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Part Three

The New Testament Development

 

 

It is important to recall the several changes that took place between the end of Israel=s kingdom period and the New Testament Church; these are important because the teachings of the apostles draw on both the Old Testament Temple and the Synagogue leadership in order to carry forward instructions for spiritual leadership.

 

The Background

Synagogues.  With the exile to Babylon in 586 B.C., Israel for the first time in her national history had to adjust to non-sacrificial worship, making the ministry of the priests and Levites minimal. The Synagogue=s beginnings, at least the idea of a place to meet and study the Bible and pray, can be traced to this period, and with that emphasis also the beginning of teachers and scribes other than priests.  With the return from the captivity and the rebuilding of the Temple in 516 B.C., the renewed worshiping community found a valuable place for this new kind of forum that would be known as the Synagogue, and would be retained along with the Temple.

Scribes.  In this period of time there arose a large number of scholars and sages who had a tremendous influence on the nation.  They flourished from the time of Ezra through the Tannaitic period.[1]  These people were occupied with various aspects of the Law, copying it, recording it, making legal decisions, or advising in other important activities.  In the early period--Gospel times--they committed to memory the entire Old Testament and the teachings of their teachers.  Their primary function was to interpret the Law to the people.  In this they saw themselves as standing in the tradition of the prophets (for prophetism had all but died out)--they had knowledge of the Word of God and could make rulings on it.

Being in a position to interpret the Law, the scribes could innovate new laws and interpretations which would become binding.  The literature often refers to standard interpretations Aprescribed by the scribes@ that could not be violated. So their authority was considered as strong as the prophets, for they were possessors and interpreters of the traditions.  People with great knowledge of the Scriptures became the authorities themselves.  They did this by making their applications of the Scriptures as important as the text itself, although they would not say this as a point of theology.  But in their thinking if people did not follow their applications they would be Asinning against the traditions of the scribes.@  You can only sin against God and His Word, not interpretations and applications of it.  Many modern preachers come dangerously close to seizing this kind of authority.

Teachers.  Many Jewish leaders became active teachers at this time.  Teaching had been the responsibility of the priests, Levites, and in another fashion the prophets themselves.  But with the changes a new class of teachers arose who had knowledge.  According to Jewish tradition the chief requirement of teachers was that they be faithful to the (oral and written) Law so that their interpretation was halakic.[2]  The Jews took the task of teaching very seriously, banning false teachers who diverted the people from the way. Thinking independent or novel ideas was prohibited, unless, of course, the teacher had already distinguished himself as one of the greats.

Because of the premium placed on the knowledge of the Law, a teacher of the Law was viewed as second to none in importance. A teacher was even more important than one=s own father--a father brings someone into this world, but a teacher brings the person into the world to come. If one wanted to become a proselyte, a disciple, that person had to procure a teacher.  Thus, we can see the significance of Jesus having disciples, or of making the Great Commission with words to go and make disciples. Teaching would naturally become the major part of the formation of the Church.

Elders. When the scribes and teachers all but replaced prophets and priests in their capacities, the elders became more prominent in the role of spiritual leaders, so that in the Synagogue there were special seats for the elders on the Bema, a raised platform, and the priests were fairly restricted to the giving of the blessing and benedictions and prayers.  The priests had their sacrificial functions while the Temple stood, but that ended in 70 A.D. Moreover, as noted earlier, the leading offices of the priesthood had been bought by largely unbelieving wealthy political leaders, thus occasioning turmoil in both worship and legal matters and making room for the elders.

The essence of leadership to the Jews was a seat on the Great Sanhedrin.  A very high quality of knowledge and physical perfection was demanded for this position. They had to be men of stature, wisdom, good appearance, mature age, with extensive knowledge of languages and customs. The moral and spiritual qualifications had to be exemplary to the whole community.

In the tradition of Old Testament elders, but with new responsibilities, these leaders were to make decisions on all cases in accord with the Scriptures.  They were not to be hasty in judgment, but to examine all the evidence; they were not to show partiality, but shun payments, bribes, and friendly persuasion.  Moreover, and very importantly for the government of the Church, Israel=s elders were never to make a judgment in solitude.  Only God could do that.[3]  Humans were never to judge alone, nor try to influence the decision of the judges.  Once each judge had reached his decision, they counted the decisions; when a majority was achieved, the minority was to submit to the majority.  All of this was the plan, at least, and probably was carried out well, except when emotions ran high and some people who were not properly qualified were in control, such as at the trial of Jesus where all protocol went by the boards.

The Great Sanhedrin was made up of a large number of Priests and Levites, probably the same people forming its regular court in Jerusalem.  But cities that had sufficient numbers to form their lower courts could select the proper number of elders to hear cases.

Priests. In Rabbinic literature the priesthood has very high respect; from this class most of the leaders would come. But although they were a high class, many priests were not qualified for this sacred office, thus giving plenty of occasion for scribes and teachers.  Certain tractates in the Mishnah show that it had become essential to instruct the High Priest on exactly what to say on important days like the Day of Atonement.  This is because many of them were not appointed for their piety, learning, or moral character, but for political reasons. Consequently, little honor was to be given to a priest without first considering the person: Athe bastard learned in the Law precedes the High Priest that is an ignorant person@ (Horayoth 3:8).  The priesthood had been passing through an era of nearly unprecedented power and yet in many cases the priests were inept, unlearned, or unbelievers.  So the difficulty of a religious community having such leaders is not new with the Church.  But it should remind the Church that allowing such people religious authority will destroy the Church.

So with a number of modifications from the Old Testament period, the religious leaders of Israel tried to retain the tasks of teaching the Law, guiding the congregation in righteousness, leading corporate worship, and resolving difficult cases and questions of interpretation or procedure. They acknowledged that those who took these positions should be spiritually qualified to do so, and based their qualifications and guidelines on the Scriptures; but in the process many of these leaders became enamored with the power one could have in being the authority on the Word of God. In the process they often forgot the aspects of service and submission, becoming self-righteous and hypocritical.

 

Qualifications for Elders in the Church

In a number of ways the apostles incorporated principles and procedures from the Jewish community when they formulated their teachings for the Church.  In Paul=s writings the Church was to be led by qualified spiritual leaders just as the Temple and Synagogue had been.  The three offices he lists are Aoverseer@ (episkopos), Aelder@ (presbuteros), and Adeacon@ (diakonos).[4]  And it comes as no surprise that the qualifications he lists for the overseer or the elder are very close to those that God had already set forth for Israel=s spiritual leaders.  According to 1 Timothy 5:17 the elders were to direct the affairs of the Church, and it was the work of some of the elders to do the preaching and the teaching.  Moreover, 1 Peter 5:1-3 calls for the elders to be overseers of the flock.

The list of qualifications for such leaders is essentially found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7; additional ideas may be found in Titus.  Spiritual leaders are to be:

1.   Above Reproach. The first is a general qualification; the term (anepilambano) might literally be rendered as one who cannot be laid hold upon--one who is of such a blameless character that no one can seize upon anything in his life that would cast reproach on the cause of Christ.

2.   Husband of One Wife. The phrase has been given a number of interpretations, but the simple rendering is that the leader is to be a Aone-wife sort of a husband@ (mias gunaikos andra). It is unlikely that this only means one wife as opposed to polygamy, although many patristic commentators favored that view (and it may very well be included in the idea). The expression seems to mean Amarried only once@ or as the NIV has it, Athe husband of but one wife.@  Polygamy may not be a concern in the western Church today, but divorce and remarriage poses a serious dilemma in the light of this qualification.[5]  The placing of someone in leadership in the Church who has divorced is a serious matter and must not be done without a thorough enquiry into the circumstances, attitudes, and consequences of what happened.  Many groups have decided that while a divorced person can and must serve and use his or her gifts, the so-called Aup front@ leadership is not for them.

3.   Temperate. The word nephalion means calm, dispassionate, and circumspect. Wise caution may catch the point.

4.   Self-controlled.   Sophrona means sober-minded, serious, earnest. There is no room in spiritual leadership for those who cannot take things seriously or who cannot control themselves.

5.   Respectable. As with Israel=s elders, this qualification portrays someone who is dignified, that is, one who by conduct, speech, and reputation commands respect.  The term kosmion speaks of order against disorder, and so could point to an orderly life.

6.   Hospitable.   By philoxenon Paul is describing one who is fond of offering hospitality.  This, of course, must first be seen in the ancient setting when many Christians were persecuted and homeless, itinerant preachers needed shelter, and worship was often held in homes.  The home of the spiritual leader was always to be open to such as had needs--a sanctuary!  This goes far beyond the modern convenient customs of showing hospitality to friends and guests, i.e., inviting friends over for dinner.  The Church today has lost it sense of true hospitality.

7.   Apt to Teach.   Didaktikon indicates that the leader must be able and skilled in teaching, the special office of the minister in instructing believers in sound doctrine.  This requirement seems to be a constant of all types of spiritual leadership presented in the Bible, and especially included in the Great Commission to make disciples.

8.   Not Given To Much Wine.  The expression (me paroinon) literally describes one who sits too long at wine, that is, one who drinks so frequently that he becomes intoxicated and quarrelsome or violent. The word was often used for intoxication-like attitudes and actions--loud, boisterous, or out-of-control.  In principle, the modern results of drug abuse would create the same difficulties.

9.   Not Violent.   This means not a bruiser (me  plekten), one who is always ready with a blow, one who is contentious and quarrelsome.  It is amazing that the churches often tolerate an ornery person like this and hold fast to rigid applications of other items on this list.  These are all areas that if not dealt with will disqualify a person from spiritual leadership.  

10.   Gentle.   The expression used here (alla  epieike) is in contrast to Anot violent@; the word could be rendered Amoderation@ for it describes one who has a fair and reasonable spirit, not one who is making a determined stand for one=s rights.  The fruit of the Spirit is most evident here.

11.   Not Quarrelsome.  From a word that means Afight@ or Abattle,@ this term (amachon) describes one who does not go around with a chip on his shoulder.

12.   Not a Lover of Money.   Not Aavaricious@ could fit the term used here (aphilarguron).  This is one who is not overly fond of silver.

13.   Rule His Own Family Well.   The leader should be able to manage (proistamenon) his own household if he is going to manage the Church. The verb means to superintend or oversee; spiritual leaders ought to be able to have their own children under control. This goes beyond the ordinary unruly nature that might surface from time to time as children grow up.  One thinks of Eli and his wicked sons who became corrupt in the Sanctuary, leading to the disqualification of the priest Eli for not admonishing them.  The spiritual leader should be able to engender in his children development towards maturity that will show respect for authority and reverence for the things of God.  This one is usually set aside except for extreme cases, perhaps because those approving others for leadership positions have failed in this very point.

14.   Not a Recent Convert.  One who has just Asprung up@ (neophuton) in the Church will too quickly be given over to pride and ambition. No time limit can be set, but certainly years of growth through training are required.

15.   God Reputation with Outsiders.  This is a good report, a good witness (marturian  kalen) or testimony with unbelievers, all the while maintaining integrity.

Two observations must be made when studying this list.  The first is that no one, no spiritual leader, has fulfilled these qualifications perfectly.  Human nature may from time to time get the better of us, and so problems arise (just read the history of the Church).  But the point is that these are the characteristics, the patterns, that should be in place.  Repeated lapses in any of these areas would mean that the leadership role should be relinquished and the problem dealt with.  But the second observation is that these are the qualifications because they are the goal of spiritual growth.  In other words, every believer must be striving for this kind of life style--and when they grow to such a level of maturity, they too will be the spiritual leaders of the churches, even if not officially recognized.

It seems clear that the apostle has combined many of the qualifications of priests and elders in this list. We may summarize the main areas as follows:

SPIRITUALLY MATURE

They are not to be recent converts, but mature people who were living lives above reproach, respected by the household of faith, and having a good reputation with unbelievers.

 

SOUND CHARACTER

        They are to be self-controlled, temperate, respectable, not controlled by too much alcohol, gentle, not quarrelsome, and not always after money.

 

HEALTHY FAMILY

They must have a sound marriage relationship and  the ability to guide their children to maturity with a healthy respect for authority.

 

MINISTRY SKILLS

        They must be able to teach and make sound, fair  judgments; they are to be eager to make their time and circumstances available to people in need.

To find elders who embody all these qualifications equally well would be truly amazing; but they are the standards that the Scripture lays down for any who believe God has called them to leadership responsibilities.  We would say that if anyone aspiring to spiritual leadership has serious difficulty with any of these, then attention must be given to correcting the problems; if anyone has serious difficulty with a number of these and little effort is being made to correct the same, then the pursuit of leadership would have to be suspended.

And, to follow up on the second observation made above, if these are the goals of every believer, then these should be the goals of believers bringing up their children in the faith.  After all, the portrait of a spiritually mature person capable to lead others is the one that the Book of Proverbs paints of a person who is brought up in the faith by godly parents.

 

The Spiritual Gifts

When we consider the apostolic teachings of the qualifications and characteristics of the ministry of spiritual leaders, we must focus on the spiritual gifts.  No one can serve in any capacity apart from the spiritual gifts; no one is qualified for leadership roles without the appropriate spiritual gifts; and no one can full use the spiritual gifts without being spiritual.

When someone comes to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, that person is Abaptized@ into the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit.  This is Paul=s description of salvation; it is his language to describe how someone is born again--how the Spirit of God enters the life and regenerates.  But along with the gift of eternal life (regeneration or new birth), the Holy Spirit brings Agifts,@ spiritual gifts to the believer.[6]  Paul draws on the conquering imagery of the Old Testament wherein the victor would distribute gifts from the spoils of war to his faithful servants; in the spiritual victory of Christ the gifts are spiritual.[7]  It is important to understand this phenomenon because part of the demonstration of a call to ministry is the evidence of the appropriate gifts for leadership in the Church.  In other words, as we have seen throughout Scripture, those whom God calls to His service He enables and empowers with His Holy Spirit.

The Greek word for spiritual gift is charisma--a term obviously related to Agrace@ for charis means Agrace.@  It is used, among other uses, for the providential way that God gives abilities to all believers.  Thus, a Aspiritual gift@ may be defined as a God-given grace or blessed ability for service.  It is the special use that God makes of a believer in the body. 

In line with this it is helpful to understand what a spiritual gift is not.  It is not a place of service or office, but the ability that is given; it is not a natural talent (although we often refer to talented people as gifted), but the special use God makes of talents for His service; and it is not a particular ministry (e.g., gift of writing, gift of youth work), but the ability to minister within and through these activities.[8] 

The point in Ephesians 4 is that every believer has been given at least one spiritual gift to use within the Church because all believers are part of one body.  Everyone has something to do so that the whole body may be edified.  1 Corinthians 12 adds that not everyone has all the gifts, and not everyone has the same gifts, but that all gifts must work together for a balanced growth.  The teaching about spiritual gifts makes it clear that no one can do it all, and that the whole Church must work together in order to accomplish its task.  There can be no spectators or auditors in the Church!

Although the Spirit of God is the source of the gifts, and they are sovereignly distributed to believers, believers do have a part in the development of their gifts.  In order to cultivate their gifts, they must become involved in the preparation for their use.[9]  For example, to develop the gift of Ahelps@ one would have to carve out time to help other people; if in the process of doing that God blesses the effort abundantly and brings joy and an excitement to the one doing it, then it may very well be that God has given that gift to that person.  Of course, all Christians are to help one another whether they have the gift or not; but the special use God makes of someone is the spiritual gift.  Since most of the gifts overlap with Christian duties, one need not wait to try to discern a gift--just get involved with the duties and God will bless in certain areas.  Those probably are the gifts.

Paul lists the spiritual gifts in several places in the New Testament, giving them a ranking within the functioning of the Church.  All spiritual gifts are necessary, all spiritual gifts are to be used in the service of God, but some gifts are important for the spiritual leaders to have because they will be guiding the others to the work.

1.   Apostleship (Eph. 4:11; 1 Cor. 12:28).    This idea can have both a general and a specific meaning.  In the general sense an apostle is one who is sent and so the term could apply to missionary work or church planting or the like.  In the specialized sense of the New Testament it refers to the Apostles, the leaders who were the foundation of the Church (Acts 14:14; Eph. 2:20), who were accredited by supernatural power, who wrote Scripture, who carried Aapostolic@ authority, and who had actually seen the risen Christ. Thus, there is a big difference between the office and the gift.  If apostleship is applied as a spiritual gift today, it would not include the office of an Apostle, or the apostolic authority that they had.  To claim to be an Apostle today is far too ambitious; and to claim apostolic succession goes far beyond what the Scripture envisions.

2.   Prophecy (Eph. 4:11; Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor. 12:10, 14:1-40).  This term is also used in both a general and a specific sense.  In the general sense it means to Aproclaim the Word of the LORD,@ or as some would have it, preach the Word.  The special sense of prophecy would involve the receiving and delivering of a message from God, a special revelation, the content of that message possibly involving telling the future.  Paul says that one might receive a revelation even while someone is prophesying (1 Cor. 14:29); so there are in this one passage the two senses.  The early Church seems to have had a great need for this, as well as for apostleship, because the Church was just beginning and Scripture was not yet fully written. But once the canon of Scripture was closed and the revelation of God complete, there was less need for such.  Here too, then, a distinction may be made between the position or office of the classical prophet and the spiritual gift.  One might caution that many so called prophecies or prophetic words given today may not be the function of this gift at all, especially if they offer general words of comfort or citations of Scripture that are meaningful.[10]  But people like to see themselves as prophets, because it has the sound of authority.  Discernment by the congregation=s leaders is critical at this point--they can confirm if it is a word of comfort, an exhortation, a warning, or the like that is drawn from Scripture, and so the spiritual gift of prophecy.

3.   Evangelism (Eph. 4:11). The special use God makes of some in evangelism involves two things, the kind of message declared (the Gospel) and the setting where it is given (various places in the world outside the corporate worship assembly).  One must do the work of an evangelist even if not possessing the gift.  But God makes special use of some people in this area.

4.   Pastor (Eph. 4:11).  The word Apastor@ means to shepherd; so leading, guiding, caring for, and protecting the flock of God is all included here.  In Ephesians the gift of Apastor@ is linked with Ateaching@--one gift, Apastor-teacher@; but in Romans 12:7 the gift of teaching is mentioned alone, suggesting that it is sometimes given alone.  The role of pastor-teacher can be trained for and studied for--and must be--but it will be God who gives the special ability and blesses the efforts of those so gifted.  In Acts 20:28 the duty of ruling the flock is added to the pastoral care.  One entering into the role of leading a congregation must demonstrate the presence of this spiritual gift.

5.   Miracles (1 Cor. 12:28) and Healing (1 Cor. 12:9, 28, 30).  This gift is the ability God gives to perform special signs by the power of God=s Spirit.  The gift of healing seems to be a specific category within the larger category of miracles,  The blinding of Elymas would be a gift of a miracle that was not healing.  Moreover, according to the Bible a miracle could be done apart from the exercising of the spiritual gift; for example, the healing of Aeneas was apparently the result of the gift of healing (Acts 9:34), but the raising of Dorcas was apparently the result of the answer to prayer (Acts 9:40).  The answer to prayer is miraculous, and is a vital part of the regular walk of faith in the Church; but the spiritual gift of miracles is the special use God makes of someone to be the agent of His miraculous power. The distinction between the gift of faith and the gift of healing must be carefully discerned.  I should think that the gift of faith is far more common in the manifestation of healing in the Church today, because healing most often come through answers to prayer than direct healing as in the days of the Apostles who could restore sight and raise the dead.  This in no way minimizes the power of God or the function of spiritual gifts. But when we refer to an activity such as a healing service or a healing ministry when it is actually a prayer meeting, we must be careful to explain that we are expressing the operation of faith, looking towards the expected results.  To say there are healing groups available after the service when you mean there are people who will pray for healing is not the best way to say it because it is a little misleading.

6.   Tongues (1 Cor. 12:10).  This is the gift that enables someone to speak in another language to communicate the Gospel.  The gift was given as a sign to unbelievers, and especially Jews, that the Gospel was at work.[11] The exercising of this gift required the work of an appointed interpreter if it was to be shared in the assembly; thus, Paul placed it under prophecy in its edifying usefulness.  It is a special gift that does not overlap with Christian duties--all Christians are not commanded to speak in tongues.  To tell people they do not have the Spirit until they speak in tongues is just wrong.

7.   Interpretation of Tongues (1 Cor. 12:10).  This may be a sub-category of tongues, but it may also function independently.  The background of the interpretation no doubt comes from the Synagogue where a Targumist (interpreter or translator) would render the Hebrew Scripture lesson into Aramaic so that the people could understand. 

8.   Ministering (Rom. 12:7; 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:12).   This means serving. It is the gift of Ahelping@ or Aserving@ or Aequipping@ in the broadest sense.  Romans calls it ministering; Corinthians calls it helps. But Ephesians says that all the gifts are given for the purpose of helping believers to be able to serve.  This is the task all believers must share; but some will find supernatural enablement to do it super-abundantly.

9.   Faith (1 Cor. 12:8-10).  Faith is the God-given ability to believe God=s power to supply specific needs.  Everyone has a measure of faith (Rom. 12:3); but some have extraordinary faith--a confidence in the promises of God that inspires others, and a belief in the power of God that sees things happen.

10.   Exhortation (Rom. 12:8).   This gift involves encouraging, comforting, and admonishing people.  Some believers do this most effectively.  This is not the same as teaching, pastoring, or prophesying--it is a special gift.  Teaching may or may not involve exhortation; and exhortation may or may not involve teaching. Often someone who has one will have the other of these two gifts.

11.  Discerning Spirits (1 Cor. 12:10).  This is the ability to discern between true and false sources of supernatural revelation when it is given in an oral form--especially necessary before the Word of God was complete, and prophets of all sorts were appearing to teach the Church.  Every believer was to test these spirits; some were specially enabled to do it incisively. Even today believers must be able to discern truth from error, not only in special words but in teaching and preaching; God enables some to do this most effectively.  Believers in general, and certainly those with this gift, must cultivate the ability by thoroughly studying the Word.  You have to know enough to test the spirits.

12.   Showing Mercy (Rom. 12:8).   This gift could overlap with the gift of ministering, except that it focuses on helping those who are afflicted, ill, or oppressed.  One who has this gift will be moved with pity and compassion by those in need, and will be effective and appreciated by the way the need is met or addressed.

13.   Giving (Rom. 12:8).    All believers are to give--of their time, their talents, and their substance. But there are those in the body of Christ who give and give with little thought for themselves, for gain or recognition.  And God blesses them in their usefulness to the Church.  It is an interesting aside that it is not necessarily the rich who have the gift of giving, or have the inclination to test whether or not they have the gift. 

14.   Administration (Rom. 12:8; 1 Cor. 12:28).   Some have been given the ability by God to rule in the Church, leading others to their service, organizing the ministries of the Church, and carrying out the plan of the work. It is important to note that the gift of administration has to do more with people than with paper; it calls for the discernment of spiritual gifts, the ability to make wise choices, and the ability to see that the ministry of the Church progresses.

These, then, are the spiritual gifts that Paul lists.  Except for the passage in Ephesians which seems to place the first four or five as the most important (i.e., necessary for the Church), there is no order of priority.  Some may be more visible to the folks (administration more than helps), but that does not mean more pleasing to God or useful to the Church.

Every believer has at least one; no believer has them all, nor should they. All believers must take an active part in every phase of spiritual service, but God by the Spirit has chosen to make special use of believers in certain areas, and so believers should concentrate more in their areas than others.  The Church is a Body--the Body of Christ--and all the parts have to work together.  If the gifts are not functioning properly in a congregation, great and grave problems will begin to surface.

But what spiritual gifts should we expect a leader of the community to have--those who are called the pastor, the overseer, the elder, the deacon, or the minister?  The immediate answer is that as a believer the leader may have any number of them; but that would not qualify for leadership.  Therefore, several of the spiritual gifts seem to be well-suited for spiritual leadership, and a combination of these should be found in those called to lead the congregations.  This seems particularly clear in Ephesians 4:11 where Paul says that Ahe gave some to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers.@  The wording suggests positions in the body as well as abilities.  Of these four spiritual gifts, the primary gifts, the direction of the call to ministry would show which would be most appropriate.  The first three represent ministries with a charge not confined to any particular congregation or district; in contrast, those who formed the settled ministry would need the gift of pastor-teacher[12]

            The following gifts would seem to be most appropriate for spiritual leaders:

 

PASTOR-TEACHER

The gift(s) for those entrusted with the spiritual leadership of the congregation, a portion of the flock of God--this is basic to ministry.

 

ADMINISTRATION

The gift for those called to oversee and  orchestrate the ministry and ministries of the Church--the Church must have this to function effectively.

 

FAITH

            The gift for spiritual leaders who are entrusted with the  pastoral care of the Church and its spiritual growth, enabling them to be intercessors and spiritual leaders.

 

MINISTERING

The gift for those who give their lives to serve, help, or minister to those with all kinds of needs.

These four seem to be most essential for effective spiritual leadership in the Church; others would certainly help, but without these there would be some major weaknesses in the ministry. Of course, churches with several ministers on the staff have a better chance of incorporating all the best gifts.  For extended ministries we would add the following gifts:

 

APOSTLESHIP

The spiritual gift (not the office) for those sent  forth with the Gospel to begin new churches throughout the world.

 

PROPHECY

The spiritual gift for those who have an active part in  the proclamation of the Word of God, reproving, rebuking, exhorting, and encouraging reconciliation. This could apply to preaching as well (if we may make a distinction between preaching  and teaching).[13]

 

EVANGELISM

The gift for those actively involved in the direct spread of the Gospel to convert people to the faith in Jesus Christ.

These spiritual gifts chart for us what the whole ministry of the Church should look like, and how different members participate. Those who are in positions of leadership have the task of making sure that all the gifts are functioning. They themselves should have the appropriate gifts for leadership. But two observations must be made here. First, Christians are to be engaged in these kinds of activities whether they have the gifts or not--and God will make special use of the gifted.  Second, the spiritual gifts may not be functioning and at times should not be functioning. They may not be functioning because people have not cultivated them, or have quenched the Spirit.  And at times they should not be functioning if other qualifications for spiritual service have not been met.

 

Instructions for Spiritual Leaders

From the writings of the apostles and the teachings of Jesus we may glean further understanding of what God expects from spiritual leaders.  Here again we find a good deal of continuity with the Old Testament qualifications.

1.   Ongoing Sanctification.  Just as God demanded that those who came near His altar to sacrifice be holy, and that He be sanctified by those who ministered there, so in the New Covenant is sanctification a priority. Paul specifically instructs this as the will of God in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8, affirming that God called us to a holy life.  The instruction applies to all believers, to be sure; but the spiritual leaders who teach sanctification are to be examples of it to the people (1 Tim. 4:12). 

Therefore, those who claim to be called to ministry must evidence a healthy spiritual growth towards godliness.  They should meditate regularly in God=s Word and cultivate personal righteousness and biblical wisdom.  Their walk with the LORD should encompass confession and correction (their own before they try to correct others) so that they might manifest the fruit of the Spirit--fruit, not fruits[14]--the Spirit produces Alove, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control@ (Gal. 5:22).  In other words, many of the qualifications studied above come by the Spirit working in the life of the committed believer. Such fruit is the result of being controlled (=Afilled@) by the Holy Spirit.[15]

Sanctification will touch every area of our lives.  Many people come to faith out of broken backgrounds that have left emotional and physical scars. The transformation that is sanctification must address the problems of guilt, anger, hatred, and how we evaluate our own worth. Spiritual growth must not separate personal growth towards maturity from the work of the Spirit of God.

One great danger that has plagued leaders for centuries is that of fabricating spirituality.  It is relatively easy to appear righteous before people, and it is especially appealing when that perception creates a distance between the leader and congregation. The Pharisees had this down to an art--but our Lord cut through it to show that it was nothing more than hypocritical self-righteousness.  With genuine sanctification come honesty and humility.

2.   Servanthood.   With that humility in mind we may consider the teaching of servanthood.  To minister is to serve, and that service is to be patterned after The Servant par excellence, the One who came to serve and not to be served.  Peter says that those called as ministers or shepherds must be Aeager to serve@ (1 Pet. 5:4). The example of Jesus and the instruction of Peter focus our attention on suffering, that is, the service will be sacrificial love for others. And this necessarily involves humility--not the attitude of the Pharisees who loved titles, robes, and seats in the best places (Mt. 23:1-12), for God brings down the proud--and not the attitude of modern church leaders who love the power and the position, but are not servants.

To be a servant means that one will not seize the power and display self-importance.  Rather, a servant will be willing to submit to others when necessary, to those in authority to be sure (that is expected and ordered), but even to those in need who may appear not to have any intrinsic value to the Church or society. The story of the Good Samaritan captures this idea very well, for the Priest and the Levite would not sully themselves to help the person in need, but the Samaritan who was despised himself goes out of his way to help the person in need.[16]  One cannot think of hospitality without realizing the minister is to be a servant to others.  The servant serves people with needs--the poor, the needy, the widow and the orphan, the stranger, the sick, the sinful, and the spiritually ignorant.  A servant may find the work tiring and exacting, and often thankless--but honoring to God.

Servanthood is as much an attitude as activity. Leaders must exercise their leadership skills, delegate responsibility, make decisions, ensure that they are doing what they are called to do (this is why the Apostles appointed deacons in the first place). But they must not view themselves too highly, nor be caught up in the power and the prestige.  Pride, self-righteousness, arrogance, criticism, independence, self-serving elitism, and indifference to needs all speak of a Aministry@ that has long since ceased to be service to God.  In fact, a true servant will often find others who are more gifted in areas and promote them (rather than suppress them out of jealousy).

3.   Shepherding the Flock.  Peter wrote to the elders, ABe shepherds of God=s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers--not because you must, but because you are willing,[17] as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but examples to the flock@ (1 Pet. 5:2,3). Here is the instruction of pastoral care from the one to whom Jesus said, AFeed my sheep@ (John 21:17).

The image of a Ashepherd@ is an Old Testament one for spiritual leaders (see Ezek. 34, for example).  The term Ashepherd@ ( Hebrew  ro>eh ) is a participle that means one who leads the sheep out to graze in the fields--leader and feeder. So the idea of Apastor@ conveys this metaphor into our language (pastor is the shepherd, the flock are the sheep, the pasture is the place of feeding--we are the sheep of His pasture according to the Psalms).  There are at least four main ministries that this image of shepherding the flock would suggest (that are clearly taught in Scripture):

a.   Leading or Guiding.   The ministers are to lead the congregation into truth and righteousness, both by teaching and counsel and by example of Godly living and mature Christianity (1 Tim. 1:8,9; 1 Pet. 5:3).  Ministers must have a visible presence that inspires others to follow (Rom. 12:8; 1 Thess. 5:12,13). But, of course, as undershepherds, ministers should only be followed in so far as they are following Christ.

b.   Teaching or Feeding.  As the shepherds feed the flock, so the ministers must teach the people the Word of God so that they might grow spiritually. This will involve a careful study of the Word so that as teachers they can handle the Scripture correctly and communicate it effectively (1 Tim. 6:3; 2 Tim. 2:15; etc.). There should be no favoritism in the way the Word is taught and applied (1 Tim. 5:17; 4:21). Unfortunately, it is the history of the faith that the shepherds have scattered the flock with false teachings or partiality or ignorance.

c.   Defending and Contending.. The ministers must earnestly contend for the faith, defending the flock against false doctrine, current heresies, and schisms, often presented by wolves in sheep's clothing (1 Tim. 4:1-8; 6:12; 2 Tim. 3; Titus 1:9); but it must be done with tenderness and care.

d.  Overseeing.  Ministers are entrusted with the overseeing of the congregation (1 Pet. 5:2).[18]  In the congregation they must oversee the functioning and developing of the spiritual gifts of the people (Eph. 4:12) so that the whole Church may grow and be edified.  This means that ministers are to train others to share the work of the ministry and, while continuing to minister, give additional time to supervision and organization (2 Tim. 2:2).  There will also be that quality control in the congregation so that things do not get out of hand (1 Cor. 11). Ministers are responsible for the spiritual growth of the people, and for building a community of worshipers and servants of the LORD.[19]

Here then is the basic description of leadership in the apostolic instructions. The passage assumes that the individuals who are going to do this have the appropriate spiritual gifts and qualifications. But how are leadership skills developed? One cannot simply take a course or two in seminary and become a leader. It takes a combination of knowledge of everything that is to be done in the Church, experience in the development of the Church, and personal growth. Leaders emerge as they use their knowledge and their skills in ministry. The development of spiritual leaders is a process that begins with personal and spiritual growth in the Church, continues through participation in the work of the Church, concentrated training in all phases of Christianity, and then full involvement in the ministry under spiritual directors.  Gradually the new leaders may be given greater and greater responsibilities as they show wisdom, maturity, and effectiveness.  Too often seminary graduates have been turned loose on the Church as independent ministers, and when they have faced difficulties in this area complain that they were not trained in leadership skills in seminary. Their frustration is legitimate, but their complaint is too narrow. Developing leadership is a life-long process of spiritual growth, producing people who are righteous and mature in the Lord, who are faithful in their service of God, and who can increasingly take responsibility in ministry. There is an important caveat to this: no one ever arrives at the point of independence (sovereignty?).  Every spiritual leader still needs spiritual direction from others throughout the life of the ministry.

4.   Preaching the Word.  Paul wrote to the young Timothy, APreach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction@ (2 Tim. 4:2).  This instruction to the minister embraces a large part of what Israel=s prophets did--proclaim God=s Word. That is why the apostle spends so much time in 1 Corinthians speaking about the ministry of prophecy, not all of which is revelatory, but most of which is exhortation from the revealed Word of the LORD.

The expression Apreach the Word@ (keruxon ton logon) does not properly signify doing expository preaching or teaching; rather, it is the work of the herald who will proclaim the ALogos@ (the Word) to the world. It naturally will call for repentance but will announce reconciliation through Jesus Christ. That is why the development of terms in the text nest moves from Acorrect@ to Arebuke@ to Aencourage.@  The ministry cannot retreat to a set of positive teachings for the fellowship of believers; there is a wider responsibility, there is a ministry of reconciliation.

5.   Doing the Work of the Evangelist.  In keeping with the above proclamation we find Paul telling Timothy to do the work of an evangelist (2 Tim. 4:5).  Preaching the Word can do this; but there are numerous other ways that the Agood news@ of Jesus Christ can be shared with the community and with the world. The minister must actively endorse, sponsor, or participate in a developed outreach program that will be part of the fulfillment of the Great Commission (and a constant reminder of why believers are here on earth and not in heaven).

6.   Prayer.   Just as Israel=s priests were to pray for the people, and just as Jesus prayed for His own, so the minister must pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:16-18 says, Abe joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in every circumstance@).  We may also draw the inspiration for this from the prayer life of Paul (e.g., 2 Tim. 1:3).  Moreover, James instructs that it is the elders who are to visit the sick and pray for them, anointing their heads with oil (Jas. 5:14).  This is a ministry of prayer, prayer that God will heal.  In fact, we would have to say that little of anything will be accomplished in ministry without prayer.

The Book of Psalms has been an inspiration to prayers for ministers down through the ages. In fact, a knowledge of it by heart was required for candidates for ordination.  St. Gennadius of Constantine (458-471) refused to ordain anyone who had not been diligent in reciting the Psalter. Likewise,  St. Gregory the Great inquired about memorizing and praying the psalms as a prerequisite to ordination.  The second Canon of the Second Council of Nicea (587) laid it down that no one was to be consecrated bishop unless he knew the Psalter thoroughly, and the Eighth Council of Toledo (653) ordered that Ano one henceforth shall be promoted to any ecclesiastical dignity who does not perfectly know the whole Psalter@ (can. 8). Here is evidence of the importance of praying the prayers of Scripture--an importance that the modern churches have forgotten in their busy worlds.

The point about praying is that the one who prays actually believes that God will answer the prayer, honestly acknowledges that the work is God=s and that the one praying is not capable of doing it, but is filled with compassion for the needs of the people being ministered to.  Prayer in this sense cannot be brief and business-like, but a full entering into the sufferings of others and a willingness to become involved with those in need--even becoming the answer to the prayers.  Such praying would certainly change the work of the Lord.

 

The Kingdom of Priests

The last section of New Testament material important to this study is the Petrine teaching on the body of believers that parallels the divine plan for the call of Israel in Exodus 19--@you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God@ (1 Pet. 2:9), and Ayou are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ@ (v. 5).

Who are the ministers?  All believers, for they are the holy priesthood. And out of this holy priesthood emerge individuals that God has called and equipped to lead the congregation in this task. It is the duty of spiritual leaders to develop this spiritual priesthood, or to put it another way, to train future spiritual leaders. Unfortunately, many leaders either fail to do this, or make it difficult for individuals to grow into leadership; perhaps this is because they do not know how to do it, or are too busy, or out of their own insecurity feel threatened.  But the task remains; they must invest the time and energy in discipling (as did Jesus) for a ministry of multiplication.

 

Concluding Observations

In this full survey I have drawn from the Bible the clear descriptions and qualifications of those who are called to spiritual leadership--which in fact is all of us, in some capacity or another. The total list may seem overwhelming and unreal; indeed, as Paul said, AWho is sufficient for these things?@  None of us are.  But God is, and through the power of the Holy Spirit these things can be developed.  And so the pattern to be followed. By observing how the religious leaders in Jesus= day frequently strayed from the pattern, and by recalling what that pattern should look like, we may be able to do a better job of following the Lord Jesus Christ in ministry.

But it will not happen in a conversion, or an experience with the Spirit, or with a shortcut (the American way).  It will take a life time to grow into the stature of Christ.  So, like any other long range task, we are to make a start, and gradually grow into the man or the woman God wants us to be in His service.

When we speak of those who are Acalled,@ we are not always clear as to what that means. Every believer must find his or her place in the service of God, and so we are all called to ministry.  But we usually mean Acalled@ in the sense of being called to an ordained ministry, a full time work. People speak this way when they feel drawn to the ministry.  The Afeeling@ may be there for a number of reasons, some legitimate and some not.[20]  This Afeeling@ may very well be the work of the Spirit of God; but an inner conviction or a sense of call alone is not sufficient to qualify one for ministry.  One must conclude from the recurring themes of the Bible that the constituent parts of what we refer to as AA Call to the Ministry@[21] would include:

1.   The Appropriate Spiritual Gifts for Leadership.   Those who believe God is calling them to ministry must begin to manifest the appropriate gifts (as mentioned before, pastor-teacher, administration, faith, and the like); they should become involved in ministry and discover evidence of God=s blessing on their activities.  If they have the leadership gifts from the Holy Spirit, this will be one clear indication of calling.

2.   Endorsement of Spiritual Leaders.  The spiritual overseers or elders of the Church (they must be spiritual--some leaders have all the wrong agenda and no one would want their endorsement) must be able and willing to acknowledge that the gifts and calling are in place, even though a process of training through discipleship might still lie ahead. It becomes a real problem, though, if the leaders themselves have abandoned the standard, or have failed to disciple, or make decisions on value judgments or political agendas. However, recognition and approval by leaders that are responsible is necessary, for some candidates might think that they have the gifts when they do not.

3.   Spiritual Growth.  Those whom God is moving in this direction must exhibit spiritual growth, an ongoing process of sanctification that will bring personal, emotional, and spiritual maturity in Christ.  This, as might be expected, involves a sound foundation in Scripture and its application.   That is why Paul said no new convert, no novice, could be a leader.  It will take time to grow.

4.   A Compelling Desire to Serve.. There must be a strong desire to minister, a desire that focuses on serving the Lord and excludes other vocations, a desire that can only be satisfied by doing ministry. The old saying, AIf you would rather be doing something else, then you had better do it,@ is still appropriate. Sometimes people choose ministry for wrong reasons--prestige, respectability, guilt, family pressure, or to meet their own needs.  Such reasons alone may not be sufficient to sustain the person in ministry through all the spiritual battles and routine service of people in need.

5.   Some Evidence of Divine Leading.  Through circumstances and in prayer, those who believe God is calling them to minister ought to be able to show evidence of God=s supernatural intervention in their lives, confirming to them that all the gifts and qualifications are genuine, and moving them to pursue this goal.  This may not be a spectacular thing, but may come through the circumstances of life, or through the steady involvement more and more in ministry.  But the ministry will consist to a large degree on discerning the leading of the Lord--so it should start with the call.

When people say God has called them to ministry, these are the things that should be included in that idea of a calling.  Usually they mean far less, unfortunately--they preached a sermon in church Sunday evening, and the people told them they were destined to be preachers, or they had a religious experience, and they felt they owed their life to God, or any number of things that could be beginning signs, but in and of themselves do not constitute a call.

The following check-list may serve as a summary. I have arranged the items not necessarily in the order of importance, but in a logical progression.  The list may be of help to ordination boards; but I hope it is most helpful for people pursuing or doing ministry, to expose areas that need attention.


 

     [1]The term "Tannaite" refers to the early Jewish teachers who completely memorized the Scriptures and the major teachings of the day that handed been handed down.  The period of their influence runs from a century or two before Christ to the second century after His death.

     [2]The term is from the Hebrew halak, "to walk, go."  The noun came to be used to describe the "way" of Judaism, what it taught and believed.  Interpretation had to conform with mainstream teachings of the great tradition.

     [3]In the Mishnah we find this principle set down first in the tractate Pirqe Aboth and then elaborated upon in the rules in tractate Sanhedrin.

     [4]It is not my purpose to discuss the ways that these offices have been defined in the various denominations.  The general idea is that Paul is talking about the spiritual leaders of a congregation; whether the overseer is one of the elders or a separate and more powerful leader is not important to this discussion of spiritual qualifications.  It might be worth mentioning in passing that our modern word for "priest" is in fact derived from the Greek word for "elder."  That should help keep the distinction clear when a Christian congregation uses the term but is not living under the Law of Moses.

     [5]The issue of how the phrase is to be applied, then, must be determined by the different Christian organizations as they seek to apply Paul's guidelines to modern Christianity. More and more Christian groups are permitting divorced people to take the offices of the Church.  Those that do must certainly recognize that a broken marriage is a serious problem for spiritual leaders, and cannot be winked at.  At least one could say that a person in that case would have to acknowledge failure in trying to meet this qualification. 

     [6]I restrict my use of the designation "Spirit baptism" in all its forms to the Pauline use, that is, identification with Christ at salvation.  1 Corinthians 12:13 says, "We all were baptized by one Spirit into one body--and we were all given the one Spirit to drink."  And this he argues is the reason that we all have spiritual gifts.  Special manifestations of the Spirit in a believer's life on subsequent occasions would be better termed the filling of the Spirit, according to the New Testament.  But certain groups insist on calling it being baptized by the Spirit--and that confuses sound doctrine.

     [7]Ephesians 4 draws upon the imagery of the Psalter.  The Psalm portrays the LORD as a mighty conqueror ascending on high to Zion, and as a hero receiving gifts for the victory, the spoils of war. Paul interprets that Christ conquered the grave and death and ascended on high, distributing spiritual gifts to His followers.

     [8]In order to determine what spiritual gifts are at work, one must go beyond the mere enjoyment or desire to function in a capacity and measure effectiveness.  To determine the use God makes of someone, say in evangelism, one must see the blessing of God on that endeavor.

     [9]The leaders of the congregation must take the responsibility of discerning spiritual gifts in believers.  They should begin with faithful teaching on the subject, provide opportunities for testing the gifts in different functions of the Church, be quick to see the prospects surface, and then work closely to help believers develop their gifts to their full potential.  Of course, there are some supernatural gifts that cannot be developed, for they are sovereignly displayed.

     [10]See the article by Peter E. Prosser, "Prophecy, A Vital Gift to the Church, Including Yours," in Acts 29 (March/April, 1992):5ff.

     [11]There is much dispute, of course, over how and when this gift might function.  In the Book of Acts and in Paul's teachings, the phenomenal use of languages was a sign that the Gospel was going to the Gentiles.  Tongues and the interpretation of tongues were not the gifts that were to be most desired in the ministry of the Church assembled; and as a spiritual gift one would not expect every member of the Church to have or exercise the gift. It was never a test of spirituality or depth of faith.

     [12]Brooke Foss Westcott, Saint Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Erdmans Publishing Company, 1906), p. 62.

     [13] In the churches today the work of teaching and preaching have fallen together (in Israel the priests did the official teaching of doctrine and the prophets the preaching).  Sometimes the only arena for the two to operate will be in the sermon--which must include sound teaching as well as rebuke, comfort, exhortation and the like.  Other times classes are more for the teaching.  But it is important for the churches to ensure that both are present and functioning--the clear teaching of sound doctrine, and the powerful exhortations and instructions based on Scripture.

     [14] You cannot say AMy fruit is love.@  All the qualities listed are the fruit of the Spirit--they must all be showing up.

     [15]The clue to the meaning of the filling of the Spirit comes from Ephesians 5:18 where there is the contrast with wine. The point is control: as wine controls a person, so should the Holy Spirit, but in a vastly different way. The filling of the Spirit is something to be obeyed--not prayed for.  When a believer yields his life to the Spirit with obedience and dedication, the Spirit will begin to control his life and produce fruit.

     [16]The main point of the story is to teach what it means to love one's neighbor. But a good case can be made for the application of the story to Jesus Himself, who comes to meet human needs.

     [17]Peter makes a strong point that service to God must be willing. All spiritual service is to be willing: David desired that willing spirit (Ps. 51), Paul instructed us to present our bodies as living sacrifices (Rom. 12), giving is to be willing and not by compulsion (2 Cor. 8,9), and so serving in the capacity of spiritual leadership must be a willing service.

     [18]See D. Edmond Hiebert, "Counsel for Christ's Under-Shepherds: An Exposition of 1 Peter 5:1-4,"  BibliothecaSacra 139 (1982):330-341.

     [19]It has become popular to speak of "community" today.  The older designation of "fellowship" works just as well.  The idea is that of sharing and holding all things in common. To be in fellowship with Christ will involve sharing in His sufferings; to be in fellowship with one another will likewise require spiritual service.  For a minister to build "fellowship" in a congregation will require the development and participation of all believers with their spiritual gifts to be serving and loving one another, no matter how costly or inconvenient.

     [20] Sometimes people say they are called to ministry when they have had an emotional experience at camp, or in a revival service, or when their family thinks they are preachers.  These are certainly Acalls@ to get busy with the work of God--but may not be calls for ordained ministry.  That has to be tested with time.

     [21] I am not so much concerned here with the issue of ordination--some churches ordain and others do not.  My own view is that ordination is a good thing for the quality control of the churches (if done right), even though it is not a biblical teaching per se.  The only clear ordination in the Bible is in Leviticus 8 for the priests of Israel--and that was a hereditary office.  When people ally themselves with a group or denomination, they submit to that church=s position on what ordination is.  If they disagree, they should re-align.  But some recognition by the leaders of the church of those who are qualified to lead is necessary for any functioning assembly.