Lesson 1 The Elder as Shepherd
1. What’s in a name? how terminology set the tone
We are called elders
- Ruling elders & Teaching Elders
We should reclaim the term Shepherds
- it best explains what elders are and do
- 1 Peter 5:1-4
- Acts 20:28
What does the image of Shepherd convey?
- tender care
- sacrificial service
- courageous protection
Psalm 23:2-3: He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Ezekiel 34 provides most extensive treatment of duties of Shepherd-Elders in the context of condemning what they do not do. Consider from the criticisms singled out the tender care expected:
Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. 4 The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them.
Shepherds should feed their flock
- strengthen the weak
- heal the sick
- bind up the wounds of the injured
- bring back those who have strayed
- rule over flock with tenderness and kindness
So God speaks of himself as shepherd:
15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak,
The most moving image of God as shepherd of his people comes from Isaiah 40:11: He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.
In Ezekiel, God complains that the shepherds take care of themselves at the expense of the sheep: (v3) You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep.
Implication is that they are to feed the sheep at their own expense.
They are to bother with going out after strays. J’ parable in Luke 15:3-7: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
It takes valuable and tiring time to seek the lost, but note not only does the Shepherd do it, but rejoices in finding the sheep. He rejoices because that one sheep he knows by name and cares for.
Psalm 23:4-5: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
David’s own example: “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth” (1 Sam 17:34-5).
Consider the spirit of the church if the members, when they think of their elders, the image of shepherd comes to their minds.
They think of shepherds who tenderly provide them care
- who make personal sacrifices for their well-being
- who will protect them in time of need
I know the difficulty of accomplishing the duties of a shepherd, and the purpose of these training sessions is to provide practical teaching towards that end, but first we must have in our minds the image of what we are to be. “Ruling elders” and Teaching elders” as accurate as these terms may be in function, they do not lend the biblical sense of the office of the office. And the sense of who we are gets further covered when we add more functional terms – trustees, commission and committee chairmen. All of these terms lead others to see us as government officials, judges, scholars, and administrators.
And even we lose the sense of who we are to be. We have “Parish Elders” to do the shepherding and “Administrative Elders” to do administrative work. We are all shepherds. And as such, we must all care for our sheep. Watching over commissions and committees is important work; setting forth vision and setting church policies is important; but we cannot lose sight that we are called foremost as elders in order to shepherd the flock by personally caring for our sheep whom we know by name, just as our Good Shepherd knows us by name and tends to our welfare.
As we think of our Lord as our Shepherd, and as our flock regards our Lord, so we should strive for them to see us as under-shepherds, becoming more and more like him, so that they feel comfort, they feel protected and cared for when they see us and hear from us.
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