36. Local Leaders – Shepherds

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 6 – Thinking about Leaders

36. Local Leaders – Shepherds

Acts 20:17,28  Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church…. Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

1 Pet 5:1,2  To the elders among you …Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be

1 Pet 2:25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Eph 4:11,12 Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors (shepherds) and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up

What next: I almost tossed a coin, figuratively speaking at least, as to whether to take overseers or shepherds first before elders. As Paul said to the, “elders… the Holy Spirit has made you overseers so (implied) be shepherds.” (Acts 20:17,28) i.e. if you are an ‘elder’, recognize God has called you to be a protective overseer, so consider yourself a shepherd of God’s flock in this particular local church. Peter basically said the same thing. The word for shepherd comes up more in respect of the Lord than it does his leaders but, nevertheless, they are called to shepherd his flock. Indeed in the list of gifts to the church of ministries, shepherds (or Pastors, the old English for shepherd) are seen there.

A Caring Role: Notice what both Paul and Peter say: “Keep watch over …. all the flock…” (Acts 20:28)  and “God’s flock that is under your care.” (1 Pet 5:2) I gave a clue to their role in the previous study when I said, ‘shepherd encapsulates, caring for, providing for, as well as protecting.’ Perhaps nowhere can we better see the role of the shepherd displayed than in the famous Psalm 23. Having said that we must note that in that psalm David refers to the Lord as his shepherd and, would suggest there are some things the human shepherd needs to leave to the divine shepherd. So let’s see what we can see from that psalm:

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” (v.1) Our role, I would suggest, is always to direct our people into a relationship with the Lord, in which HE will provide everything they need. My God will supply all that you need from his glorious resources in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:19) The under-shepherd will always point the flock towards the Chief Shepherd.

“He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,  he refreshes my soul.” (v.2,3) i.e. he provides for me sustenance, and guidance into a place of peace and refreshing. The under-shepherd does this, I suggest, as he leads the flock into the presence of the Lord and shares His heart with them through His word. Teaching is thus a key element in the ministry of a shepherd which is why in Eph 4:12,13 there are often questions as to whether “pastors and teachers” are one and the same or two different ministries. I believe the answer comes to Paul’s words to Titus when speaking about elders (who we see above are also shepherds, He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (Titus 1:9) Yet he said to Timothy, “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching,” (1 Tim 5:17) which implies that not every elder will be so gifted. Combining the two, I would suggest that every elder must have a firm grip on the word of God to be able to help and guide others with it (and refute error) although not all of them will be equally gifted with preaching gift.

“He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.” (v.3) The role of the shepherd (who is also, don’t forget, an overseer) is thus that of a guide, which implies a) he has walked this path before, i.e. a person of maturity, b) he shows the right way ahead, i.e. a teacher, and c) he walks it with them. This calls for a level of closeness which is rarely seen in modern churches, especially the bigger they are (which reinforces Francis Chan’s call for small churches that replicate easily). The reminder is always to be, “The Lord is with you – Immanuel” but having said that Christ-incarnate today means Christ expressed through his body, the church, and especially through loving, caring and available leaders.

“Even though I walk  through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil,  for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil;
 my cup overflows.” (v.4-6) Again, we have to emphasize, our teaching is, “God is with you (Heb 13:5b,6) and for you (Rom 8:31), working all things for our good (Rom 8:28), and we are seated with him in the heavenly realms (Eph 2:6)”  These verses remind us that there are dark days in every life, whether caused by mourning or simply by difficulties and opposition. That takes us into the realm of spiritual warfare (see Eph 6) where we need to teach the flock that opposition comes from the enemy and our call is simply to stand and hold the ground (the Christian life) God has given us, and we do that with His grace and with the comfort of fellow believers around us, which includes shepherds who learn to use the authority (the rod and staff)  that God gives them (More on this perhaps in a later study).

A Starting Agenda: From, these verses, we can perhaps set out a framework of some of the teaching etc. that the shepherd will bring to the flock, learning:

  • how to feed on the word,
  • how to sense the presence of God,
  • how to come into a place of peace ‘in Christ’ and ‘in the Spirit’,
  • how to receive guidance,
  • the nature and character of the path we are called to walk,
  • how to empathize which those who mourn and weep (Rom 12:15),
  • how to stand and triumph in spiritual warfare,
  • what it means to be more than conquerors, seated with Christ.

Shepherds go ahead: Each of these things will not be mere theory but will be things put into practice by the shepherd who will, by going ahead, be an example to the flock: set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity,” (1 Tim 4:12) and,  In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech,” (Titus 2:7,8) and, “Be shepherds of God’s flock … being examples to the flock.” (1 Pet 5:2,3)  As is fairly obvious from all this, shepherd-leadership is not for the novice, the new Christian or the faint-hearted, but for the mature, and that leads us into the whole subject of elders that we will consider next.

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