Church history is filled with inspiring accounts of great men and women of God. Pioneer missionaries, fearless evangelists, giants of exposition, sacrificing servants, all lift us to a higher plane in spiritual things. We do well to read about these. But in all of these volumes I am not aware of any that tell the story of a shepherd among God’s people. No elder of a local assembly, to my knowledge, has ever been the subject of a Christian bestseller. And yet these are God’s men.
Let us consider a few simple observations about shepherds.
The Lord Himself was a shepherd. We are familiar with the three titles - the Good Shepherd, John 10, the Great Shepherd, Heb. 13, and the Chief Shepherd, 1 Pet. 5. God is presented as a shepherd in the Old Testament. One good example of this is Isaiah 43. It is evident that shepherding is important to Him. Further, it is apparent that shepherding is God’s means of caring for His flock. This must mean it is the best way God’s people can be cared for. The Lord thinks too much of His people for it to be any other way.
We learn from Acts 20. 28 that the Holy Spirit makes men overseers of God’s people. Titus was later instructed to appoint, or recognize, the elders God had marked out. It is true that some men ‘acting out of the flesh’ have installed themselves as so-called elders, but these aberrations should not prevent us from encouraging God’s ideal.
Shepherds, elders or overseers (the words refer to the same individuals) are men of spiritual integrity. Their qualifications are identified for us in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. These were given to Timothy and Titus so that they would know who God had already made elders. They are given to us likewise to identify those who are God’s overseers in each assembly. Most genuine candidates for this work usually cannot see themselves as meeting these standards. Their humility prevents them from confidently calling themselves elders. They are more occupied with the work of shepherding, not the title. Nonetheless, the New Testament does indicate that there should be a recognized group of elders in each local assembly. Again, Acts 20, 1 Timothy and Titus are some Scriptures that teach this.
Among the main qualifications of elders is that of a knowledge of the Scriptures. This does not mean all are preachers, but it does assume that they recognize the Scriptures as the final authority in all areas of life, including, of course, the assembly. Some may be capable expositors of Scripture in a public meeting. Others will be skilled in teaching in a less formal Bible class or home study. Still more will have the skill to bring the Scriptures to bear in a personal and private discussion. But let us not count on elders relying on their secular skills in spiritual matters. It is the Bible that interests them.
Shepherds among us should be motivated by love for the Lord, and love for the flock. In fact, false motives such as desire for money or power are strictly forbidden. Peter speaks of this in 1 Peter 5. 1-3. It is possible for us to think that the elder seeks power in the assembly. There have been cases of this. But it is compassion and care for God’s people that should motivate the elders. We should keep this in mind, especially when we might not agree with what they are doing.
Further, the writer to Hebrews tells us, in chapter 13, that we are to obey them. This would not preclude us from asking honest questions about a course of action in the assembly, but not in the spirit of rebellion. Elders carry God’s authority. Our obedience goes a long way in bringing harmony and blessing to the assembly. And in the case where the elders may have misread a situation, God is able to make it plain to them. Prayerful, obedient sheep can help to bring that about.
Pray for the elders. They have an exacting job. It can sometimes be a difficult task. The answers to assembly problems are not always evident on the surface. It is no wonder Peter reminds them of Psalm 55. 22, in the matter of casting our care upon Him, 1 Pet. 5. 7. Those who pray for the elders are sympathetic with the elders’ work. They, too, show an interest in God’s people. Pray also for elders at the prayer meeting. It will energize them for the work. Pray in private for God’s shepherds as well.
Finally, there is a crown for faithful elders, according to 1 Peter 5. 4. If you are attempting to shepherd God’s flock, never give up. To bear the burdens of God’s people is engaging in God’s work. The Lord is with you. He has delegated His care for His people to you and wants to use you in this work. It is normal for shepherds to become discouraged. Moses certainly was. But he never gave up. Every hour of late night meetings, visitation, Bible study, prayer, urgent demands on your time and crises management, touches the heart of the Lord Jesus since you are attending to His bride. You are investing in eternal riches for the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Who cares about shepherds? God does! We should too.