The Bible speaks often about shepherds. God is the Shepherd of Israel, who is the flock of His pasture (Ps. 23; 95). Jesus describes himself as the “good shepherd” who knows his sheep and leads them to an abundant life (John 10). Elders or overseers of the church are described in the New Testament as Shepherds. They are to lead, feed, and protect the flock of God which they oversee (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-5).
But we fail to grasp this ancient image in our present culture. When was the last time you saw a shepherd? I mean a real shepherd who stood in a field all day and lead sheep across the countryside to water and fresh pasture. I sometimes will call myself a shepherd because I have a small herd of sheep on our farm. But I don’t truly shepherd them. Instead, I use a modern form of shepherding called fences. We use wire or electric fencing to keep our sheep within their boundaries. We supply them their water in a trough and provide food for them within the fence. The fence does the job of the shepherd for the most part.
As I thought about modern shepherding with fences, it occurred to me that we can do the same thing with elders in the church. We can make them into fences. Here are some ways we make shepherds into fences:
- When we make them into a ruling board of directors who legislate from afar.
- When we expect them to bring the water and food to us, and if we don’t like it we complain and may even break out and go to another pasture.
- When we look at their leadership and authority as confining and restrictive, rather than for our good.
- When we strip them of a personality and make them into a stereotype or group without a face that is slandered or misunderstood.
- When we view them as aloof, distant, and unconcerned about our personal needs.
- When we don’t see them as real men seeking to love Jesus and willingly offering their best, not perfection, to the Lord.
- When we forget their role is tied to a relationship with us and our duty is trust and support.
We may not understand the ancient shepherd image, but we can surly understand the modern fence image. Let’s not make our shepherds into fences. Elders need to work regularly to not see their work as a fence, simply standing guard from a distance bringing the sheep water and food. Elders must realize their work is about being among the sheep. They must live with them. They must be in the pasture with them leading, feeding, and protecting. Their work is about being an example. A fence is not an example, it is only a boundary.