The following was first given as a message at the May, 1999 Elders and
Workers Conference in Markham, Ontario.
In my travels among the assemblies it is evident that the general
spiritual condition of many of them is poor. Attendance is often a small portion of those
who would claim to be in fellowship. Worldliness has made inroads and it is manifested in
a lack of commitment to the local assembly and a strong commitment to careers, hobbies,
sports, and recreation.
Another very evident need is for godly oversight—men who are
committed to caring for the Lord’s sheep even though it means great personal
sacrifice. In many assemblies there is no identifiable leadership and the Lord’s
people go from week to week like sheep without a shepherd. In other gatherings, there are
those who have been identified as elders but do little or none of the work involved in
shepherding the Lord’s people. Thankfully, there are those assemblies with
identifiable and godly overseers who with personal sacrifice, care for the saints.
When he was about to leave the Ephesian elders for the last time, Paul
exhorted them, "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the
which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath
purchased with his own blood." (Acts 20:28) One danger that a shepherd faces is that
of neglecting himself. While expending himself for the Lord’s people he neglects his
own spiritual condition. In a similar way, one can get so involved in the Lord’s work
that the Lord Himself is set aside. Like those at Ephesus, one’s works, labour, and
patience may be commendable, but he has left his "first love." (Rev. 2:1–4)
In addition to taking heed to himself, the shepherd must be on guard
for those grievous wolves who come from without with the desire to destroy the local
testimony. (Acts 20:29). This requires discernment as they will often come in sheep’s
clothing, speaking softly and acting graciously. (Rom. 16:18) Shepherds must also be on
the alert for those who arise from within the local fellowship who would desire to gain a
It is evident that those in oversight are subject to many dangers. The
adversary of the sheep and of the Chief Shepherd is constantly on the prowl, using his
many methods in an attempt to have the shepherds fall, leaving the sheep unguarded.
We will take a brief look at some of the dangers those in
oversight are subject to by looking at the experience of leaders in the Scriptures. We
should always learn from experience and, if possible, from the experience of
others—it is far less expensive!
In the beginning of 1 Samuel 10, Saul is privately anointed by Samuel
to be the king of Israel. Later in that same chapter Samuel calls the people together to
publicly present Saul to the nation. After Samuel works his way through the tribes and
families, Saul is selected but when the time came for him to be set before the people
"he could not be found." (1 Sam. 10:21) How sad that after the Lord had
clearly marked him out that Saul would hide himself "among the stuff."
At first glance one might mistakenly see this as humility but, in
reality, its was fear—timidity. In a similar way, it is possible for one whom the
Holy Spirit has clearly marked out as an overseer (Acts 20:28)—and only the Holy
Spirit can do so—to hide himself among the stuff.
Could it be that many in oversight who are failing to do the work lack
conviction that the Lord has raised them up to do this important work? Such a lack of
conviction will surely lead to being fearful and ineffective. If one believes he has been
raised up for this valuable work then he should move forward with a holy boldness to act
When the apostle Paul was called to be an apostle there was no
hesitancy. He clearly identified himself as "an apostle by the will of God." He
clearly understood his calling to be the apostle to the Gentiles. Peter, likewise
understood his calling and identified himself as an elder. (1 Pet. 5:1). He in turn
exhorted other shepherds to "feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the
oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a
ready mind." (1 Pet. 5:2) He encouraged not hesitancy, but definite action.
David, the shepherd, when coming upon the battle scene and beholding
Goliath taunting God’s people, did not exhibit timidity. As a true shepherd he moved
forward, knowing the battle was the Lord’s.
It was Paul who exhorted Timothy to stir up his gift and reminded him
that "God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a
sound mind." (2 Tim. 1:7)
Now to have a definite conviction of one’s call to shepherd the
Lord’s people also requires humility. There is such a thing as holy boldness with
humility. The same Paul who clearly knew his unique calling also referred to himself as
the "chief of sinners," "the least of all the apostles," and
"less than the least of all saints."
Certainly one danger for those in oversight is timidity: timidity that
comes from a lack of a conviction that the Holy Spirit has raised them up to shepherd the
Amazingly, the same one who was hiding "among the stuff" when
he was to be introduced to the nation of Israel as its new king is later found exercising
the power of his position to the point of ignoring God’s Word. The prophet Samuel had
clearly conveyed the message of the Lord to Saul. "Now go and smite Amalek, and
utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman,
infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass." It could not be more clearly
When Saul failed to do as the Lord commanded, the prophet Samuel
reminds him, "When thou wast little in thine own sight, wast thou not made the head
of the tribes of Israel, and the LORD anointed thee king over Israel?" The one who
was taken from among the smallest of tribes and least of the families was now taking
things into his own hands and thereby rejecting the Word of the Lord.
Saul offered the explanation that the animals which were not killed
were kept in order to offer them to the Lord. Samuel responds with those words that have
rung down through the centuries, "Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings
and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than
sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams." (1 Sam. 15:22) The great lesson here
is that obedience to God’s Word is better than good intentions!
So while one danger is that of timidity, another danger is that of
power. The overseer can, perhaps with good intentions, take things into his own hands and
neglect the Word of the Chief Shepherd. He may even act as a lord over "God’s
heritage." Many have failed when placed into a position of leadership because they
could not control their power and authority. Sadly, down through the years many saints
have been "driven" rather than "led." May the assemblies be spared the
misuse of power by those who provide oversight.
Scripture clearly informs us that Diotrephes "loveth to have the
preeminence." (3 John 9) He left no room for others, even to the point of not
receiving the apostle John. It is often true in leadership that there is one who seeks to
have the chief seat among the brethren, even to the point of shutting out all others at
Paul addresses this competitive spirit in his epistle to the
Philippians. Apparently there was a spirit of competition among the saints there and Paul
writes, "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind
let each esteem other better than themselves." Paul also states that the saints were
not to concentrate on themselves. He writes, "Look not every man on his own things,
but every man also on the things of others." (Phil. 2:3–4)
It is in this context that Paul brings in the ultimate example of the
Lord Jesus. "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus." What was
the mind of the Lord Jesus? The One who was very God did not concentrate on Himself. He
was "others minded," and being so, He came from the heights of glory and took on
humanity and the form of a servant. He took the low place, even to the point of the cross,
with the good of others in view.
We see this clearly as we view Him in the upper room washing the feet
of His disciples. It was a ministry that needed to be done and, since none of the
disciples had the mind to do it, He did! How beautiful that mind and how much we need to
think upon it that it may in turn become ours.
We find in Scripture that overseeing the Lord’s sheep is to be
done by "servant leaders." The Lord Himself said He "came not to be
ministered unto, but to minister." May we entreat the Lord to provide those godly
overseers who lead by example and who serve in humility, not seeking the preeminence.
Too often men are recognized as elders because they are successful
leaders in the secular world. If this is the sole or primary reason for their recognition
it will most likely lead to failure in spiritual leadership. Success in the business world
is not a qualification for spiritual leadership. This is not to say that one who is
successful in worldly terms is not qualified to lead the assembly, but he must be
recognized only for his spiritual work in caring for the saints.
Success can lead to self confidence. It is after the victory that we
are most open to the adversary’s counter attack. Joshua and the children of Israel
are excellent examples of this truth. The Lord had instructed the children of Israel to
march around Jericho once a day for six days and then seven times on the seventh day. At
the completion of this march they were to shout at the sound of the trumpets. Having done
as the Lord commanded the mighty walls came crashing down. Victory had been gained.
The next obstacle to their occupying the land was the small city of Ai.
So small that Joshua felt no need to consult with the Lord concerning it, and with
confidence gained from their victory at Jericho Joshua decides to send only a few
to take the city of Ai.
The result is absolute failure. The men sent by Joshua are soundly
defeated and sent running like rabbits. Scripture foretold this result when it says,
"Pride goeth before destruction." (Prov. 16:18) Now there were several things
which lead to this failure. There was sin in the camp. There was the dividing of the
Lord’s people, with only a few felt to be necessary for the battle. There was
self–confidence and pride as a result of their victory at Jericho.
When it comes to assembly oversight, self-confidence and pride in
previous accomplishments, whether in the world or in the assembly, are the prescription
for failure. The apostle Paul warned of this when he wrote concerning those desiring the
oversight, "Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the
condemnation of the devil." Those in oversight were not to be novices—newly
planted trees which were not rooted by godly experience. Experience that manifests the
weakness of the flesh and the necessity of dependence upon God. Experience that causes one
to look away from success, ability, education, wealth, etc., and to depend solely upon the
No one likes to be disliked and thus acceptance by others can often
lead us to do things simply to please the people. Throughout Scripture we find those who
were driven by "the people." In 1 Samuel 15 we find Saul trying to justify his
disobedience and several times he speaks of "the people." "But Saul and the
people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep." (vs.9) "And Saul said, They
have brought them from the Amalekites: for the people spared the best of the
sheep…." (vs. 15) "But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen,
the chief of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice unto the
LORD thy God in Gilgal." (vs. 21)
We find a similar thing with Aaron. Moses had gone up to the mount and
when he did not return for sometime Aaron built the golden calf. Moses returns and asks,
"What did this people unto thee, that thou hast brought so great a sin upon
them?" Aaron replies, "Let not the anger of my lord wax hot: thou knowest the
people, that they are set on mischief. For they said unto me, Make us gods,
which shall go before us" (Ex. 32:19–23) Once again a leader is persuaded by the
sentiment of the people.
In contrast to this we read concerning Paul, "…do I seek to
please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ." (Gal.
1:10) Writing to the Thessalonians he says, "But as we were allowed of God to be put
in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which
trieth our hearts." Paul was not driven by acceptance by the people, but by obedience
to the Lord, which to him was of utmost importance.
Nowhere do we find that Christ was driven by man’s opinion and
desires, but rather He would say, "My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and
to finish his work." (John 4:34) May it be so with those who seek to shepherd His
sheep. May they seek to please the Chief Shepherd above all else. May the Lord provide the
needed grace to obey His Word and absorb the reproach of the people when their mind
is different from the mind of the Lord.
Often those in leadership are the objects of the people’s rage.
Moses is an excellent example. The nation of Israel had come to a point where there was no
water and so "they gathered themselves together against Moses and against
Aaron." "And the people chode with Moses, and spake, saying, Would God that we
had died when our brethren died before the LORD!" ( Num. 20:2–3) It is not
uncommon that when things are going well those in leadership are unappreciated, but when
hard times come the blame is immediately placed on those in leadership. So it was with
Moses and Aaron.
No doubt Moses and Aaron were frustrated as a result of the
people’s constant murmuring and they "went from the presence of the assembly
unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and they fell upon their faces."
The Lord instructed Moses to take the rod, and gather the people and to speak to the rock
before his eyes and it would provide the needed water for the people.
Moses did as instructed, except in frustration he struck the rock with
the rod. His frustration with the people was evident in his language. "Hear now, ye
rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?" (Num. 20:10) His frustration led
to anger and his anger to disobedience.
How different is the Lord Jesus. Many times His disciples were dull in
hearing and yet He continues to deal graciously with them—and with us! In one case,
after just feeding the five thousand, He desires to feed four thousand people and the
disciples ask, "Whence should we have so much bread in the wilderness, as to fill so
great a multitude?" (Matt. 15:33) We, like His disciples, are so dull at times and
yet He graciously leads us on.
May the Lord encourage the hearts of those in oversight, particularly
when they are dealing with a murmuring people. May they be enabled to be gracious in
situations which normally promote frustration.
There are many accounts in Scripture where leaders failed because their
relatives were involved. At the very beginning the adversary used Eve to bring about the
downfall of Adam. This was a difficult situation for Adam. The only one of his kind on
earth with whom he could communicate and enjoy a relationship had been deceived by Satan,
and now he must decide whether to follow her or to obey God. His choice may well exemplify
the magnitude of the influence which relatives can have on those in leadership.
Sarah, Rebecca, and Jezebel, and many other relatives recorded in
Scriptures had an influence on those in leadership. David and Absalom would be another
example. As is often the case, David could see no wrong in Absalom. He overlooked
Absalom’s slaying of Amnon and even after Absalom had rebelled and attempted to
overthrow him and become King of Israel, David still saw no wrong in him.
A great danger for leaders is to treat relatives differently than other
saints. The failures of their children or other relatives is swept under the carpet while
others are openly rebuked or disciplined for their failure. I had the privilege of being
brought up in a godly home and in an assembly where men of God taught and practiced the
Word of God. I still recall the day that a letter of discipline was read to the assembly.
I recall it because the brother who read the letter was the father of the individual being
disciplined. There was no favoritism shown and I have admired the brother for his
faithfulness in that situation ever since.
Those in assembly oversight must also be careful what information they
share with loved ones. Most information known to those in leadership should be kept
confidential. Often the failure to do so has brought relatives into the situation. This
can be disastrous!
May the Lord enable those in oversight to be faithful to His will and
keep them from the influence of relatives that so easily brings failure in leadership.
These are but a few of the dangers which those in assembly oversight
face. May we pray for them often and ask the Lord to keep them from falling as they serve
Him and care for His sheep. May those in oversight be aware of such dangers and seek to
serve the Chief Shepherd faithfully, avoiding the pitfalls of timidity, power,
preeminence, self-confidence, popularity, frustration, relatives, and the many other
dangers that the adversary may place in their path.