What happens in a family when authority is abused
by domineering parents, misused by self-serving parents or relinquished
by permissive parents? The family suffers, and the light it may send to
the world around will be diminished accordingly.
So it is that the church family can be most effective
only when respective responsibilities are clearly defined and church leaders
exercise balanced authority to promote the self-discipline and intellectual
and spiritual curiosity essential for growth to Christian maturity.
The role of leadership in the church is the same
as that of parents in the home: to teach the children to love God and diligently
keep all His words (see Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 4). Perhaps that is
why an important qualification for elders is that they be known as parents
who have ruled their own families well.
Teaching by example is a prime responsibility of
the leaders of God's people. In the scriptural stories of Saul, David and
Solomon, for example, it is plain that God expected a king, who acted as
a father to the people he ruled, to know the law and be an example of godly
Apt to lead
The elders of Moses' day were chosen for their ability to lead the people
by their example of godly fear and obedience to the truth (Exodus 18), and
it is a credit to the elders in Joshua's time that their righteous example
encouraged the family of Israel to continue in God's service after the chief
leader's death--a rare occurrence in Israel's history (Joshua 24).
Paul emphasized the importance of elders being
"apt to teach," along with having earned a reputation for unimpeachable
conduct. Historically, whether serving in the office of priests, prophets
or elder, those called or appointed to church leadership performed the role
of messengers for God in teaching the people His commandments.
Church leaders are to perform the vital service
of teaching sound doctrine to the church, just as parents are to teach their
children the ways of the Eternal.
God wants His leaders to exercise justice, mercy
and faith. The hearts of the fathers must be turned to the children, and
fathers and children must be encouraged to remember the law, statutes and
Paul emphasized this end-time message when he spoke
of the need to continue in and be perfected by the Word of God in the last
days. Paul was a father to those he instructed in the truth, and Timothy
was a beloved older son, so to speak, who carried on in his father Paul's
footsteps to teach the family goals and standard in every church.
Teaching and providing
It is clear that leaders are to be servants,
not overlords, but they are equally responsible to God as "rulers of
the household of faith" and must be intent on using their authority
to teach and provide for their church family (Matthew 24:45-51).
The Bible offers much wise counsel to elders who
would lead and educate the church with the family model in mind. Those who
are careless in carrying out Christ's instructions, whose example is ungodly
or who exercise their authority in overly permissive, authoritarian or self-indulgent
ways will reap the appropriate harvest.
As for the children, we live in a society that
has cast off moral restraints, despises authority and firmly believes one
opinion is as good as another. Few of us can be considered truly meek and
teachable; we too often seek out teachers who do not challenge our pet notions
(2 Timothy 4).
Like the world and religious culture surrounding
us, we may shun instructions to obey God's precepts, choosing instead quick
emotional fixes to our problems that allow us to feel good about ourselves.
Thus we reject the hard work it takes to really change our hearts and actions.
As our spiritual parents, church leaders must set
standards of thought and conduct and teach by word and example. But, as
spiritual children, we the brethren must remain humble and be motivated
to act on their instructions.
As spiritual children, we must heed the admonition
to obey our parents in the Lord and imitate the righteous examples of our
fathers in the faith.
This is not an easy task, since many of us still
suffer from experiencing the disloyalty of church leaders who betrayed our
Scorners who mock or refuse instruction not only
miss out on the benefits of knowledge, but cause others to stumble by their
disrespectful examples. Parents know only too well how often a younger child
is encouraged to rebel or misbehave by the haughty, sassy behavior of an
Be eager for instruction
The appropriate response of brethren to their elders in the faith is one
of eager responsiveness to godly instruction. Like the Bereans, who received
the words of their teachers with ready minds, so should we as God's children
be eager for instruction and to study precious truths for ourselves (Acts
The apostle John instructed his "little children"--and
I do not think this term of endearment offended them--to apply the great
law of love (1 John 3). He took great delight and comfort in knowing that
his teachings had produced fruits in the lives of his spiritual children
who were walking in the truth and faithfully caring for others, both brethren
and strangers (3 John 4, 5).
Children in the church serve important functions
beyond being respectful, responsive students of Scripture. For the family
to survive and flourish, the siblings must work together encouraging, admonishing,
easing the others' burdens, teaching from personal experience and always
being prepared to give wise answers to problems or questions.
A house divided cannot stand, and the church family
that permits disrespect, rivalry, jealousy and bickering will disintegrate.
Wise families under the direction of competent
parents set goals and plan their fulfillment with the talents and resources
of each family member in mind. Everyone, from the youngest to the oldest,
needs to be serving the family by using and developing his own talents.
There is no excuse for competition or duplication of effort; the goal is
big enough to employ everyone's energies.
The church family, like the extended families of
the patriarchs, encompasses fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles and children.
These individuals, with varying talents at different stages in life, learn
and grow together, helping each other towards maturity.
God has given our church family a goal greater than individual fulfillment
or family contentment and prosperity. Our goal is a transcendent mission
that takes us out of ourselves and our small, selfish ventures to see the
immense need others have for the precious truths God has given us. We will
be fulfilled as individuals, strong in our families and united in the household
of faith, if our are hearts are set on embracing the work Christ has set
before us (Matthew 6:33).
Our church family is a part of the greater community
of humanity, and we must appreciate our role in God's purpose that all should
have the opportunity to choose the path that leads to eternal life in the
family of God.
The church is to serve as a model family, just
as Israel was to be a model nation: to demonstrate the fruits of righteous
living. Israel did not fulfill its mission. The Israelites forgot who they
were and why they were called. They despised the righteous leaders and teachers
God sent to remind and reawaken them to their calling. They forsook their
fathers. Consequently, their nation-family was destroyeda sober warning
Governance is a critical question, but we need
to rethink the issues in light of a family model for the Church of God.
Then the issues of the responsibility and authority of those who lead vs.
the roles and responsibilities of those who are led will be understood with
greater clarity as we search for God's wisdom in guiding our families.