Elders Bad, Elders Good

The Lord had a problem with elders, the shepherds of His people. He tells us about it in Ezekiel 34. His gives a withering evaluation. These shepherds serve themselves first. They fail to notice the many among His people who are weak, sick or injured. And perhaps the worst charge of all, "The strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them." (Ezekiel 34:4).

Wow, the Lord is scary angry at the shepherds. And He promises to remove the shepherds and their tyrannical control over His people. He will replace them . . . with Himself. He will serve as the shepherd of His people (Ezekiel 34:22-24). And, of course, the Lord kept His promise.

If you want a sample of good eldering, check out the work of Jesus in John 9. The text describes Jesus healing a man born blind and the resulting uproar. He easily could have passed by the man, who probably was begging at the roadside as Jesus and His disciples walked past. Jesus was busy, of course, and maybe tired. He just finished a fight with the despicable Pharisees and constantly was teaching multitudes, His disciples and unattached individuals. It would have been easy for Jesus to pass the man by and avoid another problem, another controversy. Even so, Jesus reached out to a weak sheep of Israel on the side of the road. There’s much to think about in John 9, but take a look at some of the shepherding ways of Jesus.

Jesus sees the man, and immediately the disciples suggest that he’s blind because he or his parents sinned. Jesus corrects their wrong thinking, heals the man and goes on His way. He leaves the suddenly seeing man to fend for himself against the doubts of his neighbors and the attacks of the Pharisees. Ultimately, they kick him out of the synagogue for professing Christ. And Jesus, being a good shepherd, sought the man. That is so very excellent. He heard that the Pharisees cast the man out and then looked for the man so He could properly care for him. Jesus identified Himself to him . . . and the man becomes a disciple.

Jesus perfectly contrasts the selfish, forceful and harsh shepherds decried in Ezekiel 34. And He perfectly demonstrates the Lord’s heart for His people. The Lord’s work described in John 9 is an awesome fulfillment of the Lord’s promise to shepherd His people. The Lord is patient yet firm to teach in words and actions. Any still wondering at His meaning need only listen to the picture of the good shepherd He paints in John 10.

The ways of Jesus reveal a complexity of strength demonstrated in flinty toughness and gentle tenderness. He is the picture of meekness . . . power under control.

A few weeks ago, I was talking about leadership with a group of men, and I mentioned the importance of "reading a room" as they shepherd. Church leaders must be disciplined to read a room. They must discern and decide how much power and what kind of strength is required in any given circumstance. They cannot succeed in the Lord’s eyes without the mind of Christ and without the example of His good shepherding.

It takes a worldly and pharisaic skill—but not godliness—to play power and control games that abuse people into submission. There should be no pleasure in such so-called victories. It takes reading and heeding the ways of Jesus to properly shepherd the Lord’s people. And if elders refuse to properly care for the Lord’s people, He will remove them and find others for the work. He’ll find those who have watched and learned from Jesus. He’ll select men willing and able to take on the hard and privileged work of good shepherding.