verse 1. Paul is writing this letter to the Church at Philippi and this is what he says.
Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:
If you put that together in order of seniority or authority you have the total congregation, the body of Christ in Philippi in three orders; bishops, deacons and all the other believers, saints. Here the leadership has been completed. The administrative leadership of a Local Church is extremely simple. It is only on two levels: bishops who are spiritual deacons whose ministry is in the material. Now in a little while I’m going to point out to you that the word bishopis somewhat misleading, that there are five words used in the King James Version for one and the same office or ministry, that a bishop is the same as an elder or a shepherd or an overseer. So whatever you wish to call them: bishops, overseer, shepherds of elders, they are the spiritual leaders. Then deacons or servers are the ones responsible for material administration of charity in the Church. The rest are called saints. With these three groups we have the total congregation with its official leadership: bishops or elders, deacons, saints.
However there are also spiritual ministries which do not come under the category of administrative leadership. If we turn to First Corinthians chapter 12 we have what I consider to be a pretty complete picture of the total ministry in the completed body. First Corinthians chapter 12, verse 28.
God has set some in the church…
Keep your finger in verse 28 and look at verse 18 just by way of comparison. Verse 18 says,
Now God hath set the members every one of them in the body,…
And it says in verse 28,
God hath set some in the church…
These are exactly parallel. The members in the body are the ones who are set in the Church. The two are exactly parallel. The language is different but the application of it is the same.
Now in the Church according to verse 28,
And God has set eight ministries, first apostles, second prophets, thirdly teachers, after that the working of miracles, then the gifts of healings, then helps, governments, [which I prefer to translate steerings] diversities of tongues.
These are various ministries that should be functioning in the total body of the Local Church. They go here in order of authority. This is one of the few places where Paul does put them in order of authority. The gifts of the Spirit are not listed in order of importance. Many times Paul gives a list without saying that the first thing is the most important. But here he specifically gives in order of authority.
First of all apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that the working of miracles, after the gifts of healings, then helps, steerings, diversity of tongues.
Here is a picture of the Church with its completed ministries. The eight ministries there specified are listed in First Corinthians 12:28. So we have this picture of the Church unfolding and developing in a locality phase by phase. First of all, the basic cell, two or three led together by the Spirit into the name of Jesus. And normally they will meet where? In a home. Jesus envisaged the gospel being planted in homes. He said to His disciples,
When you go out, go into any city, inquire who in it is worthy, abide there, stay until you’ve finished your ministry, then leave that house and go on. Don’t go from house to house.
He envisaged the gospel in the center of all human social intercourse, the home. So it is two or three who have been led together by the Holy Spirit, and normally their first place of meeting will be the home of some respected worthy citizen who is known and respected by the members of that community. It’s most important that we begin with someone who is worthy.
You see, the Pentecostal movement, one of its basic mistakes has been that so often it began with people who were not respected in the community. They may have been wonderful people, but they were former addicts or former alcoholics or something like that, and the whole community judged the message by the home in which it began. Jesus was wise enough to say when you start your message will be judged by the place where you first planted. Be careful to start in a home that’s respected in the community. Then the community will respect the message that originates from that home. Inquire who in it is worthy, there abide, and thence depart.
So two or three are led together by the Holy Spirit. Their focus of meeting is none other than the name of Jesus. After a while the group grows, a number of different groups form in like manner across that community, that city, that particular locality, and we have groups of disciples. The next great phase is the appointment of the spiritual leadership. And when elders are duly appointed then disciples become churches. This is the first time you can really use officially the phrase Church. In order to complete the leadership besides the bishop or elders, there must be the deacons and then you have the church with its completed leadership: bishops or elders, deacons, saints. But there’s still the unfolding and completion of the various ministries within the Church, the spiritual ministries, and in First Corinthians 12:28 Paul lists those twelve ministries which we have looked.
Now we come to one great basic principle. And I wish that you will listen very carefully. According to the New Testament pattern in any one locality there is only one Local Church. It is unscriptural ever to have two Local Churches overlapping one another in any locality. I’m not defining the size of the locality, but I’m saying whatever may be the size of the locality which you choose, within that locality there is in the sight of God only one Local Church. There is not a Baptist church, a Methodist church, a Presbyterian church, an Assembly of God, a Church of Christ. This is man’s caricature of divine order. It has no authority whatever and it actually arises out of God’s people meeting on an unauthorized basis. If they had gathered together only into the name of Jesus, these denominational and factional differences could not have arisen. You see, if we stick to the basis the growth must follow the pattern that God has ordained.
Now this is a simple statement, but it’s one of the most far-reaching statements you’ll ever hear made for contemporary Christianity and I’m going to say it again. In any one locality in the sight of God there is only one Local Church. Now you can check—I’ve given you some Scriptures in your outline. No matter how big the city there were never churches. It was the Church at Antioch, the Church at Corinth, the Church at Jerusalem, the Church in Ephesus, the Church in Smyrna—never churches. I calculate that in Jerusalem there must have been over fifty thousand Jews who believed in Jesus Christ, but only one church. Historians estimate that in Antioch and Syria there were at least forty thousand believers, but only one church. In Corinth there could not have been less than twenty or thirty thousand believers—only one church. Never at any point in the New Testament do we find churches overlapping one another in one locality.
Now you say, Brother Prince how could that be? How could we have a situation where there are twenty-five thousand believers, but only one congregation? The answer is it all depends on the method of appointing the leaders. It’s around this that the whole issue revolves.
So we’ll come on now to deal with the local leaders. As I’ve said already here there are two levels of leadership: the spiritual and the material. In this passage the spiritual leaders are called bishops. But now it is necessary to understand that there are three different Greek words and five different English words in the King James Version, all used to describe the same office or ministry in the Local Church. In Greek the words are these—poimain(sp?) a shepherd, episcopas(sp?) an overseer, presbuterous(sp?) an elder. Now the word poimain? Has no derivative in English. In one place, Ephesians 4:11 it is translated pastor. In every other place it is translated shepherd. The word episcopas(sp?) has an English derivative—the word is bishop. But the literal basic meaning of episcopasis overseer. Epi—over, scopas—a seer. Sometimes the King James translates it overseer, sometimes it translates it bishop. But remember whichever word you have in English, there is only one word in the original Greek. The other word presbuterous which means literally an elder and that has give us in English such words as presbytery, Presbyterian and so on.
Now let’s look at the passages in the New Testament which clearly show that these are all different names for one and the same ministry. Let us look first of all in Acts chapter 20. Acts chapter 20 and verse 17. This is an incident in one of the ministry journeys of the apostle Paul. Acts 20 verse 17, it says
And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and summoned the elders of the church.
Notice the church in Ephesus. It is very clear there must have been many thousands of believers in Ephesus at that time, but only one church. The elders of the church in Ephesus. Verse 28, notice now what he said to them. Remember he’s talking to the elders and he says,
Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God,
But the word feedin Greek is derived directly from the noun shepherd. The noun is poimain, the verb is poimaino. You can tell there’s just a change at the end. So what he said to them actually was
Take heed to yourselves, and to all the flock over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God,
These men were elders, they were overseers and their duty was to serve as shepherds. Elders, overseers, shepherds —three descriptions of the same men.
Now turn to First Peter chapter 5, First Peter chapter 5, and we read verses 1 and 2. Again Peter is addressing the elders. First Peter chapter 5 verses 1 and 2.
The elders who are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed:
Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof,
We do not need to read further. Notice, Peter is writing to elders and he tells them in verse two to feed the flock. The Greek word is the same word poimino—shepherd the flock. And then he says, take the oversight. Oversight is the abstract noun from the concrete noun overseer. So the same people were elders, shepherds and overseers. Both Paul and Peter absolutely agree in this identification. So in the Greek you have the three words used of the same person—elder, overseer, shepherd. With the additional complication in the King James, which is the basis of most modern English teaching and speaking about Christianity, that in the King James the word overseeris sometimes translated bishop and the word shepherdis once translated pastor. So in English, if you’re looking at the King James, you have five different words used to describe one in the same function. The different words are elders, overseers, bishops, shepherds, pastors. No wonder there has been confusion in the mind of God’s people. It took me many, many years to see that they’re only different names for the same.
You see, the Pentecostal movement in Sweden was very strong on the appointment of elders. They talked about the pastor and elders. And I preached this and fitted it into the Bible, but it was like somebody—I don’t know if you’ve ever done this—doing a jigsaw puzzle and always having one piece left over which wouldn’t fit in anywhere. So I would go on with this piece, try to get it, it wouldn’t fit anywhere. The puzzle was complete, one piece over. Do you know what the extra piece was? The pastor. You see he’s not anything else than an elder or an overseer. It’s not the pastor and elders. It’s the elders who are also shepherds and overseers. You see, it’s going to take a mental revolution to change the thinking of English speaking Christians because it’s absolutely ingrained in them by language and tradition, but it is not based on the Scriptures. They are five different names for the same thing. Let me say it again—elder, overseer, bishop, shepherd, pastor—five different ways of describing one and the same ministry. And listen, they are always plural. There is never one man who is thepastor, theelder, theoverseer.
Now again this is a matter which you can check. Let us look very quickly. It’s a really a matter that you must go through for yourself. You will not find anywhere in the New Testament the leadership of the Local Church spoken of in the singular. It is never a one-man leadership. Just let’s look at theses Scriptures we have here quickly. Acts 14:23, Acts 14:23,
And when they had ordained them elders in every church,
Not an elder, not a pastor, but elders, plural in every church. Then you turn to Titus chapter 1 verse 5, where Paul is telling Titus about ordaining elders. And this is what he says, Titus 1:5,
For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city,
You see, the church and the city are coextensive. So Acts 14 says elders in every church. Titus 1:5 says elders in every city. But they are always plural, and notice that until elders had been appointed there is something wanting. It’s not complete. Paul said,
For this cause I left thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are incomplete [how is he to do that] by ordaining elders.
When the elders are ordained, then the disciples become churches. Up to that point it’s incomplete. Turn also to James 5:14. I’ll read this in the American Revised Version. Are you familiar with that? James 5:14 says this—this is the American Revised Version.
Is any sick among you? Let him call for the doctor.
Is that right? Well that’s what you do, isn’t it. What does the Bible say let him call for? The elders. Not the elder. Even one sick Christian didn’t go to one person for help. It’s the elders of the church. This implies that every believer was so related to a church that he knew who his elders were and his elders knew him. It’s assumed that this relationship existed for every believer. People sometimes come to me and say Brother Prince, I don’t feel I have any elders. Who are my elders? Well I say this, if you were sick whom would you first think of to call for prayer, because the persons that you think of first are the closest that you have to being your real elders. They may not necessarily be the official ministers of the congregation. The ministers of the congregation might not even believe in healing. They wouldn’t know what to do with a bottle of oil if you put it in their hands.
So it’s not an official label, it’s a spiritual reality that we’re dealing with. Look also in Philippines 1, we’ve seen it here. At Philippi there were bishops—not a bishop—bishops, deacons, saints. All in the plural. And in First Thessalonians 5:12 just to drive this point home, First Thessalonians 5:12,
And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you;
It wasn’t one person who was over them. It was the people who were over them, who admonished them, who led them. And then again in Hebrews the 13thchapter, three times in this chapter the leadership of the congregation is referred to in the plural. Hebrews 13:7,
Remember them which have the rule over you.
Those who ruled over them were plural, not singular. Verse 17,
Obey them that have the rule over you.
Plural not singular. And verse 24,
Salute all them that have the rule over you.
See, it is unvarying. There is not a single exception. The rulership, the leadership of the local congregation is always a group of men, never an individual.
Now this explains how you can have a church of fifty thousand members but only one church, because the leadership multiplies in proportion to the membership. I believe that one elder cannot effectively shepherd more than ten families. I believe that’s as much as one man can really shepherd.
All right, you have twenty families, two elders; a hundred families, ten elders; a thousand families, a hundred elders; ten thousand families, a thousand elders. It doesn’t matter how big you get, the leadership is simply multiplied in proportion to the membership. You never need to divide the congregation. You see why this is so basic? Because under the present generally accepted system, as soon as the number of disciples increases over a few thousand it is impossible to keep them as one congregation. In other words, the present system demands that we split up the Body of Christ which is an anathema to Almighty God. Because if there is one thing the Scripture emphasizes it is that there is one body and one spirit. Not fifteen different bodies functioning in one locality, mostly in competition with one another.
Do you ever look at the church ad page in a big newspaper in a big city on a Saturday afternoon? It there ever was a caricature of Christianity that’s it. Everybody competing. “Ours is the biggest church, ours is the biggest choir, we have the finest preacher, we have the missionary appeal, we’re going to show a movie. Come to us!” I surely believe the Lord Jesus must weep when He reads those pages. This is not a little matter. It goes right to the heart and core of spiritual truth.
All right. The second type of leadership in the church is material. Now I’ll have to come back to that. I will come back because it’s very important. But let me go on for a moment. We have now the two kinds of leadership—the spiritual leadership whose business it is to rule and teach, the material leadership who are the servants of the congregation to serve in material things. If you want a Scripture for ruling and teaching turn for a moment to First Timothy chapter 5 verse 17. First Timothy chapter 5 verse 17.
Let the elders [and notice again the plural] that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and teaching.
What are the two great functions of the elder? To rule and to teach. Now you say Brother Prince, why are there three different names for the same ministry? I suggest to you that there’s a logical distinction. The task, the qualification and the ministry. The task is to be an overseer. The qualification for that task is to be an elder. The ministry is the ministry of the shepherd. So there are three different aspects of one in the same person. His task is to oversee, the qualification is that he must be an elder, and the ministry that he will fulfill is that of a shepherd. So though there are three names and you add the two extra translations in the English language, it’s one and the same person and it is always plural. The deacons, their responsibility is to serve. If you want just a quick glance at the responsibility of deacons turn to Acts chapter 6. Acts the 6thchapter, this is an incident in the development of the church in Jerusalem, it says verse 1,
And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.
Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.
It’s not our job to distribute charity to widows. Our business is to minister the word of God. So they said we must find somebody else to do this very necessary job.
Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, [and notice that deacons are not unimportant people. They must be of honest report, they must be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom to fulfill that ministry.] whom we may appoint over this business.
But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.
There’s the spiritual leadership, prayer and the ministry of the word. Here’s the material serving the needs of the widows, orphans and so on. It says in verse 5,
And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus,…
They chose seven men as the first deacons. Notice that the congregation chose the deacons. This is very practical. The Jews are pretty wise people when it comes to finance and things like that. If the apostles had chosen the deacons the congregation said, “Well you’ve put the men in there that will do what you want them to do.” So the apostles said, “You choose them, we’ll approve them.” Then there could be no murmuring after that about the men who’d been appointed to do this particular job. But when they were chosen, it say in Verse 6,
Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them [as a seal of their approval and as a setting apart to the ministry of deaconship.]
So the total local leadership in a local congregation is always plural, it is on two levels: the spiritual and the material. Those who serve on the spiritual level, their task is overseer, their qualifications are elders, their ministry is shepherds, and what they do is to rule and teach. It’s the ministry of prayer and of the word. Those who serve on the material level are deacons or servers. It’s their responsible to administer the charity of the Church. I think that is a very clear simple outline.
Now let’s look for a moment at the shepherd ministry. Before I do that let me point out to you that the requirements for elders and deacons are very strict and very specific. And they’re stated in your outline. I’ll give you the Scripture references but time does not permit that we turn there. The requirements for elders are found in First Timothy chapter 3 verses 1 through 7, and in Titus chapter 1 verses 5 through 9. There’s a whole list.
In Fort Lauderdale we sat down sometime back and made out a list of everything that was required of elders because we were in the task of choosing elders. Somebody came up with forty-four different requirements to be an elder. After that we said let’s each of us go to our wives and see what our wives have to say about our fulfilling those requirements. That’s quite a good way to check.
The requirements for deacons are stated in Acts chapter 6 verse 3,
…honest men of good report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom,
And First Timothy chapter 3 verses 8 through 13. Now this merits careful study but it’s outside the scope of our present study.
Now, let us take a look now at the shepherd ministry. This is the ministry aspect of the man who is the overseer and the elder. Let me point out first of all that is elderis a relative term. Amongst a group of children who are on an average ten years old, a child of twelve is an elder. Amongst a group of young people whose average is between eighteen and twenty, a man of twenty-two is an elder. In other words, elder is according to the relative maturity of the congregation. In Acts 14 it would appear that after a group of disciples had been in existence certainly not more than one year, the apostles were able to return and find men, who by spiritual maturity, were already above the average level though none of them had been in the faith more than one year. So relatively those men were elders and the apostles appointed them as elders. It is a matter of relative maturity. It is not primarily a matter of actual physical age because it’s clear that very often comparatively young men were appointed to the posts of elders. Nor is it a matter of how long you’ve been a Christian, though this is not without some bearing on the subject. But the real qualification is spiritual maturity which does not necessarily go by the length of years that you have been converted nor by the number of years that you’ve lived your natural life. So an elder is relative. We don’t have to be perfect, complete, full-blooded, full-developed, full-grown mature Christians to be elders. It’s just relative to the group amongst which we’re going to serve. And you know the best way to mature as an elder is start serving as one. There are all sorts of things you’ll never learn by theory, you’ll only learn by practice.
All right. Let’s consider now the nature of the shepherd ministry. And I consider there to be no greater ministry and no more vital ministry in the whole range of ministries, than the ministry of the shepherd. There are, I believe, three main passages of Scripture which speak about the shepherd ministry—John chapter 10 verses 1 through 28, Psalm 23, and Ezekiel chapter 34 verses 1 through 6. Now I don’t think time permits to read them, but John 10 is the Good Shepherd chapter. “I am the Good Shepherd, the Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” Psalm 23, almost every believer knows, “The Lord is my Shepherd,” and David goes on to unfold what the Lord as his shepherd did for David. This is the pattern of the shepherd ministry.
Ezekiel 34 is worth looking at for a moment because it is probably not so familiar. In Ezekiel 34 the Lord takes to account the shepherds of His people Israel and he very strongly reproves and rebukes them for failing in their ministry as shepherds. And by studying what he reproves them for not doing we find out what he expected them to do. It’s well worth looking at. Ezekiel 34 just the first few verses.
And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God unto the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks?
Ye eat the fat and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock.
The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them.
Notice the things that God expects a shepherd to do. He expects them to strengthen the diseased, heal the sick, bind up the broken, bring again that which is driven away and seek that which is lost. And shepherds who do not do those things will be held accountable to Almighty God. There is no question in my mind that at the close of the church age God is going to have an account to settle with the men who have accepted the title of shepherds, pastors or ministers. And I think many of those men are going to have a very embarrassing time in the presence of the Lord accounting for their ministry. It’s not my purpose to be negative or critical, but I cannot believe that it will not be a very terrible time for men who have earned a salary, received honor and remuneration, shepherds or ministers of God’s people who have done none of these things. And I’m sure that God will not be less severe in His judgment upon them then he was upon the shepherds of Israel.
With this in mind let’s look at what is expected basically of the shepherd ministry. There is no more exacting ministry in the whole range of ministries than that of the shepherd, the pastor, the overseer, the elder. First of all it is a life laid down. “I am the good shepherd, I lay down my life.” No man can minister as a shepherd who is not willing to lay his life down. I’m not talking about dying as a martyr. I’m talking about making himself available to the people of God. It’s a life laid down. Without that there can be no such ministry.
Secondly the shepherd must know and be known personally. Jesus said, “I know my sheep, they know me.” That’s why I don’t believe any man can effectively be a shepherd to more than about fifty people. No man can know in this way and be known by more than fifty people. That’s why there must be many shepherds each with a small area of responsibility within the flock.
I preached this message on the shepherd ministry when I was pastoring a congregation of about two hundred people. And at the end of the message I said to them, “Now I’ll acknowledge to you frankly. I’ve told you what the shepherd ministry is, I’m not doing it. I don’t want you to consider me a hypocrite. I can’t do it. Even with two hundred there are too many of you. I don’t have the time. I have too many other calls. I don’t have time to know you the way you want to be known and to be known by you.”
You see here’s one of the limits of a video tape. A video tape can carry the truth, thank God, but a video tape can’t be a shepherd. No one is going to find the comfort and the consolation and the strength and the encouragement that they need from contact with a video tape. There’s a point where it must be a human being. And the human being. And the human being ordained of God is this man, the shepherd.
Thirdly the shepherd speaks and leads. And Jesus makes it very clear that it’s by speaking that he leads. “My sheep hear my voice and they follow me.” And you know of course in the Oriental style of the shepherd, the sheep actually did not go in front. They were not driven, but they followed behind the shepherd recognizing his voice. And when he called them, they recognized his voice and they followed him. Isn’t it interesting that the most individual thing that any of us have is our voice? Do you know that there are great bank safes today which are opened by a voice, because that man’s voice is so unique that no one else can counterfeit it. That safe is absolutely safe. It’s scheduled electronically to open only to one voice. Your voice is the most unique thing about you.
Another fascinating thing that I’ll just share with you. In one of the languages of the tribes of Africa—and we have a little African girl who’s from that tribe who’s our adopted daughter—I discovered to my astonishment that the same word means heart and voice. I thought how could it be? Do you mean heart, do you mean voice? And you know what I came to understand? That the Africans realize it’s your heart that comes through your voice. You think about that. The heart that’s expressed through the voice.
So it’s to speak and to lead. It’s to feed. It’s to provide pasture and clear pure water, not contaminated sources of water. And it’s to protect, to keep out the wild beast, the robber, the thief and so one. Now this brings out the fact that sheep without a shepherd are scattered. You were in Ezekiel 34, look there again for a moment and see what happens when the shepherds fail. The first four verses depict the failure of the shepherds. The next two verses depict the results of that failure. And it says about the sheep in verse 5 of Ezekiel 34,
And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd: and they became meat [or food] to all the beasts of the field when they were scattered.
My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill: yea, my flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them.
That is the condition of sheep without a shepherd. They are scattered, they wander, they faint, they become a prey to wild beasts. Turn to the New Testament Matthew 9:36, and notice the same truth in the words of Jesus. Matthew the 9thchapter and the 36thverse.
But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.
Listen, this is an unbreakable principle of Scripture. Sheep without a shepherd will be scattered. Now this comes down to each one of us individually. As I understand the New Testament it places upon every believer in Jesus Christ an obligation. The obligation is this: you must either be a shepherd of have one. It is unscriptural to be outside or the other of those two relationships. Either you have the ministry of a shepherd, you are shepherding others, or you must have a shepherd. Otherwise you will be scattered and become a prey to deceivers, wild beasts. You will not feed on the pure clean provision of God. You’ll feed on contaminated sources. There is no greater and more urgent need at this time in the Church of Jesus Christ than for shepherds to be raised up. Most of God’s people, even if there is an official minister in their congregation, are in actual experiential fact sheep without a shepherd.
The greatest single need that I see across the United States is for the raising up of men who will be shepherds. And I want to tell you it takes men. Somebody said the other day that the contemporary picture of the Christian Church is something like this. It’s like a football game in which the laymen are playing the game and the professional ministers are up in the grandstand explaining it to the ladies. Another man, a friend of mind Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones said this, “Do you know why there are so many old ladies in the pew? Because there are so many old ladies in the pulpit.” I’ll tell you that if anything requires a man it’s this ministry. Basically the image Church of Jesus Christ in the eyes in the world if effeminate. My own estimate of Christianity after twenty-five years in the Anglican Church of Britain was it’s a harmless occupation for old ladies of both sexes.
I want to challenge those that hear me both in person and over this tape, are you willing to offer your life to God and to His people to be a shepherd of His sheep. Shall we bow in prayer.
Father, thank you for the message. Thank you for your concern and care and love for your people. Jesus, I thank you that you are the Good Shepherd, the great shepherd of the sheep, and I pray for your people, Lord, that they will come to see their need of shepherds, and that they will travail in prayer until the shepherd ministry is brought to birth in every area of this nation and across the face of the earth. In Jesus name, Amen.