What makes a good church? An expensive building, a charismatic pastor, a Hillsong sound-a-like band, entertaining sermons with loads of jokes, comfortable chairs, lots of young people, lots of girls, a weird spiritual ambiance or possibly cake after the sermon?
According to Acts 20 one of the most important ingredients of a good church is faithful shepherds or elders. How will we know if the shepherd is faithful or reckless?
In Acts 20:28 Paul tells the Ephesian elders, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”
1. The faithful shepherd keeps watch over himself.
We have all heard of prominent Christians and pastors who have disqualified themselves from ministry and have been really bad witnesses to Jesus. Paul commends shepherds to carefully keep examining their own lives. Shepherds should be godly (v18); should be wiling to suffer hardships and not a lover of comfort (v19); should exhibit a zeal for Jesus and not be happy with the present spiritual status quo(v20); should be content and not covetous (v33) and love those under his care, not detached (v36-37). The three big areas of temptation for shepherds has always been Gold, Girls and Glory.
Dr. Billy Graham, a consciously godly pastor, made a decision for himself and his associates that none of them should be alone with another woman, other than their own wife or immediate family.
And the a very faithful pastor in past years, Robert Murray M’Cheyne observed, “My people’s greatest need is my personal holiness. It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.”
Ask yourself: Is there a concern for godliness in my church? Am I praying for the holiness of my church leaders?
2. The faithful shepherd keeps watch over the flock
The chief duty of the shepherd is to tend, nurture, feed and care for the flock. He does this because of the high value of the sheep (v28) and to please Jesus (v19, 24). How does he tend the flock? Paul uses the words: preach (v20), teach (v20), testify (v24), preaching the kingdom (v25) and proclaim (v27).
In other words, the chief means the shepherd is to care for the flock is by a word based ministry. Teaching and preaching the bible must be the main thing the pastor does. Unfortunately, often the pastor is seen as the organiser, the administrator, the counsellor, the therapist or the handy-man! Sometimes church services contain everything, besides preaching and teaching. There may be music, video clips, drama, dancing and testimonies, but no thorough explanation of a biblical passage.
Ask yourself: Do I make us of all teaching opportunities? Do I talk and pray with friends about the sermon? Do I pray regularly for my church leaders that they commit themselves to study the bible rigorously, carefully and earnestly? Do I pray that God will lead them to understand the bible and apply it to their lives and apply it wisely to church’s life?
3. The faithful shepherd watches for wolves
The biggest threat to sheep in the 1st century was wolves. Wolves could quite easily destroy an entire flock of sheep.
Acts 20:29-31 says, “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.”
Wolves refer to those in the church, used by Satan, to “distort the truth and draw away disciples”. Church becomes like Survivor on SABC 3 with coalitions, power plays and bullying. The faithful shepherd not only teaches sound doctrine, but also warns (v31) of proponents of false doctrine and ungodliness, inside and outside the church.
Ask yourself: Are my views, doctrines and opinions in line with what the bible teaches? Am I creating disunity in my sphere of influence in the church? Do I pray for discernment for my church leaders?
What makes a good church? The church leaders are godly; they teach the bible faithfully; and error is identified and dealt with!