If you’re asking yourself this question, it may be because you have sensed that you’re not being shepherded well. And if you are asking this question, you’re showing a measure of responsibility for your spiritual growth. However, it is my estimation, rooted in the abounding cultural evidence, that this question is not being asked enough. So what does it mean to be shepherded well? Perhaps it is better to understand what is meant by the term shepherd for those who might be unaware or unfamiliar. When I speak of shepherding, I am simply referring to being pastored or being led.
Throughout Scripture, we see shepherding language because shepherding (sheep herding) was a cultural norm for Israel. It is also a term used to help us understand how the Lord cares for us and leads us (Psalm 23, Psalm 28:8-9, Psalm 80:1, Isaiah 40:9-11, Matthew 2:6, John 10:11). The word shepherd or similar terms are also used to describe unfaithful leaders in Israel and in the church (Jeremiah 23:1-4, Ezekiel 34, Matthew 7:15, & Acts 20:29). So what it means to be shepherded well simply means are you being pastored well or led well at your local church? To honestly answer this question, we must first understand from Scripture the character shepherds are to possess, the tasks shepherds are called to do and the goal of shepherding.
Qualifications of Shepherds
God has ordained that a plurality of men called elders lead or shepherd local churches (Acts 14:23, 15:4, 20:17, Titus 1:5, James 5:14, 1 Peter 5:1-2). But not just any man, but a man of certain quality. 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1:5-9, two of the three pastoral epistles, list the qualifications for those who lead the church. 1 Timothy 3:1-7 says:
1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
While you don’t see the word elder in these verses, the term overseer means precisely that. In the original language, the word overseer is ἐπισκοπή (episkopē), which means office of an elder. Verses 2-7 detail the qualities men, not women, must have to be considered to shepherd a flock or local congregation. While the elder will not perfectly display these traits, these should be generally true about him. A closer look at this list will show that the Lord cares more about character than about skill. The only skill required is that he must be able to teach (v2), which is vastly important and directly linked to the end goal of his ministry.
If you’re wondering if you’re being shepherded well, my encouragement to you first is to assess the leaders’ character in your church according to 1 Timothy 3:2-7 as best as you can. Our leaders should be transparent enough (John 10:14, John 15:15) that we should be able to assess many of these things. If our leaders are not transparent and non-relational, we are not being shepherded well and in danger of possibly being led by hirelings (John 10:12-13).
Next, we will consider the tasks that shepherds (elders) are called to.
Grace & Peace,