A Church's Coming of Age
When I tell people in our community that I am a church planter, I sometimes get the response, “A church what-er?” or “What’s a church plant?” The analogy, so familiar to those in the church, is often lost on those outside. There are other fitting analogies to describe the nature of a new church, and it would serve those in the church well to consider their usefulness. We are “a church plant” and we are, in many respects, also “a church birth.” The analogy of bringing forth new life and bringing up a child is a fitting analogy for our congregation. When Anna and I moved to Richmond Hill in 2009, it felt as though we had been given a premature baby. We weren’t sure whether the child would make it or not. In many respects, I—together with the Presbytery’s provisional session—felt as if we were the infant’s parents, sitting by the hospital bed day and night—trying to ensure that the baby would survive. As the church has grown and developed, it has often seemed as if we were watching an infant grow. There were some cute moments and plenty of challenging moments. The infant was utterly dependent on the care of its parent. But the child was growing, and we were seeing God’s fatherly nurture along the way. While the analogy can certainly break down at this point, New Covenant is now like a six year old child—with all of the pedagogy it demands, coupled with an increasing independence—as well as like a child ready to leave home for college. The coming of age analogy is seen in our pressing toward the selecting of our own ruling elders, as well as the organization of the congregation to become a particularized church. As with any child transitioning from the care of its parents to adult self-sufficiency, these are arguably the most important days for the life of our congregation. Any loving parent would spend hours preparing their child for this transition. Countless hours of prayer for the child would be offered to God in a godly home. So it is with our church plant’s coming of age. As we move into one of the most significant times in the life of our congregation, it is incumbent on us to give the utmost prayer and consideration to what the Scriptures have to tell us about selecting biblical elders. We must search the Scriptures, especially Acts 20, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus to see what kind of men we are choosing to be the elders of this congregation. We must be fully committed to calling God’s men to be shepherds of His flock. This means knowing what standards we are and are not to use in order to select these men. We are not calling men because they have excelled in business, management, social popularity or societal success. We are not seeking to call men because they have succeeded in filling a role in some particular organization or industry (though God has often blessed the vocational labors of many whom He has qualified to be elders in His church). We are seeking men who are themselves called by God to be shepherds, teachers of His word, spiritual counselors and spiritual fathers and brothers to the congregants. We are not calling men who just want to “stroke the sheep.” We are selecting men who will warn, admonish, teach, instruct, comfort, encourage, rebuke and pursue the people of God for the spiritual benefit and the salvation of their souls (Luke 15:4--7; Colossians 1:28; 1 Thess. 5:14; 1 Timothy 5:1; 5:20; 2 Tim. 4:2 and Titus 1:13; 2:15). We are not choosing men who will be earthly-minded, greed-driven and self-motivated. We are not selecting men because they seem most likely to help the congregation secure a kingdom for itself through the acquisition of the most property, possessions and equity. In fact, there may be congregants who will be more capable than the elders in helping the congregation meet its property needs. There may be deacons who will serve in this capacity better than the elders would. The men that we are seeking to call are those who are called by God to secure the most spiritual benefit for the congregation. Far too many churches in the States function like businesses with a board of CEOs rather than a session of pastor/shepherds. This is not God’s desire for His church. We are not seeking men who will merely be elders on paper but who will not be actively involved in the lives of the people. We are seeking men who will know the state of the flock (Proverbs 27:23). We are seeking to call men who will love the people of God, and who will—like the great Shepherd before them—be willing to lay down their lives for the sheep. We are looking for men who will, in the words of the Apostle Paul, “gladly spend and be spent,” for the well-being of the people of God. We are not looking for men who want to “make peace” at all costs. We are seeking to choose men who will say and do the difficult things when it is necessary for them to do so. In short, we are seeking to select men who will care for the spiritual well-being of the people for whom Christ has laid down His life. We are seeking men who will be “blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous” (1 Tim. 3:2-3). While we are not calling men because they have done well in their careers, we are to seek men “who rule their own houses well, having their children in submission with all reverence. (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?)” (1 Tim. 3:4-5).We are looking to call men who are “not new converts, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil” (1 Tim. 3:6). Finally, we are seeking men who “have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest they fall into reproach and the snare of the devil” (1 Tim. 3:7). These are God’s qualifications for elders in the church—i.e. His house. The fact that one of the qualifications is that a man only has one wife and is one who has his children in submission does not mean that a single man cannot be called. If this were so, the Apostle Paul—let alone the Savior Himself—would be disqualified. Additionally, there is not an age limitation for eldership. That we are prone to set age limits is easily demonstrated in the way in which some in the church in Ephesus treated Timothy. It was for this reason that the Apostle Paul had to tell young Timothy, “Let no one despise your youth” (1 Tim. 4:12). The office of elder is like no other office in the universe. It is entirely spiritual in nature. To treat the church as an earthly institution—and her elders as mere administrative managers—in this regard is to jeopardize and undermine the entire purpose for which God has instituted the church—namely, the salvation, spiritual care and shepherding of His people. In his sermon on Acts 14:23 “Pastor and People Must Look to God,” Jonathan Edwards made the following sobering statement about how we are to approach the selecting of elders for a congregation:
It is of great importance to the church of God in general that it should be furnished with able, faithful, and successful ministers. And it is especially of vast importance to those people that are settling ministers among them. It is difficult to think of any affair that a people are ever concerned in of equal importance. It most nearly concerns them as to their greatest interest, the everlasting salvation of themselves and their children. If a people are favored and blessed in it, they are likely to be everlasting gainers by it. The salvation of many souls from going down to the pit of eternal destruction, and bringing them to everlasting glory, is likely to be the issue, so that they will be happy here and forever. But if a people are not blessed in this affair, they are likely to be a miserable people. The consequence is likely to be the perishing of multitudes, their being miserable here and miserable forever.As we prepare to nominate men throughout the month of November at New Covenant, we are called to commit ourselves to fasting, praying and searching the Scriptures so that we together will be faithful to select God’s men to pastor His people in this growing congregation.