Shepherding As The Lord Desires

James E. “Jim” Mitchell

In recent years, more than one church of Christ has begun to refer to their elders as shepherds. The reference from a biblical standpoint is certainly legitimate. God has given unto those who serve as elders, overseers and pastors (shepherds) a very responsible role. To take this position without recognizing and fulfilling such responsibility is a shameful undertaking. Numerous ones have assumed this office with either lack of understanding of its qualifying guidelines or a rejection of the Holy Spirit’s words. Others have been either ignorant or apathetic toward the eternal ramifications of failing to carry out its special tasks.

Before examining the job which the shepherds of a physical flock undertake and seeing what the Lord has spoken concerning the shepherd’s duties, I want to make a statement about my observations of the leadership roles accepted in recent years. If my understanding is accurate, brethren have behaved correctly in selecting elders. Most have reached ages that meet the meaning of the word. Probably great attention has been given to the selection of men who are excellent overseers. However, I am extremely concerned at the inability of many selections to feed God’s flock. Perhaps we have decided that the feeding should come from the pulpit. Possibly our stress has been directed toward appointing good businessmen as overseers because we have leaned far too heavily in treating the church as a business.

Let us look diligently and honestly at what the scriptures teach concerning shepherding. Ezekiel 34:1 ff. Jehovah looks upon shepherds from five different views: [1] Jehovah is the chief shepherd (20, 24); [2] There are good shepherds (23,24); [3] The shepherds of Judah had failed miserably (1-19); [4] Shepherds must give an account (7-10); [5] The sheep also have a responsibility (17-19). Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and Zechariah use the terms sheep and shepherds to refer to God’s people and those who are to lead them. 

The picture of the great shepherd given in Psalm 23 is a beautiful and reassuring relationship between “shepherd and sheep.” To recognize who is the chief and good shepherd is the primary need of humanity. The good shepherd shall give that which the sheep need. Proper food and drink will be provided. Our inner being will be restored continually. Even the departure from this earthly life poses no fear because He promises to be with us. Providing for our needs through all of life, His loving kindness is with us in the face of enemies.

The New Testament teaches a similar message. The good shepherd, Jesus Christ, knows His sheep, and they recognize His voice (John 10:1 if). The hireling does not show forth the qualities of the good shepherd because his motivation is wrong.

As Paul addressed the elders of Ephesus in Miletus, he reminded them of his efforts to bring them the good news. He had not failed to declare the whole counsel of God. In the commandment given to them, he says: “Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit hath made you bishops, to feed the church of the Lord which he purchased with his own blood. I know that after my departing grievous wolves shall enter in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.” (Acts 20:28-30 ASV).

Shepherds of the earthly animals usually were looking after sheep that were not their own. Their number one responsibility was to bring home every sheep possible. To accomplish this they were to provide them with the proper pasture and still waters. They were to protect the flock from wolves and other predators. They were to rescue them from crags, pits, and other falls. The shepherds were to lead the flock.

The shepherds of the Lord’s spiritual flock certainly have no less of a charge. God’s word must be the only spiritual food and drink. If they delegate feeding opportunities, they must know that the proper food and drink are being delivered. Wolves in sheep’s clothing and enemies who do not disguise themselves must be watched for and opposed with the truth without compromise. Many snares are lying before the sheep of the Lord. The shepherds must either assist and/or guide the flock away from these dangerous traps. God’s shepherds must be leaders. The Lord’s shepherds must be properly motivated. Both shepherds and sheep will give an account unto God (Hebrews 13:17). –161 Patriot Cove, Brighton, TN 38011. (901) 476-5049.

Return to West Virginia Christian