As I mentioned in my post “To equip the saints for the work of ministry,” for the next several posts I’m going to consider the work of the gifted individuals listed by Paul in Ephesians 4:11 in equipping Jesus’ followers for doing the hard work of serving others. Remember, in Ephesians 4:12, Paul wrote that this is one of the reasons that Jesus gave these spiritual gifted people. I’ve already written about some ways that some of those spiritually gifted people can equip the saints for the work of ministry: apostles, prophets, and evangelists.
So, in this post, I’m going to consider the fourth gifted group in the list: How do shepherds equip believers for the work of serving others?
Of course, as I said for apostles, prophets, and evangelists, shepherds (and any other follower of Jesus Christ) and build up and encourage their brothers and sisters in Christ in many different ways. But, in this passage, Paul is focusing on the spiritual gifts that God gives to his children through Jesus Christ. So, how does someone gifted as a shepherd prepare the church for works of service because of that gifting?
Now, as we consider the role of shepherds in equipping the saints, we need to remember a couple of things. 1) While Paul connected shepherding and teaching closely (they are actually one “item” in the list – i.e., shepherds-teachers), the fact that he used separate terms shows that there is some difference in the two. So, I’m going to deal with them separately. 2) The term shepherd is the same as the term pastor, but that doesn’t mean that the way the term “pastor” is normally used today is related to the work of “shepherds” in the New Testament. I’m dealing with how shepherds are described in the NT; I’m not dealing with the position / career normally called “pastor” today.
In the New Testament, the metaphorical use of the term “shepherd” is usually in the verbal form (except this one use in Ephesians 4:11), so no one is actually referred to as a “shepherd” by the authors. However, we do know that both Paul and Peter exhorted elders among the church to shepherd others.
Shepherding is related to caring for others, and since it’s almost impossible to separate the different aspects in the New Testament, it would include both physical and spiritual care.
So, when shepherds equip the saints, they do so by helping them notice the needs of others, and by helping them actually care for others. Perhaps the most important aspect here is empathy… actually being interested in other people, especially those who are in need. Of course, this is often dirty work, so much encouragement may be needed to help others understand how important this kind of care and concern is to God and for the benefit of others.
Here’s a great example of encouraging others to be “shepherds”:
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:1-4 ESV)
Have you ever helped your brothers and sisters in Christ to shepherd others? Have you ever been equipped by shepherds to care for others?