The focus of our text today is an instruction from Paul to Timothy on helping the Ephesian church care for her pastors. His instructions here reminded me of a quote from our theology/philosophy of eldership…
Pastoral ministry involves forms of suffering, discouragement and heartbreak for which no school can prepare a man. Jesus gave the apostles and then elders to tend his flock as under-shepherds until he returns. Pastoring is a tough gig. Likewise the churches responsibility in taking care of her pastors is an equally tough gig.
Biblically speaking we know that, elders are pastors who oversee the flock of God as shepherds. A shepherd’s job is to get to know each member of his flock. He labors to lead the flock into green pastures. He works to feed the flock with the Word of God. And he seeks to protect the flock with the staff and rod of Biblical discipline. So the biblical calling on a pastor’s life is to shepherd the flock well, by knowing them, leading them, feeding them and protecting them because there is an account to be given to God and a crown to be gained in Heaven. It’s massive job description that no man should pursue unless the Lord has called and qualified him to do so because the health of the bride of Christ is on the line not to mention the health of a pastor and his family.
Matt Chandler speaking of the role of an elder/pastor says: A pastor’s job as a gospel minister will rarely be in the middle of the healthy well groomed sheep where they’re chewing good grass and they love that you protect and keep them safe. He says that a pastor’s role is on the fringes where the sheep bite, they have rabies and they are too deceived to eat the healthy grass in front of them so they’re eating their own excrement and blaming you for it. He says that’s where we as pastors grind day in and day out. A pastor’s job is to lay up kindling around the hearts of God’s people so that the Spirit of God can ignite that kindling into flame when the time is right.
Another pastor said that being a pastor is like waking up in the morning and getting ready for work by drinking a gallon of rejection, filling up your thermos with more rejection for the day and then coming home after work and drinking another gallon of rejection before going to sleep while looking forward to dreaming about rejection all night long. Still another preacher said that being a pastor is like getting pistol whipped in your underwear in the parking lot of your church building every day by the people you love and care for.
Charles Spurgeon said that the problem with pastoring is that pastoring is like doing heart surgery every day on other people who have heart diseases and the main tool that God has given you to do your work with is your own broken heart. In other words, God uses men with broken hearts to repair and renew other people with broken hearts.
I can imagine Paul and Timothy hearing all of these things and nodding their heads with knowing approval. And yet I can imagine that some of you may hear the things I’ve just said and you may feel uncomfortable or you may be disinterested. You may be thinking that this isn’t what you showed up to a church gathering for. You have things going in your life that you want to address and the topic of caring for your pastors may not be near the top of your list.
But for some reason in God’s providence you showed up here and this is where we are at in our study. I can imagine that some of the folks in Timothy’s church might have felt the same tension too. And I can imagine that Timothy was probably very fearful as he read this portion of Paul’s letter to the church family.
But the reality is that pastors are sheep too and just as a flock needs to be cared for by her pastor, her pastor needs to be cared for by the flock. And Paul knows this so he lays out some simple ways that a church family can do this. A simple summary from what Paul is saying here would state that we should care for our pastors by honoring them, disciplining them and installing them well. What does that mean? How do we honor our pastors? How do we discipline our pastors? How do we install our pastors well? Let’s look at these one at a time together…
#1: Care For Your Pastors By Honoring Them (17-18)
Paul says: 17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” In other words, one of the ways that we can care for our pastors well is by honoring them. But how do you honor your pastors?
The job of an elder/pastor is to rule well and to labor hard in preaching and teaching. Paul says that these elders are worthy of double honor. The meaning of double honor carries the hint of financial support and relational respect. Financial support and relational respect are the dual prongs of honoring our pastors well.
And Paul supports this kind of interpretation by pointing to the Scriptures from both the Old Testament and Jesus’ words in the gospels. An ox will work harder if you let him eat from the grain he is laboring to tread out and someone who works hard should not be expected to work for free or to live on next to nothing. Someone who works hard deserves his wages. These principles are true in any vocational field. No one likes to work for a company that doesn’t pay well.
The second prong of that phrase “double honor” has the hint of relational respect in it. This doesn’t mean a cowering down kind of a holier than thou kind of mentality where a pastor is unapproachable. When I think of the kind of respect that Paul has in mind here I think of the way we are all called to respect people in authoritative roles. The Bible doesn’t give us a license to disrespect those in authority by undermining their authority with our complaining, our gossiping or our slandering.
Complaining, gossiping and slandering our parents doesn’t help them and it’s not godly for us to do so as children of those parents. The same principle is true when it is applied to government officials, bosses or pastors or anyone for that matter. So it’s important that we honor our pastors with our relational respect.
This is one way that we become the image of Christ to the world around us. If we constantly disrespect our pastors in our conversations then we are no different then the rest of the world around us who love to stand around the water cooler in the break room talking about how we disagree with upper management. So I believe the church family should care for her pastors by honoring them well with appropriate financial support and relational respect.
#2: Care For Your Pastors By Disciplining Them (19-21)
Paul says: 19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 21 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality. Biblical discipline is hard to do. It’s scary because it involves certain levels of face-to-face conflict. Face to face conflict is hard to do when it’s parent to child or peer to peer. But it’s even harder to do when you are trying to correct some one in authority over you.
Nevertheless we know that discipline and correction is one of the ways that we are called to love and care for each other. If we spare the rod of correction then we hate our children and we abandon them unlovingly to destruction. The same is true of members to pastors. One of the most loving things you can do to care for your pastors is to discipline them well. But what does that look like?
Paul says that we shouldn’t make a charge against an elder unless the evidence of two or three reliable witnesses substantiates it. This is hard to accept in this day and age where social media and news media publically slander one leader after the next with unfounded accusations. It takes hard work to slow down and to examine the evidence as well as the credibility of the person submitting the evidence before making a ruling judgment on some accusation.
The same is true when it comes to disciplining pastors. A pastor is first and foremost a broken sinner in need of Jesus and he is also a member of the flock in need of discipline. Pastors are not perfect any more than any member is perfect. And discipline of any member, pastor or not, must be done with extreme care so as not to discourage a person. Discipline must be done with patience and love and a heart that cares for the wellbeing of the person being corrected.
Matthew 18 gives us a perfect outline for coming alongside anyone who is a member or member/pastor. Discipline/correction begins with one on one confrontation and then moves to two on one confrontation and then moves to the church on one confrontation depending on a person’s willingness to listen. And the heart behind this kind of confrontation is not retribution because I disagree with someone on some secondary issue of preference or because I want to get back at him or her because they hurt me. The purpose of discipline is to lovingly correct someone and to turn their attention back to the Savior of their souls.
In verses 20 – 21 Paul makes it clear that if a pastor refuses to listen and persists in his sin then the best way we can love and care for our pastors is to rebuke them in the presence of all the elders as well as the church family so that everyone would stand in fear of the consequences of sin. We do this knowing that we are in the presence of Christ who gave his life for us and our Father who loves us and the angels who help us. We cannot play favorites and we cannot sweep things under the rug but we must carefully practice biblical correction with one another including our pastors.
There have been far too many churches with pastors who are being paid millions of dollars with private jets, body guards and extravagant lifestyles who have taught things that ought not to be taught and done things that ought not to be done because their churches were too enamored with fame and popularity and they were too afraid to confront them for fear of losing their power and influence.
These phony churches and their phony pastors will face judgment some day for not practicing biblical discipline with one another. Many of them are plastered all across the news right now as I preach. But you don’t have to be a wealthy church with a well-dressed famous pastor to be guilty of sweeping things under the rug. Poor small churches like ours are often guilty of small rings of gossip and slander while pastors isolate themselves with busy work. So let us all be warned. One of the best ways we can care for our pastors is to discipline them well.
#3: Care For Your Pastors By Installing Them Well (23-25)
Paul says: 22 Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure. 23 (No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and frequent ailments.) 24 The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. 25 So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden. The installation and ongoing care of pastors is oftentimes overlooked to the detriment of the church family, her pastors and their families. All too often the church slaps some of their best businessmen or most respected men into roles of eldership that they are not called or qualified for. So Paul’s final instruction here is to install elders slowly and pay attention to their ongoing health.
We should not install pastors quickly or flippantly. We should take great care to do it slowly and examine every aspect of their lives carefully. This is why the process for becoming an elder/pastor here at The Well is so robust. We expect our elders/pastors to be healthy in their spiritual lives, their relationships, their marriage and family lives, their ministries and in the ongoing care of their physical and emotional wellbeing.
Our elders/pastors submit themselves to extensive writing projects and face-to-face interviews over the course of 1-2 years before they are installed. This is all done to ensure that the men that we install as elders are qualified and called to become elders. And this is also done to provide the best ongoing care for them and their families. We do not want to install elders without identifying some of their weaknesses and shortcomings first because we want to provide ongoing development for these men instead of turning a blind eye to the things that could trip them up and disqualify them from the job in the future.
In short we are not interested in taking part in the sins of our elders. Instead we want to develop an elder/pastor team that remains spiritually, emotionally and physically pure. This includes paying attention to the elder/pastor candidate’s spiritual, relational, physical and emotional health. Paul draws our attention to this by instructing Timothy to not only drink water but to also drink a little wine, which has medicinal value for his stomach.
In the end, we pay attention to the lives of our elders/pastors because conspicuous sins or good works tell the tale of their character and even the things we cannot see will only stay hidden for a short period of time if we examine them well. So in summary, we want to install elders/pastors well by taking it slow and paying attention to their ongoing care.
Summary and Application…
In summary, the Lord would have us care for our pastors well by honoring them, disciplining them and installing them carefully. The only way I know how to bring this message to a close is to make some personal comments on my experience as a pastor here at The Well and hope that the Lord uses it to encourage and challenge all of us.
#1: A personal word on honoring our pastors: Honoring our pastors begins and ends with financial support and relational respect. I have labored here at The Well for nearly 7 years as the planting pastor. Over those years I worked hard to seek out, to train and to install other elders/pastors to carry the load of shepherding. I have done this for compensation that typically was below the poverty line because Christy and I wanted to sacrifice for the sake of seeing a church planted that reaches the lost and makes disciples here in Hastings.
I didn’t take a compensation increase for the first 5-6 years. But 2 years ago some of our leaders saw what was happening and they courageously challenged me and they challenged the church family to begin a retirement fund for me. This blessed Christy and I tremendously. And then this year some of our leaders again courageously helped to increase my salary and housing allowance so that we can make ends meet. Again, I was extremely blessed by this.
As far as relational respect I have typically felt very respected especially during pastor appreciation month with the various gifts that you guys give to me and my family. Typically I only feel disrespected when someone refuses to listen to my direction or when I hear of someone asking why the budget was increased this year or why my compensation was increased. I also know the amount of financial support that Christy and I have given to The Well over the years. Simply stated, we give more than 10% of our income to The Well on top of various supporting missionaries from our own personal budget.
So it encourages me when I see other people beginning to invest themselves the same way that Christy and I do and it’s a way that I feel respected. Lastly, many of you make it your practice of engaging with me on key points of sermons which lets me know that you are listening and therefore respect my labor of ruling through preaching and teaching. So please continue in these things as we begin to install more elders/pastors in the years ahead because these are key ways that you have honored me over the years.
#2: A personal word on disciplining our pastors: A few weeks ago during a sermon I made a very heavy comment that we were taking our privilege of worship for granted and approaching God with a flippant attitude. And after that sermon a good brother here in the church family came to me and practiced biblical discipline by asking me if I was ok or if there was something that was bothering me that motivated what I had said.
I am grateful for that brother having the courage to come to me and his courage provided me the opportunity for some self-reflection and it also prompted a few phone calls to some of our music team members and other leaders to inquire of whether what I had said was timely or accurate.
And what I found out is that I definitely had a long week and I myself needed the reminder to approach God with reverence but one by one every person I spoke with affirmed that they were in the same place that morning. Had my brother never come to me with his concern then my heart would not have been confronted and the other conversations would have never happened. Please ask the Lord for the courage to engage in biblical discipline of one another as we grow.
#3: A personal word on installing our pastors: By God’s grace the Lord has given us two men in Chris and Joe who sense the call to become elders/pastors here at The Well. They are currently walking through the beasty process of assessment and Lord willing will be installed later this summer or early in the Fall. Please spend time with them. Pray for them. Get to know them. Learn how you can support them in your prayers and encouragement and correction. And discern what ways you can watch their backs as they help to lead us forward. These men are a gift to us and it’s our responsibility to care for them well.
We must never forget that Jesus is the Chief Shepherd who shepherds us well. He knows our every thought and desire. He leads us into green pastures. He feeds us his Word by the power of his Spirit. And he protects us from the attacks of Satan, sin and the world. He gave his life at the cross of Calvary so that we could be free from our sin.
Ultimately a church that honors and disciplines and installs elders/pastors well actually loves Jesus really well. So as we close please give thanks to the Lord for the Chief Shepherd who gave himself as a sacrifice for us and continues to shepherd us through the presence of his very own Spirit.