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Personalities & Presbyterian Polity

“A pastor should blend in with the furniture.” This is a favorite quote of mine by Lutheran pastor, Rev. Hans Fiene, concerning pastoral ministry. It is a crass way of stating that those who serve as elders and pastors within the church are not called to draw attention to themselves, but rather draw attention to Christ through the ordinary means of grace. This idea flies in the face of business and entertainment oriented, pragmatic ministry in which the pastor and leaders become personalities to be followed and attached to. No little warning should be necessary to the problems with this type of ministry. We have unfortunately witnessed within the past few years, the falling of pastors who overtime became personalities, with personality cults built around them – whether it was done purposely or organically. In our text this morning, the Apostle Paul inadvertently argues against personality driven ministry, as he sees that elders and leaders are to be respected “because of their work” (1 Thessalonians 5:13).

It is the work of shepherding and teaching that church elders are called to. And that work is a difficult work. Whether laboring over a text to speak correctly concerning God and His word or visiting someone while ill or at the death of a loved one, the work being done is hard. And it is for this reason that Paul states that elders are called to be respected and esteemed. Now, there is nothing wrong with liking an elder’s personality. There is nothing inherently wrong with an elder having charisma or being likeable. Maybe you like Wade’s quick wit or Walt’s ironic puns and jokes, but these are not the reasons they have been called as elders. They have been called to the work of congregational oversight and admonishment.

Some say that you become presbyterian for the paedobaptism, but you remain presbyterian for the polity. Whether a joke or not, there is something to be commended in presbyterian government. For one, we believe that Presbyterianism is biblical. But practically, Presbyterianism is a great defense against personality driven ministry. Granted, due to the sinfulness of our hearts, even we are capable of exalting personality over polity. Due to the necessity of a plurality of elders, it helps negate the ability of one minister “running the show.” Also, the leveling of elders (both ruling and teaching) does not pit elders against one another. Though Chris serves as our teaching elder, with his main responsibility being that of “working hard at preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17), he does not have more authority within the session than any other elder. I would also mention that the examination of officers assists in reminding the officer himself that he has been ordained to a specific work. I have seen the ordination process of some non-confessional churches, and it has the temptation to be about the person’s likeability and “fit” within the culture of the particular church. The examination and ordination process within confessional churches of is a great reminder to the men that they fall in a great line of officers who have already done the work of ministry.

Currently, as an aspect of presbyterian polity, we as a church are in a season of vetting men to be added to the session or diaconate to serve the church. The church’s responsibility was to nominate men who they’ve seen already doing the work of an elder or deacon. Our nomination and officer training are not popularity contests. Rather, they are serious, thoughtful moments in the life of our church. Therefore, may we pray earnestly as a church for these men and their training. Let us pray that they would be granted wisdom as they decide whether they would like to take on the responsibility and task of serving as office bearers. And may we as a church be willing to accept their service, admonishment, and shepherding. May we see them, not simply as men that we like, but as men respected because of the work they have already been doing and will continue to do in God’s church.

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