The Bible often uses the common sight of sheep in Palestine to describe people. The book of the Acts refers to an assembly as "the flock which He hath purchased with His own blood " (Acts 20:28, KJV). The leaders in the assembly are called elders because they are spiritually mature, overseers because they administer, and pastors or shepherds because they guide and give spiritual food to the members of a local church, just as a shepherd gives food to his flock of sheep.
Please note: The Word of God assumes that all sheep will be under the care of shepherds!
It would be dangerous for a sheep to remain outside the fold. Likewise, all believers in the New Testament are assumed to enter and remain in God’s assembly for life. Are you under the protection and provision of God’s caregivers in a local assembly? What is your relationship like with the overseers in your assembly? Do you pray for them? Do you give them happiness or headaches? Have you ever expressed your appreciation for them and the work they do for God?
Sometimes there is great lament over the lack of good shepherds in God’s assemblies. But, what about lament over the lack of good sheep?
Normally, sheep are not the brightest beasts in the barn. They are basically "fleece factories" with very little expected of them. However, the writer to the Hebrews gives spiritual sheep three responsibilities in their relationship with the shepherd. Note they are not suggestions, but commandments. They may not be natural tendencies, but they are divinely-required responsibilities of every sheep.
The Development of Your Relationship: Be Receptive!
Right now, you have the privilege of listening to men teach you privately and publicly. So, eat up! Or, if you will, be a sponge around these men and absorb all the teaching you can. Ask them questions. Pack away all the Biblical knowledge, meditations, and understanding you can. Don’t miss when they schedule a teaching meeting or a Bible study. You only have so many years with these men. Take advantage of opportunity to learn everything you can from them. In the end, you will be responsible because they "have spoken unto you the Word of God" (Hebrews 13:7).
True shepherds will be motivated by Biblical principles and live what they are preaching. They will walk the path they want the sheep to follow. So be a mimic and imitate them. The idea is not to act 70 years old when you are 17, but, rather, to find out what principles have successfully guided them and then develop the same Biblical convictions. Wouldn’t you want the same spiritual faithfulness and devotion that they have had?
A shepherd does not own a whip. He sets out walking and the sheep follow. The sheep need not worry about where they are going; the shepherd’s goal will be best. So, be an engineer, and analyze "the outcome of their conduct" (Hebrews 13:17, NKJV). What are their goals and what are they living for and moving towards? And you?
The Duty of Your Relationship: Be Responsive!
These men are not perfect, but they are in the role that God has designed for shepherds in the assembly. Obviously, they should never ask you to do something that is in opposition to the Word of God. But sometimes they may ask you to do something you don’t fully understand. It is not wrong to ask for an explanation or to even politely, calmly, and kindly express an opinion based on the Word of God. In the end, if there is still a difference of opinion, make it your habit to "obey your leaders and submit to them" (Hebrews 13:17). But why?
Respond to their authority from the Lord. These men are in a position to "rule over you." That authority is granted by God through His Word. Even if you don’t click with their personalities, honor their position in the divine order of a local church.
Respond to their accountability to the Lord. Remember, they are responsible to God for the decision and you are accountable for your reaction to that decision. If they had to present a report to the Lord about you and your attitudes and responsiveness to their care, would they be able to "do this with joy, and not with groaning" (Hebrews 13:17)? To get a bad report card is one thing. To get a poor performance report at work is another. Shepherds having to give a negative report to the Lord is even sadder, "for that would be of no advantage to you."
Finally, respond to their activity. These men likely have grey hair or no hair. Caring for sheep is a 24/7 responsibility. There are worries about problems within and concerns about problems without. They want the best for each sheep, and they labor for the good of the whole flock. Their work isn’t easy and it is public work. They are sitting ducks for criticism and receive few compliments. But they are providing a great service for you on behalf of their Lord as "they watch for your souls."
The Desire of Your Relationship: Be Thoughtful!
Elders are not aliens. They are part of the body of Christ just as you are. So, when the writer closes the letter to the Hebrews, he reminds the believers, "Greet all your leaders and all the saints" (Hebrews 13:24). There are no differences, no special salutations, no special handshakes, and no special treatments.
Sure, elders should receive extra respect. But sometimes, they don’t get the encouragement, the handshakes, the help, and the appreciation that other believers get. They are not high priests, kings, or prophets. Just treat them with the same interest and concern you show everyone else in the assembly.
This means you must communicate with them. Make it your goal to develop a relationship with them by talking to them. Go out of your way to ask about their family, their work, and their thoughts just as you would everyone else. Above all, take your concerns, verses in the Bible you don’t understand, and your encouragements to them as often as you can.
This also means you must care for them. If you see an elder in need, visit him, help him, or send him a card and tell him how thankful you are to the Lord for him. Above all, pray for him. Elders need your prayers for wisdom, preservation, and health.
God’s creation was perfect. He provided food on day three before He made creatures that would need to eat on day six. He also made sheep and shepherds (people) on the same day. Spiritually speaking, shepherds are made for sheep and sheep are made for shepherds. So, don’t wait any longer. Get into the presence of God and evaluate your relationship with your elders. May God help you to actively pursue excellence in your relationship with them. As a local church member for the rest of your life, may God help you to show respect, honor and love for the shepherds you follow.