Shepherds of the Flock Under One Lord
1. Who is the “fine shepherd,” and what is his relation to the “sheep”?
WHEN the Lord Jesus Christ was upon the earth, he identified himself as the “fine shepherd.” Those who listened to his voice and followed him were his “sheep.” He said he surrendered his soul in their behalf. (John 10:1-15) Thus the followers of Christ Jesus who make up the congregation were compared by Christ Jesus to sheep in a flock. At Luke 12:32 Jesus spoke of a “little flock” who would be given the Kingdom, and at John 10:16 Jesus mentioned “other sheep” who would also listen to his voice and who would become part of the one flock with Jesus Christ as their shepherd.
2. Why must undershepherds treat the flock as precious?
2 Christian Bible writers later used similar expressions when addressing Christian overseers who were assigned to serve as shepherds under the Lord Jesus Christ. To the Ephesian overseers, Paul said: “Pay attention to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the holy spirit has appointed you overseers, to shepherd the congregation of God, which he purchased with the blood of his own Son.” (Acts 20:28) Here Paul emphasized the need for these shepherds to recognize that the congregation belongs to God and that it was purchased with the blood of his own Son, which blood God regards as very precious. Hence, these shepherds must deal with the flock as something extremely precious in the sight of God and Christ, to whom the flock belongs.
3. (a) In the first century, what was expected of every member of the flock? (b) How was unity built up in the congregation?
3 By the time that Paul gave that counsel, the sheeplike members of the Christian congregation were not located in one place or one city, but were to be found in congregations located in many cities of the Roman Empire. They were in many places but they were still one flock, under the one shepherd, Christ Jesus, and every member of the flock was expected to be at unity with the others, in accord with the prayer of Jesus before his death: “I make request, not concerning these only, but also concerning those putting faith in me through their word; in order that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in union with me and I am in union with you, that they also may be in union with us, in order that the world may believe that you sent me forth.” (John 17:20, 21) Those who were assigned to serve the congregations in the first century were to work in building up their unity by directing attention to the appointed Head of the congregation, Jesus Christ, and by encouraging all to imitate him in sticking to the truth and in demonstrating genuine love. As it is written at Ephesians 4:15, 16: “Speaking the truth, let us by love grow up in all things into him who is the head, Christ. From him all the body, by being harmoniously joined together and being made to cooperate through every joint that gives what is needed, according to the functioning of each respective member in due measure, makes for the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” So, although there were many varieties of work to be performed, those who performed the work were all really one body of many members, under the one Head, Jesus Christ.
4. (a) What did Jesus emphasize to Peter? (b) Of what did Peter remind the older men?
4 Peter was one who did shepherding work under the direction of the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Following his resurrection Jesus emphasized to Peter, as recorded at John 21:15-17, that love for Christ is demonstrated by feeding or shepherding the “little sheep.” Many years later Peter wrote to fellow Christians who had also come to be in the office of older men in the Christian congregation, saying at 1 Peter 5:1-4: “Therefore, to the older men among you I give this exhortation, for I too am an older man with them and a witness of the sufferings of the Christ, a sharer even of the glory that is to be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God in your care, not under compulsion, but willingly; neither for love of dishonest gain, but eagerly; neither as lording it over those who are God’s inheritance, but becoming examples to the flock. And when the chief shepherd has been made manifest, you will receive the unfadable crown of glory.” In this way these older men, these shepherds under Christ Jesus, were reminded that the flock belongs to God, that it needs care and that it should be of great concern to them as older men.
5. (a) What is meant by Christian oversight? (b) How did Jesus emphasize this?
5 A Christian shepherd is an overseer, but this is not understood in the same way that the world might view an overseer of a construction crew or of a plantation. In the Christian congregation there is no lording it over those who are God’s inheritance. Oversight does not mean exaltation of men. Peter had learned about this very well from Christ Jesus many years earlier at the celebration of the last evening meal that Jesus had with his apostles. The record at Luke 22:24-27 reads: “However, there also arose a heated dispute among them over which one of them seemed to be greatest. But he said to them: ‘The kings of the nations lord it over them, and those having authority over them are called Benefactors. You, though, are not to be that way. But let him that is the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the one acting as chief as the one ministering. For which one is greater, the one reclining at the table or the one ministering? Is it not the one reclining at the table? But I am in your midst as the one ministering.’” The disciples were wrong in having this heated dispute, and yet how kindly was Jesus in correcting them!
6, 7. (a) How was Jesus an excellent example to the prospective shepherds? (b) What quality did Peter also stress? (c) How does this quality benefit the congregation?
6 The Chief Shepherd was an excellent example to those prospective shepherds. John’s record of that evening meal of Jesus with his disciples gives an instance of this, saying: “While the evening meal was going on, . . . [he got up] and laid aside his outer garments. And, taking a towel, he girded himself. After that he put water into a basin and started to wash the feet of the disciples and to dry them off with the towel with which he was girded.” (John 13:2-5) Jesus was a good teacher, so he went on to explain why he had washed their feet, saying: “Do you know what I have done to you? You address me, ‘Teacher,’ and, ‘Lord,’ and you speak rightly, for I am such. Therefore, if I, although Lord and Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash the feet of one another. For I set the pattern for you, that, just as I did to you, you should do also.”—John 13:12-15.
7 Peter was thoroughly impressed by the example of Christ Jesus and the need for a shepherd to deal with the flock in humility, always being ready to serve them. So Peter wrote: “Neither as lording it over those who are God’s inheritance, but becoming examples to the flock.” This humility is a quality that Christ Jesus wanted to see in those who do shepherding work in the flock of God. Hence, Peter went on to say: “In like manner, you younger men, be in subjection to the older men. But all of you gird yourselves with lowliness of mind toward one another, because God opposes the haughty ones, but he gives undeserved kindness to the humble ones. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.” (1 Pet. 5:5, 6) There is an advantage in being humble. It makes one easy to approach with a view to solving problems, and this spirit draws the entire congregation together in love. Serving in love and humility rules out any autocratic or arbitrary action or a lording it over others who are God’s inheritance. A true shepherd is concerned about becoming an example to the flock.
8. (a) What is the basic idea of the Greek word epískopos? (b) Why is this word more applicable to Christian overseers than the Greek word kýrios is?
8 The word “overseer,” which is translated from the Greek word epískopos, designates one who is a guardian or who watches over something. Protective care is a basic idea inherent in the word epískopos. So the Christian overseer is one who is concerned about the flock of God and who cares for such flock in the way a shepherd would care for literal sheep. As an overseer he is not to lord it over God’s flock. The word “lord” is from the Greek word kýrios and it signifies one having power and authority over others such as a master of a house or the head of a family. It is also translated “master,” “owner” and even “sir.” A slaveowner would come into that class, but slaveowners are rare today. However, modern employers or bosses would fit the description of a kýrios or “lord.” But elders should not view their relationship with their brothers as being like that of an employer and an employee. The elders are shepherds, and shepherds guide and lead sheep to good pasture and watering places, as well as protect them and endeavor to heal their wounds or sicknesses. In the Christian congregation the shepherds encourage their brothers in the work of the Lord by being fellow workers with them, recognizing that we all have one heavenly Lord and Master under whom we serve and to whom we must answer.
9, 10. (a) How was Peter a fine example of humility? (b) In contrast with false religion, what quality of true shepherds contributes to unity, and how did Jesus emphasize this?
9 Peter himself was a fine example of this; he did not exalt himself. When he wrote as recorded at 1 Peter 5:1, addressing his words to older men, he described himself, saying: “I too am an older man.” This is far from the worldly religious view of Peter, which tries to exalt Peter to a certain primacy or position of pope. That is not the example that Peter set.
10 There is no doubt that Peter remembered clearly the words of Jesus when he spoke of the scribes and the Pharisees exalting themselves and then said, as recorded at Matthew 23:8-12: “But you, do not you be called Rabbi, for one is your teacher, whereas all you are brothers. . . . Neither be called ‘leaders,’ for your Leader is one, the Christ. But the greatest one among you must be your minister. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Christian humility on the part of the shepherds who serve under Christ Jesus contributes to the unity of the flock and results in Jehovah’s blessing.
11. What good example did Paul and Barnabas set for overseers today?
11 On one occasion, Paul and Barnabas as traveling overseers were faced with the problem of certain men teaching circumcision as necessary for salvation. Acts 15:2 indicates that Paul and Barnabas did not agree with that teaching but disputed it. Nevertheless, for the sake of the unity of the whole organization, they brought the question to the governing body of apostles and elders at Jerusalem. When the matter had been thoroughly considered and the decision was reached by the governing body, local traveling overseers, such as Paul, wholeheartedly accepted the decision and conveyed to the congregations the important spiritual instruction. Acts 16:4, 5 reports: “Now as they traveled on through the cities they would deliver to those there for observance the decrees that had been decided upon by the apostles and older men who were in Jerusalem. Therefore, indeed, the congregations continued to be made firm in the faith and to increase in number from day to day.” This had the effect of increasing the unity and singleness of thought among all in the flock and was evidently pleasing to Jehovah, for Jehovah prospered the congregations and added increase. In their respect for the governing arrangement of the Christian congregation, Paul and Barnabas set a good example for overseers today.
12. (a) whom did Paul always give the glory? (b) How did Paul deal with the overseers in the congregation?
12 While Paul had a part in spreading the truth and seeing the expansion of the work, in an exemplary way he gave the glory to Jehovah, drawing attention away from himself and other servants of God by saying: “Neither is he that plants anything nor is he that waters, but God who makes it grow.” (1 Cor. 3:7) This letter to the Corinthians also discloses that there was need to remind the overseers of the Corinthian congregation concerning certain requirements of God’s law that they were not enforcing. 1 Co Chapter 5 shows that fornication was reported in the congregation but that no action had been taken. There is no record that Paul wanted to see all the overseers there disqualified or removed from their assignments in the congregation because of their shortcoming. Rather, Paul instructed them to have no company with anyone who claimed to be a brother who was a violator of God’s law and to remove the wicked one from among themselves. Paul was patient with them, allowing them opportunity to improve their shepherding and to correct themselves. That does not mean, however, that an overseer or a ministerial servant would never lose a privilege of service. If he definitely proved to be unfaithful or became reprehensible, he would be disqualified.
A UNIFYING SERVICE
13. How should an overseer regard responsibility?
13 An overseer bears a heavy responsibility. But it is a joyful responsibility—a great privilege! Viewing it as such helps to lighten the load. Remember, the “fine shepherd” tells us: “My yoke is kindly and my load is light.” (Matt. 11:30) That is the way Jesus viewed it. His undershepherds, who are yoked to Jesus in doing Jehovah’s will according to his example, should regard it the same way. Much depends on putting ‘first things first.’—Matt. 6:33.
14. What was Jesus’ big work, and in what did he train his disciples?
14 Let us look more closely at Jesus’ example. What was his big work on earth? When John the Baptizer was arrested and imprisoned, Jesus went into Galilee and took up his service there. “From that time on Jesus commenced preaching and saying: ‘Repent, you people, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.’” (Matt. 4:17) Preaching the Kingdom was Jesus’ principal work. And, principally, that is what he trained his disciples to do. (Luke 8:1; 9:1, 2; 10:1, 8, 9) Toward the end of his service on earth he told Pilate: “For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth.” (John 18:37) Should undershepherds, who are yoked to Jesus, have any lesser goal?
15, 16. (a) Toward what problems of overseers should all show understanding? (b) What blessings may result through overseers’ balancing evangelizing, shepherding and teaching responsibilities?
15 However, with many overseers this presents a problem, and understandably so. So much time is spent in caring for family responsibilities and in making shepherding calls that it is hard to find opportunities for taking a zealous lead in house-to-house and other field activity. Even so, could not a reasonable balance be arranged between evangelizing, shepherding and teaching? (Eph. 4:11) In the event that an overseer plans a regular share in evangelizing with a service group, consider other activities that may be tied in with this: Often, the overseer will be able to plan to take his own family along with him in this service, giving them practical training along with others in the group. There is great joy to be had in regular family participation in service together, and this can be an example to others in finding joy.
16 What about shepherding calls? While returning from service, an overseer may make a point of dropping in on some person or family, and no doubt his relating fresh experiences from the field will have a stimulating effect. Some have made brief calls, also, while returning home from secular work. If calls are well planned, they need not encroach too much on evangelizing time. Overseers today can express themselves the same as did the apostle Paul: “If, now, I am declaring the good news, it is no reason for me to boast, for necessity is laid upon me. Really, woe is me if I did not declare the good news!” (1 Cor. 9:16) How refreshing it is to a Christian to keep active in proclaiming the good news, and how the flock appreciates such a fine example on the part of the overseer!
17. How did Jesus perform his service?
17 All who serve as ‘evangelizers, shepherds and teachers’ may learn much from the way Jesus performed his service. He proclaimed the Kingdom wherever he could find people. Today we do this principally from door to door. But note how Jesus combined his public preaching with privately teaching his disciples. On one occasion Jesus went aboard a boat and talked to great crowds that gathered on the beach. “He told them many things by illustrations.” After he had related the illustration of the sower, his disciples asked him why he spoke by the use of illustrations. So, privately, he answered their question. Then he spoke many other things “to the crowds by illustrations.” Afterward, when “he went into the house,” the disciples came to him again and he helped them to “get the sense” of his teaching.—Matt. 13:1-3, 10, 11, 34-36, 51.
18. What benefits may result from field-oriented service by overseers?
18 So, Jesus’ service was field-oriented. Many overseers today should be able to follow a similar pattern. In working with a group in field service, they can accompany different ones in talking with people at the doors. This can encourage the group greatly. As they work with various individuals they can take an interest in explaining the whys and wherefores of situations that they are called on to handle at the doors, and show them how to overcome local problems. There may be opportunities, especially as they complete their service, of discussing questions that individuals may have. Thus, while building up the group’s enthusiasm for the evangelizing work, overseers can give attention at the same time to shepherding and teaching.
19. What outstanding example did Jesus set as the “fine shepherd”?
19 At John 10:3, 4, we read concerning the “fine shepherd”: “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. . . . He goes before them, and the sheep follow him, because they know his voice.” Likewise, undershepherds today can give most valuable encouragement as they lead the flock out in Kingdom service, lovingly considering the needs of the individuals in the service group and taking kindly interest in building up each one so that all may improve their abilities in preaching and teaching the good news. It was Jesus himself who set the outstanding example of such service to the flock.—Ps. 40:9.
20. (a) Why should the flock not be critical of the overseers? (b) How may members of the flock loyally support the overseers’ labors of love?
20 On occasion, problems may consume considerable of the overseers’ time, and they are problems that should not be neglected. None should be critical of overseers if at times these problems prevent them from leading others out in Kingdom service. All the flock appreciate their labors of love. They appreciate that the overseers are trying to strike a proper balance between evangelizing, shepherding and teaching. As circumstances allow, they are most happy when the overseers are their constant companions in the evangelizing work. Often, ministerial servants and others in the congregation can lighten the overseers’ load by taking care of detailed work or other responsibilities that do not particularly call for attention by an overseer. Ministerial servants and other assistants who serve loyally alongside the overseers, and who “help out” wherever possible, are a great blessing in the congregation.—Ps. 149:1.
21. What will result from united service in “speaking the truth”?
21 As overseers, ministerial servants and all others in the congregation unite in “speaking the truth” zealously in Kingdom service and with one another, and as the entire congregation cooperates in every detail with a view to advancing the Kingdom-preaching and disciple-making work, all will indeed “by love grow up in all things into him who is the head, Christ.”—Eph. 4:15.