Shepherding the People of God

September 5, 2019
Jim Paul

As one looks across the face of assembly life today there are some real concerns from many of God’s dear children. One of the major concerns is a lack of true spiritual leadership. Often there are men who are burdened for the saints but somehow don’t know where to start. Perhaps this article might be a help to elders and inspire younger men to be led of the Lord to consider this enormous responsibility. 

Being an elder or shepherd is not like an owner or trustee of a business.  Board members arrive at decisions and give orders. Elders, by contrast, serve among the people in pastoral ministry and care. I see four simple concepts as I meditate upon the Scriptures. They consist of knowing, feeding, guiding, and ruling. May you consider these responsibilities and value their effectiveness in the light of Scripture.

Knowing The Flock

The beautiful passage in John dealing with the Lord Jesus as the Good Shepherd sets before us some delightful features of a true shepherd. The Lord says, “I am the Good Shepherd and know my sheep and am known of my own” (Jn. 10:14, NKJV). 

Is each believer in your assembly known to you? Not just a handshake on Sundays but through visitation and sharing in their experiences of life. Do you enter into their joys and sorrows? Do you help carry some of their burdens? Are you known by them?  

When something goes wrong do you seek in a helpful way to apply a ministry of Christ to them? Many backsliders in the world may not be there today had elders been aware of the steps that caused their downfall. What about the one that strayed away from the fold? The Shepherd’s joy did not come until the lost was sought, found, and restored (Lk. 15:4-6). 

Feeding The Flock

Peter writing in his first epistle, instructs his fellow elders to, “feed the flock of God which is among you” (1 Pet. 5:2). This particular task fulfilled by Peter himself was motivated by his love for the Lord Jesus. Every act of service can only be accomplished by the driving force of that love. 

The apostle Paul speaking to the elders at Ephesus says, “feed the church of God which He (Jesus) purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). Every Shepherd should know the health and condition of the sheep. It is in this area wisdom is needed in what is taught for the well-being of the flock.  

God’s condemnation of the shepherds of Israel was that they fed themselves and not the flock (Eze. 34:2-3). With such neglect, the sheep became a prey for every wild beast. The wild beasts are false teachers bringing destructive heresies, using cunning craftiness, and flattering words to deceive (2 Pet. 2:1-3). They use friendly persuasion, disguised as wolves in sheep’s clothing, drawing away disciples after themselves (Acts 20:29-30).

Is there a real concern about it? May the whole counsel of God’s Word be taught by life and word in such a way that every believer in the church will be led to green pastures and will lie down in safety (Ps. 23:2).

Guiding The Flock 

The Good Shepherd in John 10:3-4, “calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. He goes before them and the sheep follow him, for they know His voice.” The deep longings of one who is seeking her beloved asks the question, “Tell me, O you whom I love, where you feed your flock?” The answer given, “Follow the footsteps of the flock, and feed your little goats beside the shepherds tents” (Song. 1:7, 8). 

Are the members of the assembly following you to places where you feed? Are they following closely because they know and hear your voice?  When Peter said, “I go fishing”, others said, “we will go with you” (Jn. 21:3). Remember if they are following your steps, it is necessary you walk in paths for their good and not harm. May it be said about you, “…whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:7-8). 

Ruling The Flock

When God had a man in mind to rule the people of God, He chose a lad with a shepherd’s heart (1 Sam. 16:11-13). Peter exhorts elders not to be “lords over God’s heritage but examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:3). Be careful not to be a dictator, wanting everyone to bow to your every command. Instead, you should allow the scriptures to mold your life in a way the saints will want to emulate you. Sometimes the effort put in by elders isn’t appreciated as it ought to be. Often it is a thankless task. Many weary hours recorded for the Judgment Seat of Christ is unknown to the rest of the church. Many times, godly elders have suffered slanderous attacks by some who do all the talking but none of the work. I trust, in consideration of them, we will know, love, honor, and esteem them very highly for their work’s sake (1 Thess. 5:13).

An Example To The Flock 

In Ezekiel 34:11-16 we have an example from the Good Shepherd Himself to the Shepherds of Israel. He says He will seek out the scattered sheep and deliver them from all the places they have been scattered. He will feed them in good pastures. He will seek the lost and bring back those who have been driven away. He will bind up the broken and strengthen the weak. 

Through various circumstances many of the Lord’s people have been discouraged and ended up leaving the assembly. Sadly, comments have been made that no elder cared, visited, or even gave a phone call to see if they needed help or to ask why they had left. Thankfully there are godly elders who do care and are tremendous visitors to those in need. Many have been reached and brought back to the fold by elders who went out of the way to help. 

Paul in Romans 14:1 says, ​ “Receive one who is weak in the faith” and in 15:1, “We who are strong (elders should be strong) ought to bear the frailties of the weak and not to please ourselves.” There are various ways (a phone call, a visit, a Bible study, or a coffee together, etc.) the weak can be supported so that they may become strong. There are many whose hearts and lives have been broken by the pressures of life. They need someone to draw alongside and minister to them in a supportive way, helping to restore them back to spiritual health and wholeness. What a beautiful example is found by the good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37! Finally, to reach the lost is best referred to in Luke 15:1-7. In this parable of the lost sheep we see what it meant for the Shepherd to leave and go after the one lost sheep until He found it. The Lord is the greatest example for all to follow. 

This is by no means an exhaustive look at the subject but a few helpful suggestions along the way. There are many other scripture references, situations, and experiences to guide the elders in the fulfilment of their ministry. ​We should all “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).