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Leadership: Passing the Torch

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Leadership: Passing the Torch


“Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also. Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” 2 Timothy 2:1-3

What should you expect from leaders? What mold of men is needed to lead the Lord’s Church? As we approach our elder election this Lord’s Day, these questions ought to inform our thoughts. The Apostle Paul writes to Timothy in this last recorded epistle: Train men who will train souls in the art of spiritual warfare. Paul charges his young protégé to “be strong…endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:3). Whatever Timothy has heard from Paul, he is to entrust to “faithful men.” What will these men do? They will “be able to teach others also.” What should you expect and seek from spiritual leaders? That they will equip the saints for spiritual battle. How will they do this? They will teach others. What will they teach? They will pass on what they have been taught. Training of leaders ought to reproduce itself: leaders disciple the saints, who in turn disciple others. And thus, the Kingdom grows.

So then, what are leaders to do? They are to train souls in the art of spiritual warfare. In the Church, elders commit to equipping the flock against Satan’s schemes. Our adversary roams about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. He seeks to snuff the spiritual life of saints by quenching their zeal, dousing their assurance, and crippling their holiness. Elders train saints to resist the devil, that he might flee (James 4:7). They work with souls to build an unyielding defense, and an attacking offense. (Joel Beeke’s work Fighting Satan: Knowing His Weaknesses, Strategies, and Defeat is a concise and penetrating primer on the Puritan view of spiritual warfare.) So then, what is the elder’s job description? Elders train the saints for spiritual war by passing the torch of truth.

Elders teach by their walk. How do they live? Paul says to Timothy “thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life” 2 Timothy 3:10. They are to be “faithful men.” They are always teaching by their example. They set the spiritual pace. This principle holds for any position of leadership in life: those leading the way set the pace. You know where leaders will be, and where they will not be. You know how they will speak, what language they will use and not use. By their walk, elders attract people to the light of holiness. They carry the atmosphere of heaven; they escort the Bride to greater heights of purity and love. Leaders of the church walk down the old paths and persuade others to follow. They love the ordinary means of grace. Elders know that people look to them as the standard bearers. Zion’s watchmen pass the torch of truth by setting a living example of vital godliness.

Elders teach by their doctrine. Remember Paul’s words: “the things thou hast heard of me…commit thou to faithful men.” Elders will “hold fast the form of sound words” (2 Timothy 1:13). They have been taught by the Spirit, and drink deep drafts from the Word. Whatever truth they have heard, they pass it on. This is why in the Presbyterian Church in America, we commit to extensive theological discussion before a man is elected to an office. What should Presbyterian officers believe? What should members expect? Members should expect that officers hold to the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. Why? Because these historic documents accurately teach what the Bible says on a whole range of topics. Presbyterian leaders teach by their doctrine. The Westminster Standards are our missionary documents. Holding aloft these standards, we train and equip saints in the art of spiritual battle and Gospel advance.

Lastly, elders teach by their practice. These men are to be “able to teach others.” How do they do this in practice? Elders practice mentoring. They actively disciple others. They learn the convictions and lifestyle of their people. They are willing to ask questions, listen to answers, and see where their people need to go. Leaders learn of the struggles people face, and equip them to persevere with patience. They teach people how to read the Bible, conduct family worship, maintain personal prayer times, manage schedules, balance work and family, resolve conflict, and sort through difficult questions. When disagreed with, leaders do not take resistance personally, they just continue to patiently teach the difference between true and false, right and wrong. They pursue and pastor their people by phone calls, house visits, lunches, emails, and hospitality. Thus, they teach by their practice of shepherding.

As Presbyterians, we follow a process when electing new officers. Having opened the leadership study to all in the church last January, the session saw that a potential leader emerged, and called for nominations to the office of elder. You as a congregation nominated Mr. Sanderson to the office of elder. He has gone through the required written and oral examination by the current elders. It now remains for the congregation to vote on this possible addition to the session. The session discerns and examines potential officers; the congregation actually decides who will serve. The session voted to recommend Mr. Sanderson as a qualified candidate for elder; now, you as a congregation will pray and vote on that recommendation as you are led by the Spirit. Members are encouraged to come this Lord’s Day to vote. If you are not a member, you are certainly welcome to stay afterward for the meeting, but do not feel pressured.

Elders know they face a daunting task. The responsibilities are great, and much is at stake. We know that we are incapable in our own strength, so we pray for the anointing of the Spirit to equip us for the task. For those of you who will be voting this Lord’s Day, pray that your current elders would be men committed to training saints in the art of spiritual warfare. Pray that we would faithfully pass the torch. Pray that we would teach by setting an example of deep toned piety and godliness. Pray that we would commit to teaching the truth as it is in Jesus. Pray that we would commit to mentoring and discipleship. And pray that any new addition to the session would commit to the same!

Yours in Christ,