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?

10 Responses

    1. Nothing has ever stopped us. We are autonomous congregations. If else’s believe God wants them to hire someone they have that liberty. It shouldn’t come at the expense of them not doing their biblical role.

      1. And yet, your article(s) address churches of Christ as a whole, right? You express concern for “us” in general.
        So,. in the sense of “us” in general, “we” in general should take a serious look at how “we” are transforming from a priesthood of all believers to a professional clergy rather than a clearly established Biblical model of elders being responsible for the feeding (apt to teach) of the flock under their care rather than getting a “hireling” to do the job for them.
        But yes, of course, the autonomous congregation needs to make those decisions. Have you ever noticed, though, how the autonomous congregations are led by the voices of those who they deem “knowledgeable,” which includes the writers in our different journals?

        1. This is the difficulty of addressing something that is not uniform. You speak in gross generalizations about what is typical but certainly not universal. We don’t have a magisterium or denominational hierarchy to dictate. So the authority, as you know, is localized to the congregation’s elders. I believe we need to be biblical in what we are doing. Once you make one part more biblical another piece is going to have to shift over in response. It is like those cheap little plastic game squares I had when I was a kid. You had to shift one square to move the next. If you get the elders doing more teaching then the next logical question is what other roles need adjusted, added or done away with. That is only natural. Some elderships may still see a need for someone paid on staff. There is nothing unbiblical about that in general. That is why I said the elders have the freedom to do that if it is what is best for the spiritual well being of the flock. If the elders are doing things that are not in the best interest of the flock then those elders need to consider that and address it.

          1. Simple solution: Ask for volunteers, rather than hire professionals. It is amazing how much members of a congregation grow in their own spirituality and knowledge!
            Or appoint more elders… Apart from the increased involvement of the members, you will also be amazed as to how much MORE can be done in evangelism and care of widows and orphans and other need solution.

          2. That there is nothing “unbiblical…in general” is the wrong perspective, though! We have a Biblical model! We have replaced it with a secular model. Would you do the same with baptism? People make an argument there is nothing “unbiblical… in general” when thinking and writing about baptism. Sprinkling is fine. Nothing “unbiblical… in general” about infant baptism…
            The Bible does not say NOT to baptize infants, be it sprinkling or immersion.
            When there IS a Biblical model, why not use it?

    2. What if Churches of Christ behaved biblically and paid their elders?
      1 Timothy 5:17 Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. 18 For the scripture saith, thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward.

  1. What if Churches of Christ behaved biblically and after helping believers grow in their personal spiritual gifts, they commissioned them to a personal ministry as directed by the Holy Spirit?

    Now in the church (assembly, ekklesia) at Antioch there were prophets (inspired interpreters of the will and purposes of God, *consultants*) and teachers: Barnabas, Symeon who was called Niger [Black], Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Separate now for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them”. Then after fasting and praying, they put their hands on them [acknowledging the Holy Spirit’s commissioning of them] and sent them away. So then, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from [that port] they sailed away to Cyprus. Acts 13:1 ff Amplified Ed Dodds Version

  2. The problem? The Holy Spirit spoke to the congregation, not to individuals in the passage. And next, spiritual gifts are exactly that – gifts. Not quite sure how the individual can improve (helping believers grow) in what the Spirit gave?

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