Assembly Truth: The Sheep You Lead

Leadership fever! It is endemic in the hearts of many; the symptoms are varied and the cure elusive. Many covet the ability to control, to give orders, and to make decisions affecting others. To most, leadership implies a privilege and position which affords coveted “perks” and respect. Some would summarize the job description as signing letters, assigning responsibilities, designing halls and interiors, consigning some to secondary status, and then, someday, resigning. Strange that the Chief Shepherd Who spoke so often about leadership never described these tasks!

What is the character of those who shepherd a New Testament assembly? Does the Word of God give a description which is still workable in the 21st century? Are we to take our cues from business seminars and the most recent fad on “How to be an effective CEO”?

Lead the Flock

It may seem so apparent that it scarcely needs saying, but the first ingredient in leadership is to lead. Leading is far more than directing or ordering. It is, first of all, “going before” and leading by example. Peter reminds us that leaders are to be “ensamples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3) by their lives. Paul voices a similar thought when he speaks of those who “rule” (Romans 12:8). This is an unfortunate translation implying being “over” others when in fact it carries the thought of “standing before” and being an example. A careful reading of the N. T. passages will show that they never envision shepherds being “over” the sheep. Leading by example is vital. Consistency, character, and godliness should mark every leader. He must move with the consciousness that, as he fosters fruit and Christ-like character in others, they cannot rise higher than his own character.

The writer to the Hebrews reminds those persecuted saints of their leaders. These men had not only “spoken … the Word of God” to the saints, but had so lived that, amidst the greatest of trials, the believers were urged to remember their character and imitate their faith.

Feed the Flock

The words of the Lord Jesus by the sea of Tiberias, the words of Paul to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20), the reminder by Peter to the elders in 1 Peter 5, as well as the ingrained character of a shepherd, all remind us that the primary responsibility of a shepherd is to feed the flock. Many godly men whom God has brought to leadership are ill at ease with this command. Recognizing their own limitations, they feel that they are not able to carry out this most vital role. Thus, they feel disqualified. But the thought is not only that the shepherd himself gives food, but that he sees that the flock is fed. He does this in two ways: he directs them into “green pastures” (Ps 23:2) by encouraging others who have the gift of teaching to visit and be of help; and he also encourages believers individually by reminding them of the need to keep at the Word of God. He may also purchase Bible study helps for younger brethren or sisters, enabling them to feed on the Word of God themselves.

All this is part of fulfilling the command to “feed My sheep.” God has given some the responsibility to “labor in the Word and in doctrine” (1 Timothy 5:17). These “shepherd-teachers” have been gifted by the Lord and stand accountable to Him for their stewardship. But all shepherds, while “apt to teach,” are not gifted for public teaching. Yet each shepherd is responsible to see that the flock is well fed.

“Feeding the flock” has in view the spiritual well-being of all. Forgive the cross-metaphor, but the assembly is God’s tilled field from which He seeks fruit to delight His heart. By developing spiritual fruit, believers bring pleasure to God. The goal of shepherding is not self-prominence or self-pleasing, but honor and pleasure for God.

Read the Flock

You cannot envision a shepherd caring for his sheep without immediately picturing a man who is among the sheep and watching them in all their movements. He becomes sensitive to the slightest change in appetite, to the first signs of sickness or weakness. His keen instincts are honed razor sharp by the grief he has known in losing a sheep. He becomes aware of early warning signs. He does not sleep at a distance from the sheep but is amongst them by day and night. By experience, he has learned how to “read” the sheep.

A sensitive line separates care and concern for believers from intrusiveness into private lives. This is difficult to define, but each shepherd, in his care for the flock which God has entrusted to him, learns to “watch” (Hebrews 13:17) since he must give an account in a coming day.

How sensitive are you to the flock? Could you distinguish, as Paul says we must, between those who are unruly, feebleminded, weak, and forward (1 Thessalonians 5:14)? If not, how would you know how to deal with each one? Are you close enough to sense a change in appetite, in strength for the walk, in spiritual health? You will have to be “among the flock” and not aloof.

Heed the Flock

An accompanying article in this issue (p. 256) wisely and correctly encourages young believers to open channels of communication with those who lead the flock. In like manner, leaders need to be open to the suggestions and concerns of those whom they lead. This does not mean that we lead by consensus opinion or by majority interests. But to consistently disregard the concerns of the assembly and to move independent of all means either one of two unthinkable conclusions: the assembly is far from God and the leaders are the only spiritual ones left, or the leadership is out of touch with God as well as out of touch with their brethren! Both the believers in their concerns and the leaders in their exercise should be guided by the Word of God.

Plead for the Flock

But perhaps the greatest aspect of shepherd work is interceding for the flock before the throne of God. While this is done collectively when overseers meet, it is the daily activity of those who feel the burden which God has given them. The wording of Hebrews 13:17 suggests men who sacrifice sleep in “watching” for the flock. So dear young believer, while you are enjoying a night of socializing with other young Christians, men who care for you are giving themselves to the Word of God to feed your soul. And while you sleep comfortably in your bed at night, they are on their knees interceding for you before the Chief Shepherd. Perfect men? Infallible men? Far from it! Rather, they are men with a burden of heart appreciated by few.