Wanted: Superior Sheep, preferably of the RRT breed (RRT: Receptive, Responsive, and Thoughtful). What model are you?
The Bible often uses the common sight of sheep in Palestine to describe people. The book of the Acts refers to an assembly as “the little flock which He hath purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). The leaders in the assembly are called elders because they are spiritually mature, overseers because they administer, and pastors or shepherds because they guide and give spiritual food to the members of a local church, just as a shepherd gives food to his flock of sheep.
Please note: the Word of God assumes that all sheep will be under the care of shepherds!
It would be dangerous for a sheep to remain outside the fold. Likewise, all believers in the New Testament are assumed to enter and remain in God’s assembly for life. Are you under the protection and provision of God’s caregivers in a local assembly? What is your relationship like with the overseers in your assembly? Do you pray for them? Do you give them happiness or headaches? Have you ever expressed your appreciation for them and the work they do for God?
Sometimes there is great lament over the lack of good shepherds in God’s assemblies. But what about the lament over the lack of good sheep?
Normally, sheep are not the brightest beasts in the barn. They are basically “fleece factories” with very little expected of them. However, the writer to the Hebrews gives spiritual sheep three responsibilities for their relationship with the shepherd. Note they are not suggestions, but commandments. They may not be natural tendencies, but they are divinely-required responsibilities of every sheep.
The Development of Your Relationship: Be Receptive!
Right now, you have the privilege of listening to men teach you privately and publicly. So eat up! Or, if you will, be a spongearound these men and absorb all the teaching you can. Ask them questions. Pack away all the Biblical knowledge, meditations, and understanding you can. Don’t miss when they schedule a teaching meeting or a Bible study. You only have so many years with these men. Take advantage while you can, as they “have spoken unto you the Word of God” (Hebrews 13:7).
True shepherds will be motivated by Biblical principles and live what they are preaching. They will walk the path they want the sheep to follow. So be a mimic and imitate them. The idea is not to act 70 years old when you are 17, but rather to find out what principles have successfully guided them and develop the same Biblical convictions. Wouldn’t you want the same spiritual success as they have had?
A shepherd does not own a whip. He sets out walking and the sheep follow. The sheep need not worry about where they are going; the shepherd’s goal will be best. So, be an engineer, and analyze “the outcome of their conduct” (v. 7 NKJV). What are their goals and what are they living for and moving towards? And you?
The Duty of Your Relationship: Be Responsive!
These men are not perfect, but they are in the position that God has designed for shepherds to have in the assembly. Obviously, they should never ask you to do something that is in opposition to the Word of God. But sometimes they may ask you to do something you don’t fully understand. It is not wrong to ask for an explanation or to even politely, calmly, and kindly express an opinion based on the Word of God. In the end, if there is still a difference of opinion, make it your habit to “obey them…and submit yourselves” (v. 17). But why?
Respond to their authority. These men are in a position to “rule over you.” That authority is granted by God through His Word. Even if you don’t click with their personality, honor their position in the divine order of an assembly.
Respond to their accountability to the Lord. Remember, they are responsible to God for the decision and you are accountable for your reaction to that decision. If they had to present a report to the Lord about you and your attitudes and responsiveness to their care, would they be able to “do it with joy, and not with grief” (v. 17)? To get a bad report card is one thing. To get a poor performance report at work is another. Shepherds giving a negative report to the Lord is sadder yet for them and you, “For that is unprofitable for you.”
Finally, respond to their activity. These men likely have grey hair or no hair. Caring for sheep is a 24/7 responsibility. There are worries about problems within and concerns about problems without. They want the best for each sheep, and they labor for the good of the whole flock. Their work isn’t easy and it is public work. They’re sitting ducks for criticism and receive few compliments. But they are providing a great service for you on behalf of their Lord as “they watch for your souls.”
The Desire of Your Relationship: Be Thoughtful!
Elders are not aliens. They are part of the body of Christ just as you are. So, when the writer closes the letter to the Hebrews, he reminds the believers, “Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints” (v. 24). There are no differences, no special salutations, no special handshakes, and no special treatments.
Sure, elders should receive extra respect. But sometimes, they don’t get the encouragement, the handshakes, the help, and the appreciation that other believers get. They are not high priests, kings, or prophets. Just treat them with the same interest and concern as you show to all the rest in the assembly.
That means you must communicate with them. Make it your goal to develop a relationship with them by talking to them. Go out of your way to ask about their family, their work, and their thoughts just as you would everyone else. Above all, take your concerns, verses in the Bible you don’t understand, and your encouragements to them as often as you can.
That also means you must care for them. If you see an elder in need, help him. Visit him, send him a card, and tell him how thankful you are to the Lord for him. Above all, pray for him. Elders need your prayers for wisdom, preservation, and health.
God’s creation was perfect. He provided food on day three before He made creatures that would need to eat on day six. He also made sheep and shepherds (people) on the same day. Spiritually speaking, shepherds are made for sheep and sheep are made for shepherds. So, don’t wait any longer. Get into the presence of God and evaluate your relationship with your elders. May God help you to actively pursue excellence in your relationship with them. As a member of the assembly for the rest of your life, the challenges and choices will be yours with the Shepherds You Follow.