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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 8 am Service, 2001-12-30

Text: Ephesians 4:11; 1 Peter 5:2

This morning we conclude our series of messages this quarter on the Dynamics of Spiritual gifts by looking at the gift of pastoring. This gift is found in the list of gifts mentioned in Ephesians 4:11 and is the special God-given ability to assume long-term responsibility for the spiritual welfare of a group of believers. It is the responsibility of caring for them, protecting them from error, and feeding them with the Word of God, until they reach maturity in Christ. 

This gift is particularly given to the pastors and elders of a church. But in our present context today, someone who has a leadership role in the church may also have this gift. And this includes those who are deacons, Bible study leaders, Sunday school superintendents and teachers, leaders in the youth and children's ministries aswell as fellowship group and NBC leaders. All these need to have the gift of pastoring to serve well.

While the gift of pastoring is mentioned in Ephesians 4:11, the requirements that must be met for this leadership role are not given here, but are in found in 1 Peter 5:2, where the apostle Peter wrote: 'Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind.' We may observe a few things here about the role of leadership in the church. The first is that our Lord Jesus likened it to the task of shepherds who look after sheep. The verse we are looking at can actually be translated: 'Shepherd the flock of God.' So the meaning is not to be restricted to just providing food alone, but to providing all things that are essential for the care and well-being of the sheep. In the 23rd psalm (aka the shepherd's psalm), which most of us I think are familiar with, this care is described as making the sheep lie down in green pastures, leading them beside the still waters, restoring their souls, leading them in the paths of righteousness, protecting them as they walk through the valley of the shadow of death, preparing a table before them for good nutrition, and anointing them with oil for healing. 

I. The Requirements for this Spiritual Gift

A. Great Fear and Care - For One's Accountability to God

The shepherd's responsibility is to take care of the sheep. But the point in our verse that makes this responsibility even greater for the shepherd is that the sheep are actually not his own sheep, but the flock of God. It is God's sheep he is looking after, and not his own. He therefore has to be most careful about the way he handles the sheep, because God is going to require him to give an account. 

Those of us who are in positions of leadership must always keep this in mind: The people who have been entrusted to our care are God's people. It would be very wrong for a leader for use or abuse the people under his care for his own ends. In fact, anyone whose motive is for his own material gain should not be in a position of church leadership at all. You will notice that Peter says this in our verse: 'taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre,...'

It saddens our heart whenever we hear of church leaders who abuse the flock under their care. I have heard of a pastor who became so filled with a sense of his own importance that he convinced his church to buy him a new expensive car - a Volvo, because he said - it is not right that their pastor should be seen driving a Japanese car! A church leader who does things like that will one day have to answer to God for abusing His sheep. 

B. Great Love For Christ and His Flock

In some churches, leadership positions are even seen as coveted offices and during elections, there would be much struggle for power and influence. But in contrast to all that, churches where God's word is faithfully obeyed are churches where leaders provide sacrificial care for the flock of God, out of a soul-consuming passion to love the Lord and His flock. It is interesting to observe that there is a very obvious connection between this verse and what Christ commanded Peter three times in John 21:15-17 - 'Feed my sheep.' Let us turn our Bibles to this passage (John 21:15), as I believe it will shed new light on the verse we are studying. 

During this post-resurrection appearance of Christ, our Lord asked the apostle Peter in v.15 'Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me more than these? He saith unto Him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love Thee. He saith unto Him, Feed my lambs. He saith unto him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because He said unto him the third time, Lovest thou Me? And he said unto Him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love Thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.'

If you turn your Bibles back now to 1 Peter 5:2 and read it you can imagine that as the same apostle Peter penned these words under inspiration, his mind must have recalled these very same words that Jesus spoke to him that day: 'Do you really love Me, Peter? If you do, then take care of My sheep.' Love becomes the reason why we should feed the flock. The more we love Christ, the more we will be willing to care for the sheep that He has entrusted to our care. And the extent to which we serve and care for the sheep becomes a true measure of how much we actually love our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Take a careful look at our text in 1 Peter 5:2 again and you will see this same idea being expressed: 'Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind.' From this we can see that loving service is a service that is marked by a disposition of willingness and an attitude of having a ready mind. The words 'ready mind' here means, eagerly and enthusiastically. Love becomes the driving force that motivates us to whole-hearted, dedicated service and care of God's people. The responsibilities of shepherding the flock no longer become a burden we dread to carry, but rather, an opportunity that we want to make full use of, because we love to do it for the Lord's sake. 

To summarize the lessons we can learn from this verse, there are two important attitudes that leaders should have in regard to feeding the flock. The first is the attitude of great fear and care because it is God's flock that we are looking after. The second is the attitude of love for Christ, that will make us care for the flock willingly and with much enthusiasm. How does this apply to us? It calls for those of us who are leaders to take a good look at ourselves, and find out if we have these attitudes in our hearts, as we serve the Lord. Remember that with the Lord, the attitudes of the heart are always of greatest importance. A person may boast a lot about how much he has done and how much help he has given to take care of others, but the question he must always ask himself is 'Who did I do it for? Was it truly for the Lord, or was it really for myself - to boost my own ego?'

II. The Responsibilities of this Spiritual Gift 

Once we have settled these basic essential requirements we must then go on to the responsibilities of feeding the flock. What are some basic principles of caring for God's people? The most comprehensive instruction on this is found not in 1 Peter, but in the pastoral epistles. And that's where we will be focussing our attention for the rest of this message. In the pastoral epistles we will find that the first responsibility for those who have the gift of pastoring is to:

A. Know the Flock Well

Christ himself said in John 10:27 - 'My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow Me.' Let us now turn to the book of I Timothy, one of the pastoral epistles, and look at what Paul instructs Timothy to do in taking care of the members of his church. Reading from v.1 of chapter 5 - 'Rebuke not an elder, but entreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren; the elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity.'

What can we notice here? I believe that we can plainly see, just from the use of the family terms Paul used whenever he spoke about dealings with church members (father, mother, brother, sister), that leaders are to care for church members in the same loving and affectionate way that members of a family care for one another. 

What lessons can we learn from this? That leaders need to build good relationships with the members. This requires good social skills; the ability to become a friend to people; it requires refined sensitivity, understanding, and the ability to sympathize with them, to weep with them that weep, to rejoice with them that rejoice. It requires the development of tactfulness and gentleness. It also requires the willingness to make oneself always available to others. But above all, it requires a great capacity to love people. 

Some time ago a brother in Christ shared with me, why he admired the leadership in a certain church. He said that he had noticed how the elders and deacons there were warm and would make an effort to get to know new faces, to invite people to their homes, to cook a meal for them and be present whenever they could at church meetings and programs. If there was a camp going on that was organized by one of the fellowship groups, they would try their best to drop in on one evening just to fellowship with the campers. 

It is not easy for leaders to be like that, because it means a lot of commitment physically, emotionally and socially. But in the long run making the effort of building good relationships that way will greatly facilitate the ministry to God's people. If you are going to be an effective leader in caring for the flock, then you must commit yourself to acquiring these things. Let us now go on to the second responsibility for those who have the gift of pastoring. This is to 

B. Deal With The Members of God's Flock According to Their Characteristics

This means you cannot use the exact same approach to care for every individual. We observe this principle in I Timothy 5:1 where Timothy is told to treat the elderly men in his church as fathers, the elderly women as mothers, the younger women as sisters and the younger men as brothers. Notice that there is a difference in the way that Timothy to to treat each group. It would not be right for instance, for Timothy to treat the elderly men as brothers, or to treat the younger women as mothers. Can you imagine what would happen if he did that? 

Here we learn the principle that when we shepherd the flock we cannot deal with one and all in exactly the same way. The church we are in is not homogenous in its make-up. Our ministry would be a whole lot easier in many ways if our church was composed of people who are all exactly alike: The same in terms of needs, sensitivities, preferences, and maturity. But this is simply not the case. In fact we recognize this by the fact that we provide different fellowship groups for our people like the Adults fellowship, Young Adults Fellowship, Youth Fellowship, etc. 

A church is a mixture of various types of people, and a good leader is one that is able to understand and minister to all of them well. In other words, we must learn to 'be all things to all men.' We must be able to switch channels (so to speak), depending on who we are dealing with. Different types people need to be approached in different ways, and yet without showing partiality or favoritism. To complicate matters, the number of types of people are not just limited to different age groups or genders, but even to social rank and class - each of them have different kinds of needs and face different kinds of temptations which a good leader would be mindful of, when dealing with them. Each of them needs to be dealt with, with a different agenda. 

Let us look at v.4 - Here, Paul tells Timothy how to deal with the widows in the church, and he forewarns Timothy that it is unwise to deal with older widows and younger widows in the same way. A widow should be at least 60 years old to qualify for church support. 

Let us turn to 6:1,2 - Here Paul tells Timothy the objectives he should have for those in the church who are slaves, and he understands that a believing slave may have the tendency to despise a believing master. 

These various groups found in the church are to be handled differently, and none are to be left out. And a leader cannot pick and choose the kind of members he wants to deal with and become specialists in shepherding only that one group, neglecting the rest. He has to be like a doctor who is G.P., a General Practitioner, not a specialist who is skilled in dealing with only one type of age group or only one type of ailment. If we do not recognize this fact, we will be in for trouble! 

Once we realize that we need to care for such a great variety of people, we may proceed to look at each one, as described in this epistle.

1. Dealing with Elderly Members

Let us turn back to 5:1- Here we notice that the very first group mentioned by Paul is the elderly. This is perhaps one area in which many young leaders tend to be weak - this only means we who are young need to be extra-sensitive and careful. I remember the time I was trying to tell an elderly man of his need for salvation (I used the same approach that I used with everyone else), he replied quite indignantly: 'Young man, I have eaten more salt than you have eaten rice!' What do you do when you face this response? How do you show an elderly person that something is not right with him without giving him the idea that you are trying to be wiser than him? By speaking with great humility, sensitivity, carefully choosing your words and evaluating how they would be received. 

It takes great skill, but with the right approach, we will be able to earn their attention and minister to their needs. Furthermore, the more we show ourselves to be mature in our thinking and in our conduct, the more readily those who are elderly would be willing to respect and consider carefully what we have to say. With the elderly that respect has to be earned. A father or mother would listen to a son who is good and responsible rather than to a son who is impulsive, irresponsible and foolish. It is easier for a parent to listen to his or her child when he realizes that his child deserves to be listened to, because he is reliable, dependable, and very considerate. 

2. Dealing with Lady Members

Having seen how we should minister to the older members of our church, let us proceed now to consider another group: the younger women. In I Timothy 5:2 Paul commands Timothy to treat them as sisters, but with an important difference: and that is, with ALL PURITY. The last phrase of this verse is sometimes overlooked by leaders, and this can have dangerous consequences. Sometimes a young lady burdened wih a big problem comes and relates her problems with much grief: a male church leader rightly sympathizes with her, feels for her and longs to comfort her the way he would comfort anyone else. But special restraint is in order here, not because we want to be cold and unfeeling to our beloved sisters in Christ, but because social propriety demands wisdom in dealing with them so that our motives will not be misunderstood by them or by onlookers within the church and outside the church. Needless trouble can result from carelessness in this matter. So be careful. 

3. Dealing with Needy Members (5:3-16)

We proceed now to the next group that is mentioned: the widows in the church. Widows represented a large and obvious group of people at that time who needed help. In those days it was extremely difficult to be a widow. It meant being helpless, desolate and very poor. Widows were easily hurt and mistreated. Unscrupulous men often took advantage of them and robbed them, on the pretext of helping them. Together with orphans, widows were among the most pitied people because of their plight. 

In our churches today, widows are still a needy group, but in many ways they are a lot better off than the widows of ancient times. Being more educated, they are able to be independent, plus there are laws protecting them, as well as social institutions that have been set up to help them. I believe what is more valuable to us now from this passage of scripture is the principle behind the prescriptions given here for the widows, And that principle is that: the church has an obligation to provide material care for the needy members who have no one to help them, and who are unable to help themselves.

Although we would want to avoid becoming a social institution, preaching nothing more than a social gospel, there is a place for a ministry of help to the needy in the church. James, the brother of our Lord, said that if we say to a brother or a sister who is unclothed and unfed, 'Depart in peace, be warmed, be filled,' and not lift a finger to help them, then our profession of faith is an empty profession (for faith without works is dead). There must also be a ministry of supplying to the basic physical necessities of life, and not just spiritual nurture, when such is needed. But remember: this is a ministry that must be carried out with great caution, so that the church never becomes a society of dependents seeking for handouts and an easy living. 

4. Dealing with Rich Members (6:17-19)

Let us go on to consider one last group that Timothy was given instructions on, and that is the rich members of his church. Here we can observe something quite important: Timothy was not told to ask the rich to give up their riches. There is nothing wrong or unscriptural about being materially rich. One does not have to become poor in order to be more spiritual. The Bible abounds with examples of men who were well-endowed with this world's goods and yet spiritually well: for instance Abraham, Jacob, Job, Joseph of Arimathea, and Barnabas. 

What the scriptures warn however, is that those who are wealthy must be careful not to let their wealth become a trap to them, tempting them into spiritual apathy, coveteousness and sin. Riches and the cares of this life can easily become like thorns choking the seeds of faith and God's Word in the heart of the believer. And this is a problem faced by believers in Singapore with our nation's well-known emphasis on material wealth. And so we must be careful and ready to minister to one another when we see believers falling into this trap. In I Timothy 6:17, Timothy was told to 'Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy.' 

With that we bring our study of this spiritual gift to a conclusion: we have seen that those who have the gift of pastoring and are appointed as leaders in the church need to get to know the people well. We have also seen the different ways in which leaders are to deal with the various kinds of people. And I think you can see that it is not an easy task to shepherd the flock of God. 

The demands are great because of the manifold facets involved in dealing with individuals. It takes skill, courage, patience, gentleness and above all, it takes love. Let those of us who are leaders or who are aspiring to any kind of leadership in the church therefore concentrate on cultivating these things in our lives. For if we do so, the flock of God will be well cared for. And it must be well-cared for.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

December 3 & 10 - Holy Living

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 2 Peter 3:11