by David Padfield
The New Testament uses several terms to describe those men who are to oversee local congregations of God’s people. The word “elder” (Titus 1:5) speaks of one who is mature in the faith, while the word “shepherd” speaks of the work these men have in watching over the flock of God.
Like shepherds of literal sheep, elders have the obligation to keep the sheep from straying (Heb. 13:17), to lead them to water and pasture (1 Pet. 5:2), and to protect them from all danger (Acts 20:29-30). The prime function of an elder is not to watch over the money or take care of business matters, but to “. . . watch for your souls, as they that must give account,” (Heb. 13:17).
There is a big difference between the work of a shepherd and a herdsman. Men have to drive cattle, but sheep have to be led. Elders in the church of our Lord will not drive the flock — they will be out in front leading by their example. The shepherd’s voice will never direct the sheep to a path which the shepherd himself did not tread — and even if it did, the sheep would follow the shepherd himself. Elders need to understand that there is a difference between leading and barking orders.
I have known of elders who actually sleep during sermons — such men are a shame and disgrace to the church of our Lord. A “sleeping shepherd” is unworthy of the name he wears, and unfit to guard the flock.
Shepherds in the Lord’s church are to serve as an example to the rest of the flock. “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.” (Hebrews 13:7). The word “follow” means “to imitate.
Elders should have a life that is worthy of imitation. Elders are to serve as an example of a godly father and worthy husband; they are to be a good example as a neighbor and citizen in their community; they are even to provide a good example in the recreation they choose.
Peter served as both an apostle and elder (1 Pet. 5:1). He admonished elders to “shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by constraint but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.” (1 Pet. 5:2-4 NKJV).
Those men who have prepared for the eldership in their youth and have served well in the service of our Lord have the promise of receiving a great reward both now and eternally. “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.” (1 Tim. 5:17).