Biblical Eldership/Preface

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By John Piper About Eldership
Chapter 1 of the book Biblical Eldership

Shepherd the Flock of God Among You
A Seminar for The Bethlehem Institute

"We as a church exist to spread a passion for
the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples."

In subscribing to a mission that holds a supreme view of God, it is our goal, as the people of Bethlehem Baptist Church, to maintain the centrality of God in all that we do. He is to be heralded in our worship, in our preaching and teaching, in our evangelism, missions and outreach efforts, in our praying, and even in our church governance. Our motivation? To glorify God by seeking – literally, "stoking" – our joy in him. How? Through the earnest belief that the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever. God's supreme worth is magnified manifoldly when our deep and lasting joy is in him. Our ongoing aim as a people is to exalt Christ, to cherish Christ, to love Christ, to honor Christ, and to desire Christ above all else, thereby ensuring that God's great glory and the most exquisite pleasure of his people are inextricably intertwined. Thus, the under-shepherds of the church should be those people whose satisfaction in God is so contagious that they naturally draw others into that enjoyment of God through teaching and preaching and ministry and care.

The material presented here is based, in large part, on a paper presented to the church in 1987 by Pastor John Piper. The underlying convictions which led to its presentation at that time included a desire to implement a more Biblically-informed system of governance based upon the clear teachings of the New Testament and also a pastoral concern to release many committed committee members to do the actual work of ministry. It was discussed and debated and ultimately adopted in 1991 and has been the sure foundation upon which the current system of governance – a plurality of elders comprising both lay and vocational leaders – is grounded. The vision and mission of the church is shaped and shared by members of the pastoral staff and by aspiring laymen; so too, are the joys of ministry, the fulfillment of calling, and the corresponding responsibilities to "shepherd the flock of God . . . eagerly."

The ensuing decade has been both tumultuous and triumphant. The leadership of Bethlehem, and especially the Council of Elders, has carried the responsibility for oversight through seasons of both unspeakable joy and excruciating pain. Having attended Bethlehem with my family for the past six years, I have carefully observed the visible outworkings of this form of spiritual leadership within the local church and asked, not just "Does this work?" but "Is this Scriptural?" What about these elders? Are these leaders godly? Honest? Biblical? What have they said and done to merit our trust? How about their families? Their wives? Their children? Are they content? Happy? Loved? It is to our lasting delight that we have observed a marked Godwardness in congregational proceedings, and it has been my greater delight to serve for the past 18 months as a lay elder.

The process through which I was affirmed began with a simple query from a friend, Tim, as to whether church eldership was an office to which I aspired. After several months of prayerful consideration, the study of some relevant written materials and an ongoing discussion with my wife, Liz, I ventured that perhaps the Lord was leading me to consider eldership. As I worked through the implications of such a call, I struggled with such temporal insecurities as my fitness to shepherd a flock of theologically astute, Bible-memorizing, missions-minded, outreach-oriented believers. Wasn't I a sinner who had merely dabbled in theology? (Just what is "hermeneutics"?) Hadn't I struggled through spiritually barren seasons of life? Didn't I wrangle and wrestle for countless hours to memorize just a couple of verses of Scripture? Hadn't I wondered why in the world others were so passionate about missions? Had any of the folks with whom I had shared Christ really been born again? And then, I came across the wonderful, liberating words of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians:

"Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced the things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the Word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus' sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us." (2 Corinthians 4:1-7, NKJV)

I saw that the ministry of eldership is not at all about this "earthen vessel" but about the greatness of God, about his mercy, his gospel, his glory and his power!

The next steps in the process of pursuing an affirming call on my life were a written testimony submitted to the council, a formal interview with three elders, and finally a verbal testimony before our congregation in which, with dry throat and knocking knees, I simply spoke of the trajectory my life had taken, the incredible joys I had savored as I sought to offer myself to God as a living sacrifice, and my goal of expanding and multiplying that joy by drawing others into wholehearted satisfaction in Him. My tenure as elder has been a season of watching and learning and ministering and failing and simply trying again. But my heart has been encouraged again and again to see God at work in our local church through the faithful, available, servant-shepherds ("earthen vessels"?) he has called to oversee his people. There is a collegiality and camaraderie and a heartfelt effort at mutual upbuilding among the Elder Council members that is sweet and satisfying and, I believe, God-honoring. More importantly, there is a strong desire to shepherd the flock of God with joy, knowing that one day we will be called upon to give an account to the Shepherd of our souls (Hebrews 13:17). For "when the Chief Shepherd appears, we all [lay and vocational elders alike] will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away" (1 Peter 5:4).

What unfolds in the succeeding pages is an engagement with the relevant New Testament texts and a God-glorifying pursuit of their contextual, Biblical meaning. The outcome is not merely doctrinaire abstraction, not merely culture-confronting complementarianism, not merely a re-thinking of the inherited, historical norms and traditions, but a practical, non-cumbersome outworking of church governance which aligns with Scripture and aims at meeting the myriad needs of the local expression of the body of Christ.

Dan Holst, Elder

Minneapolis, MN

May 1999

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