Apostolic Shepherding, Part 1, People as Sheep

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First, let us discuss the list in Ephesians 4:11, and the combination of shepherds and teachers in this instance. Some have ventured to combine teaching and shepherding into a single function, to declare the “fourfold ministry.” We know that this is not Paul’s intention, to combine teacher and shepherd into one singular function, because Paul lists “teacher” in another instance separately. For purpose of our discussion, if we were to draw any conclusion from this and Paul’s other mention of “teacher,” we would lessen our emphasis upon shepherding as a function of ministry; more poignant this becomes as we lay it alongside the modern use of the term “pastor” as the sum total of ministry leadership.

Paul refers to himself as “apostle and teacher.” Paul lists “teacher” separately in 1 Corinthians 14:28, 29. The construction of Ephesians 4:11, without the article before shepherds does read “shepherds and teachers.” To make this the basis for those functions to be one and the same, however, would be erroneous.

However, the case of the function of shepherds as one of the fivefold ministry leadership dynamics struggles against this and the absence of strong Scriptural foundations. We need to look further into how “shepherd” appears in the Bible to discover a working job description.

Shepherding Errors

I need to address the “shepherding movement” as we enter into this discussion. Probably the main reason I find the word “shepherding” a problem arises from this movement’s abuse of leadership. The leaders were well known during their heyday, and the influence of the movement strong at one point of another.

The catalyst that started the Shepherding Movement was a moral failure in a charismatic ministry in South Florida. In response to this failure, four well-known Charismatic leaders – Bob Mumford, Derek Prince, Charles Simpson, and Don Basham – came together as the crisis response team. These men, realizing they were equally vulnerable to moral failure apart from accountability, agreed to submit themselves to each another. This mutual submission became a supernatural experience for them, and they bound their ministries together. Eventually, Ern Baxter joined the core group, and “The Fort Lauderdale Five”, as they became known, was established.

These five “anointed” men began to teach on authority, submission, and discipleship. The doctrine that reshaped the charismatic community was that every individual must be submitted to another person and that all major life decisions should be submitted to a “shepherd or pastor”. It became a system in which elders or “shepherds” acted as spiritual leaders responsible for the entire church. Individual church members were assigned to specific elders and were “submitted” to them. Over time, a religious system developed in which a blind obedience to “man” was promoted.

Another doctrine that these leaders emphasized was “Covenant” relationships or “Spiritual Family”. When one entered into a discipleship relationship, it was permanent, as was one’s association with a group of believers. Members were in a “Covenant” with one another. If someone left the relationship or the fellowship group, they were breaking a covenant. These kinds of religious systems often place more emphasis on one’s “spiritual family” than one’s natural family. If a misguided shepherd is in charge of such a system, cult-like behavior is the logical result.

The end result of shepherding is that it puts the submissive person in a position of having two masters – Jesus Christ and a personal shepherd. Over time the shepherd gains more power and control over the one being shepherded, and Jesus Christ is terribly overshadowed. In other words, shepherding becomes nothing more than an idolatrous religious system. Unfortunately, all kinds of abuse resulted from the shepherding movement. Extensive documentation exists describing the abuses that took place. In hindsight, what started out as a method of accountability morphed into a system of enslaved people.

Mumford’s words from the time of his repentance for the error: “Accountability, personal training under the guidance of another, and effective pastoral care are needed biblical concepts. True spiritual maturity will require that they be preserved. These biblical realities must also carry the limits indicated by the New Testament. However, to my personal pain and chagrin, these particular emphases very easily lent themselves to an unhealthy submission resulting in perverse and unbiblical obedience to human leaders. Many of these abuses occurred within the sphere of my own responsibility.”

I personally experienced this group while running for US Congress in 1986. One of the people with whom I met and secured some help financially for one of the counties had a shepherd in his life. That shepherd met with this man and his wife to determine nearly every decision they made in life. The entire situation ended poorly in that case and for many thousands of others. Here in Jacksonville, I have been called upon to help hundreds of people who married because they were instructed to do so during this season. The need for accountability became so formalized and formula-ized that leaders turned sheep into pawns of their own power. One leader here in the city was known for kissing young women on the mouth to illustrate his fatherly position in their lives, an obvious abuse of leadership trust, and a glaring illustration of how not to shepherd people.

True Shepherding Ministry is for Sheep

To understand shepherding, we must begin with sheep. We understand with little discussion that people are not really sheep, right? We know that “shepherd” is a metaphor for a SpiritFirst leadership dynamic. Shepherds provide and protect sheep, so shepherding occurs in whatever instance people meet the metaphoric sense of being “sheep.”

Let us look at Scriptural references to “people as sheep” to gain the mind of God.

poimné, a flock, 18 times in the New Testament

Matthew 9:36-39: When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.”

Matthew 18:11-13: For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost. What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? If it turns out that he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that have not gone astray.

We could categorize the uses of the term in several ways. The word does not speak to “sheep” in the same way every time it is used. In some instances, it speaks to a metaphor of sheep in terms of needing teaching or leadership because they are wandering without guidance. In some instances, it speaks to sheep being abused when no shepherd is available to protect them. In some instances, the context speaks to Jesus, the Good Shepherd, and we will examine these later on.

Specifically for our purposes here, we should examine what Jesus says to Simon Peter in John 21 and Paul’s words to the overseers he sets into place in Ephesus when he leaves there as recorded in Acts 20.

probaton, sheep, 39 times in the New Testament

In many cases, the word simply speaks of real sheep. In others, sheep are mentioned metaphorically or in simile to denote their helplessness and vulnerability.

Peter says, “You were like sheep going astray, but you have returned to the shepherd and overseer of your souls.” [1 Peter 2:25]

Our conclusion to the discussion, having heard the words of Jesus and Paul: people as sheep require someone to provide and protect them. In no instance do we receive a mandate that all people act like sheep all the time, only that in the sense that people act like sheep they require shepherding.

We should not assume that “pastor” or “shepherd” sums up the ministry of Jesus to a local Ecclesia or that an Ecclesia is dominated by the shepherd’s leadership function. We should assume that many people, especially people newly saved, immature, simpleminded, or ignorant require a shepherding guidance to eat and be safe.

We should assume that the condition of millions of believers would be similar to sheep in that they remain vulnerable, simple, immature, needy, and without proper feeding skills. They need a shepherd to feed them, leading them to a place where there is available spiritual food. They need a shepherd to stand between them and danger; sometimes that danger comes from their own ignorance, blindness, and inattentive and careless posture. They need a shepherd to care for this when sick, diseased, or injured. This is a valid kingdom leadership dynamic, but it is not the dominant leadership dynamic. Not all kingdom citizens should be sheep, acting like sheep, or requiring shepherding as a predominate aspect of kingdom leadership.

[Next, Jesus, the Good Shepherd]

Don Lynch

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