The Sheep’s Responsibility to Their Shepherds

1 Timothy 5:17-22


Have you ever heard of Bill Kazmaier? What about Jón Páll Sigmarsson, or Magnús Ver Magnússon?

These names probably don’t mean a lot to you, but all three of these guys have something in common. They are all multiple winners of the Worlds Strongest Man competition that is held in December of each year. People who are bodybuilding and strength enthusiast consider this the granddaddy of all strong man competitions.

While it is primarily a competition of strength; it’s one where strength is tested in many different ways. Some of the events consist of Atlas Stones which are five heavy round stones increasing in weight from 220–352 pounds that are placed on top of high platforms. Or the Car Carry where you pick up a car without a roof or floor board and carry the car for 25 meters.

The whole premise of the competition is to see who can bear the greatest load for the longest time, or for the greatest distance. And the winner get’s a big trophy, a bigger check, and endorsement deals from supplement companies. It’s pretty amazing to see.

This morning I want to talk about some strong men, men who seem to posses a superhuman ability at times to carry a great and heavy load. These men I would like to talk about today are carrying a burden that is much greater than a car, or 350-pound stone. These men are carrying the burden of being responsible for each and every one of us; of course I am talking about our Shepherds.

In the text that was read for us this morning, Paul talks about giving honor to those who shepherd, those who take on the responsibility of each and everyone of our souls. And it makes sense doesn’t it? I mean can you imagine going to a baseball game and not cheering on your team? Can you imagine going to a Concert and not cheering for the performers? We cheer and encourage people so that they know how much we appreciate them. Should we do any less for the men that care for our souls?

Next Sunday is an exciting day for the church family here at Park Central. It is a day that we will be able to look back at the men and their families that gave their time, and concern for the members of this congregation. It is also a day that we will be able to cover our current shepherds in prayer. We have called several of the past and their families and they are expecting to be here.  

As exciting as next Sunday is going to be, I am not fully convinced that Paul was telling Timothy that our Elders need to be appreciated one day every 100 years. I believe that we need to appreciate them every day. I have worked with enough Elderships to know that people usually only talk about them when they have a reason to gripe or complain. In reality that only makes a difficult job all the more difficult.

That’s why I want to spend our time together this morning looking at five things we owe the men and the families that serve us. I believe if we will be intentional about these five things then we will encourage our shepherds and let them know how much we appreciate the difficult task they undertake.

First we owe it to them to get to know them.

We read in 1 Thessalonians 5:12 And we beseech you, brethren, that you come to know those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you

The Greek word here is ε?δω (i-dough) and can be translated as to know or to respect. Paul is encouraging us to not only know about them but also to see them, perceive them, understand them, know them, and not just know about them. If we are going to follow their lead, if we are going to allow them to be responsible for our souls, then we need to know who they are.

The Bible constantly uses the sheep and shepherd metaphor to describe the relationship between a congregation and the Elders who oversee that congregation; that’s not on accident. Jesus addresses the sheep and shepherd relationship in John 10. He says that there is such a deep knowledge of each other that The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. … the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.

The sheep know the shepherd; they are comfortable around him. Without knowing about the shepherd we cannot follow their voice, or trust their leadership. Without knowing them we cannot follow their example. Lynn Anderson wrote two books on the Eldership and entitled both of them, “They Smell Like Sheep”. Our elders cannot “smell like sheep” if we do not get to know them.

Secondly, I believe that as sheep we owe our Shepherds respect.

Look back at our text in I Thessalonians 5:12-13 Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.

Aretha Franklin is not the only one who is looking for a little respect. When kids fight on the playground they are looking for a little respect. When your boss at work is screaming at someone, red faced and that little vein popping out on the side of their head, they are just trying to get a little respect, and I can’t count the times since Thursday that I have heard a basketball player talk about their team not getting the respect they deserve, or now that they won maybe people will begin to respect them more.

Respect is a big thing in our society. If we all understand the desire to be respected, then it just makes sense that we understand the need to respect our elders. It takes a lot of time, and prayer, and emotional energy to shepherd God’s church. The men that serve this church lead us by not only their voices, but by their examples. These men are willing to give assistance when we desire it, advice when we seek it, and correcting and rebuking when we need it.

Being an elder is difficult. There are a lot of things that go on behind closed doors that we will never know about, and these things would break your heart if you did. I have never sat in a meeting with a group of elders who got all giddy because they had to go confront a wayward sheep. I have never been among a group of elders who didn’t feel the pain and grief when a member heard the word cancer, or lost their job, or their marriage was falling apart. 

Paul says that we are to respect them because they work hard among you … care for you … admonish you. He says we need to Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. The very fact that they are willing to sacrifice so much for you, demands that we give them the respect that they are due. Someone told me once that we have to respect the office and not the man. I disagree. Paul says that we owe them respect and honor because of all that they do, not simply because they carry a title. If you cannot respect them for all that they do, then maybe you need to get to know them better.

Next I believe that as sheep we owe our shepherds submission

The Hebrew writer says in 13:17 Obey your leaders and act under their authority. They are watching over you, because they are responsible for your souls. Obey them so that they will do this work with joy, not sadness. It will not help you to make their work hard.

I understand that the word submission is a hot button or fighting work for a lot of folks. Admittedly we have not done a good job really defining what it means. I have heard folks teach that submission is akin to slavery; and that is not just bad hermeneutics, that is plain wrong. The idea of submission or obey in this text and all text’s in the Bible carries the idea of listening to, trusting, having confidence in, or complying with.

The same is true for an elder. We understand that an elder’s authority is not one of power or position. Peter writes in 1 Peter 5:3 that a shepherd does not lord over the flock. So the authority that we give to our shepherds is one of persuasion by moral example. We willingly submit to them as our spiritual leaders, we have chosen them to be our leaders, and as long as they are honoring God with their leadership, we should follow them.

This is important because there are times when they will have to make decisions that are judgment calls. We need to understand that these are not decisions that they entered into lightly and there is always going to be someone that doesn’t like their decisions. I mean pick an issue that is a grey area issue; any issue you like and you will have folks who think that we went too far and folks who don’t think that we went far enough. So both groups go and fuss at the elders. And if you try to play it safe and do nothing, well you will find out that there is a third group of complainers as well.   

Now submission doesn’t mean that we cannot question. I have an agreement with our elders that behind closed doors we can agree to disagree. And there will be times that I will adamantly disagree with them. But I and we need to understand that once we have been heard, we need to submit to the collective wisdom of our shepherds. We need to believe that they have the wisdom, and have spent the time in prayer and study to make the best decision for this family and us. So in public, after I have been heard, I always submit to their wisdom. And I believe that is something that we all owe them. Once again we must realize the difficulty of the task that they have, and do what we can to make that burden lighter.

Then I believe that we owe our shepherds lots of prayer.

Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2:1-3 First, I want all of you to pray for everyone. Ask God to bless them. Give thanks for them. Pray for kings. Pray for all who are in authority. Pray that we will live peaceful and quiet lives. And pray that we will be godly and holy. That is good. It pleases God our Savior.

In this first letter to Timothy, Paul set’s out some instruction on how to conduct public worship. I hope that you understand the importance that Paul is putting on prayer here. When talking about the most important thing we can do, he says start with prayer. Pray for everyone, Kings, and those in authority. While I understand that if you ask 100 scholars who Paul is talking about 97 of them will say Presidents, governors, mayors, and the like. And while I agree that all of these men and women need our prayers, if we go back to the last point, that we owe our Shepherds submission, then can’t we agree that they also have authority in our lives, and need our prayers as well?

We need to continually offer prayers that our Shepherds will make wise decisions. The decisions that these men make affect large numbers of people in very major ways. I believe that all too many times we get short sighted and greatly under-estimate the extent of our decisions. I served with an eldership one time that constantly asked, what is the result of this decision 5, 10, 20 and 50 years from now.  I believe there is wisdom in that.

And not only do we need to pray that they make wise decisions, we need to pray that they will have the strength to make the right decisions. It’s not always easy to do the right thing. And I have learned as a parent that very often the best things are the most difficult things. 

Finally we owe our shepherds encouragement

William Arthur Ward is credited for saying, “Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I will not forget you.” You know he’s right. We all would rather be encouraged than criticized or picked apart, it’s part of our makeup, like the desire to be loved, and forgiven. You would think because it is something that we all desire we would be willing to meet that need in others. But just like we are reminded to love one another, and forgive one another we are told 46 times in the New Testament to encourage one another.

The Hebrew writer says it this way in Hebrews 3:13, But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. Encouragement is not only desirable, but we reminisce about and remember those who encouraged us. That’s why we hear so much about Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, who was such a blessing to the church that they called him Barnabas, or son of encouragement, and sent him with Paul on the first missionary journey.

In far to many churches being a shepherd is a thankless job. They receive no pay, no fame, and often times no formal recognition. And while not being encouraged we expect them to handle our problems and questions and criticism. The great thing about elders is that they are just folks just like you and I who have taken on a great responsibility. And more than anything in the world they need our encouragement.

I read a story about a fire department was called out to a three-alarm fire and battled it for what seemed like an eternity. As they cleared out the last person and had the fire under somewhat of control, they began to take their much-needed breaks. But as they began to relax, they heard the faint cry of a woman on the fourth floor. One of the firefighters volunteered to get her, although they were all exhausted.

He put on his gear as quickly as he could and ascended the ladder near the screaming woman. When he reached her position, he threw her over his shoulders and began to descend the ladder. But about halfway down, his legs began to buckle under him and the other firefighters just knew that he was going to drop her and fall.

That’s when the first firefighter began to yell; you can do it, just a few more steps. Soon all of the firemen were yelling words of encouragement to the exhausted fireman, “You can do it! You’re doing great! Come on now, not far from the bottom!” When the tired fireman heard his brothers calling to him, he took a deep breath and used what last bit of energy he could muster to carry the lady the rest of the way down the ladder to the ground.

This is what it is like for elders. We must recognize that they will need our encouragement to carry out the task we’ve chosen them to do. Our Shepherds continue to bear a big burden on our behalf. They will be called upon to minister, counsel, advise, rebuke, correct, pray over, and talk with many of us.

We need to be aware of what we owe them. We need people who will cheer on and support the men who lead us in Christ. As Will Rogers once said, “We can’t all be heroes because someone has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.”


31 Days of Prayers For Our Shepherds

Day 1 Pray that our elders will love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. Pray that God’s Spirit will work in their hearts in power and that they will value and follow biblical priorities.  

Day 2 Pray that our elders will cultivate strong character and uncompromising integrity. Pray that they will never do anything that they would need to hide from others.

Day 3 Pray for their personal walk with God that their souls and spirits will be nourished and strengthened in their quiet time with God. Pray that they will spend more time in the Word of God than reading Christian books and articles.

Day 4 Pray that our elders will counsel and teach with discernment through the wise use of Scripture and faith in God’s power to work. Pray that they will be protected from the effects of sinful or negative attitudes that they encounters as they counsel.

Day 5 Ask God to protect the marriages of our elders, keeping them strong as models of Christ’s relationship with the Church. Pray that our elders will tenderly cherish and lead their wives, and that their wives will respect and encourage their husbands, submitting to their leadership.

Day 6 Pray that God will protect our elder’s wives from bitterness when their husbands are criticized. Pray that the wives prayer and devotional lives will be consistent, and that the wives guard their minds and hearts.

Day 7 Pray for our elder’s children, and especially that the pressures of shepherding will not discourage or embitter them. Pray that our elders will provide godly leadership in the home, not based on fear of what others will think, but according to scriptural truth.

Day 8 Ask God to protect our elders from the influence of Satan. Pray that they will not be corrupted as they rub shoulders with the world in the course of ministry.

Day 9 Pray that God will build a hedge of protection around our elder’s marriages, and that they will be aware of the potential for any improper relationships. Pray that their family time will be protected.

Day 10 Pray that our elders will use discernment in use of e-mails, the Internet, and the media.  Ask God to guard their hearts concerning the use of free time. Pray that they will be morally pure and that they will wear the armor of God so that they will not fall into temptation.

Day 11 Pray that God will bring godly friends and encouragers to our elders and their families, to strengthen them for the ministry and provide meaningful fellowship and times of rest.

Day 12 Pray that our elders will be humble and authentic in their faith, not given to pride or hypocrisy. Pray that they will have pure motives and give God glory for every gain or victory. 

Day 13 Pray that our elders will make wise lifestyle choices in order to protect their health, especially in the areas of exercise, eating moderately, and getting sufficient rest. Pray for times of relaxation and renewal to balance the stress of ministry.

Day 14 Pray that our elders will focus on the Word of God and walk in the fear of the Lord rather than fear of man. Pray that they will seek to please God rather than men, and pursue holiness rather than the praise of men.

Day 15 Praise God for our elders leadership and pray that they will make godly decisions.  Pray that they will lead with a shepherd’s heart, and that they will always speak the truth in love.

Day 16 Pray that our elders will be courageous in standing up for Christ, and confident in their use of the Word of God. Ask God to help them live with insight, transparency and humility.

Day 17 Pray that our elders will be Great Commission men committed to personal evangelism and the equipping of the saints to seek the lost. Pray that they will have a heart to develop a thriving missions program in the church.

Day 18 Pray that our elders will be men of prayer and worship, and that they will lead by example teaching the congregation how to walk in a close relationship with the Father.

Day 19 Pray that our elders will use wise time management, and that they will seek God’s perspective for their schedules, guarding their time against unnecessary interruptions.

Day 20 Pray for a fresh excitement and love in the elders desire to serve. Pray that God’s working will be powerfully evident both in their personal lives and the spiritual life of the congregation.

Day 21 Pray that our elders will not give in to discouragement, but will deal with inevitable criticism and conflict by committing themselves into the hands of God, who judges righteously.

Day 22 Pray that our elders will practice servant leadership, edifying the congregation with wisdom and serving with God’s agape love.

Day 23 Pray for spiritual unity among the elders and the spiritual leadership of the church.  Pray that the enemy will not be allowed to create divisions, strife, or misunderstanding among the church leaders.

Day 24 Pray that God will give our elders a clear, biblical vision of what your church can and should be for His glory, and that they will communicate that vision clearly and confidently to the church.

Day 25 Pray that our elders will seek God for personal revival, and revival in your church and community.

Day 26 Pray that our elders will think biblically, with the mind of Christ.

Day 27 Pray that our elders will earnestly seek God’s will and be committed to instant and complete obedience ready for God to work powerfully in and through their ministry.

Day 28 Pray that our elders will strive for personal excellence and will believe God for all He wants to do in the congregation.

Day 29 Pray that our elders will be men of faith and have a passionate love for God, not giving in to worries, fears, or an uptight and anxious spirit.

Day 30 Pray that our elders will be wise stewards of both personal finances and church funds.

Day 31 Ask God to heal any hurts that our elders have suffered in serving. Pray that they will serve the Lord with gladness, and encourage the congregation to worship God with a joyful, surrendered spirit. 


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