Quotes from 9Marks’ short introductory book on biblical eldership by Jeramie Rinne. (Plus a short review.)
Here’s my mini-review of Church Elders: How to Shepherd God’s People like Jesus (from the Building Healthy Churches Series) by Jeramie Rinne, followed by my Kindle highlights that provide a poor-man’s summary of the book.
The 9Marks crew yet again fulfills their purpose with this book: to provide an introductory volume to give to new or potential elders. It is simple, clear, biblical, and encouraging. I would even recommend this book for lay church members who may be called to shepherd in the future, or current lay leaders who simply want to care for God’s people like Jesus.
Many pastors could write a book entitled “What They Didn’t Tell Me in Seminary about Pastoral Ministry… But ministry also holds happy surprises. No one in seminary told me that I would fall in love with my congregation or that I would have a front-row seat to watch God’s faithfulness and the gospel’s power at work in people’s lives. And no one tipped me off about the joy and satisfaction I would receive from working with lay elders.
This book is intended to provide a concise, biblical job description for elders. I wanted to create an easy-to-read, inspiring summary of the elder task that could be given to a new or potential elder who needs to know what an elder is and does. I hope the book will answer a godly, well-intentioned man who asks: “I’m an elder. Now what?”
Better a godly elder with mediocre leadership gifts than a charismatic leader with glaring moral flaws.
Certainly the man in question has taught us by his godly example. But that’s not what Paul meant when he required an elder to be able to teach. He meant fruitful verbal communication of the gospel and biblical doctrine. An elder must hold “to the faithful message as taught, so that he will be able both to encourage with sound teaching and to refute those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9).
How you handle your bride matters very much if you would care for Christ’s bride.
Both parenting and eldering are about guiding people toward maturity within a community context. Learn to shepherd God’s family by shepherding yours first.
Nominate men as shepherds who are already engaged in effective shepherding.
If you are an elder in your church, you are a genuine pastor, just as much as, well, the paid pastor.
If you remember only one thing from this book, then, let it be that elders are pastors/shepherds, and their core job is to tend the church’s members like shepherds tend their sheep. To be more precise, elders are under-shepherds who serve the Good Shepherd by leading his sheep.
You don’t have to be an extrovert or the life of the party to connect with your members. You just need to love them.
People know real love and concern when they see it, even if it comes in a shy or slightly awkward package. Love leaps over all kinds of obstacles.
Here are a few quick thoughts on caring for people who are facing big problems: God established elders in his Word and he knows what he’s doing. Jesus can work through you.
Shepherding isn’t primarily about solving people’s problems… You likely have more biblical wisdom to share than you think. You can always ask for help, from Jesus and others.
Elders work hard in relationships with church members in order to help them grow up in Jesus.
Overseers teach, pray, and serve so that their brothers and sisters might know Jesus more intimately, obey him more faithfully, and reflect his character more clearly, both individually and as a church family.
The organization must always serve the organism. Programs and processes at best provide tools for accomplishing the mission of maturing one another in Christ. [See The Trellis and the Vine by Tony Payne and Colin Marshall]
Elders must resist the drift toward being mere organizational managers and instead keep the congregational compass pointed toward maturity in Jesus.
The Good Shepherd not only laid down his life for those sheep, but also lived among them and transformed them. Jesus made disciples: people who loved him, obeyed him, and told others about him. Now Jesus was sending those disciples to make disciples. The apostles would take up Jesus’s shepherding mantle and call more Christ followers, gather them into churches, and help them to grow up through teaching. After the apostles established those local congregations of disciples, they, too, passed the mantle of relational, maturity-minded pastoring. To whom did they pass it? To church elders!
The fact that God requires elders to teach his people shouldn’t surprise us. God rules his people by his Word, so the leaders of God’s people have always been entrusted with communicating God’s Word.
Take a moment to marvel at this. Jesus is alive. He reigns in heaven and he rules over your church. And he exerts that kingly authority in your church through the Scriptures. Jesus’s subjects obey him today by obeying those Scriptures. So if you are an elder, when you teach the Word faithfully, Jesus is sovereignly ministering to his subjects through your teaching.
Be encouraged as well by the fact that the gifting to teach comes in a variety of strengths and packages. If you lack the ability to hold a large congregation in rapt attention for forty-five minutes, that doesn’t mean you should abdicate your call to teach. Stop the fruitless comparisons and figure out how to use the gifts, life experiences, and personality God has given you.
An overseer not only participates in teaching, he also must protect the church from false teaching.
An intentional membership process goes a long way toward guarding your church from false teaching.
It doesn’t take a seminary degree to protect the church’s doctrine, but it does take courage and faith.
Part of teaching the church is training future pastor-teachers. As Paul told Timothy, “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2).
What if, instead of “falling through the cracks,” we use a different image: “straying from the flock.”
Church membership doesn’t make people Christians, but it does outwardly mark them as Christians. Jesus gave authority to local churches to “bind” and “loose” (Matt. 18:18), to tag sheep as sheep through baptism into membership (28:18–20) and to remove the tag through excommunication (18:15–17). In seeking church membership, a person presents himself to the church and says, “I’m a disciple,” and the church says, “Yes, we believe you are!” (or, in rare instances, “No, we don’t believe you are!”
Elders, take notice of members with overly full lives and lovingly remind them not to crowd out congregational fellowship and worship.
When you meet with your disgruntled sister or brother, listen carefully. I have found over the years that even my most angry, merciless critics usually have a point. It may be an overstated point, expressed in immature and sinful ways. But they are still usually responding to something I need to face.
Sometimes a member plays along with lay elder leadership so long as the elders guide the church in a direction the member likes. But when the elders take the “wrong” fork in the road, the member balks. “Who does he think he is?” the member complains. “I was in a Bible study with him for ten years. He’s no better than me. And now suddenly he’s calling the shots?
Elders manage, lead, admonish, and keep watch over members. Members respond by recognizing them, regarding them highly, and obeying them.
Authority wielded by godly, loving men brings life, unity, and fruitfulness to local churches. And churches benefit themselves when they honor that authority (Heb. 13:17).
When choosing elders, look for men who have a track record of operating in the church with a firm but gentle hand. Servant-hearted men installed as elders will likely continue to act like servants. Even if they get a little cocky, they tend to respond well when confronted.
At the risk of oversimplifying their job description, deacons nurture church unity by caring for the logistical, administrative, and physical needs of the church.
An elder can lead without lording by keeping God’s Word and the gospel central in the church. An elder should put himself continually under the Word—in all his teaching, worship, and ministry.
When elders elevate the Bible, they simultaneously humble themselves. In doing so, they show themselves to be the kind of men whom true believers want to follow.
Elders pastor a flock, teach doctrine, refute error, nurture the members toward maturity, track down strays, govern and lead, and defuse conflicts, to name a few of their duties.
Is lay shepherding really possible? I believe it is. Part of the solution lies in embracing and sacrificially prioritizing your call to shepherd.
The shepherds must shepherd the shepherds. Congregational oversight is sustainable because the elders, in plurality, act as pastors to one another.
If you’re going to pastor a congregation effectively, you need to be under spiritual oversight yourself. So humble yourself and allow the other elders to care for you.
It is much more satisfying, and even fun, to pastor as a team than to be a lone-wolf shepherd.
You need elders (plural). That is Jesus’s plan for sustainable, effective shepherding in his churches.
Elders must lead by example if they hope to lead at all.
An elder’s walk with Jesus is the string on which all the pearls of his job description are strung. Cut that string and the pearls drop to the ground and scatter everywhere.
An elder may be talented, experienced, and charismatic, but if he doesn’t reflect Jesus well, his immaturity will eventually sweep the legs out from under his gifting. An elder’s being gives credibility and power to his doing
Your congregation needs to see not only a godly elder, but a growing elder.
By modeling gospel-dependent progress, you point church members beyond yourself: you lift their gaze to Jesus, the One into whose image we are being transformed.
Does it seem strange to you that the apostles, and even the Lord Jesus, devoted so much of their energies to praying so intentionally? Does conversation with the Father mark your life and ministry the way it did those of Jesus and his apostles?
If the demanding scope and humanly impossible success criteria of an elder’s job description are not enough to send him pleading to heaven for help, one glance in the mirror should do it. Any elder with an ounce of self-awareness knows that his own proclivities to sin can scuttle his ministry.
Try to use any moment of public leadership as an excuse for prayer.
Infusing intercession into public assemblies also gives you an opportunity to teach people how to pray by modeling it.
One simple way to transform your elder meetings, and your fellow elders, is to pray systematically through your church’s membership list together.
Private prayer and fellowship with Jesus through his Word may be among the most neglected habits among pastors. Yet, ironically, these are arguably the most determinative practices for spiritual vitality in our lives and ministries.
Yet it [serving as an elder] is worthy of everything you pour into it, because you are stewarding nothing less than the blood-bought people of God and working for their eternal good and God’s eternal glory.