“A church exercises its Christ-given authority very differently than the state does. ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them,’ Jesus said, ‘and their high officials exercise authority over them’ (Matt. 20:25). Christian authority, he says in the next phrase, works by giving our lives up for the sake of others as he did for us (vv. 26-28). Christian authority also works by the tender, effective, and heart-changing power of the Word and Spirit, not by the manipulative powers of persuasion and coercion.” Church Membership by Jonathan Leeman
For seven years I have been earning my livelihood by being a peace officer. For the last year I’ve been functioning as an elder at my church. As this this new role has been settling into my life it has been intriguing to see the similarities and differences between the two jobs. Leeman brought those differences out in this section of his book that I quoted. God has designed the state (at its best) to wield the sword and be an avenger of his wrath so that society does not live under anarchy or tyranny. God has designed the church to exercise authority over Christians and be the gatekeeper for those who claim that label. One wields a sword and the other a Book. One uses force and the other uses heart-changing power.
Both the shepherd (elder/ pastor) and the sheepdog (law enforcement officer) are charged with the protection of a flock. They must be the overwatch to guard against threats that would seek to prey on the sheep and take advantage of them. For the shepherd and the sheepdog to be effective at their job they must be able to be vicious against the wolves that seek to kill and kind with the sheep who sometimes test the patience.
While the task is similar the means could not be farther apart. As stated, one wields a sword while the other wields the Word. As a cop my badge, uniform and gun represent and authority granted to me by the public to exercise all force reasonably necessary to protect them from criminals. My job requires me to deal with the wolves by giving them orders, restraining them and taking them to jail. It is a hammer that does not have much give. If you call 911 because of someone that is harming an innocent person you expect them to have a propensity for violence to stop the evil that is happening. That is the sword and it is a necessity but it is only a band-aid. It can’t deal with the root of problems.
As an elder, the sword could not be more ineffective because I’m not dealing with flesh and blood. The battle is spiritual and it require a completely different toolbox. That toolbox is the Word of God, prayer, and the work of the Holy Spirit and it is ten million times more effective than any power I may have with a badge and a gun. The gospel deals with the root of the problem of man’s heart. The reason law enforcement exists is because sin exists. One of the reasons the church exists is to display the beauty of the glory of God against the backdrop of the ugliness of sin. The shepherding work I get to do as an elder is not band-aid work but is heart surgery work. I talk and pray with these people whom I love and together, by God’s grace, we grow in holiness and fight against sin. We are being changed from one degree of glory to the next.
For both roles I am charged with knowing the sheep, feeding the sheep, leading the sheep and protecting the sheep. God has allowed me to work in the office of elder and cop and it is the joy of a lifetime to get to do both.