The Teaching Elder and Church Leadership

The Teaching Elder and Church Leadership

Leadership isn’t about power as much as it is a unique opportunity to glorify the Lord by displaying His great power in our tremendous weakness. Rather than finding our identity in some sense of authority or accomplishment, we may return to meditate on the Savior’s merciful work in us and the great privilege we have in caring for His saints. We get to show them a tangible (though very flawed) portrait of what obedience looks like in our circumstances and culture.

The following post is part of our ‘The Work of the PCA Elder’ series. For the first post in the series, please click here.

The necessity of illuminating the sermon properly is found in the mental attitude of the people. Whether we like it or not, most of us preach to the ‘moving picture mind.’ It is the mind accustomed to images, pictures, scenes, rapidly moving. It certainly is not accustomed to deep thinking or long, sustained argument. Current magazines, billboards, novels, drama, rapid transit, all add to this popular method of visual thinking. We as ministers may not approve of the daily fare of the people; we may regret their inability to pursue abstract logic; we may wish them to prefer theoretical reasoning. But whatever our wishes, we must recognize that they regard thinking which is not imaginary and concrete as dull and uninteresting.

It’s hard to believe that Bryan Dawson published this argument for illustrating sermons almost a hundred years ago in his work, The Art of Illustrating Sermons. His almost prophetic depiction of the image driven culture must have seemed a terrible over-reaction when he wrote it in 1938 but couldn’t seem more accurate today. Illustrations in preaching are necessary because they make the theoretical and abstract concrete to the listener.

In many ways leadership in the church should be viewed through the same lens. Just as illustrations in a sermon take the abstract truths of the Scriptures and turn them into pictures we can see, noises we can hear, and sensations we can feel, so too does good leadership in the church provide living, breathing portraits of the truths of God’s Word. We talk of seeing the Word of God in the sacraments which is certainly true, but there is also a sense in which we can see the Scriptures acted out in the officers of the church. Do you want to see what holiness looks like in twenty-first century America? The elders of the church should provide a concrete, tangible example of what that looks like.

This is one of the many reasons why almost all the qualifications for office deal with a man’s character, and not with his abilities. Officers of the church are called to be men that are above reproach, faithful pictures of a properly ordered life. I suspect M’Cheyne was correct in his oft quoted contemplation, “The greatest need of my people is my own holiness.” This is certainly not to say that our people need holiness in their ministers for some redemptive purpose, but rather to further clarify the task of the elder to model holiness to the people of God. Few things complicate or cloud the example that I set as much as my own sin.

More specifically, I have found this type of thinking to be the most powerful and transformative to the weakest and the most wounded in the flock. So often those that have been the most hurt are those that struggle to understand the Lord’s good, gentle hand with His people. The pain makes it hard to understand how Christ could be so tender that “a bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not quench” (Matthew 12:20).

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