The one non-negotiable to becoming a successful church

Photo by Josh Appel on UnsplashThe key

Author John Dickson tells the following story in his book Humilitas:  there were four people traveling on a small airplane when its engines lost power.  The plane started diving to the ground at an alarming speed.  The pilot turned to other three, with a dire look on his face, “There are four of us but only three parachutes.  It’s my plane, my parachutes, and I am taking one.”  The others agreed.  The pilot strapped on the chute, and jumped to safety.  Left on the plane were a brilliant professor (a rocket scientist no less), an elderly pastor, and a backpacker.  After watching the pilot jump, the scientist spoke right up saying ,“I am one of the greatest minds in the country, I must survive.  I will take the next parachute.”  The others agreed.  The scientist prepared himself and launched out.

The elderly pastor spoke next.  He looked at the younger backpacker and said, “I’ve lived a long life.  I do not fear death.  You take the last chute.”  She stopped the pastor right there and said, “No! It’s fine!  The professor just jumped out with my backpack strapped on!”

Do you know anyone like that professor, thinking they are so awesome, so important?

For the past few months, Faith Church has been studying the biblical letter 1st Peter, and in this post we come to the final verses.  1 Peter 5:1-11.  There are few verses after that, but we covered those when we did an overview of the book at the beginning.  In this section Peter has something to say to the professor in the story, and as we’ll find, what Peter says is for all of us as well.

As we see in Verse 1, Peter begins by addressing the elders in the church.

If you could go back in time to Peter’s day and ask a first century kid playing on the road outside Peter’s house, “What does this word ‘elder’ mean?”, they would say, “old person”.

But Peter is speaking about the leaders of the church.  And because, generally-speaking, older people have the experience and maturity of walking with Christ for many years, they are often candidates to be leaders in the church.  It doesn’t automatically exclude younger people from leadership.  There certainly can be younger people who are mature in Christ and could serve well as leaders.  And Peter did not mean to automatically include all older people. There are some older people who are spiritually immature and should not be leaders.  But because of the general principle that older people are mature, Peter used the word “elder” when talking about this role of leader.  “Elder” became synonymous with church leadership. At Faith Church we use the word “leader” but it is the same concept as the elders that Peter was talking about.  Those who are spiritually mature and leading the church.

Peter expands this idea further in verse 2 when he says, “watching over.”  If you could go back to that road outside Peter’s house, and ask a kid what “watching over” means, they would say “a caretaker”. Peter is once again referring to the leaders of the church.  He is saying that elders are caretakers of the church.  Now that we know who Peter is writing to, before we go further, Peter comments about himself.

He says in verse 1 that he is a witness of Christ’s sufferings.  Peter was there for all three years of Christ’s ministry.  Peter was a first-person witness of Jesus’ life and ministry.  Thus Peter is reestablishing his credentials for his friends.  He has some really important things to tell them, and he wants them to trust in what he has to say.  Also take note of what he doesn’t say here.  He could have called himself “Apostle”, like he did at the beginning of the letter.  But he doesn’t this time.  He put himself on the same level as them, elder.  What does that tell you about Peter?  He is different from the professor in the airplane story.  And he wants these leaders to be different too.

Having established his credentials and audience, look at verses 2-3.  He is going to teach them the attitude and actions behind how elders should lead.  If you just thought, “Oh, so this teaching is for the elders, the leaders?  Then this isn’t for me,” I ask you to still stay with me.  Why?  Because you might be a leader someday.  You might want to be a leader.  Some people say that it is arrogant to want to be a leader, that you shouldn’t want to be a leader.  Well, look at 1 Timothy 3:1, where Paul says, “if anyone sets his heart on being a leader, he desires a noble task.”  That means it is okay to desire to be a leader.  It is a noble task!  Furthermore Peter is going to share principles that apply to all people in a church family.

So let’s listen in to what Peter says.

First, elders, be shepherds.  We don’t have shepherds in our culture like they did.  It was an actual job then, and we hear about it in the Bible. These were people who walked around vast meadows caring for sheep.

Thus Peter calls the people of the church, “the flock under your care”.  This is why in church lingo, we often hear about a church called a flock.  It sounds weird to the modern American ear, and we don’t have to use that terminology.  But it gives leaders a picture of their role. Leaders, care for the people in your church family. 

Here me on this.  It is not the pastor’s job to do all the caring.  But it is the job of all the leaders, Peter says.  Sure the pastor is a leader too, and should care.  But it is a group role.

One author I agree with said that 85% of care in a church should be administered by people other than the pastor.  Depending on the size of the church, maybe the pastor or pastoral staff can handle 12-13%.  The remaining 2-3% represents the situations that require professional counseling.  Leaders, we need to be caring teams.

Peter has more to say to leaders.  There is a wrong attitude that Leaders must not have.  As he continues, look at what he says not to do:

  • Lead or serve, not because you must (though sometimes you must)
  • Do not be greedy
  • And do not lord it over those entrusted to you. 

In contrast, Peter says, leaders should have the right attitude: willingness, eagerness to serve, and to be an example.  Leaders reading this post, evaluate yourselves using Peter’s principles.  How are you serving?  What is your motivation?

Because a day is coming, Peter says in verse 4: the Chief Shepherd will appear!  In verse 2 Peter said that leaders are shepherds.  Now he tells the whole story.  Leaders are actually under-shepherds.  Leaders in the church, including the pastors, are not the actual top leaders.  They are followers of the Chief Shepherd!

And so leaders in the church, Peter tells us that we should learn from Jesus how to lead.  We do things his way.  We are not in it for prestige or power or money.  Instead we are eager and willing to serve, to do the dirty work, to give ourselves for those we lead.  You know what that means? Humility.  Leaders must be humble.

I once had a pastor of another church tell me about the top leader in his church.  That leader was a wonderful example of what Peter is describing here.  That pastor said that leader was willing to clean up vomit and dirty diapers in the nursery.  That leader had a heart to serve.

And what is the result of that kind of leadership, Peter mentions?  Look at verse 4.  Those leaders receive a crown of glory that would never fade.  I suspect Peter is primarily speaking metaphorically here about the concept of honor.  In his day there was a famous Olympics kind of event called the Isthmian Games, and the winners would receive a flimsy crown of parsley leaves.  For leaders who follow the Great Shepherd well, who serve well, there will be honor that will never fade.  

But it is not just leaders that Peter wants to talk to.  In verses 5-7 there are a couple more groups of people.  First young men, and Peter here almost certainly meant all people of the church, men and women, who are not elders or leaders.

He says one thing to you: be submissive to those who are older.  Submissive?!?!  Not a word we like.  But there it is.  It carries the idea of obedience.  It is God’s will that the church will submit to and obey the leaders.  That takes humility. Are you seeing a theme yet?

The next group Peter talks to is in the second half of verse 5.  “All of you.”  The young, the old, the men, the women.  Leaders, non-leaders. Everyone!

He says, “Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another.”  There’s that word again.  Humility is all over this passage.  Humility is clearly one of the most important traits that Christians should be known for.  When people think of you, do they think, “That person is humble”?  Peter is using a word image here.  This word, scholars tell us, “refers to a servant putting on an apron before serving.”  We are to see ourselves that way, serving one another.  Show humility to one another, Peter is saying.

And he has a Bible verse to emphasize his point: Prov 3:34: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

I saw this clearly when our Faith Church and The Door Christian Fellowship came together at 2124 Old Philadelphia Pike.  It required humility on both churches.  Both had to sacrifice and make changes.  Rod Glick, from The Door is going to share how it was from the perspective of The Door.

Rod: Humility & The Door

How many of you have taken a vacation where you stay with relatives or friends you know in the area?  /How many have hosted a family like this?

Well, we are not on vacation, but this is the arrangement the Lord has provided for both of our churches.  Understanding this, we humbly posture ourselves with gratitude.

We “The Door Christian Fellowship” are guests in the house of Faith EC Church.  

While we have been invited to call this facility our home as well, we understand that for this arrangement to work we must honor and respect not just the facility but also each of you.  

Humility has its root in the Latin word “Humilis” meaning “low”.  Not low self-esteem, but a willingness to put another before yourself.  Like the bow and gesture, “you first,” with the sweep of your hand.) 

This is also known as  “Love”.

To know that all of our actions, expressions, body language, attitude, etc.… will be seen and known by you, and yours by us, requires a posture of daily humility (Love) by all of us toward each other.

We have experienced this and are so blessed to walk with you (Faith Church) in this way. 

And Faith Church has been so blessed to walk with The Door these past two years as well.  We had rented to other congregations before, and each time it required some flexibility, but frankly, only a minute amount.  Welcoming The Door meant a more substantial arrangement.  I continue to be so thankful for how Faith Church approached things like moving rooms around, which had the wonderful byproduct of getting rid of piled up junk.  And both churches changed our worship service time by 30 minutes.  We have been sharing space, which has meant that sometimes groups from each church have requested to use the same space at the same day and time, and have had to be flexible.  And you have handled it with great humility.

Now Peter is on a roll.  He has clearly shown us his theme.  Humility.  And he keeps going into verse 6 with it, where he says, “Humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand.”  Christians are people who lead with humility, who practice humility with one another, and of course in our most foundational relationship with God, we humble ourselves before him.

Humility is scary because some of us have been mistreated.  When we humble ourselves before people we are putting ourselves in a place of vulnerability with them.  It is a trusting place, and they can betray that trust.  When you have trusted someone, when you have been humble, and yet you have been mistreated, it hurts so badly.  Maybe you told them something deep and personal, and they didn’t keep it confidential.  Maybe you loaned some money, and they didn’t pay it back.  Maybe you employed them, and they were undermining you. Maybe you married them, and they were unfaithful to you.  When you have been scarred, it can be hard to place yourself humbly in God’s hands.  You wonder, Will God care for me?

And furthermore, humility is a clear indication of saying, “God I need you.  Help.  I don’t have what it takes.” And doesn’t that cut against our sense of individualism and pride?  But Peter is right.  We must humble ourselves before God, because he is the only true power and strength.  And Peter says that in due time, he will lift us up. We are far too quick to try to lift ourselves up.

Want an example of how to humble yourself before God?  Peter gives it in verse 7.  Prayer and surrender: “Cast your anxiety on him.”  The image here is of a heavy burden that we throw onto God.  Too often, when we are anxious, we want to take matters into our own hands. But instead we give it over to God, because he cares.  That is good news!  We have a God who cares for us.

I’m glad he mentions anxiety because that is a hard area for me.  I will be honest and say that earlier this week I had one really bad night with anxiety.  Woke up a 2am to use the bathroom, and my anxious thoughts started going wild.  It was about school, it was about house stuff, financial stuff, family, on and on it goes.  I can struggle to cast my anxiety on God.

I know many of you have the same issue with anxious thoughts, because you have told me.  It is hard to cast all our anxiety on him.  But we can, Peter says.  It might take practice, might take failing, but we can be humble and learn to surrender to our Lord.  Because he cares, his hand is mighty, he will lift us up.  I urge you to put in the work to learn to cast your anxiety on him.  See a therapist if need be.  Anxious thoughts, left unchecked, feel like they have a power of their own and are controlling us.  Maybe you have been there.  Peter says we can learn to throw our troubles onto God because he cares for us.

But there is a caution in this.  People who are throwing their cares on God can grow apathetic, lethargic, as if we can’t do anything. Peter’s very next words are a corrective to that possible distortion. Look at verses 8-9.  We need to be self-controlled and alert.

This is another example of humility, and with a special focus on the spiritual realm.  Humility is being self-controlled and alert because Satan is powerful.  He is no joke. Satan is an enemy, he is active, he prowls looking to devour.

No doubt, we need to have a balanced view of spiritual things.  We can call too many things an “attack from Satan” when actually it was a life situation, or the consequences of our bad choices.  That can be dangerous.  If we are making a bad choice, a sinful choice, giving in to a bad habit, and we face consequences, then it is not a spiritual attack.  If we call it a spiritual attack, we can be avoiding taking responsibility.

In the summer between my junior and senior year of college, I did a 13 week missionary internship in Guyana, South America.  There Hinduism is a major religion, and there were temples all over the place.  The missionaries told me of a mission team from an American church that had come to Guyana to work with them a few years prior.  It was a week-long work and ministry trip.  At one point the team had been walking through the same village where I was now working.  An adult was watching people go to the Hindu temple for a worship service, and he started getting really upset.  He said he was mad that Satan was deceiving all these people with false religion.  But you know what?  That guy, in his heart and mind, went from angry to aggressive.  In fact, he got arrogant, thinking he could do something about it, and suddenly right there on the street he got knocked flat to the ground.  In his arrogance, he had opened himself up to spiritual oppression and it affected his physically.

So what does Peter mean in verse 9 when he says resist the devil?  Wasn’t that man resisting the devil? No.  What does Peter mean?  Peter says, stand firm in the faith (v. 9).  He says be self-controlled and alert (8).  Peter says be humble (6).  Because God is the true power. And he will lift you up.

Rod again is going to talk further about this.

Humility is the polar opposite of Pride.

Pride is the main source of Anxiety because we take our circumstances into our own hands instead of humbling ourselves under the mighty hand of God.  We don’t believe that he will care for us.

Three forces come against Humility:

  • Our flesh – Pride self-will that set’s its course and sites on things other than God. God’s answer to this is always: Crucify it.  Bring it to the Cross and say with Jesus, Not my will by yours.
  • Our Mind/Be Sober Minded – Thoughts and feelings that bring anxiety.  Bring them into alignment with God’s word.  Isaiah 26:3-4 “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you,          because he trusts in you.” 2 Cor. 10:5  (Paraphrased) “Demolish an argument by taking your thoughts captive.”   Is this thought defending my pride and flesh, or is this thought one of humble love that will build up the body?  God’s answer: Submit your Mind to Christ
  • Satan and his demons – We know that Lions prey on the weak and isolated.  This is Satan’s way as well.  He wants to weaken you by temping your flesh and mind to dwell on God’s creation rather than Him, your creator.  In doing this you become isolated and vulnerable. God’s Answer – Resist and stand firm in your faith and in the safety of your church family.

And what will happen if we stand firm in our faith?  In verses 10-11 Peter gives God’s amazing promise! Our God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered, he will: restore you, make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be power, Peter says in verse 11, because he is the true power!

Do you see the thread in this passage?  Humility

  • Elders lead with humility as under-shepherds who are led by the Great shepherd
  • Young people be submissive
  • All be humble to one another
  • All be humble before God

How do we clothe ourselves with humility toward one another?

Learn to grow your humility muscles. Two ways:

First, do some assessment: Years ago a person was telling me about how they were getting into conflicts with people at work, including their boss.  And this was happening at multiple jobs they had.  Things would start off great, then eventually they would have big problems and have to leave that job. They were so frustrated.  And I asked, “Why do you think this is happening?”  And they said, “Well, my coworkers and bosses don’t handle me well.”  And I wondered if they meant they were being mistreated somehow.  They admitted that they speak their mind to their coworkers and bosses, confrontationally, and they leads to conflict.  I thought, OK, they’re getting to the root of the problem.  What they said next kinda shocked me.  This person said, “But that’s me, and they need to deal with it.”

Have you ever said that?  “Well, that is just how I am.”  As if there is no changing. That’s not the attitude of a follower of Jesus.  That’s not humility.  Followers of Jesus should be the first to confess and repent and strive to change. Get an accountability partner, someone who will speak truth to you, maybe a Therapist.  Seek to change and grow to become more and more like Jesus.

Second, put yourself in places or with people that are new to you and even make you uncomfortable: read new things, eat new food, listen to new viewpoints, experience new places, especially places where you don’t know the language, or where you are the ethnic minority.

We can grow humility in our lives!  We must, because humility is vital for a church family.

Published by joelkime

I love my wife, Michelle, and our four kids and two daughters-in-law. I serve at Faith Church and love our church family. I teach a course online from time to time, and in my free time I love to read and exercise, especially running,

3 thoughts on “The one non-negotiable to becoming a successful church

  1. I agree with you. It’s important to know about the qualities and qualifications for leaders, even if you are not a leader. That allows you to determine if the leaders over you are biblically sound and can prevent you from following someone that shouldn’t be a leader.

    1. Great points! Thanks. It’s sometimes a tricky balance between trusting leaders and evaluating them. If a church has a biblical leadership selection process in place, then you can start from a place of trust. Sure, an unqualified leader might still sometimes slip through the cracks in the selection process, but that would most likely be rare. And even in that case, the church should have a leadership accountability procedure, including term limits, so leadership turnover is built in.

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