Dear Aebi: "Is it scriptural for elders to have different groups in a church assigned to elders for shepherding so that each elder has only a certain number of people to shepherd?"
Elders (shepherds, overseers, bishops, pastors) are told in the New Testament to oversee, supervise, or shepherd the church (Acts 20:28; Heb. 13:7; 1 Peter 5:2). To shepherd implies doing everything for the church (members) that a shepherd does for his flock of sheep. I once had a flock of 42 sheep, so I know a little about shepherding. Elders are to be examples leaders, not lords to the members (1 Peter 5:3). They are to teach the church as a body and as members individually (1 Thes. 5:12-13; 1 Tim. 3:2; 1 Tim. 5:17; Titus 1:9-11; Heb. 13:7). They are to watch for souls, keeping members faithful (Heb. 13:17; Acts 20:28).
We are not told exactly how the elders are to do these things, but common sense and Biblical principles of behavior suggest some things. Since there were elders (plural) in each church (Acts 14:23), it follows that elders, as a decision-making body, must work together to make decisions. Majority rule must prevail, or else it will be minority rule and any one elder could hold the veto power; but, in shepherding, if one member has a problem or needs teaching or guidance, one-on-one or two-on-two attention makes sense and works better than for all the elders together to call on him about a problem and scare him to death instead of helping him. Five of us once thought we would all go together to visit all the members; when we knocked on the first lady's door, she said, "Oh, my, what have I done?" We decided it was not best to frighten people that way, so devised another plan.
To work effectively and cover all their bases, so to speak, for individual shepherding, elders need to have a division of labor. No one person can do everything, and, if the elders work as a group on every individual problem, it will end up the same as if one man was responsible for all the work. Work must be delegated or assigned to different people, as Jethro taught Moses (Exodus 18:13-26).
How shall it be assigned? For example, which elder will check on me if I am absent, to see whether I am sick, away visiting, having a personal problem, angry at someone, or just dropping out? How should the elders determine which of them is responsible for each one?
They will have to assign the members in some way if everyone's soul is to be watched for, and if everyone is to be involved in some way in the work of the church. Say there are five elders and 200 members; that leaves 40 members for each elder to shepherd. Which 40? They could assign them on the basis of age, zone or area they live in, who knows whom best, or some other way. They have to divide the work in some way, and the Lord has not told us how, so we are free to choose what seems the most workable plan in a given church. Perhaps elders could try to find which elder or shepherd each member feels the most comfortable with or feels he can work with the best, and assign them on that basis. It is a judgment call, and that is what elders are for to make judgments about the work of the church. They do not make laws; the Lord makes the law, and we select elders to make judgments about how we can go about obeying His law when He has not given specific directions.
For example, the Lord says to be baptized (immersed) in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of our sins. He does not say where that is a judgment call. We can decide to have a baptistry in the building or outside, or just use the river. It seems to make no difference to the Lord. I have baptized people in baptistries, in a swimming pool, and in a watering trough. When God says to do a thing and does not tell us how or give us any guidelines about it, we are free to choose the details. 2660 Layman Rd., Vincent, OH 45784-9730. firstname.lastname@example.org
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