Creation 2.0: Shepherding 2.0, Part 3

Now, obviously, the scriptures don’t require all elders to have doctorates in theology, but clearly they are required to know the gospel well enough to teach its basics to the members.

(Tit 1:9 ESV) 9 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.

(1Ti 3:2-3 ESV) 2 Therefore an overseer must be … able to teach … .

The idea isn’t so much about the ability to teach Sunday school as it is about the ability to speak to the members of the congregation about the gospel. You can teach a lot of great Sunday school classes and yet not really grasp the gospel.

An elder doesn’t have to know the gospel at the depths sometimes presented here, but surely an elder should know that we are saved by faith and not works. Surely, an elder should know something of grace. Men who don’t know why the gospel destroys legalism are not qualified to be elders.

But, as we’ve seen, the leadership that elders are to exert is about much more than teaching grace. The gospel points to Jesus, and we miss the point if we don’t follow its direction. Jesus is the word of God — the word behind the word.

Thus, it’s ultimately about teaching Jesus and what it means to follow him — by example, by classroom instruction, in private conversations, in mentoring — all sorts of ways. The classroom is just one of many methods.

You see, following Jesus is gospel, too — indeed, it’s delves more deeply into the gospel than mere opposition to legalism.

But there’s more. As always, we have to see what Jesus says on the subject.

(Luk 19:8-10 ESV) 8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.”

9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Ray Vander Laan points out that Jesus is alluding to –

(Eze 34:15-16 ESV) 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.

Jesus was implicitly claiming to be God, because it is God who promised to come to Israel as its Shepherd and to seek the lost sheep of Israel.

We apply this verse to personal evangelism, which is not so much wrong (we should certainly seek and save the lost!) as out of context. Jesus was speaking of Jews who, like Zacchaeus, were unnecessarily separated from God by their own sins or by the prejudices of a religious elite who looked down on “sinners.” You see, because Zacchaeus collected taxes for the hated Romans, he was treated as nearly an infidel by a culture and a religious leadership that was more concerned with politics than loving individuals as children of God.

Therefore, Jesus chose to eat with Zacchaeus and so symbolically grant him acceptance and even the protection of the Messiah — indeed, God himself. In so doing, Jesus condemned the hypocrisy of those who treated the publican as less than fully Jewish – even less than fully human (Luke 18:11).

What does it mean to seek the lost sheep of Israel? Well, not just to preach the gospel, but to offer acceptance and communion to those who, like Zacchaeus, are rejected by society, to recognize strays as sheep who ought be included in the flock. It’s not so much about door-to-door evangelism as showing the heart of Jesus to the rejects of society.

And that’s what shepherds are called by Jesus to do. In the context of church, it includes all the above as well as making sure the uncool, the introvert, the socially awkward, and the lonely feel loved and accepted.

You see, this is gospel, too. Mary says in the Magnificat –

(Luk 1:51-53 ESV) 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; 52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.

Jesus also refers to Ezekiel 34 in John 10 –

(John 10:1-6 ESV) “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

Now, Jesus is speaking of the Jews as God’s sheep and himself as their Shepherd. We must first interpret in light of historical context. We can’t jump straight to church. We must first ask what he was saying about the Jews.

Jesus’ words follow a confrontation with Pharisees, in which they reject Jesus despite his healing a blind man. (But the blind man sees well enough to know to follow Jesus!) And so Jesus is condemning those who presume to be leaders — the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the scribes, the priests.

One criticism he launches is that he is certainly the true Shepherd, as evidenced by the fact the people hear and respond to his voice (as is true of literal shepherds; real sheep only respond to the call of their own shepherd).

Therefore, when selecting elders, ask whether they have followers. If you have no followers, you aren’t leading. You’re just walking. You can be a false leader and have followers, of course, but you can’t be a leader if no one’s following you.

(John 10:7-10 ESV) 7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

In the ancient world, the sheep were corralled in a sheepfold — a stone enclosure with walls just high enough to keep the sheep in. There was no gate or door. Rather, the shepherd would sleep in the opening, knowing that no thief could enter except through him and no sheep could stray except over him.

Jesus builds on this comparison to declare that his predecessors — leaders of the people — had been thieves and so had no real followers. Likely he was especially referring to the political leadership — Herod and the priests — but there was no real distinction between political and religious leadership in that world.

The Temple had become notoriously corrupt. Herod Antipas was a contemptible ruler.

In contrast to the thieving of the powerful, Jesus promises “pasture” and abundant life. “Abundant” (perissos) means “much more than enough” or “extraordinary.” Either way, he sure seems to be speaking of the blessings of the gospel — a life filled with grace, undeserved acceptance, forgiveness, joy in the Spirit …

Therefore, he’s accusing the leaders of depriving the Jews of a right relationship with God. The leaders not only steal money, but they steal the joy of a right relationship with God — by destroying moral standards and by imposing a false understanding of how to please and enjoy God.

You see, Jesus could hardly condemn the leaders for failing to properly teach the people if their failure was to share the new covenant, which had not yet come into being. No, he was saying that the leaders stood between the people and God under the terms of the covenant as then in effect.

But, of course, this makes sense when we realize that the idea of becoming like God and his image — and his justice and righteousness — didn’t begin at Pentecost but in Genesis 1. Because the leaders weren’t living in God’s image — through service, submission, sacrifice, and even suffering for others — they prevented the ordinary citizens from seeing who God really is — leading to a severely eroded, unhealthy society.

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9 Responses to Creation 2.0: Shepherding 2.0, Part 3

  1. Laymond says:

    “surely an elder should know that we are saved by faith and not works.”

    It won’t be long until we cut that old bible down to where just about anybody can be an elder. I think we have it down to three or maybe four pages now. I think we could fill three pages on “grace and faith alone”.
    Mat 5:16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
    Mat 16:27 For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.

    You know I bet all of Jesus teaching in Matthew, was just to make us feel like we had a role to play in salvation, make us feel good. yep that is what it is.

  2. Laymond says:

    (Eze 34:15-16 ESV) 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.

    Jay said, “Jesus was implicitly claiming to be God, because it is God who promised to come to Israel as its Shepherd and to seek the lost sheep of Israel.”

    Isa 42:1 Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, [in whom] my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles.
    Mat 10:5 ¶ These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into [any] city of the Samaritans enter ye not:
    Mat 10:6 But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
    Mat 15:24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

    Surely God would not take credit for something his servant did, even though that was the purpose of sending the servant in the first place. So common sense tells us that Jesus had to be God. See it is not that hard to be an elder.

  3. Laymond says:

    Jesus explicitly and boldly claimed to be that servant spoken of in Isa 42:1
    Mat 12:17 That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying,

  4. Lonnie says:

    So applying Jay’s criteria that elders do not need a doctorate in theology to be an elder but should know the gospel, what if that same criteria was applied to preachers? I am amused at churches who demand bible degrees in biblical studies or theology when advertizing for a preacher, but do not require the same level of academia from the very people who are leading the church. Shouldn’t a knoweledge of the gospel be the highest criteria above a “bible degree” and a greater measurement of what will be preached and how one will lead? When does a bible degree gurantee a competent understanding of the gospel? And we wonder why the church’s ways are looking more like the ways of the culture.

  5. Jerry says:

    Lonnie,
    I would rather have a man who has taken the Bible, studied it earnestly, and tried to live it as best he could over someone like myself – who has graduated from five Christian schools. You can read about such a man, who is a mighty man in the Lord, here. You see, in the schools it is not so much teach the Bible but teach about the Bible and the history of the traditions of men. To paraphrase Paul, “learning about the Bible profits a little, but learning Jesus as He is revealed in the Bible profits all things.”

    Too many people go to school, graduate, and think they are through learning. If I had not gone on studying, teaching, learning, studying, and revising what I had been taught I would be worthless – not that I’m worth much anyway! I would hate to be the man whom I know (he is in his 80′s) who boasted he had never changed but one opinion in his entire life.

  6. Lonnie says:

    I agree Jerry. It seems to be all the fad for churches today to only hire men to preach who have biblical degrees. If I was on a preacher committee the first question I would ask is, tell me what you believe is the gospel. I would not hire a man who does not know the gospel even if he had 10 advanced biblethe degrees. I would also hire a man who can answer that question if he has no bible degree. I would not consider even going to a church where the leadership cannot explain the gospel. When I started preaching 26 years ago I put one verse on the pulpit to remind me what was important- “For I resolved to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” -1 Corinthians 2:2. I would love to find one church that uses that as its mission statement on the church’s stationary or bulletin.
    Jerry, you are absolutely correct about continuing education. As the saying goes, when you are done learning, than you are done. I am not anti-education. My bible degree only says I was able to take notes and put the right things on a test. It says nothing about my Christian convictions or what I may preach from the pulpit.

  7. Jay’s note about “having followers” is an important one. We seem to have, with every good intention, corrupted this fundamental of finding and developing leaders. Allow me an analogy from business, about sales managers.

    I never hired a sales manager from outside. I would not care if he had a PhD from Wharton, what I wanted in a sales manager is someone who had already demonstrated a love for my customers, strong knowledge of and confidence in our product, and a track record of mentoring other salesmen without any other portfolio other than his own sales history. The first qualification for a person to lead my salesmen was for that person to have proven that he already does. Sound difficult? It is, but it’s the right approach. I don’t need narrow experts, I need leadership in my business.

    The same applies to elders. We have put the cart before the horse. Swayed by a man’s capacities in business or finance or in our social circles, or -less often- by his biblical expertise, we too often appoint sheep-less shepherds. And we are surprised when they continue to be just that. No number of lectureships or additional degrees in Bible can ameliorate this defect in our process. We also err in employing hirelings for the purpose of leading a congregation. We might hire a manager to run our organization, and we often hire a pulpiteer who can delight our Sunday crowd with his oratory, but when we mistake this for leadership, we show our own myopia. We demonstrate a vision for the club at the expense of the sheep. Elders cannot serve both the club’s corporate interests and the individual sheep. They WILL prioritize one over the other. Sadly, so far, most elders I know fall clearly on the side of maintaining the organization. People may come and go, but Elm Street Church endureth forever. This is true to such an extent that elders sub-contract the people side of the ministry to paid staff (except for the complaint department). They do NOT sub out significant corporate decisions about money or staff. Let not a man who smells more like the boardroom than like the barn tell me he is a shepherd. The nose knows.

    There is a significant corporate function among elders, to watch for wolves and to protect the orthodoxy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But this should not be confused with decisions limited to one little club about who they will fellowship. Such corporate protection is a city-wide function at the very least, and if we take James’ example in Acts 15, it is wider than that. Any perception that our elders are truly watching over the flock, when that is only for those who happen to be attending our building every Sunday, is short-sighted. It misses Jesus’ example of seeking that one lost sheep. Today, we let him go and figure he’ll find other shepherds elsewhere. It is all our relationship allows. On the other hand, if, as Jay suggests, that sheep is already following a shepherd among us, that shepherd has both the responsibility and the capacity to seek out that sheep and rescue him.

  8. John says:

    I can appreciate the importance of the love of the Gospel and the scriptures being paramount in comparison to a degree. But the good teaching elders I have known, those who are able to communicate the gospel while relating it to reality, were readers with a good working library. I did not say a large one, just a good working one.

    There was time when if an elder, or any other teacher besides the preacher, had a Johnson’s New Testement With Notes he was considered knowledgeable. Today, elders and teachers are up against a different world, one that is asking the members of a church, “Do you make a difference”, and it is the teacher’s job to see that they can communicate that difference.

    One of the best elders I knew did not actually teach a Bible class. But he had a significant library, one that included WILLIAM BARCLAY’S DAILY STUDY BIBLE, and he would study them before every class he sat in. He never quoted Barclay, but he had a great desire to apply the principles of the Gospel; he did it from the heart and he did it well. He was a merciful and grace filled man in a legalist’s world. I should hve stayed there. But that is another story.

  9. Alabama John says:

    There is something to be said for a man as an elder not too highly educated.
    Some of the best elders I have known were simple men and not tempted by the things of the world like those competing for position in this old world.
    Their minds were far more on the Lord. They also had far more time available for good works and study.

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