On the Sacrifice of Shepherds
“It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. “ - I Timothy 3:1
It is all too easy for any generation in any time to seek to adapt the church to the culture. Every culture and every generation must fight this at every turn. This principle applies to the “office of overseer” as much as it does anything else within the church. Today, elderships are often thought of as a board or a committee that leads through making decisions rather than through work, service, and sacrifice. However, the scriptures could not be more clear. The office of overseer is not a position on a committee or a seat on a board… it is a “work”! (SEE: I Timothy 3:1 above)
All work requires sacrifice. The office of overseer is a type of discipleship. All discipleship entails work (Ephesians 2:10). Those who seek to serve as disciples as shepherds in the Lord’s church will make great sacrifices. For this reason, it is important and wise for a man to truly thoughtfully consider the sacrifices that will be required of him before serving as a shepherd. Jesus calls this consideration and counsel of discipleship/service, “counting the cost”. (Luke 14:28-32)
1) Sacrifice of Time—Time is one of every soul’s most precious commodities. The older we get the more we realize how short and limited time is. Because all work requires time, and being an overseer is work, that means an overseer sacrifices their time in service to God and the Lord’s flock. Just as a shepherd spends time away from his family or his hobby or his entertainment in order to tend the flock, so it is with shepherds in the Lord’s church. This is not to say that all of their time will be devoted to shepherding. The demands of the work will change by the week, by the day, and sometimes even by the hour. Understanding that is key. Having the time, the strength, the stamina to do the work is key. This is certainly not meant to try to scare anyone from the work; but rather, is a simple fundamental observation that is shared so that we all understand elders sacrifice so much that is valuable—priceless!
2) Sacrifice Friends—In a conversation once, I asked a shepherd about what were some questions he’d ask of guys considering to be a shepherd? From his experience, what was something he learned that perhaps he hadn’t thought about before he became an elder? He mentioned how he lost friends. And it wasn’t that they were lost in the since that their souls were lost or that they hated each other, but lost in the since that the interpersonal dynamic changed. He was looked at differently. He wasn’t just “one of the guys” any more. While it wasn’t easy, he realized that the sacrifice was for the greater cause (Luke 14:26-33). Elders shouldn’t be surprised if they are treated differently. Jesus was.
3) Sacrifice of Ignorance—”I don’t wanna know” is no longer a valid option when serving as an elder. Elders need to be informed. It’s part of being vigilant in keeping watch over souls. (Acts 20:28) Marriage issues that otherwise would’ve been thought unthinkable based on lovey dovey Facebook posts will be brought to the shepherds. Parents struggling with kids (both youth AND adult) will seek the counsel of elders. Brethren getting upset with the preacher will be brought to the elders’ ears. People who struggle with depression, people who are grieved, people facing addictions… they won’t be “somebody else’s problem”, they will be the shepherd’s work. The problems will not be hidden in the shadows of ignorance. They will be brought to the light to be dealt with in all godly wisdom and compassion.
4) Sacrifice Sleep—While hopefully shepherds will not lose sleep over decisions that they made, they are likely to from time to time lose sleep over the (sinful) decisions that others make. Paul talks about this concern he had for all of the churches. (II Corinthians 11:28) How it seemed to weigh on him. It’s not that he didn’t have faith in God. It’s not that he thought he was the only solution to all their problems. It’s that, he loved them. We lose sleep sometimes over the people we love. When we are concerned for their soul. When that concern keeps us up at night and down on our knees petitioning God for wisdom, guidance, and counsel.
5) Sacrifice “Self” at a Higher-Level - What all of this adds up to is a higher-level of sacrificing oneself in discipleship to Christ Jesus. Every Christian is to sacrifice self and all true and faithful Christians do to varying degrees. (Galatians 2:20) Shepherds should be the ultimate example of this; right behind Jesus of course. As pointed out in the article “On the Service of Shepherds”, Jesus got down on his hands and knees and washed the Apostles’ feet. Jesus showed the ultimate humble self-sacrifice in this, and in hanging on the cross of Calvary for us. Nobody has given up more than Jesus. Shepherds should understand that this self-sacrifice is part of discipleship. Part of growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
6) Sacrifice Following—Following is NOT easy. But it is easiER than leading. When you are a leader you are an example (Hebrews 13:7). When you are a leader you have to be looking to the future. Planning for it. Just like a shepherd who must know where the flock is going, where to rest, where to graze, where to stop for water, etc. A shepherd is planning for the care of the sheep and that is what shepherds in the church are doing. If they are leading they are NOT just waiting. They are NOT just reacting. They are active. They are searching. They are caring. They are planning. They are working. Of course they are still followers of Jesus, but now they are followers as leaders!
If a man aspires to be a shepherd, it is a fine work he desires to do. It is a worthy sacrifice that he is willing to make, if done for the right reasons. (I Peter 5:1-4)