Creation 2.0: Shepherding 2.0, Part 4

We need to continue with Jesus’ teaching in John 10 —

(John 10:11-13 ESV)  11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.  13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.”

Jesus says he is the true Shepherd of Israel (“shepherd” is a metaphor for God but also for the king — 1 Chron 11:2) because he is willing to die for the people, as a shepherd will die to protect his own flock. Jesus sees the leaders of the people as mere hirelings who love their wages but not the sheep.

Notice, that Jesus is saying he is like God because he’s willing to die for the lost sheep of Israel! This is not how we normally think of God, but obviously makes perfect sense.

(John 10:14-18 ESV)  14 “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,  15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.  16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.  17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.  18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

Jesus then declares that there are other sheep “not of this fold,” looking forward to the entry of the Gentiles into the Kingdom, as promised to Abraham thousands of years earlier.

The price for bringing God’s covenant with Abraham to fulfillment would be the Shepherd’s own life. “I lay it down of my own accord.”

Why does this matter? Because it’s not God-like to sacrifice to avoid a penalty. It’s only God-like, true to God’s image, if you sacrifice when you don’t have to. Nothing else is truly love.

Notice the two closely intertwined themes — one flock, crucifixion. It’s seems an unlikely mix at first. What does crucifixion — and its voluntary nature — have to do with there being only one flock and one shepherd? Well, everything.

You see, the unity of Jews and Gentiles comes only by grace — not just God’s grace in forgiving those of both races, but the grace that the Jews and Gentiles had to show each other despite their differences.

And how we act depends on what we think is right. And what we think is right depends on who we worship — our image of God.

If we see God as hard, tough, strict, unyielding, and perfectionistic, then we’ll treat others that way, and unity will be impossible.

If we see God as gracious, loving, going the extra mile, turning the other cheek, loving his enemies, doing good for the evil and ungrateful, and bringing rain to the just and unjust alike, then we’ll do the same.

To understand God, we meditate on Jesus — as sacrificing himself voluntarily — purely out of love, with nothing in it for himself except the joy of service and submission — then perhaps we can become more like God. Then perhaps unity will happen. There is, you know, no plan B.

And so elders are called to strive for unity — not just within their congregations (which is plenty hard enough) but also with Christendom at large. Indeed, elders are called to lead their members to see that they just might not be the only sheepfold of God. In fact, just as the Jews despised and looked down on the Gentiles, refusing to even eat with them, there may be sheepfolds of God filled with people we look down on.

That does seem to be the application, doesn’t it?

Okay. Take a breath. I have to step back just a hair here. You see, the standard I’ve set for shepherds/elders/overseers is impossibly high, because it’s a standard built on becoming just like Jesus, the true Good Shepherd — and then leading the rest of the church to meet the same standard.

Jesus really is our ideal, and we see from the passages how to find in Jesus the model for the ideal shepherd. But if we aren’t careful, the congregation can quickly conclude that their shepherds are hopelessly inadequate because not a single one measures up to this standard. You see, we can forget grace.

After all, all Christians are supposed to be like Jesus. If the elders don’t measure up, well, neither does anyone else. So let’s not be too terribly judgmental. “Judge not that ye be not judged,” as Jesus said.

Rather, God created plural elderships. Why more than one elder? Just because it’s a rule? Just to test our exegetical expertise? No, for deeper reasons than that. (This is what legalism does. It finds a rule, applies it relentlessly, but doesn’t ask why — and so learns nothing from the rule other than the rule itself — a gross underestimation of the wisdom of God.)

Plural elders, first, parallel our plural God. “God in three persons.” When multiple elders get along in harmony and love, building up each other, they model God himself/themselves (pronouns are so confusing when dealing with a Triune God!)

Indeed, our marriages, our congregations, even all of Christendom should emulate the unity in plurality of the Trinity, but that will never happen unless the elders are both plural and united. That is, they cannot be dominated by a single personality but neither can they run off in multiple directions at once.

If we see elders as exemplars of the Trinity, then we should easily recognize that each elder is different, being gifted with distinct and valuable talents. In one setting — say, a funeral
— some elders may shine as extraordinary comforters, whereas others struggle to deal with the raw emotion. In other settings — say, a classroom — other elders may shine with the light of the gospel, whereas others struggle to speak in front of a crowd. Some elders may only shine in private conversation or the conference room. The members may never see some elders at their very best, at their most gifted.

Hence, the goal is not a perfect, complete elder. That would be graceless. The goal is an eldership — a united plurality — that together exemplifies Christ, imperfectly but well enough to lead the congregation closer to Jesus.

Indeed, that idea is common in the New Testament —

(Phi 3:17 ESV) 17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.

(1Th 1:6-7 ESV)  6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit,  7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.

(2Th 3:7-9 ESV)  7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you,  8 nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you.  9 It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate.

(1Ti 1:16 ESV) 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.

(1Ti 4:12 ESV)  12 Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.

Most commonly, Paul uses himself as an example of how to follow Jesus. But, we might think, he had an extra helping of the Spirit as an apostle. Ordinary Christians can do no such thing. But he also says the same regarding Timothy and even to all the church members in Thessalonica.

Our roots run deep in legalism — regardless of our denominational heritage. It’s hard to imagine telling anyone to follow my example as I follow Jesus. We can’t even conceive of such a claim because it seems so arrogant, because we know we don’t really meet the rules.

But when we see the “rules” as service, submission, sacrifice, even suffering — we know we don’t meet the standard at the level of Jesus, but we know that we do in fact serve others, submit to others, etc. Most of us really do.

We could (and should) all do better, but it’s not like our lives are entirely devoid of Christ-like character. We’re on our way. We’re getting there.

And we can truthfully say to others, follow my example in these things, as I follow Jesus.

Indeed, we might even occasionally take stock and ask just how well we’re doing at these things compared to last year. We might even surprise ourselves at what God has been doing through us.

And most importantly, in so doing, we’ll become more aware of the service, submission, etc. in others, as we learn to observe these things in ourselves. We can therefore better follow their examples, when we focus on the most important things. And we then select leaders based on the very standards we impose on ourselves.

But one key is not to pick 7 men who are all just alike. Rather, the key is to build a team of men who each add essential talents to the mix but who have the humility to work within the team to take a bunch of 3-, 4-, and 5-talent men to create a 15-talent team, united in plurality.

Inevitably, some will lack gifts that the others have. That’s the nature of unity in plurality. And that’s how you get all the talents you need at the table. You add up gifts, recognizing that no individual is nearly good enough in himself, but the united group may just well be.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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8 Responses to Creation 2.0: Shepherding 2.0, Part 4

  1. laymond says:

    I have a question for “Jay the elder” When, and where in scripture does the teaching of “The Gospel” become the responsibility of “elders” instead of the preacher.? Didn’t Paul (who was a preacher) tell “the preacher” to find qualified men to help the preacher? Weren’t the first “elders” appointed by a preacher of the gospel, to help him? (Jesus picked the apostles not vise versa) So when and where did “elders” get the authority to hire preachers?

    Why not have the congregation hire the preacher, and the preacher pick from among the congregation, the elders, or helpers. or maybe even bring in elders. This system seems to have a history, which actually worked. If the preacher is fired, by a majority vote, the elders go with him.

  2. eric says:

    Good point. If I’m not mistaken that’s where the word university came from (unity in diversity). Different gifts and talents make great music. Can you imagine a band who all played the same instrument, or a band without a leader. It’s truly great to see many gifts working together to reach a common goal, especially when it’s to glorify God. The requirement to be humble is a good one. It allows gifted individuals to work as a team.

  3. Selecting elders may be simpler than we think. Consider this: if it is not fairly obvious who among you are spiritual shepherds, you probably don’t have any yet. “Choosing” is more recognition of the current reality than it is some sort of job-application screening process. Follow a sheep around until you find out who teaches him and loves him and loses sleep over him. That’s a shepherd.

  4. Larry Cheek says:

    After a great amount of study about Elders, the men that were appointed by preachers and Apostles to guide and teach the early church, I have begun to question. The early church did not have the written word that is available to each of us, therefore these men were appointed and given special gifts that allowed them to authoritatively instruct the early Christians, Gods Words. Now that we ordinary Christians have the inspired words for Christ, to read and apply, and within those instructions we are to become Christ like, which should mean that each of us should have just as much desire and care for our brethren as the Elders had been given the direct responsibility for. Since there are no instructions that explain to the church that they would become responsible to appoint men as the Apostles and those instructed of them to do that job, to perform the services described for the appointed men. I wonder sometimes if we have carried on a tradition for the purpose of creating a scapegoat for our individual responsibilities. As you notice the job description for the appointed men, are there any duties listed that a Christ like individual could not perform? In fact could you be a Christ like individual if you were not allowed by an organization called the local church, to perform those acts. The church claims those duties to be the duties of the appointed. As we see the picture of the present concept, we have The Chief Shepherd, the Shepherds, and the flock. Christ stated that He is The Shepherd over the flock. The appointed men are still only a part of the flock, there is no elevated chain of command described in Jesus communication. The members of the early church were accountable to the appointed good or bad for instructions from God just as we are now accountable to the inspired Words of Christ. Are we not instructed to follow leaders (lets place all the appointed here) as they follow
    God, that actually makes us responsible as individuals, that if our appointed leaders become corrupt, we each have instructions to remove them or remove ourselves from their authority. Possibly some of these thoughts have come to me from seeing in small churches abuses of the authority, and no attempts to correct the situations. Those of you that have positive experiences may be able to identify if the office is of great benefit.

  5. There continues to be an artificial divide between those who “did not have the Bible” –read, “the completed and collected NT canon– and those who later were able to lay their hands on such a tome. The “coming of the canon”, which point in time no one seriously tries to identify, has been given such earth-shaking theological significance for an event never foretold (or even mentioned) by Jesus or by one single inspired writer. Who decided to give this event this level of significance? Certainly, in glorifying the advent of a book which purportedly changed the very nature of divine revelation in a way not seen in the history of man, someone should be able to answer some simple questions, such as “Who said so?” Where in the Bible itself do we find this tectonic shift explained to us? Other questions arise as well: “Exactly when did this happen?” “Who decided what went into the canon and how did they know?” “Were the councils of Hippo and Trent inspired in making their selections?” All these questions take on enormous significance when we consider the Bible as a replacement for ongoing direct revelation.

    Unfortunately, such questions appear to be given the least serious consideration by those who most dearly hold to the idea that everything changed when we “got the Bible”, when we all became “ordinary Christians”. Whatever that means.

  6. “Preacher”, in Paul’s context, was always a function, not a title. “Preacher” meant “one who preaches”, not “a guy who graduated from Sunset whom we hired to provide sermons at our weekly meetings”. There is certainly no biblical evidence that Paul ever used this term as we do today, to mean “designated Bible instructor and congregation manager”. Paul’s letters to Timothy were encouragements and counsel to a fellow apostle (see I Thess 1,2) who was called to Ephesus to serve the believers in that city.

  7. laymond says:

    Charles, you mean the word “preacher” is an adjective, and not a noun, how quaint. 🙂
    would not the word “elder” come under the same catagory?

  8. Larry Cheek says:

    Do I detect that you are promoting that the written NT Canon was never intended by Christ or the Apostles. By your words,”All these questions take on enormous significance when we consider the Bible as a replacement for ongoing direct revelation.”. Is it true that you believe that Christians are receiving ongoing direct revelation? If that was true why would there be varying amounts of this revelation in different individuals? Would that show a partiality by God, in not delivering the same to each Christian? Why would we ever use the term babs in Christ to identify a new born Christian? In my studies in the Canon I have found many references by some of the same men that you will quote from, that give instructions to read, read what, well without that Canon how would you even know of them. Upon what could you base authority to back up your own comments, if you commented from direct revelation, could you perform some great miracle direct from God like the Prophets of old? You see I can quote from the Canon a message that I believe that you should consider, and you have the ability and means to test the message. If the Canon was not needed anywhere then all the world would filled with the direct revelation and no one would have to teach anyone. Ignorance about God would be his responsibility instead of man’s..

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