Jehovah Trains Shepherds for His Flock

“Jehovah himself gives wisdom; out of his mouth there are knowledge and discernment.”​—PROVERBS 2:6.

1, 2. Why do baptized men reach out for increased responsibility in the congregation?

“I WAS very happy when I was appointed as an elder,” says Nick, who has served as an overseer for seven years. “I saw this privilege as an opportunity to expand my service to Jehovah. I felt that I owed him a debt of gratitude for all that he has done for me. I also wanted to help the members of the congregation to the fullest extent possible, to assist them in the same way that other elders have assisted me.” However, mingled with his joy were some concerns. “Since I was only in my late 20’s when I was appointed,” Nick continues, “I worried that I would lack the needed skills​—the discernment and wisdom—​to shepherd the congregation effectively.”

2 Those whom Jehovah appoints to care for his flock have many reasons to be happy. The apostle Paul reminded the elders from Ephesus of one reason when, quoting Jesus, he said: “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.” (Acts 20:35) Serving as a ministerial servant or as an elder provides baptized men with additional ways to give to Jehovah and to the congregation. Ministerial servants, for example, work along with the elders. These servants also care for numerous other time-consuming but necessary assignments. Such brothers are motivated by love for God and neighbor to render valuable service.​—Mark 12:30, 31.

3. Why may some hesitate to reach out for congregation privileges?

3 What about a Christian man who may hesitate to reach out for the privilege of being a servant and eventually an elder because he feels inadequate? Like Nick, he may worry that he does not have the needed skills to be an effective shepherd. As a baptized brother, are you among those who feel this way? Such concerns are not groundless. Jehovah holds appointed shepherds accountable for the way they treat the flock. Jesus said: “Everyone to whom much was given, much will be demanded of him; and the one whom people put in charge of much, they will demand more than usual of him.”​—Luke 12:48.

4. How does Jehovah assist those whom he appoints to care for his sheep?

4 Does Jehovah expect those whom he appoints as servants and elders to carry the extra load by themselves? On the contrary, he provides practical assistance that enables them not only to cope but also to thrive. As discussed in the preceding article, Jehovah gives them his holy spirit, the fruitage of which helps them to care tenderly for the sheep. (Acts 20:28; Galatians 5:22, 23) In addition, Jehovah gives them wisdom, knowledge, and discernment. (Proverbs 2:6) How does he do this? Let us discuss three ways in which Jehovah trains individuals whom he appoints to care for his sheep.

Trained by Experienced Shepherds

5. Why were Peter and John effective shepherds?

5 When the apostles Peter and John stood before the Sanhedrin, the worldly-wise  judges of that court considered the men before them to be “unlettered and ordinary.” Oh, they could read and write, but they had not received any rabbinic training in study of the Scriptures. Even so, Peter and John along with the other disciples had proved to be effective teachers, moving many of those who listened to them to become believers. How did these ordinary men become such extraordinary teachers? After listening to Peter and John, the court “began to recognize about them that they used to be with Jesus.” (Acts 4:1-4, 13) True, they had received holy spirit. (Acts 1:8) But it was also obvious​—even to those spiritually blind judges—​that Jesus had trained those men. While he was with them on earth, Jesus taught the apostles not only how to gather sheeplike ones but also how to shepherd them once they became part of the fold.​—Matthew 11:29; 20:24-28; 1 Peter 5:4.

6. What example in training others did Jesus and Paul set?

6 After Jesus was resurrected, he continued to train those appointed as shepherds. (Revelation 1:1; 2:1–3:22) For example, he personally selected Paul and supervised his training. (Acts 22:6-10) Paul appreciated the training he received and passed on to other elders what he had learned. (Acts 20:17-35) For instance, he invested much time and energy in training Timothy to be “a workman” in God’s service, “with nothing to be ashamed of.” (2 Timothy 2:15) A close bond formed between these men. Earlier, Paul wrote of Timothy: “Like a child with a father he slaved with me in furtherance of the good news.” (Philippians 2:22) Paul did not seek to make Timothy or any other person a disciple of himself. Rather, he encouraged fellow believers to become ‘imitators of him, even as he was of Christ.’​—1 Corinthians 11:1.

7, 8. (a) What experience shows the good that results when elders imitate Jesus and Paul? (b) When should elders begin to train prospective ministerial servants and elders?

7 In imitation of Jesus and Paul, experienced shepherds take the initiative to train baptized brothers, with similar good results. Consider Chad’s experience. He was brought up in a religiously divided household but was recently appointed as an elder. He says: “Over the years, several experienced elders helped me to progress spiritually. Because my father was an unbeliever, those elders showed a particular interest in me and became like spiritual fathers to me. They took the time to train me in the ministry, and later, one elder in particular trained me in caring for the congregational assignments I received.”

8 As Chad’s experience shows, discerning shepherds start training prospective ministerial servants and elders long before these have progressed enough to qualify for such privileges. Why so? Because the Bible commands that both ministerial servants and elders attain a high moral and spiritual standard before they are appointed to serve. They must be “tested as to fitness first.”​—1 Timothy 3:1-10.

9. What responsibility do mature shepherds have, and why?

9 If baptized brothers are to be tested, it is only fair that they are first trained. To illustrate: If a student at school was asked to take a difficult examination for which the teachers had provided no specific training, would the student pass the test? Most likely, he would fail. Therefore, training is needed. However, conscientious teachers train students not only to pass a test but also to use the knowledge they gain. Similarly, diligent elders help baptized brothers to cultivate the qualities required of an appointed man by providing them with specific training. They  do so not merely to help these brothers to be appointed to serve but also to help them to be able to care adequately for the flock. (2 Timothy 2:2) Of course, baptized brothers must do their part and work hard to meet the qualifications required of a ministerial servant or an elder. (Titus 1:5-9) Nevertheless, by willingly training those who are reaching out for responsibility in the congregation, experienced shepherds can help them progress more quickly.

10, 11. How can shepherds train others for further privileges?

10 How, specifically, can experienced shepherds train others to care for congregational privileges? To begin with, by taking an interest in the brothers in the congregation​—regularly working with them in the field ministry and helping them improve their ability to handle “the word of the truth aright.” (2 Timothy 2:15) Mature shepherds discuss with those brothers the joys to be derived from serving others and the satisfaction they themselves receive from setting and attaining spiritual goals. They also kindly offer specific suggestions on how a brother can improve in becoming an ‘example to the flock.’​—1 Peter 5:3, 5.

11 Once a brother is appointed as a ministerial servant, wise shepherds continue training him. Bruce, who has served as an elder for decades, says: “I like to sit down with a newly appointed servant and review with him the instructions published by the faithful and discreet slave. We also read any guidelines regarding his specific assignment, and then I like to work with him until he is familiar with his duties.” As a servant gains experience, he can also be trained in the shepherding work. “When I take a ministerial servant with me on a shepherding call,” Bruce continues, “I help him to choose specific scriptures that will encourage and motivate the individual or the family we are to visit. Learning how to use the Scriptures in such a way that they touch the heart is essential if a servant is to become an effective shepherd.”​—Hebrews 4:12; 5:14.

12. How can experienced shepherds train newly appointed elders?

12 Newly appointed shepherds also benefit greatly from further training. Nick, mentioned earlier, says: “The training I received from two older overseers in particular was very helpful. These brothers usually understood how certain matters should be handled. They always patiently listened to me and seriously considered my viewpoint​—even if they did not agree with it. I learned a lot from observing the humble and respectful way they dealt with the brothers and sisters in the congregation. These elders impressed upon me the need to use the Bible skillfully when handling problems or when giving encouragement.”

Trained by God’s Word

13. (a) What does a brother need in order to be an effective shepherd? (b) Why did Jesus say: “What I teach is not mine”?

13 Indeed, God’s Word, the Bible, contains the laws, principles, and examples a shepherd needs in order to become “fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17) A brother may have a good secular education, but it is his knowledge of the Scriptures and how he applies  it that help make him an effective shepherd. Consider Jesus’ example. He was the most knowledgeable, the most discerning, and the wisest spiritual shepherd ever to walk the earth; yet, even he did not rely on his own wisdom when teaching Jehovah’s sheep. He said: “What I teach is not mine, but belongs to him that sent me.” Why did Jesus give credit to his heavenly Father? He explained: “He that speaks of his own originality is seeking his own glory.”​—John 7:16, 18.

14. How do shepherds avoid seeking their own glory?

14 Loyal shepherds avoid seeking their own glory. They base their counsel and encouragement, not on their own wisdom, but on God’s Word. They appreciate that a shepherd’s assignment is to help the sheep gain “the mind of Christ,” not the mind of the elders. (1 Corinthians 2:14-16) For example, what if an elder who was helping a couple deal with marital difficulties based his counsel on his own experience rather than on Bible principles and information published by “the faithful and discreet slave”? (Matthew 24:45) His advice might be overly influenced by local customs and restricted by his limited knowledge. Granted, some customs are not bad in themselves, and the elder may have experience in life. But the sheep benefit most when shepherds encourage them to listen to Jesus’ voice and to the sayings of Jehovah rather than to men’s thoughts or to the dictates of local custom.​—Psalm 12:6; Proverbs 3:5, 6.

Trained by “the Faithful and Discreet Slave”

15. What commission did Jesus give to “the faithful and discreet slave,” and what is one reason for the success of the slave class?

15 Shepherds such as the apostles Peter, John, and Paul were all members of the group Jesus described as “the faithful and discreet slave.” This slave class is composed of Jesus’ spirit-anointed brothers on earth, whose hope is to rule with Christ in heaven. (Revelation 5:9, 10) During these last days of this system, the number of Christ’s brothers left on earth has inevitably declined. However, the work Jesus commissioned them to accomplish​—the preaching of the good news of the Kingdom before the end comes—​is now more widely extended than ever. Even so, the slave class has been remarkably successful! Why? In part, because they have trained members of the “other sheep” to assist them in the preaching and teaching work. (John 10:16; Matthew 24:14; 25:40)  Today, the bulk of the work is accomplished by this loyal group.

16. How does the slave class train appointed men?

16 How does the slave class provide this training? In the first century, representatives of the slave class were authorized to train and appoint overseers in the congregations, and they, in turn, trained the sheep. (1 Corinthians 4:17) The same is true today. The Governing Body​—the small group of anointed elders who represent the slave class—​authorizes its representatives to train and appoint servants and elders in the tens of thousands of congregations worldwide. In addition, the Governing Body organizes schools to train Branch Committee members, traveling overseers, elders, and ministerial servants in how best to care for the sheep. Further direction is provided through letters, in articles published in The Watchtower, and by means of other publications, such as Organized to Do Jehovah’s Will. *

17. (a) How has Jesus shown his confidence in the slave class? (b) How can spiritual shepherds show that they have confidence in the slave class?

17 Jesus had so much confidence in the slave class that he appointed it over “all his belongings”​—that is, all his spiritual interests on the earth. (Matthew 24:47) Appointed shepherds prove that they too have confidence in the slave class by applying the directions they receive from its Governing Body. Yes, when shepherds train others, when they allow themselves to be trained by God’s Word, and when they apply the training provided by the slave class, they promote unity among the flock. How grateful we are that Jehovah has trained men who deeply care for each member of the Christian congregation!

[Footnote]

^ par. 16 Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

How Would You Answer?

• How do mature spiritual shepherds train others?

• Why do shepherds not teach on the basis of their own thoughts?

• How and why do shepherds show confidence in the slave class?

[Study Questions]

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Christian elders train younger men in the congregation

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“The faithful and discreet slave” provides abundant training for elders