My least favourite scenes in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy are those involving Denethor, the Steward of Gondor. As Tolkien wrote his character in the original books, in the absence of a true King over the men of Gondor, stewards were given the task of ruling in their place until “the return of the king.”
But in the case of Denethor, the Steward serving when the heir of Isildur returned to claim the throne, he had long since forgotten what it meant to be a steward. Power corrupted him. Insanity destroyed him. The result was that he nearly destroyed the city and his own family in his mad neglect of his sacred duty to steward what belonged rightfully to his king.
In Church Elders: How to Shepherd God’s People Like Jesus, Jeramie Rinne observes that Jesus has granted just such a stewardship to men who serve in local churches as elders.
After his resurrection, Jesus passed on his teaching and proclamation ministry to the apostles (Matt. 28:19-2o). Just as Jesus’s teaching fills the Gospels, so the apostles’ teaching fills Acts and the Epistles. And as the apostles made disciples through their preaching and gathered those disciples into churches, they appointed elders for each church and entrusted them with the apostolic doctrine (Acts 14:23).
Take a moment to marvel at this. Jesus is alive. He reigns in heaven and he rules over your church. And he exerts that kingly authority in your church through the Scriptures. Jesus’s subjects obey him today by obeying those Scriptures. So if you are an elder, when you teach the Word faithfully, Jesus is sovereignty ministering to his subjects through your teaching.
This is a truly amazing charge we elders have been given. Considering the importance of this sacred trust, what should our ministries look like? Should our sermon preparation draw more from the Bible and less from other people’s opinions? Should our time in the Word be more saturated in prayer for the sake of stewarding our own faith first? Should we be much more in the Word than we are when busyness fills our week? I think the first punch that hit me when I read Rinne’s quote was that if I am to be a better steward than Denethor, I need to steel myself better with belief in the Gospel so that I am less concerned with whether my congregation liked my sermon than with doing everything in my power to ensure they have heard what their true King wanted them to hear from His Word. My people need a better Steward than Denethor. Gondor deserved better—but that was just fiction. Our charge as elders is not fiction. Your church deserves the best you have to offer. At the end of the story, our churches don’t belong to us at all.