Shepherd the Flock of God Willingly
“Shepherd the flock of God in your care, not under compulsion, but willingly.”—1 PETER 5:2.
1. Why should we expect Christian elders to ‘shepherd God’s flock willingly’?
JEHOVAH shepherds his people willingly. (Psalm 23:1-4) “The fine shepherd,” Jesus Christ, willingly gave his perfect human life for sheeplike people. (John 10:11-15) Hence, the apostle Peter exhorted Christian elders to ‘shepherd God’s flock willingly.’—1 Peter 5:2.
2. What questions merit consideration regarding the shepherding activities of Christian elders?
2 Willingness is a mark of God’s servants. (Psalm 110:3) But more than a Christian man’s willingness is required for appointment as an overseer, or undershepherd. Who qualify to be such shepherds? What does their shepherding involve? How is it best accomplished?
Presiding Over a Household
3. Why can it be said that the way a Christian man cares for his family has a bearing on whether he qualifies to be a shepherd in the congregation?
3 Before a man can be appointed to “an office of overseer,” he must meet Scriptural requirements. (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9) For one thing, the apostle Paul said that an overseer should be “a man presiding over his own household in a fine manner, having children in subjection with all seriousness.” There is good reason for this, for Paul said: “If indeed any man does not know how to preside over his own household, how will he take care of God’s congregation?” (1 Timothy 3:4, 5) When appointing older men in the congregations on the island of Crete, Titus was told to look for “any man free from accusation, a husband of one wife, having believing children that were not under a charge of debauchery nor unruly.” (Titus 1:6) Yes, the way a Christian man cares for his family must be considered in determining whether he qualifies to assume the heavier responsibility of shepherding the congregation.
4. In addition to having regular Bible study and prayer, how do Christian parents show love for their families?
4 Men who preside over their households in a fine manner do more than pray and study the Bible with their families on a regular basis. They are always ready to help their loved ones. For those who become parents, this starts the day a child is born. Christian parents know that the more closely they adhere to a godly routine, the sooner their young one will fit into their schedule of Christian activities in daily life. How well the Christian father presides in these circumstances reflects on his qualifications as an elder.—Ephesians 5:15, 16; Philippians 3:16.
5. How can a Christian father rear his children “in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah”?
5 In presiding over his household, a conscientious Christian father heeds Paul’s counsel: “Do not be irritating your children, but go on bringing them up in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah.” (Ephesians 6:4) Regular Bible study with the family, both wife and children, offers fine opportunities for loving instruction. The children thus receive “discipline,” or corrective instruction. “Mental-regulating” that then takes place helps each child to come to know Jehovah’s view of matters. (Deuteronomy 4:9; 6:6, 7; Proverbs 3:11; 22:6) In the relaxed atmosphere of this spiritual get-together, the caring father listens carefully as his children speak. Kind leading questions are used to elicit honest expressions from them about their concerns and attitudes. The father does not assume that he knows all that is going on in their young minds. Indeed, “when anyone is replying to a matter before he hears it, that is foolishness on his part and a humiliation,” says Proverbs 18:13. Today, most parents find that the situations their children encounter differ greatly from those they themselves experienced when young. Consequently, a father will endeavor to learn the background and details of a problem before saying how it should be handled.—Compare James 1:19.
6. Why should a Christian father consult God’s Word when helping his family?
6 What occurs after the problems, anxieties, and attitudes of one’s children are known? The father who presides in a fine manner consults the Scriptures, which are “beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness.” He teaches his children how to apply the Bible’s inspired guidelines. In this way, those young in years become “fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.”—2 Timothy 3:16, 17; Psalm 78:1-4.
7. What example should Christian fathers set with regard to prayer?
7 Godly youths face hard times in connection with worldly schoolmates. So how can Christian fathers allay their children’s fears? One way is by regularly praying with them and for them. When these young people face trialsome situations, they will likely imitate their parents’ reliance on God. One 13-year-old girl, interviewed before being baptized in symbol of her dedication to God, related that she had experienced mockery and abuse from her schoolmates. When she defended her Bible-based belief in the sanctity of blood, other girls beat her and spit at her. (Acts 15:28, 29) Did she retaliate? No. “I kept praying to Jehovah to help me keep calm,” she explained. “I also remembered what my parents had taught me in our family study about the need to keep ourselves restrained under evil.”—2 Timothy 2:24.
8. How can an elder who does not have children preside over his household in a fine manner?
8 An elder who does not have children may also make adequate spiritual and material provisions for those in his household. This includes his marriage mate and perhaps dependent Christian relatives living in his home. (1 Timothy 5:8) Presiding thus in a fine manner is one of the requirements that must be met by a man appointed to shoulder responsibility as a congregation elder. How, then, should appointed older men view their privileged responsibilities in the congregation?
Preside “in Real Earnest”
9. What attitude should Christian elders have toward their assignments of service?
9 In the first century of our Common Era, the apostle Paul served as a steward in God’s household, the Christian congregation under Christ’s headship. (Ephesians 3:2, 7; 4:15) In turn, Paul exhorted his fellow believers in Rome: “Since . . . we have gifts differing according to the undeserved kindness given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the faith proportioned to us; or a ministry, let us be at this ministry; or he that teaches, let him be at his teaching; or he that exhorts, let him be at his exhortation; he that distributes, let him do it with liberality; he that presides, let him do it in real earnest; he that shows mercy, let him do it with cheerfulness.”—Romans 12:6-8.
10. In caring for God’s flock, what example did Paul set for elders today?
10 Paul reminded the Thessalonians: “As a father does his children, we kept exhorting each one of you, and consoling and bearing witness to you, to the end that you should go on walking worthily of God who is calling you to his kingdom and glory.” (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2:11, 12) The exhortation had been given in such a tender, loving way that Paul could write: “We became gentle in the midst of you, as when a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, having a tender affection for you, we were well pleased to impart to you, not only the good news of God, but also our own souls, because you became beloved to us.” (1 Thessalonians 2:7, 8) In harmony with Paul’s fatherly example, loyal older men have deep concern for all in the congregation.
11. How can appointed elders show eagerness?
11 Tenderness, together with eagerness, must characterize the loving oversight that our faithful Christian shepherds exercise. Their manner conveys much. Peter counsels elders to shepherd the flock of God “not under compulsion” or “for love of dishonest gain.” (1 Peter 5:2) On this point, scholar William Barclay expressed a cautionary note, writing: “There is a way of accepting office and of rendering service as if it was a grim and unpleasant duty, as if it was a weariness, as if it was a burden to be resented. It is quite possible for a man to be asked to do something, and for him to do it, but to do it in such an ungracious way that the whole action is spoiled. . . . But [Peter] does say that every Christian should be tremblingly eager to render such service as he can, although he is fully aware how unworthy he is to render it.”
12. How can Christian elders manifest willingness?
12 “Shepherd the flock of God in your care . . . willingly,” Peter also urges. A Christian overseer who cares for the sheep does so willingly, of his own free will, under the direction of the Fine Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Serving willingly also means that a Christian shepherd submits to the authority of Jehovah, ‘the shepherd and overseer of our souls.’ (1 Peter 2:25) A Christian undershepherd willingly manifests respect for the theocratic arrangement. He does so when he directs those seeking advice to God’s Word, the Bible. Though experience will help an elder to build a storehouse of Bible-based counsel, this does not mean that he will have the Scriptural solution to every problem at his fingertips. Even when he knows the answer to a question, he may find it wise along with the inquirer to consult the Watch Tower Publications Index or similar indexes. He thus teaches in two ways: He demonstrates how to find helpful information and humbly shows respect for Jehovah by directing attention to what God’s organization has published.
13. What steps can be taken to help elders give sound advice?
13 What can an elder do if nothing has been published in the Society’s literature on the specific problem at hand? No doubt, he will pray for insight and will search for some Biblical principles that have a bearing on the matter. He may also find it beneficial to suggest that the person seeking help consider Jesus’ example. The elder might ask: “If Jesus, the Great Teacher, were in your situation, what do you think he would do?” (1 Corinthians 2:16) Such reasoning may help an inquirer to make a wise decision. But how unwise it would be for an elder to offer a mere personal opinion as though it were sound Scriptural advice! Rather, elders can discuss difficult problems with one another. They may even submit important matters for discussion at a meeting of the body of elders. (Proverbs 11:14) The resulting decisions will enable all of them to speak in agreement.—1 Corinthians 1:10.
14, 15. What is required of elders when readjusting a Christian who ‘took some false step before he was aware of it’?
14 A Christian elder needs to display mildness when teaching others, especially when counseling them. “Brothers,” Paul counsels, “even though a man takes some false step before he is aware of it, you who have spiritual qualifications try to readjust such a man in a spirit of mildness.” (Galatians 6:1) Interestingly, the Greek word here translated “readjust” relates to a surgical term used to describe the setting of a bone so as to prevent a lifelong handicap. Lexicographer W. E. Vine relates this to restoration “by those who are spiritual, of one overtaken in a trespass, such a one being as a dislocated member of the spiritual body.” Alternate renderings are, “to restore to proper position; to bring into proper alignment.”
15 Readjusting one’s own thinking is not easy, and it can be very difficult to bring an erring person’s thoughts into proper alignment. But help offered in a spirit of mildness is likely to be received with gratitude. Consequently, Christian elders should heed Paul’s counsel: “Clothe yourselves with the tender affections of compassion, kindness, lowliness of mind, mildness, and long-suffering.” (Colossians 3:12) What should elders do when an individual needing readjustment has a bad attitude? They should “pursue . . . mildness of temper.”—1 Timothy 6:11.
Shepherding With Caution
16, 17. Against what dangers should elders guard when counseling others?
16 There is more to Paul’s counsel at Galatians 6:1. He urges spiritually qualified men: “Try to readjust [an erring one] in a spirit of mildness, as you each keep an eye on yourself, for fear you also may be tempted.” What serious consequences there can be if such advice goes unheeded! Prompted by reports of an Anglican clergyman found guilty of committing adultery with two parishioners, The Times of London said that this is “a timeless situation: a counselling, apparently fatherly or brotherly man falling victim to the temptations of trust.” The news columnist then referred to Dr. Peter Rutter’s claims that “exploitative affairs between patients and their male mentors—doctors, lawyers, priests and employers—had become, in our sexually free society, an unacknowledged, damaging and disgraceful epidemic.”
17 We should not imagine that Jehovah’s people are immune to such temptations. One respected elder who had served faithfully for years became involved in immorality because he made shepherding calls on a married sister when she was alone. Though repentant, the brother lost all his service privileges. (1 Corinthians 10:12) How, then, can appointed older men make shepherding visits in such a way that they will not fall into temptation? How can they arrange for a measure of privacy, for prayer, and for an opportunity to consult God’s Word and Christian publications?
18. (a) How can applying the principle of headship help elders to avoid compromising situations? (b) What arrangements can be made for making a shepherding call on a sister?
18 One factor for elders to take into account is the principle of headship. (1 Corinthians 11:3) If a young person seeks guidance, endeavor to involve his parents in the discussion when appropriate. When a married sister requests spiritual help, can you arrange for her husband to be present during the visit? What if this is impossible or he is an unbeliever who has been abusive to her in some way? Then make the same arrangements you would when a shepherding call is made on an unmarried sister. It would be wise for two spiritually qualified brothers to visit the sister together. If this is not suitable, perhaps an appropriate time can be chosen for two brothers to have a discussion with her at the Kingdom Hall, preferably in a room allowing for privacy. With other brothers and sisters present in the hall, though not in a position to see and overhear the discussion, likely any cause for stumbling would be avoided.—Philippians 1:9, 10.
19. Shepherding God’s sheep willingly brings what good results, and to whom do we express gratitude for willing shepherds?
19 Shepherding God’s sheep willingly brings good results—a spiritually strong, well-directed flock. Like the apostle Paul, present-day Christian elders have great concern for fellow believers. (2 Corinthians 11:28) Especially heavy is the responsibility of shepherding God’s people in these critical times. Therefore, we are truly grateful for the fine work being done by our brothers who serve as elders. (1 Timothy 5:17) For blessing us with “gifts in men” who shepherd willingly, we offer praise to the Giver of “every good gift and every perfect present,” our loving heavenly Shepherd, Jehovah.—Ephesians 4:8; James 1:17.
How Would You Answer?
□ How can a man preside over his household in a fine manner?
□ What qualities should characterize oversight by Christian elders?
□ How may elders show humility and mildness in giving counsel?
□ What helps to make spiritual readjustment effective?
□ How can elders avoid compromising situations when shepherding the flock?
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A Christian elder must preside over his household in a fine manner
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Christian shepherding should be done with mildness and good judgment