This Sunday, we are ordaining four new elders here at GCR Church. These four, plus the seven current shepherds, will be charged by the congregation to shepherd us in the name and manner of Jesus. And the church family will pledge to obey and submit to their leadership so their work will be a joy, not a burden.
Obey and submit?
Well, yeah, that’s what it says in Hebrews 13:17.
Obey and submit? Do we really want to use those words anymore? It makes it sound like the elders are ruling us with some kind of authority. What kind of authority do the elders have over us?
The only kind of authority that matters in God’s Church. The only kind of authority that exists in the Kingdom of God. The genuine authority of sacrifice and service. The authority of a life lived not to be served, but to serve.
In the spirit of the upcoming ordination service at GCR; to all church elders past, present, and future; and for all churches that occasionally select elders, I submit this passage from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together (1938):
Jesus made authority in the fellowship dependent upon brotherly service. Genuine spiritual authority is to be found only where the ministry of hearing, helping, bearing, and proclaiming is carried out. The desire we so often hear expressed today for “authoritative personalities” springs frequently from a spiritually sick need for the admiration of men, for the establishment of visible human authority, because the genuine authority of service appears to be so unimpressive.
The bishop is the simple, faithful man, sound in faith and life, who rightly discharges his duties to the church. His authority lies in the exercise of his ministry. In the man himself, there is nothing to admire.
Genuine authority recognizes that it can exist only in the service of Him who alone has authority. Genuine authority knows that it is bound in the strictest sense by the saying of Jesus: “You have only one Master and you are all brothers” (Matthew 23:8). The Church does not need brilliant personalities, but faithful servants of Jesus and the brethren. Not in the former, but in the latter, is the lack. The Church will place its confidence only in the simple servant of the Word of Jesus Christ because it knows that then it will be guided, not according to human wisdom and human conceit, but by the Word of the Good Shepherd.
Genuine authority is determined by the faithfulness with which a man serves Jesus Christ, never by the extraordinary talents which he possesses. Pastoral authority can be attained only by the servant of Jesus who seeks no power of his own, who himself is a brother among brothers, submitted to the authority of the Word.”