One of the primary metaphors for a spiritual leaders in the Bible is a shepherd. In the Old Testament, even the highest executive office in the land (the king) is supposed to shepherd the people (2 Sam 5:2). Shepherds don’t lead by proxy (through others – a hired hand). Shepherds don’t lead from far out front. Shepherds lead the sheep by being with the sheep and knowing the sheep.
For being such a biblically minded group of people in Churches of Christ, we have not always done well when it comes to how elders operate from a biblical perspective. We are big on scriptural elder qualifications but put almost no emphasis on what the New Testament says elders are actually supposed to be doing and how they are supposed to do it. It is like our view on salvation – we spend far more time talking about how to “get in” than how to live once you are in and yet the second part is at least as important as the first.
There are several things that the Bible says elders (from here on I will most frequently refer to elders as shepherds) are supposed to do.
Eph 4:11-12 – Shepherds are to be equippers that will result in the unity of the body.
1 Tim 3:2 – Shepherds must be able to teach. Although this is in the list of elder qualifications it seems to not be a strong consideration in many instances when elders are appointed. I have been around many, many elders who were remarkable teachers. I have also been around some who really didn’t meet this qualification at all.
1 Peter 5:1-4 – Shepherds are directly instructed to shepherd. This is more than being decision makers. This is about leading as you walk alongside the congregation. They are instructed to watch over the flock. Again, this is shepherding language. An elder must be in tune with the people. Bauer (BDAG) defines “watch over” as “to accept responsibility for the care of someone.” Being a shepherd is about far more than being the ultimate decision maker. Being a shepherd is about people. Peter also says shepherds must be eager to serve…not serving only because they think they must. They also must not lord it over (domineer) the flock but instead must live as an example of mature faith to the congregation.
If elders would follow the instructions of how to act as a shepherd after they are appointed rather than just be interested in the qualifications to be appointed many of our churches would be far healthier than they are today. Our churches don’t need executives. They don’t need a board of directors. Our churches need shepherds. In our attempt to be biblical in all areas of faith and practice this is one area we could be more biblical in for many congregations.
If the congregation is nervous any time an elder takes the mic, the elders aren’t shepherding.
If the elders have never been in the homes of their people or don’t visit them in the hospital, the elders aren’t shepherding.
If the elders don’t talk about and pray for real people, they aren’t shepherding.
But if the elders will seek out the voice of their sheep and truly listen, they are shepherding.
If the elders are present in people’s moments of deepest trouble, they are shepherding.
If the elders are seen as a blessing to the congregation and not a hindrance to the movement of the flock, they are shepherding.
If those hurting in the congregation desire to see an elder in their time of need, chances are…they are shepherding.
How have you seen elders shepherd?