By Weldon E. Warnock
Sheep need a shepherd, and, since the disciples of Jesus are sheep, they need a shepherd. Jesus said to Peter, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17). Our Lord also said. “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold (John 10:16). Jesus is the chief shepherd (1 Pet. 5: 4). A chief shepherd implies subordinate shepherds. These shepherds are the elders of the local churches.
Paul told the Ephesian elders, “Take heed to yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made ye overseers, to feed the church of God which he hath purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). Here, the elders are told to take heed to the flock and to feed (shepherd) the church of God. Peter, who was also an elder in the church, told fellow elders to “feed (shepherd) the flock of God among you” (1 Pet. 5:1-2).
Every congregation needs shepherds. When Paul returned on his first missionary journey, he ordained or appointed elders in every church (Acts 14:23). This was done in a matter of months after these churches were established. Churches go today for years and still no shepherds. Something is wrong, somewhere. Let us notice why churches need shepherds.
1. To lead the flock. Jesus said of the shepherd, “And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice” (John 10:41). The Lord, as a shepherd, leadeth beside the still waters (Ps. 23:2). Elders are leaders in the church. We read, “Obey them that have the rule over you” (Heb. 13:17). The word “rule” means “lead.” The New American Standard Bible renders this verse, “Obey your leaders.” Inept leaders have the flock grazing on the same barren territory forever. They never enter the green pastures. If such happens, it is by accident. Incompetent shepherds allow the church to get in the rut of just “keeping house for the Lord.”
2. Know the flock. A good shepherd knows his sheep. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine” (John 10:14). He even knows them by name. “To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out” (John 10:3).
Elders in the church must know every member. They must be aware of their weaknesses, shortcomings, strengths, and abilities. They need to know when they are absent and why they are absent. Elders must not operate as an executive board of some business, but as loving shepherds of the flock. When a sheep goes astray a good shepherd “leaves the ninety and nine in the wilderness and goes after that which is lost, until he finds it” (Luke 15:4). When a member errs from the way, elders, with a sense of urgency, must go and find them and bring them back to the safety of the fold.
3. To care for the flock. Paul wrote, stating the qualifications of elders, “For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God” (1 Tim. 3:5)? Faithfully caring for the church is acting as a good steward. Paul calls an elder “a steward of God” (Tit. 1:7). A steward is a caretaker of another’s property. The church is the possession of God. The Bible calls the church the flock of God (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2). Peter calls the church, “God’s heritage” (1 Pet. 5:3). Hence, the church does not belong to the shepherds to lord over it, to do always as they please without ever considering the wishes of the church. The church does not belong to the preacher, or a few members in the church.
Caring for the church involves providing for the needs of the church. This would entail feeding, encouraging, and developing, both collectively and individually.
4. Watch the flock. There are always impending dangers facing the church. Elders need to be vigilant and alert, watching or guarding the flock. Paul said to the Ephesian elders, “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter among you, not sparing the flock . . . therefore watch” (Acts 20:29-31). Shepherds should know current heresies, and the trends leading in that direction. No perverter of the gospel must ever be allowed in the pulpit or in the classroom to corrupt the minds of the brethren from the simplicity that is in Christ. Factionists and trouble makers must be marked and avoided (Rom. 16:17-18; Tit. 3:10). This is why elders are to be apt to teach, holding fast the faithful word that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and convince the gainsayers (Tit. 1:9).
The author of Hebrews writes that the elders (leaders, shepherds) watch for our souls. “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief” (Heb. 13:17). When members miss services, are overcome by temptation, plan questionable marriages, attend improper places, or are filled with animosity and hostility toward others, the shepherds must deal with these things promptly, prudently, and patiently. Sheep without a shepherd are prone to be scattered about. When Jesus “saw the multitudes, he had compassion on them, because they fainted and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd” (Matt. 9:36). There are some shepherds, unfortunately, who have not the flock at heart. “Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the Lord” (Jer. 23:1).
Business Meetings as Substitutes
Business meetings of the men are sometimes substituted for shepherds (pastors) in the church. In a few places even the sisters sit in on the business meetings to help make the decisions for the church. The women take too much upon themselves when they exercise such authority (1 Tim. 2:12). And when there are men qualified to be elders, the men take too much upon themselves to use so-called business meetings as a replacement for God’s ordained plan of elders in every church.
There is nothing wrong with business meetings in the church when there are no elders. This would be a necessity to expedite the work of the church. But this arrangement should be only temporary. Of course, in a small congregation there may be no men who can qualify , and the church could go on for years without elders. But many times brethren just do not want elders, although there are two or more men who qualify. One of the basic reasons for this is so the men who don’t qualify will not have to surrender control to two or three of the men who become elders. The unqualified brethren don’t seem to mind to be a part of a group of men in business meetings who make decisions that they refuse to surrender to two or three men who are far more wise, able, and devoted to Christ.
In business meetings there are men of various ages, from perhaps a sixteen year-old to whatever. There may be new converts, those who are ignorant about the Bible, the carnal minded, the fickle, the frivolous, the extremists, and the pessimists, who may sit in these business meetings to lead the church in its great and glorious work. For example, one young, misguided brother who was taking an untenable position in a business meeting, said in response to an older brother, who had quoted a statement from the apostle Paul, “Who do you think Paul was, the Pope?” Fortunately, most business meetings have wise and level-headed brethren in them who steer them in the right direction. However, under the most favorable circumstances it is very difficult, or nearly impossible, to take care of the spiritual needs of the members of the church in these kinds of business meetings.
Brethren, God knew what he was doing when, in his wisdom, he ordained that each local congregation have shepherds. Paul left Titus in Crete that he might appoint elders in every city (Tit. 1:5). The churches in Judea had elders (Acts 11:30), the Jerusalem church is said to have elders (Acts 15:4), the churches established on Paul’s first missionary journey (Acts 14:23), the Ephesian church (Acts 20:17), the church at Philippi (Phil 1:1) and those churches to whom Peter addressed his first epistle (1 Pet. 5:1) all had elders.
Yes, the churches of our Lord need shepherds!