QUESTION ABOUT SHEPHERDS
Note: Click on the passages that are underlined to read the scripture
"How well does a man need to know the congregation before he can be appointed a shepherd?"
I was asked the above question this morning, and I would like for us to consider the answer together in this article. This is a question that needs to be considered when a congregation plans to appoint new elders or when considering the qualifications of their present elders.
First, I like the word "shepherd" in this question. The elders are indeed shepherds of the flock. In Acts chapter twenty the apostle Paul was meeting at Miletus with the elders of the church in Ephesus. In verse twenty eight he said to them, "Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood." Notice that the New King James Version uses the word "shepherd" in describing the work of the overseers. This is a literal rendering of the Greek word poimaino which means "to tend as a shepherd" (Strong). The King James Version translates this word as "feed." However, the word is wider in its application than the King James Version would indicate, referring to the whole office of the shepherd as guiding and protecting the flock, as well as leading it to the proper nourishment. So, under the figure of shepherds leading the flock, elders are shepherds. The words "shepherd" and "overseer" (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2), are perfect words to describe their work.
There is a great passage in John 10 that teaches principles that will help us answer the question under consideration. Chapter ten of the book of John is dealing with Jesus being "The Good Shepherd." Although the context deals with Jesus being a shepherd, I believe there are principles taught here that apply to any shepherd, including the spiritual shepherds who oversee the local congregation - those we commonly call elders. This is true because Jesus is called the "Chief Shepherd" which would imply "under shepherds" and those "under shepherds" are the overseers of the local congregation (1 Peter 5:2-4).
Before a man can be appointed as an elder he must meet the qualifications. If he does not, he can be a thief and a robber. He will end up robbing people of their salvation because of his lack of qualifications. There is nothing that contributes to failure in a local congregation more than unqualified elders. The shepherd that enters in through the door is one who is qualified to lead the sheep. He meets the qualifications that are set forth in the New Testament (Acts 20:28; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-11; 1 Peter 5:2-4).
One of the principles set forth here that we can learn in regard to elders is that the sheep (members of the local congregation) are willing to "hear his voice." They are willing to listen and willing for those elders to lead them. This means that the elders have the respect of the members. If an elder does not have the respect of those he oversees, they will not listen to him. If this is the case, he is not qualified to be a shepherd.
How well are the elders to know the members of the flock? They must be able to call those under their oversight by name and they must be willing to lead them. Members won't follow a stranger (verse 5). They will run from him. Elders must make the effort to know each member of the congregation by name. But this means more than just being able to call a person by his name. It means they must know each members' spiritual needs. How can they "shepherd (feed) the flock" if they don't know what their members' needs are in way of spiritual nourishment? How can they watch out for the souls of the members, if they do not know them? (Hebrews 13:17).
I have attended congregations where some of the members did not even know who their elders were. That is a failing of those members no doubt, but it may also indicate a failure on the part of the elders. If those elders were seeing to the spiritual needs of those members, those members would know who the elders were!
Of course, members of the church have obligations in this regard too? We must put forth the effort to know the elders. We must support them and submit to their oversight (Hebrews 13:17). How can we submit to the elders if we don't even know who they are?
MEMBERS ARE NOT SHEPHERDS
Members of the church are not shepherds. The elders (overseers) are the shepherds. Just because the mother sheep protects her offspring does not make her the shepherd. Just because one sheep may follow another to a pasture does not mean that the one who was followed is now the shepherd.
When members of the church help or teach their fellow Christians, it does not mean that they become shepherds. The shepherds of the church are the elders. We must follow them. We must submit to their leadership, provided they lead us according to the word of God (Acts 5:29). And they must know the members, have the respect of the members, and see to the spiritual needs of the members under their oversight.
How well must a man know the congregation before he is appointed as a shepherd of that congregation? I believe that we can see from this study that he must know the congregation very well and they must know him very well. That takes time. It is not a good idea to appoint a new member of the congregation to the eldership no matter how long he has been a member of the church somewhere else (new Christians must never be appointed as a shepherd. See 1 Timothy 3:6). The congregation needs to take the time to get to know anyone who is considered for appointment as an overseer. And, if that man who is being considered for that appointment has not taken the time and put forth the effort to know the congregation, he will not be an effective overseer.