Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28).
The Bible teaches that the church is involved in God’s work, the greatest work on earth. We are, therefore, “laborers together with God” (1 Cor. 3:9, KJV). Yesterday, we observed that this work involves steadfast servants. That’s all of us. Everyone has something to do.
In addition to steadfast servants, the work of the Lord needs sound shepherds.
Shepherds, also called elders, bishops, overseers, and pastors in the New Testament, are vital to the work of the church. As we did yesterday, let’s notice their prerequisites, their purpose, and the source of their power.
The qualifications to be an elder are specifically given to us in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. While the purpose of this discussion is not to look at these passages in depth, it is worth noting that an elder is to be a married man (“husband of one wife”) who is an experienced Christian (“not a novice”). He is to be a righteous man who is able to lead his own family in spiritual ways because he will be leading the church. He is to love what is good, and he is to be prepared to answer any false teaching or criticisms that may come against the congregation.
Shepherds have an important purpose in the church. By the way, you never read in the New Testament of just one elder. There are always a plurality of elders in a local congregation.
The purpose of elders, or shepherds, is seen in a study of the words that are used in Scripture to identify them. I’ve already mentioned the terms overseer, bishop, shepherd, pastor, and elder. These terms are used to signify certain aspects of their work. The terms overseer and bishop come from the same Greek word. An overseer is one who is watching over the congregation to ensure its safety from outside threats as well as its overall health. Like overseer and bishop, the terms shepherd and pastor come from the same Greek word. Think about what a shepherd does in tending to a flock. He protects, he guides, he feeds those sheep. The pastors (who are not preachers, by the way – they are more than that) are doing those things for the congregation. They will give account for how well they have done these things. Finally, the word elder refers to one who is chronologically older. With age comes wisdom. The idea is that these men are spiritual mentors. We can look to them for spiritual advice and for a great example of a Christian.
Bishops have an important purpose in the work of the church.
It’s clear that shepherds have a lot of power in the church. From where does that power come? The New Testament teaches that they are not to lord that power over the congregation. Instead, they serve with the congregation, leading them in the right direction. They serve under the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ (Heb. 13:17; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). So elders must be careful that they are relying on the power of God rather than upon themselves as they shepherd the flock which Jesus purchased with His own blood. This is a heavy responsibility.
Let’s wrap it up: Shepherds, pastors, bishops, overseers, elders – All terms that are used interchangeably to refer to the work of experienced Christian men who lead the local congregation in the ways of Jesus. They have an important job, don’t they? Let’s be sure that we make their job as easy as possible. Let’s count them worthy of double honor (1 Tim. 5:17). We need them.