Meet Your Shepherds, the Elders

I was asked to contribute this article for the July 2013 (“Who’s Who in the Church”) issue of Pressing On, an e-magazine for growing Christians. If you haven’t already subscribed, you’re missing out on some great monthly content.

Shepherds are a gift from God given to the church.

He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Eph 4:11-16)

Shepherds serve an integral role in God’s plan for his people. Building on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, God continues to work for the good of his people to the praise of his own glorious grace through evangelists, shepherds, and teachers—equipping, building up, promoting unity and knowledge, nurturing maturity, exposing deceitful schemes, and making the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Who are these shepherds and why does their work matter?

Depending on the English translation, a variety of designations are employed in Scripture to describe the men who would fill this work of service—bishops, overseers, pastors, shepherds, elders.

These are men. By definition, they are men who are mature in years and in the faith. “He must not be a recent covert (“novice, NKJV), or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Tim 3:6).

These are men of character. Above reproach. Sober-minded. Respectable. Hospitable. Not arrogant or quick-tempered. Lovers of good. Upright. Holy. (1 Tim 3:1-2; Tit 1:6-8)

These are men of conviction. They are living, breathing examples of God’s revealed will concerning marriage. “An overseer must be…the husband of one wife” (1 Tim 3:2). They are real-life manifestations of God’s expectation for self-control—“not a drunkard” (1 Tim 3:3). They model the proper priorities concerning the things of this world—“not a lover of money” (1 Tim 3:3). These are disciplined men of conviction.

These are men of demonstrated capability. They are self-controlled. Able to teach. Not violent, but gentle. Not quarrelsome (1 Tim 3:2-3; Tit 1:7). They have demonstrated leadership potential in their own homes. “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church (1 Tim 3:4-5)? They are well thought of by outsiders, and such should be the case, “so that [they] may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil” (1 Tim 3:7).

These are men dedicated to a work of service. Theirs is not an honorary position, nor does it come with an ostentatious-but-empty title. Overseers serve as stewards of God (Tit 1:7). They do not run lifeless organizations, nor do they manage corporate hierarchies; they “shepherd the flock of God that is among [them], exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have [them]; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in [their] charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, [they] will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Pet 5:1-4).

These men must guard. Paul charged the elders of the church in Ephesus, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:28-30). Overseers “must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that [they] may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Tit 1:9).

These men must guide. The Chief Shepherd said of himself and his disciples in John 10:3-4, “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” Faithful stewards of the Chief Shepherd seek to follow his perfect lead—as living examples worthy of imitation (1 Pet 5:3) and as compassionately authoritative voices that lead his sheep in the pathways of righteousness.

These men must feed. Their provision is Scripture—“breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the [people] of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17).

These men are to be followed. “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb 13:17).

These men are to be appreciated. “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thes 5:12-13).

These men will be rewarded. As those who have selflessly served and diligently sacrificed in order to help others get to heaven, their efforts will not go unnoticed. “When the Chief Shepherd appears, [they] will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Pet 5:4).

Thank God for diligent shepherds. Take the time to personally express your heartfelt appreciation to a faithful shepherd today. Pray for more.