A Fresh Look at Shcpherding at SMPC
by Mark Russell
Consider this fictional story: Cathy Williams, affectionately known to many as “Kate,” was born on September 22, 1953. In 1986, Cathy became a member of Covenant Church on the basis of her profession of faith and remained a member until her death on July 14, 2005. The death of Cathy Williams became a watershed moment in the pastoral shepherding ministry of Covenant Church. Coming out of a rebellious and loose lifestyle, Cathy made a profession of faith and actively participated in the life of the church. But then she began to fall into her old sinful habits. She abandoned the church and no one knew where she was; or at least no one cared to find out. Her name, however, remained on the rolls of the church, but just as a name. Shortly before her death, God placed Cathy back on the doorstep of Covenant Church. Pastoral interaction with the dying Cathy was too brief to confirm how she stood before God. In a cloud of uncertainty, Cathy was memorialized. She will have to stand before the judgment seat to give account for her life, but before that same throne the undershepherds of the flock at Covenant will have to give account for this one lost sheep.
Did you catch that? Not only will Cathy be standing before the judgment seat to give an account for her life, but so will the undershepherds of the flock at Covenant Church. The pastor to the Hebrews gives the following ethical guidance on the relationship between church members and the government of the local church: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” [Heb. 13:17] In this sense then, all authority in the church is delegated, and accountability is of the essence of responsibility. Jesus, as the King of the church, delegates responsibility of the soul-care to the elders of each local church [see Pastor Tim’s April 2012 Sermons: “How Jesus Runs His Church” and “The Shepherd Leader”].
Spring Meadows is in an exciting position to proactively enter the next phase of our “Plan of Discipleship” by formally launching a comprehensive “Shepherding Plan” whereby the Ruling Elders of our church choose families and individuals they will care for and watch over. This is not a new innovation in the history of God’s people. Shepherding is not Spring Meadows’ idea, it is Jesus’ idea. Starting from Moses to David to Peter to Paul to local church elders, the discipleship of God’s people by means of oversight and shepherding has been a mark of the church through redemptive history.
The Bible uses the shepherd image for church leaders throughout the story of the Bible. The Shepherd Moses delivered and led God’s flock Israel through the Red Sea [Isa. 63:11]. King David was reminded by the people, “the Lord said to you, ‘you will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler’” [2 Sam 5:2]. The Psalmist reiterates that, “David Shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them” [Ps 78:72]. Later Jeremiah pronounces covenant curses on the false shepherds of Israel: “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of My pasture!” declares the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord God of Israel concerning the shepherds who are tending His people: “You have scattered My flock and driven them away, and have not attended to
them; behold, I am about to attend to you for the evil of your deeds,” declares the Lord. (Jer. 23:1–2).
The basis for Elder oversight as we know it today in the Presbyterian Church is rooted in the New Covenant apostolic teaching. The Lord tells us through Jeremiah that despite false shepherds watching for Israel, the promised Davidic shepherd will also raise up shepherds over them and they will tend them; and they will not be afraid any longer, nor be terrified, nor will any be missing,’ [Jer. 23:4]. Indeed, during Jesus’ ministry he saw the crowds, and he felt compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. [Matt 9:36]. In fact Jesus is the “Chief Shepherd” [1 Peter 5:4]. And by his grace, Jesus has left the stewardship and care of your soul to his undershepherds:
Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Peter 5:1–4)
Thomas M. Lindsay states, “There is no word in the whole round of primitive ecclesiastical phraseology which is more frequently used to express the relation of office-bearer than ‘to shepherd.’ ” The basic rubric of one-to-one shepherding (and discipleship for that matter) may be broken down into four areas:
- Knowing the sheep – Relating personally
- Feeding the sheep – Nourishing with truth, inspiring toward Jesus, Equipping in needs
- Leading the sheep – Investing sacrificially, Guiding with Spirit-empowered discernment
- Protecting the sheep – Displaying compassion, Comforting with hope in the gospel, fighting for their good
Our elders are fallible men who need grace and the gospel as much as you and I. As they proceed with awe for God to care for you and your family, welcome them! After all, they will give an account to the Chief Shepherd for their knowing, feeding, leading, and protecting of your soul with the Gospel. At the end of the day, all of us are Jesus’ own sheep, and He leads us to Himself by means of His undershepherds. To lose sight of Jesus in our oversight/discipleship/shepherding of others is to miss the point of shepherding altogether. The Holy Spirit has assigned elders to care for us, and your elder will soon be contacting you to introduce himself to your family. This is a serious and divine assignment and Lord-willing, should prove to greatly increase the health of Spring Meadows Presbyterian Church as our little flock is subdued more to our Chief Shepherd, the bishop of our Souls, our Lord Jesus Christ.