“Christ suffered for you, leaving you a model for you to follow his steps closely.”
1, 2. (a) What results when sheep are well cared for? (b) Why were many people in Jesus’ day like sheep without a shepherd?
SHEEP thrive when a shepherd takes a keen interest in the welfare of his flock. According to one manual on sheep raising, “the man who simply turns the flock to pasture and gives it no more attention or thought will very likely find himself confronted with a lot of diseased and unprofitable sheep within a few years.” When sheep are cared for properly, however, the shepherd’s flock will fare well.
2 The quality of care and attention that shepherds of the flock of God give to the individual sheep entrusted to them will affect the spiritual health of the whole congregation. You may recall that Jesus pitied the crowds because “they were skinned and thrown about like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matt. 9:36) Why were they in such a sad condition? Because those who had the responsibility of teaching the people God’s Law were harsh, demanding, and hypocritical. Rather than helping and nurturing members of their flock, Israel’s spiritual leaders put “heavy loads” on their shoulders.
3. Of what should congregation elders be aware as they carry out their role as spiritual shepherds?
3 Present-day Christian shepherds
4. What will this article consider?
4 How, then, are Christian shepherds expected to treat the sheep? Members of the congregation are urged to “be obedient to those who are taking the lead” among them. On the other hand, Christian elders are exhorted to avoid “lording it over those who are God’s inheritance.” (Heb. 13:17; read 1 Peter 5:2, 3.) How, then, can appointed elders take the lead without lording it over the flock? In other words, how can elders care for the needs of the sheep without overstepping the authority that God has granted to overseers?
“IN HIS BOSOM HE WILL CARRY THEM”
5. What does the word picture at Isaiah 40:11 show us about Jehovah?
5 Concerning Jehovah, the prophet Isaiah said: “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.” (Isa. 40:11) This word picture conveys the idea that Jehovah cares about the needs of the weak and vulnerable members of the congregation. As a shepherd is conscious of the particular needs of each sheep in his flock and stands ready to attend to them, Jehovah is aware of the needs of those in the congregation and is happy to provide the required care. Just as a shepherd carries a newborn lamb in the fold of his garment when necessary, Jehovah
6. As a spiritual shepherd, how can an elder follow Jehovah’s example?
6 What a wonderful lesson a spiritual shepherd can learn from our heavenly Father! Like Jehovah, he must be attentive to the needs of the sheep. By knowing what challenges they are facing and what specific needs require immediate attention, an elder will be in a position to offer the necessary encouragement and support. (Prov. 27:23) Clearly, an elder must have good communication with his fellow believers. While respecting their right to privacy, he takes an interest in what he sees and hears in the congregation and lovingly makes himself available to “assist those who are weak.”
7. (a) How were God’s sheep being treated in the days of Ezekiel and Jeremiah? (b) What can we learn from Jehovah’s condemnation of unfaithful spiritual shepherds?
7 Consider the attitude of shepherds whom God condemned. In the days of Ezekiel and Jeremiah, Jehovah denounced those who should have been caring for his sheep but were not doing so properly. When no one was keeping watch over the sheep, the flock was preyed upon and it scattered. Rather than feeding the sheep, those shepherds were exploiting them and “feeding themselves.” (Ezek. 34:7-10; Jer. 23:1) God’s condemnation of those shepherds can appropriately be applied to the leaders of Christendom. But it also stresses how important it is for Christian elders to give Jehovah’s flock proper and loving attention.
“I SET THE PATTERN FOR YOU”
8. How did Jesus set an excellent pattern in correcting wrong attitudes?
8 Because of human imperfection, some of God’s sheep may be slow to understand what Jehovah expects of them. They may fail to take action that is in harmony with Scriptural counsel, or they may act in a way that indicates a lack of spiritual maturity. How are the elders to react? They should imitate Jesus’ patience with his disciples when they were preoccupied with the question of who among them would become the greatest in the Kingdom. Instead of losing patience with them, Jesus continued to teach his disciples and to give them loving counsel about manifesting humility. (Luke 9:46-48; 22:24-27) By washing their feet, Jesus provided an object lesson in humility, a quality that Christian overseers need to display.
9. What attitude did Jesus recommend to his disciples?
9 Jesus’ view of a spiritual shepherd’s role differed from that once manifested by James and John. The two apostles sought to secure a prominent position in the Kingdom. But Jesus corrected their attitude, saying: “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.” (Matt. 20:25, 26, Contemporary English Version) The apostles needed to resist a tendency toward wanting to “lord it over” their companions, or to ‘order people around.’
10. How does Jesus want elders to treat the flock, and what example did Paul set in this regard?
10 Jesus expects Christian elders to treat the flock the same way that he treated it. They must be willing to act as servants to their companions, not masters over them. The apostle Paul had that humble attitude, for he told the older men of the congregation in 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.” The apostle desired that those elders help others in an earnest, humble manner. He said: “I have exhibited to you in all things that by thus laboring you must assist those who are weak.” (Acts 20:18, 19, 35) Paul told the Corinthians that he was not the master over their faith. Instead, he was a humble fellow worker for their joy. (2 Cor. 1:24) Paul set a fine example of humility and hard work for elders today.
‘HOLD FIRMLY TO THE FAITHFUL WORD’
11, 12. How might an elder help a fellow believer to make a decision?
11 A congregation elder must ‘hold firmly to the faithful word as respects his art of teaching.’ (Titus 1:9) But he does so “in a spirit of mildness.” (Gal. 6:1) Rather than trying to force his associates in the congregation to act in a certain way, a good spiritual shepherd thinks in terms of appealing to their heart. An elder might highlight the Scriptural principles that a brother should consider when he is endeavoring to make an important decision. He might review with him what has been published on the topic. He might also urge the individual to consider how different courses of action would affect his relationship with Jehovah. The elder can stress the importance of seeking God’s guidance in prayer before making a decision. (Prov. 3:5, 6) After discussing such matters with the fellow believer, an elder will allow him to make his own decision.
12 The only authority that Christian overseers have comes from the Scriptures. Therefore, it is vital that they use the Bible skillfully and adhere to what it says. Doing so helps elders to avoid any possible abuse of power. After all, they are only undershepherds, and each member of the congregation will answer to Jehovah and Jesus for the decisions he or she makes.
“EXAMPLES TO THE FLOCK”
13, 14. In what areas must an elder be an example to the flock?
13 After admonishing the older men in the congregation not ‘to lord it over those allotted to them,’ the apostle Peter exhorted them ‘to become examples to the flock.’ (1 Pet. 5:3; ftn.) How may an elder be an example to the flock? Consider two of the qualifications that must be met by a man who is “reaching out for an office of overseer.” He needs to be “sound in mind” and must be “presiding over his own household in a fine manner.” If an elder has a family, he must preside over it in an exemplary way, 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 Tim. 3:1, 2, 4, 5) To qualify for the office of overseer, a man must be sound in mind in that he clearly understands divine principles and knows how to apply them in his own life. He is levelheaded and not hasty in judgment. Seeing these qualities in the elders inspires confidence among congregation members.
14 Taking the lead in field service is another area in which overseers set a fine example for their fellow Christians. In this regard, Jesus set the example for overseers. Preaching the good news of the Kingdom was an important part of Jesus’ earthly activity. He showed his disciples how this work was to be done. (Mark 1:38; Luke 8:1) In our day, how encouraging it is for publishers to preach side by side with elders, to witness the elders’ zeal for this lifesaving work, and to learn from their teaching methods! The overseers’ zealous determination to devote time and effort to preaching the good news despite their busy schedule encourages the whole congregation to display similar zeal. Elders can also set a good example for their brothers by preparing for and participating in congregation meetings and other activities, such as cleaning and maintaining the Kingdom Hall.
“SUPPORT THE WEAK”
15. What are some reasons that elders make shepherding calls?
15 A good shepherd is quick to take helpful action when a sheep is injured or becomes sick. Similarly, the elders need to give prompt attention to any in the congregation who are suffering or require spiritual assistance. The elderly and the sick may need attention in connection with their physical needs, but they especially need spiritual help and encouragement. (1 Thess. 5:14) Young members of the congregation may be facing challenges, such as resisting “the desires incidental to youth.” (2 Tim. 2:22) Shepherding thus involves visiting members of the congregation periodically with a view to understanding the situations they are facing and encouraging them with appropriate Scriptural counsel. When such issues are addressed in a timely fashion, many problems can be resolved before they ever become serious.
16. When a member of the congregation is in need of spiritual help, what assistance can the elders provide?
16 What if problems develop to the point that the spiritual health of a member of the congregation is threatened? “Is there anyone sick among you?” asked the Bible writer James. “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.” (Jas. 5:14, 15) Even if the spiritually ailing one does not “call the older men,” they should quickly come to his aid as soon as they become aware of his situation. When they pray with and for their brothers and support them in times of need, the elders prove themselves to be spiritually refreshing and encouraging to those under their care.
17. When elders imitate “the great shepherd,” what can result?
17 In all they do in Jehovah’s organization, Christian shepherds strive to imitate “the great shepherd,” Jesus Christ. With the spiritual assistance of such responsible men, the flock benefits greatly and continues to flourish. For all of this, we are grateful and are moved to praise our incomparable Shepherd, Jehovah.