By Shawn McMullen
Elders of the church are “shepherds of God’s flock” (1 Peter 5:2). Just as responsible shepherds tend their sheep, elders are to look after the flock of God, leading, feeding, guiding, and protecting those under their care.
There is no higher standard for elders in the local church than Jesus Christ. To shepherd like him is a worthy goal for any church leader. Understanding how Jesus shepherds us can help elders understand how to shepherd the church.
Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Jesus laid down his life to bring us salvation. We didn’t earn this gift and we certainly don’t deserve it. But that didn’t stop Christ from sacrificing himself for us.
Elders lead like Jesus when they lead sacrificially. They’re not called to lord it over others in the church. They’re called to lead as servants of the church.
Jesus also said, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me” (10:14). Jesus knows his sheep well, and his sheep know him in return. They recognize his voice and listen to him. Elders who serve well know the people in the congregations they oversee. The people know, trust, and listen to such men.
The writer to the Hebrews began his benediction with these words: “Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep” (Hebrews 13:20). Jesus is not only the good shepherd; he’s the great shepherd. The word great here separates this shepherd from all other shepherds. This shepherd loves perfectly, leads perfectly, and protects perfectly.
Writing to his fellow elders, the apostle Peter promised, “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away” (1 Peter 5:4). If Christ is the great shepherd because he is separate from all other shepherds, he is the chief shepherd because he is over all other shepherds. The early Hebrew Christians were instructed, “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account” (Hebrews 13:17). Jesus Christ, the chief shepherd, is the one to whom all other shepherds are accountable.
In John’s heavenly vision, one of the elders surrounding the throne in Heaven described life for the overcomers: “For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes’” (Revelation 7:17).
Throughout eternity, Jesus Christ—the good shepherd, the great shepherd, the chief shepherd—will continue to shepherd his flock, leading and caring for them with the same heart of love. It’s a comforting thought.
Elders of the church can never love, lead, and feed the flock of God like the perfect shepherd, Jesus Christ. Even so, they can find in him the model and motivation they need to make their leadership and service the kind that blesses the church and glorifies God.