11.19.14

How Many Shepherds Does a Church Need?

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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 and . 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 ().

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 and . 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” 

3:1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, 15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. 16 Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory. (ESV)

1:1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;

To Titus, my true child in a common faith:

Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12 One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. (ESV)

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

John 14:21

21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

John 14:23-24

23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. (ESV)

3:1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, 15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. 16 Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory. (ESV)

1:1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;

To Titus, my true child in a common faith:

Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12 One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. (ESV)

Thabiti Anyabwile
Thabiti Anyabwile serves as a pastor of Anacostia River Church (Washington DC). He is the happy husband of Kristie and the adoring father of two daughters and one son. Holler at him on Twitter: @ThabitiAnyabwil

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