The elders of God’s church need to be known by the people and know the people. The people of God’s church need to be known by the elders and know the elders. That means opening ourselves up to one another; spending time together; being involved in day-to-day life with one another. This is how we walk forward together as the blood-bought family and flock of God. And together is better!
Our Chief Shepherd
Jesus is referred to as the Chief Shepherd (cf. 1 Peter 5:4) of the sheep. Why use this analogy for the way that Jesus cares for the church? Because Jesus is with us (Matthew 28:20) and intimately knows us (cf. John 10) so that he can lead us to green pastures, still waters, restore our souls, and protect us in the valley of the shadow of death. Jesus is a personal Shepherd that knows his sheep and is with them to provide and protect.
And Jesus calls us to know him and follow him. We could sum up this shepherding dynamic with our Chief Shepherd from these verses in John 10:
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:27-28)
Jesus died for a blood-bought flock and he doesn’t leave them on their own, he walks with them, knows them, and invites them to know him and follow him.
Undershepherds Need to Know God’s Flock
Jesus cares so much for his flock that he gives imperfect shepherds as gifts to the flock to be undershepherds. Not surprisingly, these undershepherds are called to follow the example of the Chief Shepherd in his tender care of the flock he loves.
Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. (1 Peter 5:2-3)
There is a spatial aspect to this care. Elders in God’s Church, undershepherds of the blood-bought flock of God, are called to shepherd the flock of God “among them.”
The historical background of this analogy is one in which Shepherds were continually with their sheep. They led them to green pastures and waters. At night they protected sheep from the attack of predators. It would have made no sense to have a shepherd whose flock was in some distant place.
The shepherd would have known his sheep well because he spent time with them regularly. He would have known their particular needs and weaknesses. Helpful and careful shepherding would not exist apart from a deep knowledge of the flock assigned to them.
In the same way, undershepherds in God’s church must know their people. They must know their particular flock well enough in order to know their particular needs and weaknesses. This depth of knowledge allows undershepherds to apply the gospel of Jesus in ways that nourish and protect the sheep.