Each time a congregation votes in a new member, the church is demonstrating what they believe about the gospel and what it means to be a Christian. Similarly, when a church votes in a new pastor, the church is testifying to what they believe about ministry and what it means to be a shepherd of God’s flock. Just like in the case of voting in a new member, voting in a new pastor presents a unique opportunity for teaching and instruction.
A useful means of instructing the congregation on the office of pastor is to hold an installation service, or to have a set apart time within the service, to publicly recognize the appointment of a new elder(s). An installation service or segment of a service has many benefits including “clarify[ing] and underscor[ing] the responsibility the pastor has toward the church and the responsibility the church has toward the pastor.” Such a service provides a formal setting for thanking God for the gift of godly shepherds, stating commitments toward one another, and for the men and the church to be exhorted in their God-given roles. Whether you’ve appointed a new senior pastor into a vocational position or affirmed a new non-staff pastor into a lay position, an installation service can serve as a ceremony of celebration and consecration.
Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to deliver an installation charge. The charge was aimed at reminding the elders of their role as shepherds, exhorting the elders (and the church) to fulfill their calling, and encouraging the elders with the grandeur of the office. Below is my installation charge to the new elders at Liberty Baptist Church in Liberty, MO. I hope you find it encouraging and thought-provoking as you think through publicly recognizing elders.
Brothers, we love you and we come to this moment thankful that God the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders (Acts 20) to oversee this congregation and shepherd its members toward eternity by personal godliness, preaching, praying, equipping, and leading. May this charge encourage you all in the task of faithful shepherding.
First, I remind you brothers that fulfilling your office is contingent on you remaining an “example to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3). Your holiness is your greatest spiritual asset and failing to be above reproach will be your greatest spiritual hindrance. What you do is important and defined, but who you are is determinative. The God we preach must be the God we love. The Bible we preach must be the Bible that we believe and adhere to. The pattern of sound living in which we exhort must be the lives we ourselves are living.
We need you to be the same men in private as you are in public. “Pay close attention” (1 Tmothy 4:16) to your lives. Remain sobered by the fact that those “who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1). Continue to pursue the Christian qualities necessary for the office of elder. Be models to the church “in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). Be men of God worthy of Christlike imitation. Continue to train yourself for godliness (1 Timothy 4:7). Commit to growing spiritually and pastorally. May your gifts never be higher in proportion than your godliness. Don’t lose sight of the primacy of character for the office. We serve as pastors in the King’s kingdom and our King sees all and knows all. Pastor for His sake.
Second, pastors, do not forget your own household which qualifies you to care for God’s church (1 Timothy 3:4–5). Love your wives. Enjoy your children. Water your family in the Scripture (Eph 5). Your family is your first pastorate. Your children need you as a father. Your wife needs you as a friend and leader. Other men can pastor this church; other men cannot love your wife and children as you can. May your family be the most blessed people from your ministry.
Brothers, remember also that the distinguishing qualification of pastors is being “able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 2:24–25). Devote yourself to the ministry of the Word. Feed us the truth. Protect the church from error and those whose behavior contradicts the message of the gospel. As Paul exhorts, “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that you may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). Commit to leading the church to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). “Preach the word” in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:1–2). The Scripture is profitable, teach it. The gospel is powerful, preach it. Remember that only Jesus Christ in the gospel can save sinners. Call upon people to repent of their sins and trust in God’s Son for divine forgiveness. Do the work of an evangelist. And let us not forget the goodness of the gospel ourselves. Our names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20); before we are God’s ministers, we are God’s children most foundationally. Our Father has called us to this work to deepen our fellowship with Him. All of us are unworthy.
Dear friends, recall as well that God’s Word “accomplishes that which He purposes, and shall succeed in the thing for which He sends it” (Isaiah 55:10–11). Labor in the word and in teaching (1 Timothy 5:17). Give yourself “the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). “Keep a close watch on your teaching” (1 Timothy 4:16). Expound the whole counsel of God for the good of the saints (Acts 20:27). Paul tells Timothy to “practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress” (1 Timothy 4:15). And yet remember that God gives spiritual growth (1 Corinthians 3:7). He gives the increase. Our task is to be faithful; God’s work is to bring fruit.
Furthermore, be devoted to the ministry of prayer. Make supplication for all the saints (Ephesians 6:18). Like the apostles we are called to devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4). Therefore, listen to God and talk with God in close communion as you daily fellowship with Him. And bring the needs of the members here before our loving Father. We acknowledge in prayer that we lack the spiritual power, discernment, and energy to fulfill our role. Cast yourselves regularly on the mercies of God in dependent prayer. God is your friend, provider, and refuge. He has called you to this task and will enable you to fulfill it with faithfulness. Our spiritual battle, Ephesians 6 teaches, is not “against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil and then heavenly places.” Let us be men who pray at all times in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18).
Give oversight for the spiritual well-being of the church. Aim at a humble, teachable, fruitful, informed, and happy leadership. Carry out your ministry not because of outward pressures but because of inward desire and Godward pleasure. Shepherd to see God’s agenda, not man’s agenda, carried out. Resolve to be found faithful amidst unforeseen dangers and difficulties, physical suffering, relational discouragement, persistent temptation, pastoral sorrow, governmental persecution, and other challenges that might accompany your pastoral ministry. God’s grace is sufficient for every weakness of ministry.
Work with divinely supplied energy to “present everyone mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). “Keeping watch over the souls of this flock” (Hebrews 13:17) is one of our chief duties as shepherds. Let us know the lives of these members and invest in their souls. “Equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until they attain the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (Ephesians 4:11-13). Give yourself to the training of other faithful men. Paul says, “be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrusted to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:1-2). Labor with “great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2). Pastor with a heavenly perspective. The glory coming in the return of our Lord will make up for every toil in ministry. Shepherding is a high calling, but it is doable in the Lord’s power, relying on the Lord’s promises. Your chief shepherd will shepherd you to shepherd the church.
Finally, think much upon Christ. He is the overseer of your souls who bought the church with his precious blood (Acts 20) and who is the head of the church (Ephesians 5:23). In God’s strength, be the qualified men God has called you to be as elders: oversee this congregation and shepherd its members toward eternity by personal godliness, preaching, praying, equipping, and leading. Do so in unity and love with the other pastors appointed here. Together, brothers, we can share the joys and the burdens of ministry. This congregation will be better taught, shepherded, and equipped as a result of our collective eldership.
So, in the spirit of 2 Timothy 4, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom, [by his grace and for his glory]: fulfill your ministry.”
Church, as these men fulfill their God-given responsibilities, be subject to them (1 Peter 5:5) and obey them (Hebrews 13:17) in the Lord. We will benefit as these men fulfill their calling with joy (v. 17). Pray for them, emulate them, and thank God for them. Respect them and “esteem them very highly in love because of their work” (1 Thessalonians 5:12). Let us “share all good things with these men who teach” (Galatians 6:6). These elders have been given to us as gifts (Ephesians 4). Let us steward their ministries and families so that we can be their joy and crown.