There was a guy who used to live across from us in a little apartment and below his place lived a couple of skunks. I don’t know why, but during a very short period of time, he got sprayed…like a lot. Not directly. The spraying was done under his place but the stench rose…to his nose and his clothes…and pretty much everything else in his apartment. And Bonita went over with a couple of scented candles one day to try and help him out and as she was giving them to him she took a step backwards and said, ‘Jim, you stink’. He lived in close proximity to the spraying skunks…so he got their stink on him.
The ninth mark of a church moving towards health is biblical church leadership and I want to focus in on elders…the spiritual leaders of the church. They are the ones who lead, feed, and shepherd the congregation. All the qualifications are laid out for us in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 but I want to hone in on a couple: hospitality and teaching. Hospitality today and teaching on Friday.
In the early years of ministry I picked up a book called They Smell Like Sheep and looking back I didn’t get the thrust of the book. In my ignorance, arrogance, and immaturity the title grabbed me because I thought it was a put down toward the sheep. Real sheep act dumb and the flock of God can act like sheep…a lot…they (the sheep) smell like sheep…but that’s not what the title meant…my bad. The ‘they’ in the title of the book was a reference to pastors and elders. They are the ones who should smell like sheep. Elders should have the fragrance of the flock on them because they have fellowshipped and wept and prayed with and celebrated with the sheep. Elders should smell like sheep.
There’s an all telling verse in 1 Thessalonians.
 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. (1 Thessalonians 2:8 ESV)
Paul and the gang were focused on the gospel and that’s good, that’s right, that’s foundational…it better be on the gospel! But that wasn’t all they shared…they shared their very lives. And good elders do that today as well. The power of the gospel produces elders. Self-centred men become God-dependant shepherds. Hospitality is one of those qualifiers laid out in 1 Timothy 3 and that’s one of the ways that shepherds hang with the sheep. Elders need to be with the flock in the home and in coffee shops and over pizza. Some elders will be better at this than others. Some are more extroverted. Some were raised in homes that were more open door policy. In the home I grew up in, it was very closed door but my wife-to-be’s household was ‘no invite needed’. The door on a Sunday afternoon was always banging from people going in and out…and they’d wake me up from my nap! The nerve! By the grace of God I have so shifted gears.
Too many church models have been dressed up in business clothing. Elders are often seen as managers and CEO’s. Are there managerial aspects to eldering? Absolutely! But just because a dude is a manager in the workplace does not mean he’s a shepherd. He may be, but he may not be. There should be a shepherd’s heart towards the sheep. Sometimes leaders are more concerned with a well-oiled machine than a well-watered garden. Well-watered gardens take tending…they take time…they take teaching…they take correction and prayer and listening. Sometimes elders don’t want to hang with the sheep so they chase a little white ball all over a well-manicured green or they plop down in front of the big screen or they get ripped by countless hours at the gym or focus their attention elsewhere. These can be distractions. Is there anything wrong with them in moderation? No. But where is their heart? Their hearts should be towards the good of the sheep and the glory of God.
I think too many guys get into eldering that are so in the deep end with their water wings on. Someone has roped them into the role or they think they got the stuff that elders are made of because they are successful at leading in the workplace. Many times the sheep forget the time you rocked the pulpit, not that that’s unimportant. Preaching the Word is foundational (2 Timothy 4:2) but many times they remember the little things. When you enjoyed coffee together as you watched their son play little league….when you prayed and wept with them when their son-in-law committed suicide….when you sat around the campfire and had marshmallows and theology…when you were at their open house for their fiftieth. True elders share their lives. True elders smell like sheep.