“Christ suffered for you, leaving you a model for you to follow his steps closely.”—1 PETER 2:21.
1, 2. (a) When sheep are well cared for, what is the result? (b) Why were many people in Jesus’ day like sheep without a shepherd?
SHEEP do well only when they have a caring shepherd. One book about raising sheep says that if a shepherd simply leaves his sheep to eat in the field but does not care for their other needs, the sheep become weak and sick within a few years. But when a shepherd cares well for each of his sheep, the whole flock will be strong and healthy.
2 The same is true in the congregation. The care and attention that Christian shepherds give to each sheep will benefit the whole congregation. You may remember that Jesus felt sorry for the crowds because “they were skinned and thrown about like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36) Why were the people in Jesus’ day like sheep without a shepherd? Because those who were responsible for teaching them God’s Law were harsh and demanding, and they did not do what they taught others to do. Instead of loving the people and caring for them, these religious leaders made it very difficult for them to serve God. The people felt as if they were carrying “heavy loads” on their shoulders.—Matthew 23:4.
3. What should elders remember as they care for the sheep?
3 Today, elders have a serious responsibility. The sheep whom they care for belong to Jehovah and to Jesus. These sheep are so precious to Jesus, “the fine shepherd,” that he even gave his life for them. He “bought” them with his own “precious blood.” (John 10:11; 1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Peter 1:18, 19) Elders should always remember that their overseer is Jesus Christ, “the great shepherd of the sheep.” So they are responsible to him for how they treat the flock.—Hebrews 13:20.
4. What will we learn in this article?
4 How should Christian elders treat the sheep? Everyone in the congregation is encouraged to “be obedient to those who are taking the lead” among them. But Jehovah also tells elders not to be “lording it over those who are God’s inheritance.” (Hebrews 13:17; read 1 Peter 5:2, 3.) How can elders continue “taking the lead” without “lording it over” the flock? In other words, how can elders care for the needs of the flock without going beyond the authority that God has given to overseers?
“IN HIS BOSOM HE WILL CARRY THEM”
5. What do we learn about Jehovah from Isaiah 40:11?
5 The prophet Isaiah said about Jehovah: “Like a shepherd he will shepherd his own drove. With his arm he will collect together the lambs; and in his bosom he will carry them. Those giving suck he will conduct with care.” (Isaiah 40:11) This scripture describes how Jehovah cares for the needs of those who are weak or who need protection. He knows the needs of each person in the congregation and is happy to help, much like a shepherd knows the specific needs of each sheep in his flock. Also, just as a shepherd sometimes carries a newborn lamb close to him, Jehovah will give us comfort and special care when we face a great test or difficult times. He is “the Father of tender mercies.”—2 Corinthians 1:3, 4.
A shepherd knows the specific needs of each sheep in his flock
6. How can an elder imitate Jehovah’s example?
6 What a wonderful lesson a shepherd in the congregation can learn from our heavenly Father! Like Jehovah, he must pay attention to the needs of the sheep. If an elder knows what difficulties they are having, he will know when and how to give them the encouragement and support they need. (Proverbs 27:23) This means that an elder must take the time to talk with his brothers and sisters and to listen to them. Although he is careful to respect their privacy, he does pay attention to what he sees and hears in the congregation and lovingly takes time to help “those who are weak.”—Acts 20:35; 1 Thessalonians 4:11.
7. (a) How were God’s sheep being treated in the days of Ezekiel and Jeremiah? (b) What can we learn from Jehovah’s rejecting unfaithful shepherds?
7 Think about the attitude of the shepherds of God’s people during Ezekiel and Jeremiah’s day. Jehovah rejected those shepherds because they should have been caring for his sheep but were not doing so properly. Jehovah said: “My sheep continued to be food for every wild beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, and my shepherds did not search for my sheep, but the shepherds kept feeding themselves, and my own sheep they did not feed.” The people suffered because their leaders were selfish and greedy. (Ezekiel 34:7-10; Jeremiah 23:1) God has rejected the leaders of Christendom for similar reasons. What important lesson can elders learn from Jehovah’s rejecting unfaithful shepherds? They must give Jehovah’s flock proper and loving attention.
“I SET THE PATTERN FOR YOU”
8. How can elders imitate Jesus’ excellent example when counseling their brothers?
8 Because humans are imperfect, some in the congregation may not clearly understand what Jehovah expects of them. They may make decisions that are not based on Bible principles, or the way they act may show that they are not yet mature Christians. How should elders react? They should imitate Jesus’ patience with his disciples. The disciples argued a lot about which one of them would become the greatest in the Kingdom, but Jesus never became angry with them. He continued to teach them and to give them loving counsel about showing humility. (Luke 9:46-48; 22:24-27) He even washed their feet to show them what it means to be humble. Today, elders too must show humility.—Read John 13:12-15; 1 Peter 2:21.
Jesus showed patience and humility when teaching his disciples
9. What attitude of the apostles did Jesus need to correct?
9 The apostles James and John showed that they thought being a shepherd meant ruling over others. They asked Jesus for an important position in the Kingdom. But Jesus corrected their attitude and taught them to think differently. He said: “You know that foreign rulers like to order their people around. And their great leaders have full power over everyone they rule. But don’t act like them. If you want to be great, you must be the servant of all the others.” (Matthew 20:25, 26, Contemporary English Version) The apostles needed to resist the desire to “lord it over” their brothers, that is, to be telling them what to do all the time.
10. How does Jesus want elders to treat the flock? How did Paul set a good example?
10 Jesus expects elders to treat the flock the same way that he treated it. They must be willing to serve their brothers and sisters, instead of acting as their masters. Like Jesus, the apostle Paul humbly served others. He told the elders in the congregation of Ephesus: “You well know how from the first day that I stepped into the district of Asia I was with you the whole time, slaving for the Lord with the greatest lowliness of mind.” Paul wanted the elders to be humble and work hard for their brothers. By his example, Paul taught the elders how to “assist those who are weak.” (Acts 20:18, 19, 35) In a letter, he told the Corinthians that he was not the master over their faith. Instead, he was a humble servant of God just like them, and he wanted to help them to serve God with joy. (2 Corinthians 1:24) Paul is a good example of humility and hard work for elders today.
GIVE COUNSEL BASED ON “THE FAITHFUL WORD”
11, 12. How might an elder help a brother to make a decision?
11 The counsel that a congregation elder gives must always be based on “the faithful word,” the Bible. (Titus 1:9) Also, his counsel is given “in a spirit of mildness.” (Galatians 6:1) Instead of trying to force his brothers to act in a certain way, a good shepherd tries to help them make their own decisions based on their love for Jehovah and for his Word. For example, an elder might help a brother make an important decision by discussing Bible principles or an article in our publications. He might ask the brother to think about how different choices could affect his relationship with Jehovah. The elder can then remind him how important it is to ask God for guidance in prayer before making a decision. (Proverbs 3:5, 6) After the discussion, the elder will allow the brother to make his own decision.—Romans 14:1-4.
12 The only authority that the elders have comes from the Scriptures. So it is very important that they use the Bible well and always base their counsel on it. By doing so, elders do not go beyond the authority God has given them. After all, the sheep do not belong to them. In the end, each one in the congregation is responsible to Jehovah and Jesus for the decisions he or she makes.—Galatians 6:5, 7, 8.
“EXAMPLES TO THE FLOCK”
13, 14. In what ways must an elder be an example to the flock?
13 After Peter told the elders not to be “lording it over” their brothers, he encouraged them to be “examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:3; footnote) How may an elder be an example to the flock? Think about two qualities that a brother must have to serve as an elder. First, he needs to be “sound in mind.” This means that he clearly understands Bible principles and knows how to use them in his life. He stays calm in difficult situations and thinks carefully before making decisions. Second, he must be “presiding over his own household in a fine manner.” This means that if an elder has a family, he must be a good example as a husband and father, for “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 3:1, 2, 4, 5) Brothers and sisters in the congregation feel that they can trust elders who have these qualities.
14 Elders also set a good example by taking the lead in the preaching work, as Jesus did. Preaching the good news of the Kingdom was an important part of Jesus’ life on earth, and he taught his disciples how to do this work. (Mark 1:38; Luke 8:1) Today, publishers enjoy preaching with the elders. They see the elders’ zeal for this important work and can learn from their way of teaching. When elders regularly use their time and energy to preach the good news even though they have very busy lives, the congregation is moved to show the same zeal. Elders can also set a good example for their brothers by preparing for the meetings, giving comments, and doing work such as cleaning and maintaining the Kingdom Hall.—Ephesians 5:15, 16; read Hebrews 13:7.
“SUPPORT THE WEAK”
15. What are some reasons why elders make shepherding visits?
15 A good shepherd is quick to help a sheep that is hurt or sick. In a similar way, elders need to be quick to help those who are suffering or who need counsel or encouragement. The elderly and the sick may need help with their everyday needs, but they especially need encouragement and comfort from the Scriptures. (1 Thessalonians 5:14) Young ones in the congregation may be fighting against “the desires incidental to youth.” (2 Timothy 2:22) Elders help all in the congregation by making shepherding visits. During these visits, they try to understand the difficulties their brothers are having and give them encouragement from the Bible. If elders are quick to give their brothers and sisters the help that they need, many serious problems can be avoided.
Elders are quick to help those who are suffering or who need encouragement
16. When someone in the congregation has a serious problem, what can the elders do?
16 What if a brother in the congregation has a serious problem and his relationship with Jehovah is in danger? The Bible writer James said: “Is there anyone sick among you? Let him call the older men of the congregation to him, and let them pray over him, greasing him with oil in the name of Jehovah. And the prayer of faith will make the indisposed one well, and Jehovah will raise him up. Also, if he has committed sins, it will be forgiven him.” (James 5:14, 15) Even if the brother who is “sick” does not “call the older men,” elders should be quick to help him as soon as they become aware of his situation. When they pray with and for their brothers and support them during difficult times, the elders show that they are good shepherds who are encouraging their brothers to continue to serve God with joy.—Read Isaiah 32:1, 2.
17. When elders imitate “the great shepherd,” how does the congregation benefit?
17 Christian elders work hard to imitate Jesus Christ, “the great shepherd,” in all they do in Jehovah’s organization. These responsible men help the flock continue to grow stronger and to serve God faithfully. We are very grateful for our loving shepherds and our Great Shepherd, Jehovah.