Shepherds Who Are “Examples to the Flock”
“Shepherd the flock of God in your care . . . willingly . . . , eagerly . . . , becoming examples to the flock.”—1 PETER 5:2, 3.
1, 2. (a) Jesus entrusted the apostle Peter with what privilege, and why was Jesus’ confidence not misplaced? (b) How does Jehovah feel about appointed shepherds?
SOME time before Pentecost 33 C.E., Peter and six other disciples were eating a breakfast that Jesus had prepared on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. This was not the first time Peter had seen the resurrected Jesus, and he was no doubt thrilled to know that Jesus was alive. But Peter may also have been anxious. After all, just a few days earlier, he had publicly denied ever knowing Jesus. (Luke 22:55-60; 24:34; John 18:25-27; 21:1-14) Did Jesus reprimand the repentant Peter for his lack of faith? No. Instead, he entrusted Peter with the privilege of feeding and shepherding Jesus’ “little sheep.” (John 21:15-17) As the Bible account of the history of the first-century Christian congregation shows, Jesus’ confidence in Peter was not misplaced. Together with the other apostles and older men in Jerusalem, Peter went on to shepherd the Christian congregation through a period of intense trials and rapid expansion.—Acts 1:15-26; 2:14; 15:6-9.
2 Today, Jehovah through Jesus Christ has appointed qualified men to serve as spiritual shepherds to lead His sheep through the most critical times in human history. (Ephesians 4:11, 12; 2 Timothy 3:1) Has such confidence been misplaced? The peaceful Christian brotherhood that exists worldwide proves otherwise. True, these shepherds are fallible humans, as was Peter. (Galatians 2:11-14; James 3:2) Even so, Jehovah trusts them to care for the sheep that “he purchased with the blood of his own Son.” (Acts 20:28) Jehovah has deep affection for these men, considering them “worthy of double honor.”—1 Timothy 5:17.
3. How do spiritual shepherds maintain a willing and eager spirit?
3 How do spiritual shepherds maintain a willing and eager spirit, thus becoming examples to the flock? Like Peter and the other first-century shepherds, they rely on God’s holy spirit, which gives them the strength they need in order to carry their load of responsibility. (2 Corinthians 4:7) Holy spirit also produces in them the fruitage of the spirit—love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22, 23) Let us consider some specific ways in which shepherds can set an example in displaying this fruitage as they shepherd the flock of God under their care.
Love Both the Flock and Each Individual Sheep
4, 5. (a) How do Jehovah and Jesus show love for the flock? (b) What are some ways in which spiritual shepherds display love for the flock?
4 The foremost quality produced by God’s spirit is love. Jehovah manifests his love for the flock as a whole when he provides it with an abundance of spiritual food. (Isaiah 65:13, 14; Matthew 24:45-47) Yet, he does more than just feed the flock. He feels a personal attachment to each individual sheep. (1 Peter 5:6, 7) Jesus too loves the flock. He surrendered his soul in its behalf, and he knows each sheep personally, “by name.”—John 10:3, 14-16.
5 Spiritual shepherds imitate Jehovah and Jesus. They display love for God’s flock as a whole by “applying [themselves] to teaching” the congregation. Their Bible-based talks help feed and protect the flock, and their hard work in this regard is visible to all. (1 Timothy 4:13, 16) Less visible is the time they spend maintaining records, processing correspondence, making schedules, and caring for numerous other details in order to ensure that congregation meetings and other activities take place “decently and by arrangement.” (1 Corinthians 14:40) Much of this work is done out of public view and may receive little recognition. It is truly a labor of love.—Galatians 5:13.
6, 7. (a) What is one way in which shepherds become better acquainted with the sheep? (b) Why is it sometimes beneficial to share our feelings with an elder?
6 Loving Christian shepherds endeavor to show personal interest in each sheep in the congregation. (Philippians 2:4) One way shepherds become better acquainted with individual sheep is by working side by side with them in the public preaching work. Jesus often had his followers with him in the preaching work and used such occasions to give encouragement. (Luke 8:1) One experienced Christian shepherd says: “I find that one of the best ways to get to know and encourage a brother or a sister is by working with him or her in the field ministry.” If you have not recently had the opportunity to work with one of the elders in the field ministry, why not make arrangements to do this soon?
7 Love moved Jesus to share in the joys and sorrows of his followers. For example, when 70 of his disciples returned with joy from their preaching, Jesus became “overjoyed.” (Luke 10:17-21) However, when he saw the effect Lazarus’ death had on Mary and her family members and friends, “Jesus gave way to tears.” (John 11:33-35) Likewise, caring shepherds today are not emotionally distant from the sheep. Love moves them to “rejoice with people who rejoice” and to “weep with people who weep.” (Romans 12:15) If you experience either joy or sadness in your life, feel free to share your feelings with Christian shepherds. Hearing of your joy will encourage them. (Romans 1:11, 12) Learning about your trials will enable them to strengthen and comfort you.—1 Thessalonians 1:6; 3:1-3.
8, 9. (a) How did one elder show love for his wife? (b) How important is it for a shepherd to display love for his family?
8 The love a shepherd has for the flock is particularly evident in the way he treats his own family. (1 Timothy 3:1, 4) If he is married, the love and honor he shows his wife sets an example for other husbands to imitate. (Ephesians 5:25; 1 Peter 3:7) Consider the comments of a Christian woman named Linda. Her husband served as an overseer for more than 20 years before his death. She says: “My husband was always very busy caring for the congregation. But he made me feel that I was part of a team. He often expressed appreciation for my support, and he spent his spare time with me. As a result, I felt loved and was not jealous of the time he spent serving the congregation.”
9 If a Christian shepherd has children, the way he lovingly disciplines and regularly commends these little ones provides a model for other parents to follow. (Ephesians 6:4) In fact, the love he shows for his family furnishes ongoing evidence that he lives up to the trust conferred upon him by reason of his appointment by holy spirit.—1 Timothy 3:4, 5.
Promote Joy and Peace by Communicating
10. (a) What can have a negative impact on the joy and peace of the congregation? (b) What issue threatened the peace of the first-century congregation, and how was that issue resolved?
10 The holy spirit can produce joy and peace in the heart of an individual Christian, among a body of elders, and in the congregation as a whole. However, a lack of open communication can have a negative impact on this joy and peace. Solomon of old observed: “There is a frustrating of plans where there is no confidential talk.” (Proverbs 15:22) On the other hand, respectful and frank communication promotes joy and peace. For example, when the circumcision issue threatened to disrupt the peace of the first-century congregation, the governing body in Jerusalem sought the direction of holy spirit. They also expressed their differing views on the subject. After much lively discussion, they arrived at a decision. When they communicated their unanimous decision to the congregations, the brothers “rejoiced over the encouragement.” (Acts 15:6-23, 25, 31; 16:4, 5) Joy and peace were promoted.
11. How can elders promote joy and peace in the congregation?
11 Likewise today, shepherds promote joy and peace in the congregation by being good communicators. When problems threaten the peace of the congregation, they meet together and openly express their feelings. They respectfully listen to their fellow shepherds’ comments. (Proverbs 13:10; 18:13) After praying for holy spirit, they base their decisions on Bible principles and on guidelines published by “the faithful and discreet slave.” (Matthew 24:45-47; 1 Corinthians 4:6) Once a Scripturally sound decision has been made by the body of elders, each elder yields to the direction of holy spirit by supporting that decision even if his personal opinion was not endorsed by the majority. Such modesty promotes joy and peace and sets a fine example for the sheep in how to walk with God. (Micah 6:8) Are you modestly cooperating with the Bible-based decisions made by the shepherds in the congregation?
Be Long-Suffering and Kind
12. Why did Jesus need to be long-suffering and kind in his dealings with the apostles?
12 Jesus was long-suffering and kind in his dealings with the apostles, despite their repeated failings. For example, time and again Jesus tried to impress upon them the need to be humble. (Matthew 18:1-4; 20:25-27) Yet, on the final night of Jesus’ earthly life, after he had just given them a lesson in humility by washing their feet, “there also arose a heated dispute among them over which one of them seemed to be greatest.” (Luke 22:24; John 13:1-5) Did Jesus berate the apostles? No, he kindly reasoned with them, stating: “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.” (Luke 22:27) Jesus’ long-suffering and kindness—coupled with his good example—eventually touched the apostles’ hearts.
13, 14. When especially must shepherds be kind?
13 Similarly, a spiritual shepherd may need to offer counsel repeatedly to a person regarding a certain failing. The shepherd could become exasperated with the individual. However, keeping in mind his own failings as he ‘admonishes the disorderly,’ he is able to show long-suffering and kindness toward his brother. That way he imitates Jesus and Jehovah, who show these qualities toward all Christians—including shepherds.—1 Thessalonians 5:14; James 2:13.
14 At times, shepherds may need to offer strong counsel to one who has committed a serious sin. If the individual is unrepentant, the shepherds must remove the erring one from the congregation. (1 Corinthians 5:11-13) Even so, the manner in which they deal with that person shows that they hate the sin, not the sinner. (Jude 23) A kind manner on the part of the shepherds may make it easier for a straying sheep eventually to return to the fold.—Luke 15:11-24.
Good Acts Are Motivated by Faith
15. What is one way in which shepherds imitate Jehovah’s goodness, and what motivates them to do so?
15 “Jehovah is good to all,” even to those who do not appreciate what he does for them. (Psalm 145:9; Matthew 5:45) Jehovah’s goodness is especially evident in that he sends his people to preach the “good news of the kingdom.” (Matthew 24:14) Shepherds reflect God’s goodness by taking the lead in this preaching work. What motivates their tireless efforts? Strong faith in Jehovah and in his promises.—Romans 10:10, 13, 14.
16. How can shepherds “work what is good” toward the sheep?
16 In addition to working “what is good toward all” by preaching, shepherds have the responsibility to work what is good “especially toward those related to [them] in the faith.” (Galatians 6:10) One way they do this is by making encouraging shepherding visits. “I enjoy making shepherding visits,” says one elder. “They give me the opportunity to commend the brothers and sisters for their efforts and to help them realize that their hard work is appreciated.” At times, shepherds may suggest ways in which an individual can improve in his service to Jehovah. In doing so, wise shepherds imitate the apostle Paul. Consider the way he appealed to the brothers in Thessalonica: “We have confidence in the Lord regarding you, that you are doing and will go on doing the things we order.” (2 Thessalonians 3:4) Such expressions of confidence appeal to the good inclinations of the sheep and make it easier for them to “be obedient to those who are taking the lead.” (Hebrews 13:17) When you receive an encouraging shepherding visit, why not express appreciation for it?
Mildness Requires Self-Control
17. What lesson did Peter learn from Jesus?
17 Jesus was mild-tempered, even when he was provoked. (Matthew 11:29) When he was betrayed and arrested, Jesus displayed mildness and great self-control. Impulsively, Peter drew a sword and retaliated. But Jesus reminded him: “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father to supply me at this moment more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:51-53; John 18:10) Peter learned the lesson well and later reminded Christians: “Christ suffered for you, leaving you a model for you to follow his steps closely. . . . When he was being reviled, he did not go reviling in return. When he was suffering, he did not go threatening.”—1 Peter 2:21-23.
18, 19. (a) When particularly must shepherds display mildness and self-control? (b) What questions will we consider next?
18 Likewise, effective shepherds are mild-tempered even when they are treated unfairly. For instance, some whom they try to help in the congregation may not react favorably. If the individual in need of help is spiritually injured or sick, he may respond to counsel by “speaking thoughtlessly as with the stabs of a sword.” (Proverbs 12:18) However, like Jesus, shepherds do not retaliate with sharp words or vengeful actions. Instead, they exercise self-restraint and still show fellow feeling, which may prove to be a blessing to the one in need of help. (1 Peter 3:8, 9) Do you learn from the example of the elders and display mildness and self-control when you receive counsel?
19 Without a doubt, Jehovah and Jesus appreciate the hard work of the thousands of shepherds who willingly tend the worldwide flock. Jehovah and his Son also have deep affection for the thousands of ministerial servants who support the elders in ‘ministering to the holy ones.’ (Hebrews 6:10) Why, then, may some baptized brothers hesitate to reach out for this “fine work”? (1 Timothy 3:1) And how does Jehovah train those whom he appoints as shepherds? We will consider these questions in the next article.
Do You Recall?
• What are some ways in which shepherds show love for the flock?
• How can all in the congregation promote joy and peace?
• Why are shepherds long-suffering and kind when giving counsel?
• How do elders display goodness and faith?
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Elders are motivated by love to serve the congregation
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They also spend time with their families both in recreation . . .
. . . and in the ministry
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Good communication among the elders promotes joy and peace in the congregation