Whether you are someone who is a leader in your church or someone who does not know the first thing about Church leadership, it is important to know how our churches ought to be taken care of and shepherded.
When the sheep are malnourished, sickly, and ravaged by predators it is the issue of the shepherds.
Good shepherds have an intimate love for and knowledge of their flocks. They care for their sheep and tend to them in order to make sure they are healthy, strong, and protected. They guide them, watch over them, and care for them as their own.
In 2 Peter 2:25, the Christian is likened to a sheep that has gone astray but has returned to Christ, the Shepherd (poimane) and Overseer (episkopos) of our souls. Christ is the Good Shepherd who watches over those under His care. He feeds, cares for, and protects the sheep in His flock. Interestingly enough, Peter uses the same exact words- shepherd (poimane) and overseer (episkopos)- a few chapters later to describe those who have been entrusted the care of His flock within our churches. He was speaking directly to those who have taken on the task of watching over and caring for our churches. Peter writes to the elders in chapter 5, “Be shepherds (poimane) of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers (episkopos).”
The elders of our churches are to be Christ-like in the way they know their sheep, feed their sheep, care for their sheep, and protect their sheep from danger. They have been entrusted by Christ himself with the responsibility of His flock. And, they will be held accountable for the way they have or have not taken care of God’s precious sheep. What an awesome and serious responsibility…and- one we have taken too lightly.
The elders within our churches, in many instances, have taken on new and different responsibilities than what God intended. They have come to resemble a corporate Board of Directors, directing the affairs of their employees and company. They manage the church staff and deal with legal issues, financial campaigns, building issues and projects, service times, new projects and services, and unhappy consumers. The elders, whether we like to admit it or not, have become the shepherds and overseers of the product that generates the operating income. And as much as our leaders hate to admit it, they have to keep a stream of revenue coming in to cover the business operations and employees. Our elders work to minimize disruption in revenue and keep the church machine running.
Sadly, this is the measure by which many of our churches have elected our eldership. Those who have selfless, relational and pastoral hearts, given over to the shepherding of the sheep, have not stepped forward. Or, when they have stepped forward, they have been molded, shaped, and influenced by the current mode of operation. What we end up with are “good people” who make “good” and “logical” business and financial decisions for our churches, but not shepherds who feed, care for, and protect the sheep.
This is a strong indictment, but one of which I am completely confident and resolute. I have seen this in small and large churches alike. Our elders, because of immense pressure to keep the church afloat and appease the consumers, have turned into something they were never intended to be, while doing things they were never intended to do. The elders within our churches are to be those who intimately shepherd and watch over the sheep in their flocks, in the way of Christ. They ought not to look at our churches as businesses. They do not need to run like businesses. They do not need businessmen in order for it to work.
The eldership ought to be comprised of selfless servants who give their lives to prayer and the Spirit, nurturing and pouring themselves out for the care of their sheep. They are the caring and loving image of Christ within our churches who lead us in the ways of Christ.
It is essential that we stop to learn the lessons from Israel’s past and how its shepherds wrongly cared for God’s flock. By reading the strong indictments of the prophets in the Old Testament, one can find rather quickly that instead of tending to the needs of the God’s flock by nurturing, caring, and protecting them, Israel’s elders were all too concerned for their own interests and pursuits. It is for this reason that they came under the consternation and judgment of God.
This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.
Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock; therefore, O shepherds, hear the word of the LORD this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. Ezekiel 34: 2-10
The prophet Jeremiah continues:
Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the LORD. Therefore this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the LORD. Jeremiah 23: 1-2
Elders, what words would God write to you in the way you have tended and cared for your flock? Would God bless your work or would He curse your work? Would Christ shepherd and watch over your church differently than you do? Would He be doing the same things as you, or would He do other things? Would His interests be the same as the interests you set for your church, or would they be different? Would His priorities for your church be the same as your priorities?
More specifically, do you know the people under your care by name? Do you know the intimate needs they have in their lives? Are you an active intercessor in their lives? Are you actively teaching and training them up in the way of Christ in all that they do? Are you nurturing and caring for them when they are sick or in need? Are you actively protecting them from the attacks of the enemy? Are you leading them into a Kingdom fellowship in which they embody righteousness and holiness in all they do, helping them grow daily in the way of the Good Shepherd? Are you on your knees leading your Church in humble, contrite, and submissive prayer? Are you leading those around you in a top-down approach, or are you coming up from the bottom to nurture and serve?
Or, have you been more interested in the growth and status of your church? Are you more concerned with the status of your position within the church? Are you more concerned with daily operations of your church than the spiritual development of the people under your care? Are you more concerned with the next building expansion plan and the way your church will finance it or with the spiritual foundation of those in your midst? Have you given more of your time to business meetings in which you discuss staff issues and member complaints than meeting in the homes of those in your care? Do you spend more time mulling over the next big thing or considering the next program rather than nurturing and building up your congregation to spiritual health? Do you spend more time putting out fires and letting misguided people in your church beat you and other pastors in your church around because they are not getting what they want, or do you speak the truth in love to them for their individual spiritual health and the spiritual health of your church?
If the Church is to be the embodiment of new creation, a sign post of God’s rule and God’s reign in our lives here and now, who will nurture and guide us along the way? Who will gather together the lost and sickly sheep and bring them back into the fold to be whole and healed? Who will lead us into the way of Christ and guide us into rich Kingdom lives? Our churches desperately need to rethink the role and responsibility of those who lead us. We need a fresh beginning by throwing out the ways and practices of sinful man that God despises. We instead need to pray for true, authentic shepherds within our fellowships who are wholly dependant on the power of God in all matters.
We need shepherds in our churches who actively pray for and seek the moving of the Holy Spirit when we gather together. We need shepherds who are not afraid to practice and live out their faith for fear that it might seem too weird or that it might frighten off the people we are “trying to get to join our churches.” We need shepherds who operate in the power of the Holy Spirit rather than operate in the power, convention, and “wisdom” of men. We need shepherds who guide us fearlessly in the power of the Spirit, rather than those who lead and make decisions based upon what they think is right or what they want. We need shepherds who recognize that the Body of Christ does not need additional heads, for Christ’s headship is sufficient. We need shepherds who will be completely submissive to the headship of Christ.
We need shepherds who move and operate at an organic level in the midst of their flock rather than elders who have turned their churches into corporations that need corporate leadership. We need shepherds who guide, teach, and train up a movement of servants (diakonis) to serve within our churches. We need shepherds who will preach, teach, and call their churches to the way of Christ and His Kingdom rather than accommodate and coddle those who just want to play church. We need shepherds who understand that the Kingdom of God is not a matter of words but a matter of power, and that power only comes from our Heavenly Father through His Holy Spirit given freely to those who are asking, seeking, and knocking.
Good shepherds do not stand in front of the flock blocking them or beating them into submission. Good shepherds guide their sheep to embody the Kingdom of God and move in freedom, guiding them out into the world in order to spread wildly the Good News of this Kingdom, never holding them back by rules, regulations, protocols, traditions, bureaucracies, fear, or intimidation. God give us courage to change the ways we lead. Forgive us for how we have abused our positions of leadership and give us good shepherds who will shepherd us like Christ.