For the next few days, I’m publishing a short series on the connection between mutuality and various forms of serving for the sake of the gospel. I’m sticking to commands, exhortations, and examples that we find in Scripture relating to mutual service and servants. There is a danger in sole-ministry, expert-ministry, and professional-ministry. In Scripture, service (of any kind) was performed mutually – both with others and for the sake of others.
In this post, I look at the service of shepherding. Among many in the church today, shepherding is a service that is the sole responsibility of a professional class of Christians – vocational pastors, elders, etc. But, in Scripture, shepherding is a much more of a mutual service to and for one another.
Interestingly, this is one of the types of services that is most easily recognized as mutual in the Gospel, even in the case of Jesus. It is clear that Jesus serves others – in fact, he even said that he came to serve others. However, in the Gospels, others care for and serve Jesus as well.
Here is one passage that shows how some were traveling with and caring for Jesus:
Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means. (Luke 8:1-3 ESV)
In Acts 6, we see an example of the apostles encouraging the believers in Jerusalem to care for one another. In this case, the people chose seven men to make sure that the Hellenistic widows were receiving food. Later, we see different people caring for and shepherding others, offering hospitality, providing food, etc. For example, consider Simon the Tanner (Acts 9:43), Cornelius (Acts 10), Lydia (Acts 16:14-16), and many who traveled with Paul.
Now, some may object and say that these are not officially forms of shepherding; they are simple examples of people serving one another. Instead, they might point to Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:1-3 as examples of elders alone being responsible for official shepherding.
However, there is another (similar) passage that is directed toward all believers. This passage is found in the Book of Hebrews:
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy… (Hebrews 12:12-16 ESV)
This passage shows that beyond physical shepherding (through service, hospitality, etc.) even spiritual shepherding is the responsibility of all believers to be performed mutually (that is, we should shepherd one another). In fact, the verb translated “see to it” in verse 15 is the same verb that is translated “overseeing” when elders are in the context.
God provides everything that we need, and Jesus alone is our good shepherd and our overseer. However, Jesus often shepherds us through others. We must be willing to respond to Jesus’ work through others, and we also must be willing to allow Jesus to use us to shepherd others.