Christian Shepherds, ‘Open Wide Your Heart’!
“JEHOVAH is my Shepherd. I shall lack nothing.” With those words, David expressed his complete confidence in his God. Jehovah led him, spiritually speaking, to “grassy pastures” and “well-watered resting-places,” directing him “in the tracks of righteousness.” When surrounded by opposers, David received support and encouragement, prompting him to say to Jehovah: “I fear nothing bad, for you are with me.” Having such a Supreme Shepherd, David was determined to “dwell in the house of Jehovah to the length of days.”—Psalm 23:1-6.
God’s only-begotten Son also experienced the loving care of Jehovah, and he perfectly mirrored this care in his dealings with his disciples during his earthly sojourn. The Scriptures therefore refer to him as “the fine shepherd,” “the great shepherd,” and “the chief shepherd.”—John 10:11; Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 5:2-4.
Jehovah and Jesus Christ continue to shepherd those who love them. Their shepherding finds expression, in part, in the loving provision of undershepherds in the congregation. Paul addressed such undershepherds when he 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.
Shepherding the flock in accordance with the pattern set by Jehovah and Christ Jesus is no easy task, but it is more vital now than ever before. Think of the over one million Witnesses who have been baptized within the past three years! Such new ones do not have the spiritual background that comes from years of activity. Think, too, of those Witnesses who are still children or teenagers. They need attention not only from their parents but also from the congregation’s undershepherds.
Indeed, every Christian is subject to outside pressures, including peer pressure. All must struggle to resist the strong pull to follow the world’s path of self-indulgence. In some countries, Kingdom publishers may be discouraged because of the lack of response to their message. Many publishers have serious health problems. Financial troubles may be robbing others of their incentive to seek the Kingdom first. In truth, all of us—including those long in the truth—need and deserve the help of loving shepherds.
First-century Christians were admonished: ‘Open wide your heart’! (2 Corinthians 6:11-13) Christian elders do well to follow this advice in caring for their shepherding duties. How can they do so? And what about ministerial servants, many of whom are prospective shepherds?
If Christian elders are to be a blessing to the flock, they must be motivated by more than a sense of duty. They are counseled: “Shepherd the flock of God in your care, not under compulsion, but willingly; neither for love of dishonest gain, but eagerly.” (1 Peter 5:2) Effective shepherding therefore involves a willingness and an eagerness to serve others. (John 21:15-17) It means seeing the needs of the sheep and being quick to respond. It means demonstrating the fine Christian qualities known as the fruitage of God’s spirit while dealing with others.—Galatians 5:22, 23.
Shepherding sometimes includes visiting brothers in their homes.* But shepherds who ‘open wide their heart’ expend themselves. That is to say, they do more than make occasional shepherding calls. They take advantage of every opportunity to shepherd others in the flock.
Training Others to Become Shepherds
Any brother, regardless of age, who “is reaching out for an office of overseer . . . is desirous of a fine work.” (1 Timothy 3:1) Many ministerial servants have demonstrated a willingness to reach out for additional privileges. Thus, elders gladly help these willing brothers to take this important step in “reaching out for an office of overseer.” This means training them to be effective shepherds.
Because of adhering closely to God’s high standards, Jehovah’s Christian congregation has not been weakened by false shepherds like the ones described at Ezekiel 34:2-6. These were contemptible in Jehovah’s sight and rightly so. Instead of feeding the flock, they fed themselves. They failed to strengthen the sick, to heal the ailing, to bandage the broken, or to bring back the dispersed or the lost. Acting more like wolves than shepherds, they tyrannized over the sheep. The neglected sheep were scattered, aimlessly roaming with no one to care for them.—Jeremiah 23:1, 2; Nahum 3:18; Matthew 9:36.
Unlike those unfaithful shepherds, Christian shepherds follow Jehovah’s example. They help to lead the sheep to spiritual “grassy pastures” and “well-watered resting-places.” They endeavor to direct them “in the tracks of righteousness” by helping them to understand Jehovah’s Word properly and to apply it personally. They can do this effectively because they are “qualified to teach.”—1 Timothy 3:2.
Much of the elders’ teaching is done from the platform during congregation meetings. However, elders also teach on a personal level. Of course, some are better at teaching in a one-on-one situation, while others are more gifted at giving talks. But a lesser degree of ability in one aspect of teaching does not necessarily disqualify someone as a teacher. Elders teach, using all avenues open to them, including shepherding. Some shepherding is done on a formal basis, for example, on organized visits. But much shepherding can also be done in a more informal way, which is also of great benefit.
Shepherds and Teachers All the Time
A doctor needs knowledge and experience in order to perform his work. But his patients appreciate it when he shows kindness, compassion, concern, and sincere interest. These qualities must be part of his personality. Similar qualities must likewise become a part of the personality of a good teacher and shepherd, part of his everyday self. A real teacher will be prepared to instruct those around him whenever necessary. “A word at its right time is O how good!” says Proverbs 15:23. The “right time” may be when he is speaking from the platform, when he is preaching from house to house, or when he is having a conversation in the Kingdom Hall or on the telephone. Likewise, a good shepherd strives to display fine, caring qualities at all times, not just when he is making shepherding calls. Having ‘opened wide his heart,’ he will take advantage of every opportunity to shepherd the sheep, giving them the care they need at the right time. This is what makes him beloved in the eyes of the sheep.—Mark 10:43.
Wolfgang, now an elder, recalls a social visit made on his family by a ministerial servant and his wife. He says: “Our children were thrilled with the attention they got and the pleasant time we had. They are still talking about it.” Yes, this ministerial servant showed that he cared; he was ‘opening wide his heart.’
Another opportunity to ‘open wide one’s heart’ is by visiting the sick, sending them a short note of encouragement, or calling them on the telephone—anything to let them know that you care! Offer help when needed. If they want to talk, listen attentively. Talk about positive, exciting theocratic activities in the local congregation and elsewhere. Help them to focus on the glorious future reserved for those who love Jehovah.—2 Corinthians 4:16-18.
In Addition to Shepherding Calls
Keeping in mind the purpose of shepherding, it is obvious that making formal shepherding calls at brothers’ homes, although important, is only part of what is involved. A loving shepherd ‘opens wide his heart’ by being approachable under all circumstances and at all times. The warm relationship he cultivates with his brothers assures them that in times of darkness, they need fear nothing bad, knowing that their loving brother, the Christian shepherd, cares for them.—Psalm 23:4.
Yes, all of you Christian shepherds ‘open wide your heart.’ Demonstrate sincere love for your brothers—encourage them, refresh them, build them up spiritually in every way you can. Help them to be steadfast in the faith. (Colossians 1:23) Blessed with Christian shepherds who ‘open wide their heart,’ the sheep will lack nothing. They will be determined, as was David, to dwell in the house of Jehovah to the length of days. (Psalm 23:1, 6) What more could a loving shepherd want?
Suggestions for making shepherding calls can be found in The Watchtower of September 15, 1993, pages 20-3, and of March 15, 1996, pages 24-7.
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• Serve eagerly and willingly
• Feed and care for the flock
• Help others to reach out to be shepherds
• Visit the sick and care for them
• Are alert to help their brothers at all times
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Whether in field service, at meetings, or on social occasions, elders are always shepherds