“Dealing with the question of the nature of the church can no longer be delayed” writes Millard Erickson in his classic work Christian Theology (1037). Erickson takes a few paragraphs in his section on Ecclesiology (doctrine of the church) to lay out a brief sketch of major doctrines and how they have all had their day for full review and definition throughout church history. He cites doctrines like Chirstology, the Trinity, the atoning work of Christ, and the doctrine of salvation. Erickson writes this some 30 years ago. His words have proven to be prophetic. If you take a quick walk through the average Christian book store, you will find a myriad of titles that deal with the nature of the church. It is almost shocking to note the number of books that have recently been published which are entitled with the pattern “The _________ Church” or something similar. Here are A few examples ranging from recommended to not so much (in no particular order): The Deliberate Church, The Simple Church, The Emerging Church, Total Church, Viral Churches, Comeback Churches, Essential Church, Transformational Church, Sticky Church, The Purpose Driven Church, Breakout Churches, and the list could continue on seemingly ad infinitum. Erickson was right. Refusal to define the church would not be delayed any longer.
Not to be lost in all the chatter about defining the church needs to be a recovery of a robust understanding of church leadership. Appearing earlier on Parking Space 23 were two helpful articles which dealt with the nature of the type of men who lead God’s church. Our topic at hand is not so much the who but the what and how of shepherding.
I get asked sometimes if I’m full time at the church. I tell them yes. More than once I’ve had people say, “What do you do all week?” I tell them, “Nothing! It’s great, you should apply!” It’s a legitimate question , what do God’s leaders do all week? Is ministry a one day a week gig? If you are preaching the Word faithfully, that takes a large chunk of your time. But are there other responsibilities that are also important?
Too often pastors and elders are judged solely on the metric(s) of nickels and noses. If the
seats are full and the budget is healthy, then the flock must be doing well, right? The problem is there is no where in the Bible that says God’s shepherds are either responsible for a specific number of people or that more money equals a more faithful ministry. In fact, many times it was just the opposite. Rather, God’s shepherds are expected to “shepherd the flock” (1 Peter 5.1-5). Generally, I’m not a fan of measuring “success” in ministry. Most benchmarks we construct are too easily misunderstood, manipulated, and generally, they aren’t indicators of a biblically faithful ministry. Part of the difficulty of applying the nickels and noses metric for success is many in the Bible did not do very well. The prophets were continually jeered and eventually killed. They didn’t have mega synagogues. Jesus himself routinely ran people off, much to the chagrin of his disciples. Of course, we see mass conversions in the book of Acts, but we also see Paul say at the end of his life, “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them!” (2 Timothy 4.16) This was the last letter Paul wrote. Sadly, he experienced wide scale rejection even among those who initially responded favorably to him. Did Paul fail? He didn’t seem to think so. He says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)
While measuring budgets and people does not indicate anything in particular, there are clear instructions to leaders to do the work of shepherding people. First Timothy 3 begins a section on qualifications for leadership by speaking about an aspiration, or desire for ministry. But importantly the text continues on to say, if one aspires to the office, they must also desire the “work.” What is this work? In short, it’s people work. Sure, there is laboring in the Word for feeding the flock, but that’s not the extent of the work.
On top of the example and instruction from Paul, there is the sobering reality of Hebrews 13:17. I will quote it in full.
 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:17)
We learn a lot from this verse. Some context will help us see more clearly. Earlier in the chapter, the author had exhorted his listeners to “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7) Likely, this is a reference to their first leaders, the church planters who have now died. Our author circles back later in the chapter (v. 17) to speak of the current leaders as ones to be obeyed. We see in this that leaders have actual authority from God and therefore should be respected. Leaders, after all, will give an account for how and whom they shepherd. Leader’s attitudes are important too, they are to shepherd with joy, not out of sense of drudgery.
Giving an account for souls is a bit enigmatic. What will that accounting day look like? Honestly I’m not positive exactly how that day will go. But I know a couple of things: God said it and he means it. Whatever happens at that time, I don’t think it’s simply a doctrinal test for your people to see if they can distinguish between continuationism and cessationsim. Teachers are certainly held to a standard for their teaching (Jas 3:1) but we are kidding ourselves if we think the only biblical New Testament obligation of a leader is to preach.
Tomorrow we will consider important questions that relate to how we train people to shepherd and how do we identify our sheep. We’ve heard the analogy that it’s more like herding cats sometimes. Are leaders actually responsible for knowing and caring for everyone in the church?
For now, I’ll leave you with a few questions.
If you are in a ministry position, are you compelled by a desire to shepherd the flock of God? What does that look like in your life and ministry? Does your church have a plan in place to shepherd the flock effectively?
For all of us, whether in ministry or not, have you submitted yourself to a local body of believers where you are shepherded by godly leaders? Leaders are to serve you with joy, do you help make it a joy for them to serve you?