How Does Your Garden Grow?

May 18, 2018

Imagine different gardeners and their plants.

In one case, there is but an overgrown pot. Everything is under control, but growth is stifled. The plant could be several times its current size, but that would mean being repotted or placed in the garden. It would mean having room to grow.

In another case, the garden is neglected. The plants are sickly. They need weeding and pruning. They need water and fertilizer. With attention, the garden could be lush and fruitful, but this garden has many a brown spot and plants that are about to die.

The third garden is hardly a garden. Dead plants really do not a garden make. It is evident that something toxic had been in this garden. Instead of water and fertilizer, these plants received poison.

The final case is a lush, green, and fruitful garden. It has received good care from the gardeners. Weeds have been pulled. Water and fertilizer have been applied, and the increase is great.

The story of the gardeners provides a lesson for the church. The selection of elders and deacons is a vitally important decision. As the work of gardeners affect the garden, so does the work of elders and deacons affect the church.

Overbearing leaders (see 1 Peter 5:3) can stifle the life of the church. The church can be like the pot bound plant—capable of great growth if given the chance but stifled instead.

Neglectful leaders fail to do the work that needs to be done. The church can become like the neglected garden in need of weeding, pruning, fertilizing, and watering.

Toxic leaders bring false teaching (see Titus 1:9-11) or emotional abuse. Instead of the sound doctrine that produces spiritual health. False teaching kills off the life of the church.

Finally, good leaders do the work that needs to be done in the church. The result is a healthy church. The members are equipped for service (Ephesians 4). The church grows and produces good fruit.

The health and growth of the church are dependent on the quality of leadership we have. May we choose wisely. Good leaders promote “sound (healthy) doctrine (teaching).” Along with equipping people for ministry, this should lead to a healthy church. Such a church needs to be biblical in its teaching, moral in its ethical life, and loving in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18). This love is demonstrated in service and ministry as we encourage one another and reach out to the world around us.


The Work of Elders

September 13, 2013

We tend to use the word “elders” in referring to our congregation’s leaders. This term (presbuteros in Greek) was used in both Jewish and Gentile environments for religious and civic leaders in the ancient world. Jack P. Lewis notes, “The term ‘elder’ suggests a leadership built on respect and reverence (cf. Lev. 19:32), a reverence that recognizes ability, service, knowledge, example, and seniority.”1

The New Testament uses “elders” interchangeably with two other words: overseer (episkopos) and shepherd (poimēn). Bishop is another word used in English for overseer. Unfortunately, it now has some historical baggage and has come to mean something different from its New Testament usage. Pastor comes into English from Latin and is simply a word meaning shepherd. The nouns “overseer” and “shepherd” also have corresponding verbs that are used in leadership contexts: to overseer (episkopeo) and to shepherd (poimainō).2 The following New Testament passages confirm the idea that these words were used interchangeably to refer to the same group of leaders within the congregation: Acts 20:17, 28, Titus 1:5-7, and 1 Peter 5:1-2.

Oversight. So what do elders do? Both the words “overseers” and “elders” suggest oversight, leadership, and decision making. In 1Timothy 5:17, Paul notes elders “who rule well” (ESV). The Greek verb in this verse (proistēmi) can be defined as “to exercise a position of leadership, rule, direct, be at the head (of).”3 The same verb is used in 1 Timothy 3:5 to speak of a elders’s leadership in his family.

Teaching. One of the qualifications of overseers in 1 Timothy 3 is “able to teach” (3:2). Some may “especially” give attention to “preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17). “Especially” lets us know that the work goes beyond these things, but may include them. In the qualifications given in Titus, there is the need “to give instruction” (Titus 1:9). And shepherds are linked with others in Ephesians 4:11 as equipping the saints for service.

Guarding. The word “overseers” includes the idea of guardians. The image of shepherds also includes the thought of guardians of a flock of sheep. Paul warns the Ephesian elders of dangers coming to the church and urges them to “pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock” and “be alert” (Acts 20:28, 31).

Shepherding. Shepherd is a very personal image. The figure of speech evokes the role of shepherd with his sheep: feeding, protecting, caring for wounds, and searching for the lost sheep.

And finally, we note that elders are “examples to the flock,” the church (1 Peter 5:3).

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1Lewis, Leadership Questions, p. 21

2I’ve given the first person singular form rather than the infinitive, because it is the dictionary form.

3BDAG, p. 870