Pastoral Care: Step One

Scripture needs to shape the way we think about what a leader does in pastoral care

The Elders/Overseers are to shepherd the flock. These verses are clarifying because it reminds the Elder of their first priority. It is not buildings, finances, policy, or making decisions. It may include those things, but ultimately shepherds focus on the sheep. The priority of the elder/overseer is to care for people.

 

Where do we begin to work ourselves out of the maze of frenetic, chaotic, directionless church life? It begins by letting Scripture shape the way we think about what a leader does. We need a clear job description. Without one, busyness can cause leaders to lose their focus on people. It is amazing how quickly this can happen in the midst of real church life.

There are three primary passages that provide a clear sense of what church leaders are to do: I Peter 5:1-4, Ephesians 4:11-13 and Acts 6:1-7. These passages will be our focus over the next three segments.

The first passage is found in I Peter 5:1-4.

Shepherd the Flock

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

This passage is unique because it is one of the few passages where elders are commanded to do something other than Acts 20:28. Peter also uses three separate words to refer to the spiritual leaders.

  1. Elders — the Greek word is presbuteroi. It is where Presbyterians get their name. The word tends to connote someone with age and wisdom who sits in a leadership role. Elders are to be wise and exhibit Christ-like character.
  2. Overseers — the Greek word is episcopos. This is where Episcopalians get their name. This word literally means “oversight.” The word connotes exactly what it says. Leaders give oversight to the entire church. They do not micro-manage but they are responsible to see that things are done.
  3. Shepherd — the Greek word is poimen. This word literally means shepherd.

This third word is used as a command. The Elders/Overseers are to shepherd the flock. These verses are clarifying because it reminds the Elder of their first priority. It is not buildings, finances, policy, or making decisions. It may include those things, but ultimately shepherds focus on the sheep. The priority of the elder/overseer is to care for people.

Tim Lane is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America, lives in Atlanta, and serves as president of the Institute for Pastoral Care. This article appeared on the Institute blog and is used with permission.