Our series for Pastor & People for November 2014 is:
“You Need More Than a Church: You Need a Shepherd”

“How many shepherds does a church need?”

There are two short answers to that question. First, a church needs as many shepherds as God raises up and the existing elders can train. Second, a church needs as many shepherds as are required to care for all the sheep so that not one is lost.

The first answer recognizes that shepherds are gifts from God to be received with joy. The second answer recognizes that soul care down to the individual sheep is critical for every Christian and to the entire church.

This is why the Bible almost always refers to elders—plural. Every local church is to have multiple shepherds. No one man can do it all. No one man has the gifts necessary to care for an entire congregation.

Each local church needs all the qualified, committed and gifted elders it can recognize without being hasty. This will make pastors happy because of the help and fellowship they receive in shepherding. This will make the people happy because of the care and protection they receive.

How Do You Get More Elders?

Let’s assume a church doesn’t already have elders. Perhaps you have deacons and trustees, or maybe a lone pastor. Maybe some of the deacons act like elders without the title. And perhaps some of the members think elders are “a Presbyterian thing.” What steps should be taken to obeying the Bible in appointing multiple elders in the congregation?

First, just teach the Bible. Get the people used to hearing and obeying the Bible. When that’s the attitude of heart, then adopting elders will be smoother.

Second, explain both the fact that multiple elders are commanded and the benefits of multiple elders. Help the people understand why obeying the Bible in this matter will be a blessing to all.

Third, as a pastor or leader, model a willingness to lay down “rights” and share “power.” Sometimes congregations think any change to the leadership structure must be a “power grab.” That suspicion can make churches resistant even to good biblical change. Explain that this change actually weakens your hand by spreading responsibility and authority to other leaders as well. Explain that this actually protects the church from “power grabs,” which are more difficult to detect and stop when a lone ranger pastor is in charge. Set an example by delegating real responsibility and authority to others. Do this over time so that the people can see the real benefits of shared leadership.

Fourth, teach the congregation what to look for in elders and their role in selecting them. Don’t let the people slide into a popularity contest when selecting elders. Guide them with the qualifications in 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1. Help them to understand that calling a leader is their most important decision, a decision that will shape the future direction and character of the church.

Fifth, read good books together on the subject. If multiple shepherds is new in the history of your church, chances are they think you’re some weirdo making up things. Few things make you look as normal as your congregation finding other faithful men from other contexts teaching the same things. So, start a reading group or small groups and share other good resources with the people. It’ll help them accept you as normal and it’ll expand their access to good authors and books.

Sixth, wait until the people start asking, “When are we going to do this?” The best time to make a change is after the people have understood their Bibles and then asked for it. Understanding will be maximized and resistance minimized at that point.

A Word for Church Members

As mentioned earlier, members can be suspicious of any change in the church’s leadership and operation. If the church has been abused or hurt by unfaithful pastors then such suspicions are well founded.

But if that’s not the case, then the main thing we want to be as church members is teachable. If the pastor shows us the biblical text in proper context without any pretext, then all he is asking us to do is obey the Bible. We should always want to obey the Scriptures because that’s how we demonstrate our love for the Lord (John 14:15, 21, 23-24).

Everywhere we refuse to obey the Bible: (a) we sin, (b) we set the church up for conflict over preferences rather than agreement in the word, and (c) we rob ourselves of joy. Disobedience brings brokenness, not blessing.

What Do You Do When You Think You Have a Potential Elder?

Pray. Seek the Lord in intercession and asking for His will to be done.

Evaluate. Test the man against the biblical qualifications of 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1. Test him for teaching ability. Review the man’s past service to the congregation.

Train. Give the person opportunity to serve so that his gifts might be observed. Involve him in a plan of study and development, which could take place one-on-one with the pastor or existing elder or in a small group setting. It would be good to review the church’s history, organizing documents, philosophy of ministry or white papers, good books and other resources on Christian ministry.

Talk with the congregation. Ultimately the congregation must accept and affirm this man as a pastor. Depending on your polity, the congregation may have the final say-so. Involve them in the process of discerning, affirming and calling any would-be shepherd.

Resources highlighted on this podcast:

The music for this podcast is entitled, “We Win” which is produced and edited by Dalmond Bodden, who also helps produce this podcast. The song features artists like therealMC and Mike Black and comes from the album: “Solus Christus Vol. 2” 

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Thabiti M Anyabwile

Thabiti M Anyabwile

Thabiti is one of the pastors of Anacostia River Church in Washington, DC and the president of The Crete Collective. He is the author of several books and as an introvert enjoys quiet things at home.

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