To explore and determine key Biblical principles for healthy relationships between spiritual leaders and their members; and to encourage them to live by the same.
By the end of the lesson the participant should:
• Gain a clear understanding of the Biblical principles for cultivating healthy relationships between spiritual leaders and their members.
• Appreciate the mutual benefits of healthy relationships between spiritual leaders and their members.
• Commit to developing and maintaining healthy relationships with spiritual leaders and/or members.
One of the key relationships within the Church setting is that between spiritual leaders and their members. In the Scriptures leaders are portrayed as shepherds and the members as the flock. The Bible paints several pictures of this shepherd-flock relationship, and how God expects the relationship to operate.
Unfortunately, these relationships have often been either ignored or abused by both the shepherds and the flock. In this lesson we explore various aspects of this relationship in order to determine how to cultivate a healthy bond between the shepherd and the flock..
In your view, what pitfalls or dangers have you observed in the shepherd-flock (leader member) relationship?.
1. What is the significance of the Shepherd-Flock metaphor?
Over and over in scripture, the Bible refers to spiritual leaders as shepherds and to followers as sheep. In contrast to goats, who are quite independent, sheep are very dependent animals. In desert plains particularly, sheep are totally dependent on the shepherd to find pasture and water for them..
Shepherds also provide shelter, medication and aid in birthing. Likewise, the sheep provide the shepherd with lambs, wool, milk, and meat. Thus it is a mutually beneficial relationship.
i. God is regularly referred to as a caring shepherd .
Scripture quite often compares God with a shepherd who graciously watches over His people.
“Behold, the Lord God shall come with a strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him; Behold, His reward is with Him, and His work before Him. 11 He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those who are with young.”
In one of the most famous passages of Scripture, David saw himself as sheep and God as his loving Shepherd.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.”
ii. King David was appreciated as a skilful shepherd.
King David is considered to be the foremost leader of Israel, especially because of the way he handled his people.
“And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skilful hands he led them.”
iii. Jesus referred to Himself as the Good Shepherd
In several of His teachings, Jesus contrasted His leadership with those of worldly leaders.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.”
iv. Church leaders are called to be responsible shepherds
The Bible encourages spiritual leaders to shepherd God’s flock faithfully and with care.
1 Peter 5:1-4
“The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: 2 Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; 3 nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; 4 and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.”
2. How are spiritual leaders expected to conduct themselves as shepherds?
Spiritual leaders, just like ordinary shepherds, are expected to take care of their flock in very specific ways. The Bible outlines some of these:
i. Shepherds are expected to nurture and nourish their flock.
The first and foremost responsibility of the shepherd is to provide for the flock. The Psalmist acknowledged this in relation to God as his Shepherd.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he restores my soul.”
When commissioning Peter, Jesus required him to feed His flock.
15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
The implication is that every spiritual leader must commit to consistently feed God’s people on the milk and meat of the Word.
ii. Shepherds should train and guide their flock.
All sheep need to be shown and directed to the right path to follow. It is the task of the leader to provide such guidance.
“He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
Paul points out that various categories of spiritual leaders have been appointed in the church for the purpose of equipping the members.
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
iii. Shepherds should support and protect the flock.
In times of danger, the leader is expected to stand with the flock and provide physical, moral, or spiritual support and assurance, while pointing them to the all-powerful God.
David was confident of such support in Psalms 23:4,
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”
When Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, and the Ammonites threatened to attack those rebuilding the wall, Nehemiah resisted them but also encouraged the people.
“After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” Jesus declared that true shepherds sacrifice their lives for the sheep even in the face of danger.
“The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.”
iv. Shepherds should rescue and discipline straying sheep.
The ancient mid-eastern shepherd carried both a rod and a staff. The rod was to correct the undisciplined sheep, and the staff was to rescue the stray ones. Leaders are expected to do likewise.
God, as a good Shepherd, disciplines His flock.
“Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
“Blessed is the man you discipline, O Lord, the man you teach from your law.“
Church leaders are expected to discipline the flock – big and small.
1 Timothy 5:19-20
“Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. 20 But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning.“ Stray sheep are to be sought and brought back. Luke 15:3-4 “Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?”
The implication is that leaders have the responsibility to both bring back the stray and to discipline the unruly sheep in the flock.
v. Good shepherds encourage and celebrate their flock.
David greatly rejoiced over the love and pride God as his Shepherd had over him.
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Indeed, every shepherd should take pride in his sheep and especially those that are doing well. Paul identified and celebrated his companions.
“Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. 13 I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis.”
The implication is that leaders should identify and rejoice with their members and celebrate their special achievements.
3. What precautions must leaders take in relating with their members?
There are several practices that spiritual leaders are warned against in the Scriptures.
i. Shepherds must not materially exploit the sheep.
God spoke harshly to shepherds who took undue advantage of their sheep for their own benefit.
“The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? 3 You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock.”
In contrast, Paul declared that he did not exploit his followers.
2 Corinthians 12:14-15
“Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. 15 So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well.“
ii. Ministers should not demand or accept payment for ministry to a member.
There is a trend in which men and women of God either charge or require gifts in exchange for ministry to the people. This is not biblical.
When Naaman was healed of leprosy, he tried to pay Elisha, but the prophet adamantly refused.
2 Kings 5:15-16
“Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.” 16 The prophet answered, “As surely as the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will not accept a thing.” And even though Naaman urged him, he refused.”
Jesus directed His disciples to minister to the needy free of charge.
“Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.“ When Simon the sorcerer tried to purchase spiritual gifts, the Apostles rebuked him harshly.
“When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money 19 and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!”
iii. Leaders must not take sexual advantage of their members.
Sexual immorality is one of the major factors that has destroyed the service and ministry of many leaders. One of the reasons God harshly judged Eli’s sons, who served as priests, was their sexual immorality.
1 Samuel 2:22
“Now Eli, who was very old, heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.“ Joseph had to run away from the sensual pursuit of his master’s wife.
Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, 7 and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!” 8 But he refused…11 One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside.12 She caught him by his cloak and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house..
Paul advised Timothy on how to relate with various categories of his members.
1 Timothy 5:1-2
“Treat younger men as brothers, 2 older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.”
The implication is that spiritual leaders must not sexually exploit vulnerable members, but act with utmost moral responsibility in every situation.
iv. Shepherds must not abuse their power over the sheep.
Whereas spiritual leaders are granted authority over their members, such authority must be exercised with responsibility to serve the members.
“Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
God will severely punish the misuse of His delegated authority.
“The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? 43 It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. 44 I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 45 But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the menservants and maidservants and to eat and drink and get drunk. 46 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers..
How are members expected to relate with their leaders?
Church members have personal and individual responsibilities in their relationship with their spiritual leaders.
v. Members should ensure the teachings by their leaders are doctrinally sound.
Priscilla and Aquila helped Apollos to refine his teaching.
“Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.”
Likewise, the Bereans consistently checked Paul’s teaching for doctrinal soundness.
“Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”
vi. Members are expected to pray for their leaders.
On numerous occasions, the Apostles requested for prayers as they served in the ministry. There are several ways to pray for your spiritual leaders.
a) Pray generally for the leaders.
1 Thessalonians 5:25
“Brethren, pray for us.” (KJV)
b) Pray for open doors for ministry and for clarity in preaching the gospel.
“And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.”
2 Thessalonians 3:1
“Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you.”
c) Pray for the general welfare and for protection of the leaders against spiritual attacks.
2 Thessalonians 3:2
“And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith.
vii. Members should respect and honour their leaders.
Whereas leaders should not demand recognition, but instead conduct themselves with humility, members are however expected to hold their leaders with due esteem.
“Give everyone what you owe him…if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”
1 Timothy 5:17
“The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.“
The implication is that members should honor their leaders and not deal casually or disrespectfully with them.
viii. Members should accept discipline from their leaders.
Every once in a while, it may become necessary to discipline a member who has gone stray. Such a member is expected to submit to the discipline as prescribed by the leadership. It is a leadership responsibility and an act of love.
“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.”
“If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.”
ix. Members should support their leaders in ministry.
Leaders often need men and women who can help them with the work of the ministry.
Paul had several such individuals who stood with him in service.
In Colossians 4:7-18, Paul singled out ten of those who stood and served with him in ministry. These were: Tychichus, Onesmus, Aristachus, Mark, Justus, Epaphras,
Luke, Demas, Nympha and Archippus.
“Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister
and fellow servant[a] in the Lord. 8 I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our[b] circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. 9 He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here. 10 My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) 11 Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews[c] among my co-workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. 12 Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. 13 I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. 14 Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings. 15 Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. 16 After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea. 17 Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.”
David too had his mighty men who supported and served with him. 2 Samuel 23:8-39 gives a list of the mighty men of David and the many exploits they did in support of David. They were ever alert and ready to serve David.
2 Samuel 23:15-16
“David longed for water and said, “Oh, that someone would get me a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem!” 16 So the three mighty men broke through the Philistine lines, drew water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem and carried it back to David.”
The implication is that every leader needs faithful and reliable men and women whocan voluntarily provide practical help and support to them in service and ministry.
x. Members may materially bless their leaders.
Every once in a while, individual members may choose to bless their leaders with special gifts. Such gifts must be freely and voluntarily given, and separate from the regular tithes and offerings.
Several women voluntarily supplied for Jesus’ needs during His earthly ministry.
“Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.”
A woman lavished Jesus with expensive oil in appreciation for His ministry.
“While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, 7 a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.”
The implication is that members may choose to lavish their spiritual leaders, as an expression of personal appreciation, but not in payment for their ministry. However, the leader cannot demand such gifts from the members.
4. Practices members should guard against as they relate with their leaders
The relationship between members and their leaders requires that they exercise caution so as to uphold the integrity of the relationship.
i. Members must not worship their leaders.
Sometimes leaders can be greatly used of God and become so powerful that members begin to adore them. All true messengers of God always refuse to receive such adoration.
“I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. 9 But he said to me, “Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!” This means that no spiritual leader, no matter how gifted, should be the focus of worship or adoration.
ii. Members should not possess a leader.
Some members tend to own a spiritual leader and at times buy their loyalty. This is not acceptable since the leader is expected to serve all under his or her care equally.
What other prevalent practices should congregational members avoid in relationship with their spiritual leaders?
“When they were near Micah’s house, they recognized the voice of the young Levite; so they turned in there and asked him, “Who brought you here? What are you doing in this place? Why are you here?” 4 He told them what Micah had done for him, and said, “He has hired me and I am his priest.”
Developing healthy relationships between spiritual leaders and their members requires a delicate balance that maintains the honour and dignity of both the leader and the members. Both the leader and the members must stand firm and alert so that they do not abuse or undermine such relationships.
1st Thessalonians 1:2-11 and 1st Corinthians 3:21