Summary: A look at the shepherding function in the local church. It is not just ordained pastors who have a responsibility. Every seasoned believer is part of this process.
Stewardship of God’s Sheep; His People
Pastor Eric J. Hanson
October 15, 2006
As I began to prepare the message, the Holy Spirit moved me in a different direction. He showed me that within the life of each local church, there is another type of broad and overarching stewardship, which must be made clear. In short, He led me to put together this message: Stewardship of God’s Sheep: His People.
The Pastoral Function
Ephesians 4:11-13 shows us that “pastor” is one of five gifts from the Lord, which take the form of people. The Lord Jesus gives these into His Church, for the purpose of “equipping” those who know the Him to become more and more like Him. The word pastor simply means shepherd.
Shepherds of literal sheep hang out with the sheep. They know each sheep by name. They know which ones have had all their shots. They feed the sheep, water them, lead the sheep to green pastures, and protect them from wandering away and from predators. True shepherding is very personal.
Elders: The primary pastors.
I Peter 5:1-4 shows that the elders are the primary shepherds in any local church. We have pastoral responsibility for the entire church family. However, as shown by Jesus’ example, by first century Church history, and by actual research, no one can shepherd more than about 12 other people in the full sense of all that should mean. Therefore, the primary way that a small number of elders shepherd any church properly is as the “overseers” of that church. In Philippians 1:1 and other places, the terms elder and overseer are used interchangeably. This oversight of the church is a stewardship trust, because Jesus is the great shepherd. He is the owner of the people/sheep; the owner of the whole church. Let’s see now, how overseeing the church is to be done.
One branch of the oversight work of the elders is this: to perceive and know who it is that God is raising up to be their helpers. The elders are then called to train them, to be in ongoing relationship with them, and to set these people into their callings of servant leadership within the church family. These people are the ones who, in turn, shepherd all the other individuals out to the edges of the church family. In short, a major responsibility and calling of the elders in any local church is to be pastors to all those who are called to be small group leaders and those with deacon type responsibilities. These people, who are helpers to the elders, include small group leaders of various types, those who deal with church finances, and those who deal with building matters.
The other branch of the major work of Elders is the ministry of prayer and the Word of God to the whole local church. Elders should be full time in the work of the Gospel (I Timothy 5:17-18). They should not be encumbered with other things that take them away from the word of God, prayer, and the spiritual formation and oversight of their helpers.
The usual ratio of true I Timothy 3 elders to church population is about 20 families to one full time elder for a church that is packed with fully tithing people, or about 30 families to one elder in a typical evangelical church. Up to about 40 families to one full time elder is workable for healthy pastoral ministry if the church is fully functioning in small group life. (Home Fellowships, healthy youth groups, etc.)
Tradition works against achieving this multi layered fanning out of ministry within the church. Why is that? Let’s look at it now.
In the statistically average American church of 75 people, there is one person who is called a pastor. He may or may not actually have a pastor’s heart in caring for the sheep. He may or may not meet the rather clear I Timothy Chapter 3 qualifications for eldership. He was probably hired from far away by congregational vote instead of being raised up locally, known by the people thoroughly, and set in to office relationally, by an existing local eldership in an established church. (The proper procedure for this is brought out in I Timothy 1:18, & Titus 1:5.)
In typical modern tradition, this pastor is expected to do the ministry. This way, people in the church can operate in a consumer mindset and judge their “hired hand” pastor by how well he “meets my needs”. They can also vote him out or pressure him out because in the typical American church today the sheep rather than the shepherds, are actually in charge! This is utterly backwards from God’s system in the New Testament, but it is common because it is the American way having infiltrated much of the church in our land.