the weblog of Alan Knox

Elders (Part 5) – Shepherding

Posted by on Sep 20, 2007 in elders, office | 9 comments

In some denominations, elders are considered distinct from pastors. In other denominations, elders and pastors are synonymous. In Scripture, elders are instructed to pastor – that is, to shepherd – people. In Acts 20:18-38 and 1 Peter 5:1-4, the only passages of Scripture addressed to elders, the elders are instructed to “shepherd the flock of God”. Using figurative language, Paul and Peter both instruct elders to “care for” or “look after” God’s people. This is often seen as one of the primary responsibilities of elders, and because of these, elders are often called “pastors”.

Interestingly, Jude uses the same term “shepherd” to describe false teachers (those who teach contrary to the gospel) in Jude 12. Apparently, these false teachers “shepherd” (or “look after”) themselves while attending a “love feast” with many other people. This negative use of the verb “shepherd” should help us understand that, in the positive sense, the verb is used to indicate caring for and helping other people.

In fact, in both Acts 20:18-38 and 1 Peter 5:1-4, the verb “to shepherd” is used in relation to other believers. Thus, the verb “to shepherd” falls within the range of meanings of many other verbs, such as “to help”, “to care for”, “to be concerned about”, and “to consider”. In this sense, it is also very closely related to the verb usually translated “to oversee”, but I will look at that verb in the next installment of this series. The verb “to shepherd” also has the connotation of “to teach” or “to grow”. I’ve already discussed the function of teaching. So, elders are responsible for helping or caring for other believers as well as helping other believers grow. Are these responsibilities unique to elders?

As is the case with character, leadership, and teaching, shepherding is not the sole responsibility of elders either. In fact, all believers are instructed to care for and help one another. The “one anothers” of Scripture can be seen as a call to mutual shepherding. Followers of Jesus Christ are to relate to one another in such a way as to know one another’s strengths and weaknesses, to know one another’s needs and resources. The commands to admonish, comfort, encourage, rebuke, and correct are given to all believers; they are not given to elders alone. Thus, all believers are responsible for this aspect of shepherding.

But, what about growth? Are all believers responsible to help one another grown in maturity toward Christ? According to Ephesians 4:11-16, the answer must be a resounding, “Yes!” Though certain gifted individuals are mentioned in Ephesians 4:11, the following verses do not say that the body grows into maturity when these individuals function well. Instead, the verses following Ephesians 4:11 – and especially Ephesians 4:16 – indicate that the body grows toward maturity when each person functions properly (see my series on edification which begins with the post “Edification 1 – Introduction” and my series on Ephesians 4:11-16 which begins with the post “Ephesians 4:11 and the Five-Fold Ministry“, especially the post “Ephesians 4:7-16 and the Growing Church“). Maturity in Christ is a mutual responsibility.

Since proper edification leads to maturity, and maturity is a mutual responsibility, all followers of Jesus Christ should take time to know one another and to serve one another in ways that encourages mutual growth. This seems to be Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 14:26-40. Although Paul makes a distinction between speaking in tongues and prophecy, the point was not about tongues and prophecy per se, but about edification. When followers of Jesus Christ get together, the Spirit equips, empowers, and enables each person to serve others in various capacities in order to grow the entire group toward maturity in Christ. This type of mutual edification is also mutual shepherding. This is the responsibility of every follower of Christ.

Therefore, just as elders are not held to a higher standard in relation to their character, their leadership, and their teaching, neither are elders held to a higher standard when it comes to shepherding. Yes, elders are to shepherd God’s people – helping them and caring for them and pointing them toward maturity in Jesus Christ. However, this is also the responsibility of every follower of Jesus Christ as we function together by loving, caring for, comforting, admonishing, teaching, exhorting, rebuking, shepherding one another.

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Series on Elders
1. Elders (Part 1) – Introduction
2. Elders (Part 2) – Character
3. Elders (Part 3) – Leadership
4. Elders (Part 4) – Teaching
5. Elders (Part 5) – Shepherding
6. Elders (Part 6) – Overseeing
7. Elders (Part 7) – Conclusion


9 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 9-20-2007

    Alan,
    This is a great series. Let me know when you do a summary or conclusion post so I can link to it all at once.

  2. 9-20-2007

    Tony,

    Thanks for the encouragement. I will post a conclusion on Saturday. At that time, I’ll also add a link to all of the posts in the series to the end of each post.

    -Alan

  3. 9-21-2007

    Great stuff Alan. I’m encouraged to see like-minded people scattered about.

  4. 9-21-2007

    This is great stuff, Alan. I’m so far behind on my blog reading (Google Reader reports that I still have 371 posts left to read…ugh), so I haven’t been keeping up with all of this in real time. That’s why you haven’t seen me commenting here much, either.

    However, it’s always good to get to your blog in my reader and catch up. I really appreciate the care you take in your studies and in the way you lay out your arguments. Even if people disagree with you (and many will, I’m sure!) they at least must acknowledge the work you have done and respond on that level.

    Blessings on you and your family. I hope we can see you again in person someday soon!

  5. 9-21-2007

    hey alan,
    thanks for the good series on elders. i appreciate your study and personal emphasis as not being just academic. I try to push your blog to people I meet. Ever consider doing an intro or FAQ section so people can read a paragraph or two and get caught up to speed with your ideas and heresies?
    love it though.

  6. 9-21-2007

    Joel,

    Thanks for the comment. I’m enjoying reading your blog as well.

    Steve,

    I’ve been encouraged by the response to the series both online and in person, even from those who disagree. I’ve had some very thoughtful interaction. I hope it continues.

    Ed,

    Thanks… I think. ;) Seriously, the FAQ thing is a good idea. We miss you and Leah and Samuel.

    -Alan

  7. 7-14-2008

    Alan, the gist of what I am reading here is that Elders offer nothing unique, Elders do nothing special, Elders are shepherds just like everyone else, and Elders have no giftings from the Spirit that are not common to everyone else. So other than having a special title, can you explain to me, why exactly do Elders exist in the church?

  8. 7-14-2008

    J.R.,

    Yes, elders offer something unique. However, “shepherding” or “teaching” or “overseeing” or character is not what is uniquely required of elders. These are required of all believers. I wrote a post you may be interested in called “Are pastors good for nothing?“.

    -Alan

  9. 7-14-2008

    Thanks, I will check into it brother.

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