A Shepherd and His Flock
The first Christians were all Jews. Christian Jews were eventually forced out of the local synagogue. But some Jewish synagogues became totally Christian. These synagogues were spoken of as 'ha Notzri,' or, 'of the Nazareen.' (This is a Talmudic reference.)
James the brother of Jesus calls attention to the early Christian synagogue; "For if a man comes into your assembly [sunagoge] with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there comes a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes ... have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives." (Cf. James 2)
In any event the term 'church' (ekklesia) began to be used in place of synagogue. But the form of government in the churches remained pretty much the same. In this study I want to deal primarily with the role of the pastor. This is one of the two offices that became an established role in the local church.
This is Bible Study HF144 - A Shepherd and His Flock.
Often you hear folk speak of a five-fold ministry, that is, apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher. (In the Greek it is more likely a four-fold.) It is important to note that the letters written by Paul to the churches are never addressed to an apostle, a prophet, or an evangelist. He directs his letters to the saints in a certain area. At times he also calls attention to the leadership of the local churches.
For example, Philippians 1:1 begins with, "Paul and Timothy, bond- servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons." The reason for including the overseers and deacons is because the Christian assemblies were beginning to firm up or function as distinct flocks within themselves. Each flock needed God-appointed leaders or overseers. And each flock was semi-autonomous of the others. (The head was always Christ.)
Let me repeat just a bit on the structured synagogues. In the synagogue there were two primary ministry roles, the elders and what we call deacons, or in Hebrew 'chazzan'. The number needed for these offices depended on the size of the synagogue. The elders had the general oversight. The ruling elder was the chief overseer. (I'm not sure if the term that we translate as bishop was actually used in the synagogue, but it is used in the ancient Greek text; LXX, to designate an official place of authority in a religious sense.)
With this in mind let's listen to Paul; "It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do." The apostle then outlines the qualifications to serve in this office. How an overseer was actually set in office is left unsaid, but we can be sure that it was under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and by recognition of the congregation. (Early on it was the apostles or their representatives that set aside elders in the churches they had established.)
What did the term 'overseer' mean to Paul? As a Hebrew man, Paul drew on his rich heritage. He knew what an overseer was in the Hebrew culture. And this is where we need to define the Greek and Hebrew words for an overseer. (Keep in mind that the term 'overseer' is simply our English translation of a Greek term. The KJV uses 'bishop.')
Let's begin with the Greek. Where Paul says 'office of overseer' this is only one word in Greek, the word 'episkope'. This term carries two interrelated thoughts. It speaks of (divine) visitation. It also carries a meaning of overseeing, attending to, or, to look after. As for its common usage it spoke of an official set aside by appointment who had oversight of public works, that is, a superintendent. Episkope has its roots in another word which means 'watchman.'
In the Greek OT, we find the term 'episkope', used in 2 Kings 11:18; "All the people of the land went to the house of Baal, and tore it down; his altars and his images they broke in pieces thoroughly, and killed Mattan the priest of Baal before the altars. And the priest appointed OFFICERS (episkope) over the house of the Lord."
The Hebrew word for episkope in this case is 'pquddah', but the meaning is much the same as defined in Greek. It is sometimes used to refer to an arrangement of fighting men under an officer. (Are we not in spiritual warfare? Should we not be trained? Are we not called to be soldiers in God's kingdom?)
Anyway, in the New Testament the terms elder, overseer, pastor and shepherd are closely linked and are sometimes seen together. An example is Acts 20:28, where Paul addresses the elders of Ephesus; "Be on guard for yourselves and for 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."
Notice how the terms. Elders are to be 'guards' (watchmen), shepherds, and overseers. But they are made overseers by the Holy Spirit. And what they oversee is a flock. By the way, the Greek term for shepherd and pastor is one and the same. A pastor is a shepherd. A shepherd is a pastor. That is his calling. He is to tend sheep. Sheep do not tend themselves. They are tended by a shepherd.
Since I am a pastor by calling, I want to draw a bit on my personal testimony. I think most other pastors will relate to what I have to share, at least in one way or another.
--- My first pastorate was in 1969. After six months of pastoring I quit. I decided right then that I did not want to be a pastor. My ministry would have to take other routes. What I didn't realize was a God-called shepherd has to be shaped for his calling. Believe me, I was not yet in good shape. Still needed much smeltering in the fire. (Felt like I was pastoring goats. I was probably the hardest head in the bunch. --- Grin ---.)
Skipping across a bit of history, in 1974 a strange thing happened. We are at home. I'm playing my guitar and singing to the Lord. In a moment of time the Holy Spirit moves over me, and I hear, 'Go home.' Home was Central Louisiana. We were then living in South Louisiana. It was so real that Betty and I took our children out of school, and headed north. I did not know what the Lord wanted. I just knew the 'go home' was not to be ignored. In my own mind I thought perhaps the Lord wanted me to go to a number of churches I had evangelized and tell my testimony.
We left our children at my sisters. Across the highway was a church that I had held a revival in. The lights were on but it was not a church night. What I didn't know was that they had lost their pastor and had been gathering to seek the Lord. Betty and I walked in the door and sat in the back, totally unaware of what was going on. An elder who knew me said, "Brother Martin, welcome. Would you like to share something with the congregation."
I still did not know what was going on. So I stood and said, "Brother, I don't know why the Lord sent me, but I am here." Things got real quiet. It was a moment of divine visitation. Then I heard weeping in the congregation. The Holy Spirit was bearing witness to their pastor.
When I realized that they wanted me to be their pastor, the struggle began. My fear has always been, and remains so to this day, that I may hurt someone from the pulpit. The sacred desk will always be an awesome place to me.
But out of obedience, Betty and I began traveling 120 miles each way, every weekend to pastor this little country church. The struggle remained in place. Then it happened. Sitting on the platform, which is something I hate to do, the Holy Spirit spoke to me and said, "I have given you the heart of a pastor."
Did anything happen? It happened instantly. It was as real as when the Lord said, 'Go home.' That very moment God spoke to my spirit, I knew then I was a pastor. That was my calling.
And that is my point. A true Biblical pastor is set apart by the Holy Spirit to be an overseer, a watchman, and a feeder (shepherd) of a flock that is assigned to him. Yet the flock belongs to the Lord. And God is very careful about who He calls as an overseer. Why so? Because the church has been purchased by His own blood. And a pastor must be very careful in how he tends the flock.
Enough on the testimony other than to say that Betty and I entered into a walk with the Lord that we did not know was possible. The total offering for the first month was a bit over $300. That had to the take care of the upkeep of the church and see to the needs of the pastor. The month the Lord called me back to the pastorate, my personal income was over $2500. Give up $2500 for $300? It was the best thing that ever happen to us. (That is a testimony by itself.)
Anyway, it needs to be understood that before the Lord puts anyone into any kind of ministry role, He is going to test that person to see if they will be faithful. Above all, He wants to know how that person will relate to His sheep. The apostle speaks to this; "I thank Jesus Christ our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor..." (Cf. 1Ti1:12,13)
Later Paul says, "But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children." (1Th2:7)
I share these particular Scriptures because I want you to see the true heart of one of God's true shepherds. We see this again when Paul instructs young Timothy on his pastoring role. The apostle says, "The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will." (2Ti2:24-26)
Keep these ideas in view --- gentleness, watchman, guardian, feeder, tenderness, not quarrelsome, kind to all, able to teach, and patient when wronged. All these ideas are incorporated into what a true Biblical pastor is to exhibit. Why is this? Because these are the spiritual traits in the Great Shepherd. They are communicated to each of His undershepherds by the Holy Spirit.
James adds to this in telling us that the wisdom that comes from above, that is, wisdom from the Holy Spirit, is not arrogant, but it is pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, and without hypocrisy. (Cf. James 3:13-18)
For the Shepherd to shepherd comparison, hear this OT prophecy concerning the coming of the Lord Jesus: "Behold, the Lord God will come with might, with his arm ruling before Him. Behold, His reward is with Him and His recompense before Him. LIKE A SHEPHERD HE WILL TEND HIS FLOCK, IN HIS ARM HE WILL GATHER THE LAMBS AND CARRY THEM IN HIS BOSOM; HE WILL GENTLY LEAD THE NURSING EWES." (Isa40:10,11 - Caps for emphasis only.)
Is there a more tender scene than this? A true under-shepherd will have the heart of Jesus, be tender towards God's people, and yet vigilant against the enemy. (This links to the lamb-lion nature of Christ.)
So now --- What should we look for in a true pastor? Certainly we should not look for perfection. Even the best of pastors is yet a man. He will have frailties. We should look for his heart. After all, should we not expect the Lord to give us a pastor who has the heart of a shepherd? This shepherding principle is found in what the Lord said to Israel, concerning their return to the Lord. He said, "Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding." (Jer3:15)
Where can we find such shepherds? As I said in an earlier post, I believe they are out there by the hundreds of thousands. These watchmen on the wall are true shepherds. They care for their flocks. They are not after money or fame. They are not oppressive or domineering or overpowering or condemning or controlling. They can even rebuke in love. Yet they tenderly care for those assigned to them as a mother cares for her little ones.
And, yes, sheep are assigned to shepherds. This is where I need to make a point to our HF members. A number of you have expressed how you see me as your pastor, at least for now. I accept that with the deepest of feelings. At the same time I would expect this to be a temporary issue. While I can help you grow in the knowledge of the Lord, in time you will need to become part of an assembly of believers.
As for where you should assemble, we must leave that to the Lord. Some groups can be discounted up front. Even when home groups sound like a good thing, there are cautions to be taken. Some groups begin out of a root of bitterness. Bitterness especially in leadership has a way of defiling the whole group. Make sure the home group is not simply being reactive against other Christian groups. Yet at the same time keep in mind that a great many churches had their beginnings in a home setting.
So --- Can you know where you belong? I believe you can. As a long-time pastor I can just about tell every time if a family is being assigned to our ministry. It is a thing of witness. And the family will know soon enough. If our church is the flock of their assignment, they will not be able to stay away. They may wander a bit, but they'll come home in time.
I realize that I haven't provided an answer for everyone. That isn't my job. All of God's people have the Holy Spirit to guide them into the realities of the Lord. The key will always be in one word, trust.
This study was originally given to members of Hebraic Foundations on July 30, 2005. It was written by Pastor Buddy Martin, a former United Pentecostal Church minister, who founded and pastors Christian Challenge International. It is the copyright of Buddy Martin and is reprinted on this site by permission.
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