Elders, Take Your Shepherding Responsibilities Seriously
“Shepherd the flock of God in your care.”—1 PETER 5:2.
1. Why is it so appropriate that sheep should be used to symbolize humans approved by God?
HOW appropriate it is that sheep should be used to symbolize humans favored by Jehovah God! Sheep are docile creatures that respond to the voice of their shepherd and readily follow him. God’s sheeplike people similarly allow themselves to be led by the Fine Shepherd, Jesus Christ. They know him, respond to his voice, and joyfully accept his leadership. (John 10:11-16) Of course, without a good shepherd, literal sheep quickly become fearful and helpless. No wonder, then, that Jesus Christ felt pity for people who were “skinned and thrown about like sheep without a shepherd.”—Matthew 9:36.
2. How did Jehovah view the sheeplike ones who suffered under the unloving “shepherds of Israel”?
2 Jehovah God is deeply interested in the spiritual welfare of honest-hearted humans Scripturally designated as “sheep.” For instance, through the prophet Ezekiel, God pronounced woe upon “the shepherds of Israel,” the responsible men who fed themselves while neglecting the sheep. But Jehovah was not going to allow sheeplike ones to suffer without relief, for he said: “The lost one I shall search for, and the dispersed one I shall bring back, and the broken one I shall bandage and the ailing one I shall strengthen.”—Ezekiel 34:2-16.
3. How has Jesus Christ shown concern for the sheep?
3 The Fine Shepherd, Jesus Christ, has similar concern for sheeplike ones. Before ascending to heaven, therefore, Jesus expressed his desire that the sheep receive proper care. He told the apostle Peter, ‘Feed my lambs, shepherd my little sheep, feed my little sheep.’ (John 21:15-17) And to assure continued loving attention to the sheep, Jesus gave “some as shepherds” to build up “the body of the Christ.”—Ephesians 4:11, 12.
4. The apostle Paul urged spirit-appointed “older men” to do what?
4 Since both God and Christ have such deep love and concern for the sheeplike ones, being an undershepherd of God’s sheep is a very responsible assignment. Thus the apostle Paul urged the spirit-appointed “older men” of Ephesus to “shepherd the congregation of God,” paying due attention to it. (Acts 20:17, 28) So how can appointed elders properly care for this responsibility?
Shepherds Receive Direction
5. What counsel did Peter give fellow overseers?
5 The apostle Peter, who was expected to feed Jesus’ sheep, told fellow overseers: “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.” (1 Peter 5:1-3) Let us see how elders, appointed by holy spirit, can satisfactorily comply with this counsel.
6. With what attitude should elders serve “the flock of God”?
6 Peter urged fellow elders: “Shepherd the flock of God in your care, not under compulsion, but willingly.” Those privileged to serve as spiritual shepherds should not do so grudgingly, feeling compelled to care for the sheep. They should not feel coerced, as though this were some form of drudgery or as if others were prodding them to shepherd the flock. Rather, elders should serve with a willing spirit. (Compare Psalm 110:3.) When a person is willing to do good for others, he usually does so wholeheartedly, exerting himself and going out of his way to serve their interests. A willing elder gives freely of his time and energies. He knows that at times sheep may go astray, and he desires to help them, imitating God’s concern for the sheeplike ones. Why, so great was Jehovah’s concern for Israelites who went astray that his words were: “I have said, ‘Here I am, here I am!’ to a nation that was not calling upon my name”!—Isaiah 65:1.
7, 8. (a) What does it mean to carry out the shepherding work without love for dishonest gain? (b) Serving eagerly means doing what?
7 Peter said that the shepherding work should be done “neither for love of dishonest gain, but eagerly.” The appointed elders do not desire to be a burden to the sheep. That was the apostle Paul’s attitude, for he told Christians in Thessalonica: “Certainly you bear in mind, brothers, our labor and toil. It was with working night and day, so as not to put an expensive burden upon any one of you, that we preached the good news of God to you.” He also reminded them: “We did not behave disorderly among you nor did we eat food from anyone free. To the contrary, by labor and toil night and day we were working so as not to impose an expensive burden upon any one of you.”—1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:7, 8.
8 Similarly, faithful shepherds of God’s flock today do not covetously desire what the sheep have or try to make unjust profit at their expense. (Luke 12:13-15; Acts 20:33-35) Paul showed that those qualifying to be overseers ‘must not be greedy of dishonest gain.’ (Titus 1:7) Rather, they must serve eagerly, having enthusiastic interest in their work and seeking the advantage of the sheep entrusted to their care. (Philippians 2:4) In this way, these shepherds show unselfish concern for the sheep similar to that displayed by Jehovah God and his Son, Jesus Christ.
9. Why must a Christian shepherd ‘not lord it over those who are God’s inheritance’?
9 Peter also said that elders were to shepherd Jehovah’s people “neither as lording it over those who are God’s inheritance, but becoming examples to the flock.” A loving shepherd is careful that he does not abuse his authority by having an air of superiority and lording it over the sheep. A proud spirit is unchristian and must be avoided by all those desiring to please Jehovah. Proverbs 21:4 says: “Haughty eyes and an arrogant heart, the lamp of the wicked ones, are sin.” And Jesus told his followers: “You know that the rulers of the nations lord it over them and the great men wield authority over them. This is not the way among you; but whoever wants to become great among you must be your minister, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave.” (Matthew 20:25-27) Indeed, elders must remember that those making up the flock are God’s sheep and must not be dealt with in a harsh manner.
10. (a) What were some shepherds of the people doing in Ezekiel’s day? (b) How are loyal overseers fine examples to the flock?
10 To the self-serving shepherds of Ezekiel’s day, Jehovah said: “The sickened ones you have not strengthened, and the ailing one you have not healed, and the broken one you have not bandaged, and the dispersed one you have not brought back, and the lost one you have not sought to find, but with harshness you have had them in subjection, even with tyranny.” God further said that the harsh shepherds had ‘kept shoving all the sickened ones until these had been scattered.’ (Ezekiel 34:4, 20, 21) But it is not that way with the loving shepherds of “the flock of God” today. They do not flaunt their authority and are careful not to stumble any of the sheep. (Compare Mark 9:42.) Rather, such elders provide loving help and encouragement. Moreover, they prayerfully rely on Jehovah and work hard to be fine examples “in speaking, in conduct, in love, in faith, in chasteness.” (1 Timothy 4:12) Consequently, the sheep are contented and feel secure, knowing that they are being cared for by loving, God-fearing shepherds.
Dangers Face the Sheep
11. Why must modern-day shepherds care for God’s flock so well that the sheep feel secure?
11 Sheeplike persons today need to feel secure, reassured by the fine attention elders give to protecting the flock. (Isaiah 32:1, 2) This is especially so since Christians face many perils in these “critical times” marking “the last days.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5) The psalmist David also faced dangers, but he could say: “Jehovah is my Shepherd. . . . Even though I walk in the valley of deep shadow, I fear nothing bad, for you are with me.” (Psalm 23:1-4) Modern-day shepherds of God’s flock should care so well for the sheep that, like David, these sheeplike ones feel very close to Jehovah. They should also feel secure as part of God’s organization.
12. From what present-day trend do the sheep need to be protected, and how can elders be of help in this regard?
12 One danger from which those of God’s flock need protection is the present-day trend toward unprincipled, immoral conduct. Largely due to current forms of entertainment, whether through television or by other means, many people have developed a life-style directly in conflict with the standards set forth in God’s Word. Today, the anything-goes attitude of this world, with its gross sexual misconduct, needs to be counteracted by sound Scriptural counsel provided within the congregation. So shepherds of the flock must know well what the Bible teaches on matters of morality. Moreover, they should keep before the sheep their responsibility to remain clean for Jehovah’s service.—Titus 2:13, 14.
13. (a) Against what danger does the letter of Jude provide sound counsel? (b) What position must elders take regarding apostates?
13 There are also dangers from apostates. Remember that 19 centuries ago, certain “ungodly men” who were false teachers slipped into the congregation. They were dangerous “rocks hidden below water,” false shepherds that fed themselves, animalistic men causing separations and lacking spirituality. The letter of Jude provides sound counsel that enables elders, and all the faithful, to “put up a hard fight for the faith.” (Jude 3, 4, 12, 19) Unquestionably, elders must take a firm position with regard to any who seek to cause divisions, for Paul wrote: “Keep your eye on those who cause divisions and occasions for stumbling contrary to the teaching that you have learned, and avoid them.” (Romans 16:17) Shepherds therefore have a responsibility to protect the flock from these or other ‘wolves in sheep’s covering.’—Matthew 7:15.
Helping the Sheep in Other Ways
14, 15. How may elders be able to help fellow believers who treat one another unkindly?
14 Shepherding “the flock of God” may require helping the sheep with various problems that may arise within the congregation. At times, sheep may even begin contending with sheep. Because of small incidents, some may start to treat one another unkindly. These individuals may even slander one another and finally stop associating with their former companions in Jehovah’s service, to their own great spiritual detriment.—Proverbs 18:1.
15 Spiritual shepherds must be very alert to help such fellow believers. For instance, the elders may need to point out how wrong it is to slander one another and how all loyal Christians must work to preserve the unity of the congregation. (Leviticus 19:16-18; Psalm 133:1-3; 1 Corinthians 1:10) Elders may be able to help by pointing to Paul’s warning: “If . . . you keep on biting and devouring one another, look out that you do not get annihilated by one another.”—Galatians 5:13-15; James 3:13-18.
16. What must elders do if they note any unhealthy trends in the congregation?
16 Elders, remember that the Devil is going about “like a roaring lion, seeking to devour someone.” (1 Peter 5:8) All true Christians have a fight, not against flesh and blood, but against wicked spirit forces. (Ephesians 6:10-13) Faithful shepherds certainly do not want the sheep to be overreached by Satan. So if some sheeplike ones begin to miss Christian meetings, caring elders ought to try to determine the reason and offer adequate spiritual help. Shepherds must know the appearance of the flock and be alert to any unhealthy trends in the congregation. (Proverbs 27:23) If they note some tendency to neglect the field ministry, to ignore personal study, or to become overly involved in recreational or materialistic pursuits, these responsible men must seek to remedy the situation. In imitation of Jehovah and the Fine Shepherd, Jesus Christ, elders caring for “the flock of God” appropriately offer personal assistance or, at times, provide needed counsel at meetings. (Galatians 6:1) In these and other ways, loving elders give evidence that they take their shepherding responsibilities seriously.—Acts 20:28.
Shepherding Is a Serious Matter
17. What is required in order to qualify as an elder?
17 Shepherding “the flock of God” as an elder is an exacting work. The high standards to be met in order to qualify for such a privilege are clearly set out at 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9, and 1 Peter 5:1-4. Not just any brother can serve in this capacity, for only spiritual men can properly shoulder this responsibility. (1 Corinthians 2:6-16) Many men not now serving as elders could qualify for this privilege, but they must first ‘reach out for an office of overseer.’ They should be ardent students of God’s Word so that they will have deep understanding of it. Indeed, they must show themselves worthy of recommendation because of meeting the Scriptural requirements for appointment as elders, suitable shepherds of “the flock of God.”
18. How did Paul feel about the congregations, and do others share his feeling?
18 Serving under Jehovah God is the head of the Christian congregation, the Fine Shepherd, Jesus Christ. (John 10:11; 1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:22, 23) And how pleased Jesus must be to have undershepherds of the flock who properly lead and protect the sheep! These spiritual men meet the high Scriptural qualifications set for Christian elders. Moreover, they have the same deep concern for the sheep as that manifested by the apostle Paul, who wrote: “Besides those things [hardships and sufferings] of an external kind, there is what rushes in on me from day to day, the anxiety for all the congregations. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is stumbled, and I am not incensed?” (2 Corinthians 11:23-29) Paul traveled extensively, and daily he experienced “anxiety for all the congregations,” even as traveling overseers do today. Similarly, appointed elders in individual congregations experience anxiety for the sheep within the flock entrusted to their care as spiritual shepherds.
19. What will result as Hebrews 13:17 is applied and elders continue to take their shepherding responsibilities seriously?
19 Shepherding “the flock of God” is hard work, but it is most rewarding. Therefore, shepherds of the flock, carefully guard your precious privilege. Care well for God’s sheep. And may all sheeplike ones cooperate fully with the undershepherds appointed by holy spirit. “Be obedient to those who are taking the lead among you and be submissive,” urged Paul, “for they are keeping watch over your souls as those who will render an account.” (Hebrews 13:17) As all those wholeheartedly devoted to Jehovah work together unitedly, great spiritual blessings and benefits will continue to result from the faithful service of Christian elders who take their shepherding responsibilities seriously.
Can You Explain?
□ Why should spiritual shepherds serve willingly?
□ Why must elders be free of the love of dishonest gain?
□ Why would it be wrong for elders to lord it over God’s flock?
□ Why must overseers be examples to the flock?
□ What are some dangers from which shepherds need to protect “the flock of God”?
[Picture on page 25]
Like caring shepherds of ancient times, modern-day elders lovingly “shepherd the flock of God”