At North Broad, we have four shepherds who pastor, lead, and serve the congregation. In other churches, these men might be called elders, bishops, or pastors. Though all these terms, among others, are different ways the Bible describes this role, our body of believers opts for the imagery of a shepherd.
This might sound a little strange to someone who isn’t used to using this particular term, but it is one with a rich biblical history.
In Ezekiel 34, for instance, the prophet addresses the shepherds of Israel. The leaders of Israel, referred to as shepherds in this passage, had failed in many ways. They were guilty of feeding themselves when they should have been feeding the sheep. They use the sheep for meat and clothing, but they didn’t care for them. Those sheep who were afflicted in some way were ignored, and instead of seeking the lost, they restrained them by force and harshly ruled over them.
There are plenty of good elderships in the world, men who serve their congregations wonderfully, but there are also some bad apples. Like the shepherds of Israel in Ezekiel 34 they are only interested in themselves, use their position for their own gain, mistreat the lost sheep, and rule with force.
While there is no perfect eldership, I am glad I have not served under one like the picture in Ezekiel, but I have talked with men who have, and people in our congregation are familiar with or know people who have been through similar situations with men who were unfortunately appointed as elders.
The term elder is a fine term to use, but for some it can bring back dark memories or experiences.
So, like God later in Ezekiel 34, Jesus in John 10, and Peter in 1 Peter 5, our leaders prefer the term shepherd.
It’s one that carries with it images of comfort, care, nourishment, but it also reminds us of the stories in the Bible where the shepherd would protect his flock at all cost. Who can forget Jesus’s definition of a good shepherd? One who lays down his life for his sheep.
I’m glad to be serving under four “good shepherds.” Though they have their own personalities, strengths, and weaknesses, they always come together to seek out what is best for the church.
If you would like more information on the various ways people have abused the eldership, I’d like to invite you to read my friend Dallas’s article “Obey Them that Have Rule Over You.”
One of our shepherds, Gary, preached today on the role and qualities of a shepherd. I think it is well worth your listen as well.