A Word-centered church is a congregation gathered for the receiving of God’s Word. Rightly understood, a Word-centered church must agree about the teaching, leading, adding, and gathering of God’s people. We’ve set out in this series of blog posts to address this using the headings expositional preaching, shepherding leadership, meaningful membership, and healthy gatherings. In this article, we will consider the shepherding leadership of the church.
Church leaders in the Bible are referred to as overseers, elders, and pastors. All three titles synonymously refer to the same group yet emphasize unique leadership functions. How do we know the titles refer to the same office? Well, twice in the New Testament all three appear in the same passage referring to the same office. Try to identify overseer, elder, and pastor in 1 Peter 5:
1 Peter 5:1-3
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.
Peter addresses the leaders as ‘elders’ in verse one. These elders are then instructed to ‘shepherd the flock’ and ‘exercise oversight’ as pastoral and overseeing work. Acts 20:17-35 give a similar combination of church leadership terminology. Elder refers to the spirituality to lead, overseer refers to the competency to lead, and shepherding shows the heart to lead.
Shepherds smell like sheep
There is no substitute for time and longevity. In the church, shepherding leaders are present—always present and faithfully present. Shepherds show up to teach the Word, and they show up to receive the Word. When the flock gathers, the shepherds gather. They show up to celebrate and to comfort; to listen and to pray; to fight wolves and to make peace. Shepherds never abandon the flock (Read John 10). The point is shepherds smell like their sheep because they live their lives among the flock.
Shepherds lead as sheep
You drive cattle, but you lead sheep. That’s why 1 Peter 5:3 qualifies, “not domineering over those in your charge.” Love and trust are essential between the shepherd and the sheep. Pastors lead sheep well as they follow and submit to the leading of Jesus Christ, the good and chief shepherd (John 10:11 & 1 Peter 5:4). Pastors lead as under-shepherds serving with Christ’s authority.
Pastor Michael Wilburn