by Jefferson David Tant

We might assume that a 1st grader could answer that question. “Well, Duh, shepherds are supposed to take care of the sheep.” And that’s the correct answer. And how can one be a shepherd if there are no sheep? But just how do shepherds take care of their sheep?

The Bible has quite a lot to say about shepherds, and we are quite familiar with the one who is called the “Chief Shepherd,” who is Jesus Christ. “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (I Peter 5:4). But Christ is not the only shepherd, for that is also a term applied to those who are leaders in local churches. Among the various terms used to designate elders are the words “shepherd” and “pastor.” "And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:11). The word “pastor” is from the Greek “poimen,” which is “shepherd.”

So, just what are the responsibilities of the elders/shepherds with respect to the local church. Among the qualifications given in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1, let us consider a few.

A Teacher

Able to teach” (I Timothy 3:2), “able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9). Obviously, this is one reason why a “new convert” is not qualified to be an elder (I Timothy 3:6). Unless one has spent time in reading, studying, and “digging deep,” he is not really prepared to be an elder, according to Paul’s instructions. And how does one prove himself to be qualified in this regard? It seems reasonable that he has proven himself by doing some public teaching. I have known some elders who, so far as I know, have never done any public teaching, neither in preaching or teaching a class.

A Protector

Jesus, as the chief shepherd, set the model for shepherds, as he said “I lay down My life for the sheep” (John 10:15). As Paul was giving his farewell address to the elders of the church at Ephesus, he cautioned them: “Be on guard for yourselves and for 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. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:28-29)

I have read that it has been the practice of shepherds in the past to put the sheep in an enclosure at night, and then lie down to sleep at the entrance to the sheep-fold. In doing this, they put themselves between the sheep and any predators who might be seeking to enter in. When troubles arise in a congregation, the response of elders should not be to resign and avoid getting involved in any controversy or discomfort. This is not how one is to “be on guard.”

Hospitable

“Given to hospitality” (I Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8). Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27). How does an elder know the strengths, weaknesses, and needs of the members of the church if he doesn’t know them very well, if he doesn’t spend any time with them, except for speaking to them when the church assembles? The matter of hospitality is not an option. It is a requirement. I have known and worked with shepherds whose homes had “open doors,” as their hospitality was obvious. On the other hand, I have known too many that didn’t seem to understand what hospitality meant.

Of course, an elder’s hospitality to a large extent may depend on his wife. We know hospitality often involves inviting others over for a meal. I am aware that there are times when an elder’s wife may be in ill health and not have the strength to do things involved with this. But can the elder and his wife invite others out to a restaurant for a meal together, or even to a coffee shop for a visit? Elders who never show hospitality obviously do not meet one of the qualifications our Lord has given.

Seeking the Lost

This qualification would obviously be a part of “able to teach,” but I want to expand on this a bit. In our daily Bible reading, my wife and I are in Ezekiel. And a passage we read this morning set my mind to thinking. Note the prophet’s words in Ezekiel 34:6-8:

"My flock wandered through all the mountains and on every high hill; My flock was scattered over all the surface of the earth, and there was no one to search or seek for them. Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 'As I live,' declares the Lord GOD, 'surely because My flock has become a prey, My flock has even become food for all the beasts of the field for lack of a shepherd, and My shepherds did not search for My flock, but rather the shepherds fed themselves and did not feed My flock.'

What was the problem? Sheep had left the fold and were scattered, and the shepherd did not go out seeking to find them and bring them back to safety. Notice what Christ had to say about this. “For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost. What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray” (Matthew 18:11-13).

In this example, elders should not be content to just watch over the sheep who come to church on Sunday but should also be concerned for those who have become weak and have fallen away. It may be that in some larger congregations, one of the sheep may “slip through the cracks” and the absence may not be noticed. That’s why it is so important for the elders to know the members. I’m afraid I have known of too many times where a member of the church got caught up in the world and the elders didn’t pay much attention if any. Christ set the example for us in this.

Another part of “seeking the lost” is seeking those who are outside of Christ. All Christians, including elders, are included in the Great Commission. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:19-20). So, Jesus told the twelve to go make disciples, then teach those disciples to go make other disciples. Thus the Great Commission is to every Christian, including elders.

Be an Example

Likewise urge the young men to be sensible; in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us” (Titus 2:6-8). Although this passage is not directed specifically to elders, it is addressed to older men, which of course includes elders. Possibly elders should do some self-examination from time to time and reflect on “What am I doing that I would really like the young men to follow?” Self-evaluation is good for all of us to do from time to time. And it would be especially for elders to think on these things. And I write from experience, having served as an elder for some 20 years.

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