[This is a brief small group/Bible class series that parallels the sermons of Dean Barham at Woodmont Hills Family of God in Nashville, TN, for the month of July 2009. You may listen to Dean's lessons here.]
1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9
What do you want to be when you grow up? Or, perhaps a better question, who do you want to be when you grow up?
Shepherds—elders or bishops—are the sorts of people who mirror the shepherd life of God and Jesus. They are the sorts of people we want to be when we “grow up.” Shepherds model a particular way of living and they apprentice others in that life. They embody the life which God wants to nurture in all of us.
The significance of their role within the faith community is highlighted by Paul’s saying “Here is a trustworthy saying.” This phrase occurs elsewhere in 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus to emphasize a point (1 Timothy1:15; 4:9-10; 2 Timothy 2:11; Titus 3:8). In other words, it is important for the church to have elders/bishops. Mature leadership is necessary for a healthy church. Elders should understand that the task they take up is an honorable and praiseworthy one which is worthy of the total sacrifice of their lives and the congregation should honor and respect those who willingly serve in such a capacity.
Surveying the character traits present in our biblical texts, we might say that whoever wants to be an elder or bishop (overseer) must have a blameless character, model family life, spiritually mature in knowing, living and telling the gospel story, and a good reputation in the community.
Every congregation hopes and needs mature leadership. The “help wanted” sign for such is perpetually posted on the doors of churches. But what kind of people are they. Perhaps these questions might help put flesh on the bare bones that Paul suggests to Timothy and Titus.
- Who would you select as your own personal mentor in developing your personal piety and spiritual disciplines?
- Who would you like to mentor you in your marriage and advise you in raising your children?
- Who would you choose to deepen your understanding of the gospel?
- Who would you ask to represent your congregation in a public hearing?
- Who would you want to apprentice you in the life of Jesus?
With each of those questions comes a follow up question: Why? What attracts you to that person, what do you see in them that you want for your own life, and what qualities do you see that are important for how you envision Christian discipleship? How do those qualities mesh with or reflect what Paul is describing to Timothy and Titus?
I suppose that if I were to offer one question which would strike at the essence of how important it is to select godly elders and whom I might select, I would perhaps focus it in this question:
Who would I want to raise my children?
To whomever I would entrust my children, I think I would also entrust the children of God to them.
Prayer: God, we ask that you give us the wisdom to nominate and select those whom you want to care for your children at Woodmont Hills. Lead us to those people and ignite their hearts for service to your people. Amen.
Questions for Discussion:
- Looking at the biblical texts, identify which items fall into the broad categories given in the lesson above: character, family, maturity, gospel-telling, and community reputation. Why are these important?
- Of the questions suggested in the lesson, which one is most significant to you in nominating a shepherd and relating to shepherds? Why?
- In your past and present experience, name a person whom you believe has exhibited the kind of character that these texts describe.