by Dr John Caldwell
We use many Scriptural terms interchangeably. For instance, most of us think of the terms elder, shepherd, pastor, or overseer as describing the same function in the church. In some circles the words “bishop” and “presbyter” are used for that same function. Some modern paraphrases substitute the term “leaders” (CEV & The Message).
And while all may be used of leadership functions within the body of Christ, these terms do have shades of different meanings. Elder, overseer, bishop, and presbyter are used more for formal, decision-making leaders who, at times, almost function like a corporate board. But the terms shepherd and pastor, even minister, more denote the care-givers and spiritual protectors of the flock. This is the very function of which Paul spoke to the Ephesian elders in Miletus when he told them in Acts 20:28, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (NASB).
Please don’t misunderstand. My concern is not with titles but function. We need both. Decision-makers who are good, godly, and gifted guide the church by the prompting of the Spirit through uncertainty. But we also need good, godly, gifted care-givers who know the Word to minister to the saints and protect the church. After nearly 55 years in ministry (36 of them in one church), and having worked in one capacity or another with at least 300 additional congregations, it has been my observation that most elders function well either as decision makers or as pastor-shepherd-servants. Only a few function well as both. It is also my observation that far more desire the former function than the latter. And while the motivation for seeking the former could sometimes be selfish, there is little to no selfish motivation in the latter.
We all know the line, “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day,” from an Edgar Guest poem. With that in mind I’d like to tell you about my friend Jim Mast. I’m writing this blog just a few days after preaching Jim’s funeral and have been thinking a lot about him. Jim and his wife Wanda were one of the nine couples with us in the nucleus at the start of Kingsway Christian Church. Jim wasn’t one of our original elders, but he accepted a call to that ministry early on; through the years he served faithfully in that role. To be frank, Jim was usually very quiet during elders’ meetings. I can’t remember one profound idea he shared or innovative new program he touted. Jim was probably as lost as I was during some technical discussions of legal language or various financial minutiae.
But if any question came up about a member of Jim’s flock, he knew.
Our congregation of 2,000+ was sub-divided into flocks for shepherding by the elders. Some elders were, sometimes, delinquent in their follow-up. Not Jim. He had visited in the home of every shut-in, seen every hospitalized person, followed up with those who had suffered loss, encouraged those who were growing unfaithful, and, from his personal and regular study of Scripture, gently re-directed those who were being led astray. Jim’s love for his wife, family, and his people was exceeded only by his love for his Lord. He was an exemplary shepherd.
Today, I write in tribute to my friend Jim Mast – and all the faithful shepherds like him.
Please, take a moment now to read John 10:1-16 and Psalm 23. These passages show us the Good Shepherd whom Jim served, the One who all faithful elder-shepherds continue to serve.