Picturing Elders: Shepherds

We have been studying church elders by studying their titles. These titles serve as picture words which describe their duties and function in the church. So far we studied elders, stewards, and overseers. In this post we will look at the title “shepherd” or “pastor.”

One of the titles for elders in the New Testament is “pastor.” It is probably the title that most resonates with modern-day Christians. As Charles Jefferson points out in his book, The Minister as Shepherd, the title “pastor” is the most used and most beloved title for ministers(1). Whether an individual is Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc., they likely call their paid elders “pastors.”

What does the title “pastor” mean? It translates the Greek word poimane, which is actually the word “shepherd.” It is the word used for shepherds and shepherding. In Luke 2:8 the noun of this word is used to refer to the “shepherds abiding in the fields keeping watch over their flock by night” (KJV).

It is only used as a title for elders once in the New Testament (Ephesians 4:11). While it is only used as a title one time, the verb is used multiple times to describe what the elders do. 

In 1 Peter 5:1-4 this word is used in connection to the elders. Peter exhorts the elders to “shepherd the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof…” (1 Peter 5:2).

In Acts 20:28, the elders, also called “overseers”, are told to keep a close eye on themselves and the flock. The Holy Spirit appointed them as overseers over God’s flock to feed/shepherd/pastor them. 

The elders feed the church with the Word. However, this word refers to more than just feeding. It refers to caring for God’s people as a shepherd cares for his sheep. 

This title connects the shepherds to Jesus, who is the good and great Shepherd of the sheep (John 10; Hebrews 13) In 1 Peter 5:4, Peter makes clear that the elders are shepherds serving under the Lord Jesus, “the chief Shepherd.” No doubt Peter’s encounter with Jesus recorded in John 21:15-22 was in his mind. Jesus told Peter to be a shepherd of His sheep. He told him three times “feed my lambs (v. 15)… feed my sheep (v. 16)… feed my sheep (v. 17).” Jesus owns His sheep. Peter and other elders have been appointed by the Holy Spirit to care for Jesus’ sheep (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-4).

So, what does it mean to shepherd a church body? Since the elders serve under the Chief Shepherd, He is the best example of spatial shepherding to observe. 

Psalm 23 gives us a great picture of Jesus’ work as a shepherd. He feeds the sheep (v. 2). He cares for the downcast sheep – “He restores my soul” (v. 3). He leads the sheep in the right way (v. 3). He protects and guides the sheep (v. 4). He provides comfort – “You anoint my head with oil” (v. 5). 

That is just a brief sketch, and each one could be it’s own book. Yet, there is enough here to guide us along. The elders provide food for the sheep with the Word of God, giving instruction in sound doctrine (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:9). They care for the downcast, supporting the weak with the Word (Acts 20:35). They lead the sheep in God’s way with the Good News of Jesus (Titus 1:9). They protect the sheep from error and division (Titus 1:9; 3:10-11).

In summary, the elders lead, protect, feed, and care for Jesus’ church with His Word. The elders are shepherds. 

Photo Credit: FOYN @ unsplash.com

Cited:

Jefferson, Charles. The Minister as Shepherd. Scripture Truth Book Co.

Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.