Yesterday I started working on a definition of the church. After working through a popular passage that’s gained a popular understanding as being about fellowship, we came to the following partial definition:
A church is a community of disciples who practice church discipline, guided by the teaching of Scripture, under the authority of Jesus Christ.
Because it’s incomplete, let’s take a look at another couple aspects that will flesh out this definition:
Leadership and Preaching.
Leadership is not popular—and yet a lot of people kind of want to be one. A great many of us (including yours truly) have authority issues… unless we’re the folks in authority. There are also other folks who simply refuse to submit to any authority whatsoever; who want a “flat” church where ever opinion is equally valid and valuable and no one can really hold you accountable for any sin.
But did you know God really likes leaders? He likes authority in His Church, shepherding His people into holiness.
And He gave them to us as a gift.
Check out Ephesians 4:11-14:And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
Here Paul writes that God gave us apostles who are church planters and missionaries. Prophets and evangelists who call us to repentance, preach the Gospel and make disciples. Shepherd-teachers (elders/pastors) who teach us the Word of God.
He gave us all of these for a reason: To equip us to do ministry and to lead us to lives of holiness.
Not only does God, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, tell us what their function, but also their character. The Apostle Paul writes:
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil (1 Tim 3:1-7).
In Titus 1:5-9, he says:
This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
Here’s the short version: An elder must be a mature Christian. While he most certainly will not be a perfect man, because even the best men are still prone to sin, he will exemplify the process of sanctification (growing in holiness). His reputation will be sound, he will not be prone to any addiction that might compromise him. If he’s married, he’ll be a good husband and father who takes care of business at home first—because if he can’t take care of his home, he most certainly is in no position to care for God’s family. And he must be able to teach.
Does being able to teach mean you must also be able to preach?
Not always. Here’s a simple way to look at it, as I understand it at present: All preachers are teachers, but not all teachers are preachers. What an elder must do is confidently, clearly and correctly handle God’s Word so that the men and women of the church are shepherded well and grow in their knowledge of and love for Christ. This might mean they’re really great at one-on-one discipleship, but less comfortable in other settings. They might be terrific in a small group, but not gifted at preaching to a larger audience. It’s entirely dependent on the gifts God has given them.
So if that’s the case, what makes a great preacher? Ultimately, a great preacher is one who is entirely dependent on God’s Word. It doesn’t matter if he’s preaching to a church of 30 or 30,000—if he’s faithful to what the Scriptures teach, communicates it well and unapologetically. He studies the Word, prays for God’s guidance, and he tells the truth.
In the end, that’s what makes a great preacher.
So why does all this matter? What’s our responsibility to the leaders that God has placed over us—those people He has given us as a gift?
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you (Heb 13:17).
Our responsibility is obedience to godly men who seek our good. Who are keeping watch over our souls, so that we may not fall into error, but be presented holy before God. Our responsibility is to make their appointed task a joy and not a burden. Our leaders love us. They tell us the things we don’t want to hear because it’s good for us. They tell us the truth because they love us deeply. I’m not saying blindly follow and never question, but should we not love our godly leaders by responding in joyful obedience?
So then, a church is not simply a community of disciples who practice church discipline, guided by the teaching of Scripture, under the authority of Jesus Christ.
It is a community of disciples led by biblically qualified men who preach and teach God’s Word, who practice church discipline as guided by the teaching of Scripture, under the authority of Jesus Christ.
Tomorrow, three final elements to help complete a definition of the church: Prayer, the sacraments, and the exercising of spiritual gifts.