“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, not for shameful gain, but eagerly, not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”—1 Peter 5:1-4
A month ago we entered into a nomination, training, and election season for new church officers. We began this season as we always do by calling upon you, the congregation, to set forward nominees—qualified men—as candidates for officership. Having received and reviewed the nominations, we are now in touch with all the nominees and will soon begin the process of training. At some point soon, I’ll share with you more about the training and how you can pray for the men entering this process.
In the meantime, I thought it might be helpful to distill our commitments and aims as under-shepherds of Cornerstone. As I do this, I want to acknowledge that we’re not where we want to be. There’s much room for improvement. Each elder and deacon will tell you that. But thanks be to God, we’re not where we once were! Advance is being made. We see glimmers of what we hope to be now, and we expect, relying on God’s grace, that we will continue to grow in the work of shepherding as we mature in the love and wisdom of God.
So, leaning on Peter’s words in 1 Peter 5:1-4 quoted above, our philosophy of pastoral care can be summarized under these five headings.
First, we shepherd under the chief shepherd. That is, we believe that Jesus Christ is the head of the church and the source for all pastoral care. Though God is often pleased to use our gifts, wisdom, and craft as under-shepherds to effectively minister to His people, we recognize ourselves to be only His instruments. Any benefit coming through our pastoral care is to God’s credit alone.
Second, we shepherd unto the chief shepherd. That is, in our pastoral care, we are careful to lead God’s flock not to us, but to increasing trust in, dependence on, and love for Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd Himself (John 10). We like to say that our shepherding is only as good as we are leading the sheep to the true shepherd.
Third, we shepherd for the chief shepherd. That is, we believe that our love for Jesus Christ must both drive and direct our love for His sheep. It’s very easy in caring for the flock to begin focusing on pleasing the flock. That’s not a shepherd’s call. It’s our responsibility to carry out what Christ says is best for the flock. The way we like to say it is: “We love each other with the love of Christ.” Keeping this in mind, we keep the focus on Christ and His glory as we shepherd His flock.
Fourth, we shepherd like the chief shepherd. That is, we take all our shepherding cues from the chief shepherd Himself. Peter summarizes this care with the words “willingly… eagerly… being examples.” We believe those descriptors characterize the spirit of Christ’s own shepherding. In humble reliance upon the Holy Spirit, we strive to care for the flock of God with the grace, discipline, wisdom, and love of the Chief Shepherd himself.
Fifth, we shepherd until we see the chief shepherd. Weariness and discouragement in the work of shepherding is a given. Anyone who has regularly cared for anyone knows this feeling. It’s the same for church officers. We regularly need encouragement to not give up but keep on keeping on in the work of shepherding—even when it seems like what we do makes little difference. Knowing that an “unfading crown of glory” awaits us upon the chief shepherd’s return is a regular encouragement when shepherding morale is low.
Next week we’ll look at the second key passage for shepherding at Cornerstone, Ephesians 4:11-13