Biblical Answers to Shepherding
Shepherding Teaches: Not all Christians are disciples. Accepting Christ makes one a potential disciple. Discipleship only comes through a formalized program of submitting to a shepherd, joining a cell group, and commiting one's life to this group.
The Bible Says: In the early church, believers were called "disciples" (Acts 6:1,7). Verse 7 equates being a disciple to becoming obedient to the faith. Acts 11:26 equates being a disciple with being a Christian. There was no "second class" of Christians in the early church (i.e. Christians who were not "disciples"), and there is no such thing today as a Christian who is not a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Shepherding Teaches: Being shepherded (submitting to a shepherd) will cause one to be a true disciple, and thus fulfill the intent of the Great Commission to "make disciples" (Matt. 28:19).
The Bible Says:Since a disciple is a Christian, the Great Commission is to "make Christians" (not to get people into shepherding cell groups). Christians can live up to their full potential as disciples by obeying Jesus (John 8:31,32); not by submitting to a man.
Shepherding Teaches: Christ does not work in our lives directly; rather He rules through "delegated authority." A shepherd becomes an individual Christian's "delegated authority," and the believer is required to acknowledge and submit to him as he would to Christ Himself.
The Bible Says:Psalm 23 demonstrates that the Lord worked in David's life directly (the Lord was his Shepherd). Isaiah 40:11 again states that the Lord is our Shepherd; He even takes care of "baby Christians" (lambs who are still nursing). There is no basis for saying that the Lord rules through "delegated authority," when there is such a clear indication that He looks after even the weakest baby Christian. Psalm 23 indicates that the Lord takes care of all areas of our lives, including: meeting all our needs (we shall not want), giving us spiritual food (green pastures), giving us peace (quiet waters), giving us healing (restoring our soul), showing us the truth (guiding us in the path of righteousness), and giving us protection in the vallay of the shadow of death.
Shepherding Teaches: Our personal relationship to Christ is primary, but it is not sufficient by itself. There must be a rightly established relationship with the other believers to whom God has joined us in the Body. We are coming to see that God's rule and authority over us is primarily expressed through delegated authority such as pastors, husbands, parents, etc.
The Bible Says:If God's rule and authority is primarily expressed through delegated authority, we should expect to see this in the New Testament. In Acts 6, however, there is no indication that the apostles were concerned about the people "submitting." Rather, their total desire was to devote themselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4). Paul himself set the example when he established new churches. In Acts 14:20-23 is the account of Paul establishing churches in Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch. He encouraged them in the faith, saying "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God." He then appointed elders in every church, prayed and fasted, and commended them to the Lord. There is nothing stating that he told them to "submit" to the elders. If it is true that God's "rule and authority over us is primarily expressed through delegated authority," the book of Acts seems to be silent about it. In fact, Paul himself did not "submit to the delegated authority," but when he received the gospel he "did not immediately consult with flesh and blood" (Gal. 1:16). After fourteen years Paul finally submitted the gospel he was preaching to the apostles, saying "I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles... for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain" (Gal. 2:1,2). He did not do this to "submit" to the apostles, or to be under the "delegated authority," but because the Lord had told him through a revelation to go. Paul was receiving his direction directly from the Lord, and the goal of the early church was to equip believers to do the same--not to put them under "delegated authority" so the leaders could "hear the Lord" for them.
Shepherding Teaches: As Christians, we do not obey those in authority because they are right; we obey them because they are in authority, and all authority ultimately stems from God Himself.
The Bible Says:When the apostles were faced with a choice between obeying the religious authorities and obeying God, they said, "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). We are not to follow men blindly, but rather to "imitate their faith" (Heb. 13:7). Rom. 14:23 says "whatever is not from faith is sin." Therefore if we don't have the faith that the Lord has said to do something, we cannot obey just because a shepherd tells us it is right.
Shepherding Teaches: Since shepherds are God's "delegated authority," we should submit to them as we would to Christ Himself. We are supposed to allow the shepherds to make all major decisions for us, and to trust that it is "Christ speaking to us." We should trust the Lord to correct the shepherds when they are wrong, and the Lord will bless us as we "submit."
The Bible Says:Submission to our leaders is biblical, but the shepherding movement has mistaken "obedience" for "submission." A full definition of "submission" can be found in Kittel and Friedrich's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, but Vol. VIII, p. 45 gives a good explanation by saying that "the general rule demands readiness to renounce one's own will for the sake of others, and to give precedence to others." In other words, the biblical admonition to "submit" is not to give up our own reasoning and blindly follow the advice of a shepherd, but rather to try to live in peace with other believers, do what we can to help them, etc. If leaders are going to lead successfully, the church has to follow. Christians cannot "live for themselves" and do whatever they please, without regard to the good of the group. Neither can they, however, simply do what a shepherd says without analyzing its spiritual consequences.
Shepherding Teaches: If we truly trust God, then we can trust the shepherds to make the right decisions for us.
The Bible Says:It is one thing to give shepherds honor and respect. But to hand them our total trust is unbiblical and dangerous. Jeremiah 17:5 says, "Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength." Psalm 146:3 and Proverbs 29:25 give us similar admonitions not to trust in men.
Shepherding Teaches: As we submit to a shepherd, he becomes the "door" and the "covering" for us. Not submitting will cause us to lose our "covering," and to become deceived and "in rebellion."
The Bible Says:Jesus said He is the door, and He is able to take care of His sheep (John 10:1-16). Moreover, Rom. 3:25 says that Jesus Christ was publicly displayed by God "as a propitiation in His blood through faith." The word "propitiation" means covering (or "atonement" in the Old Testament). Jesus is our only true door and covering. His sheep need not be deceived if they will abide in Him (John 8:31,32).
How the Lord Speaks to Us
Shepherding Teaches: Too often we want our ministry directly from God. We want personal attention. We aren't about to receive what we need through some delegated representative.
The Bible Says:In I Corinthians 2, Paul instructs the church about how Christ speaks to believers. The Lord does this through His Spirit (v. 12) "that we might know the things freely given to us by God." If we are spiritual, then, we can appraise all things (v. 15). To top it all off, Paul says that "we have the mind of Christ" (v. 16). All Christians have the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9), and thus have the capacity to know the mind of Christ. This is not to discount the role of leaders in the church, but the Bible does not describe "submission" to these leaders as the primary means of hearing the Lord.
©2005 Steve Coleman