To be set as an overseer of the flock of God entails a tremendous and sacred responsibility, one that no minister can accept lightly. To minister to others in the place of God on earth is the highest form of service to humanity that anyone can take part in. Ministry, in the name of Christ, means more than merely having the pastorate of a church, and then perfunctorily carrying on the round of ceremonies and church services, meeting with the various boards, and acting as a sort of general manager of a business institution. It means sharing, protecting, guiding, teaching, comforting, healing, and praying with and for the members of the flock.
It was Christ Himself who set the pace of what a true pastor should be. Said He, "The good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep," John 10:11. Then as if to give suitable emphasis to His words, He added: "I am the good shepherd, and know My sheep, and am known of Mine." Verse 14.
What about it; do we follow the example? Are we good shepherds of our sheep? Do we know our sheep? And do our sheep know us well enough to follow us trustingly? In speaking of sheep, God does not mean the wool-covered quadrupeds which are to be seen in the sheep-raising areas. He speaks of men: "Ye My flock, the flock of My pasture, are men, and I am your God, saith the Lord." Eze. 34:31.
God's sheep are men and women, and we as undershepherds are to care for His flock. They are God's sheep, not ours as such. They have been purchased by the blood of the Lamb. It was the Chief Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep, and He has entrusted them to our care. No doubt it was with this thought that Peter wrote:
"Tend the flock of God which is among you, exercising the oversight, not of constraint, but willingly, according to the will of God ; nor yet for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind ; neither as lording it over the charge allotted to you, but making yourselves ensamples to the flock." 1 Peter 5 :2, 3, A.R.V.
It is not unusual to hear a minister refer to his charge as "my church," speaking with an emphasis that denies the right of anyone to attempt to challenge his ownership. Sometimes, in such cases, denominational plans have been set aside, church boards relegated to unimportant places on the sidelines, church members molded into compliant puppets or goaded into a smoldering resentment against the pastor.
This pastor moves on, and another one comes along, and he too may be inclined to say, "This is my church!" In act and by attitudes he says, "I'll decide what is best for this church. It is not to be imposed upon by anybody and everybody." So the work pursues its way; and churches grope along, stumbling, getting no stronger spiritually than their pastors, adding nothing to their membership, even though some are baptized, for the losses are as great as the gains. The Sabbath school functions mechanically, and the financial goals are raised. The church drives ahead with the Ingathering campaign, and receives a word of approval from the president of the conference for having passed the goal. Confidently the pastor says, "Well, we baptized -- souls, and we are holding our own. We have as many members as we did when I arrived here. All is well. We move forward." But do we?
Peter said, "Tend the flock of God which is among you, exercising the oversight." Tending sheep means caring for them, watching for the slightest sign of disease or weariness, guiding them to the choicest feeding ground and watering places. It means caring especially for the tender lambs of the flock. The lambing season is a time of special, anxious care, when new members are added to the flock. When the storms arise, thunders crash, lightnings flash, and the onrushing waters threaten to carry away the flock, then it is that the true shepherd knows how to guide the sheep to higher land, where they shall be safe from the overwhelming flood. "Tend the sheep." Yes, that is the work of a pastor as he exercises oversight.
"A minister should feed the flock over which God has made him overseer. . . . What does a skillful physician do? He inquires into the particulars of the case, then seeks to administer remedies. Just so the physician of the soul should inquire into the spiritual maladies with which the members of his flock are afflicted, then go to work to administer the proper remedies, and ask the great Physician to come to his aid. Give them the help that they need. Such ministers will receive all the respect and honor which is due them as ministers of Christ."---Testimonies, vol. 2, pp. 618, 619.
"Neither is lording it over the charge allotted to you." We live in days of one-man rule. The tendency everywhere in the world about. is that of domination, not only over the bodies of men, but over their very souls and minds. We are not entirely free from this tendency ourselves; for, living as we do in the midst of this corrupt world, we find that it is not impossible for us to become contaminated with its disease.
"It is natural for some to be sharp and dictatorial, to lord it over God's heritage; and because of the manifestation of these attributes, precious souls have been lost to the cause."—Testimonies to Ministers, p. 223.
This is a grave charge, and should cause us to examine ourselves to see whether we are guilty of such practices. Our work of overseeing is not that of a taskmaster with his slaves. It is the kindliness of the loving shepherd, who willingly would give his life to save even one of the sheep of the flock should occasion demand such a sacrifice. Notice this statement also:
"God holds the minister responsible for the power he exercises, but does'not justify His servants in perverting that power into despotism over the flock of their care."—Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 268.
Naturally, this applies not only to ministers and their churches but to schoolmen in our educational institutions and to medical directors in our hospitals, sanitariums, and training institutions. It also applies to conference presidents, union presidents, and General Conference leaders. It applies to all to whom power has been delegated by God for the purpose of protecting, feeding, and caring for the sheep of His pasture. Lacking sanctification, ministers will not find it impossible to fall into wrong attitudes as pertaining to their ministry.
"Ministers should not assume the responsibility of teachers of the people, in imitation of Christ, the great Exemplar, unless they are sanctified to the great work, that they may be ensamples to the flock of God. An unsanctified minister can do incalculable harm. While professing to be the ambassador of Christ, his example will be copied by others ; and if he lacks the true characteristics of a Christian, his faults and deficiencies will be reproduced in them."—/bid., p. 372.
Yes, the ministers are to be "examples to the flock," not merely "of the flock." "Like priest, like people," is a positive effect which is being produced every day in the molding of the character of our churches all over the earth. And our youth are quickly taking the mold which is impressed upon them through the observing eye and the hearing ear. May the following counsel help us to make the consecration so needful in this present hour, when the enemy of our souls is seeking to sweep us down the stream to perdition.
"The ministers of Christ need a new anointing, that they may more clearly discern sacred things, and have clear conceptions of the holy, blameless character which they themselves must form in order to be en-samples to the flock. Nothing that we can do of ourselves will bring us up to the high standard where God can accept us as His ambassadors. Only a firm reliance upon God, and a strong and active faith, will accomplish the work that He requires to be wrought in us."—Ibid., vol. 2, p. 506.
"I entreat all, especially those who minister in word and doctrine, to make an unreserved surrender to God. Consecrate your lives to Him, and be indeed ensamples to the flock. Be no longer content to remain dwarfs in spiritual things. Let your aim be nothing short of perfection of Christian character."—Ibid., p. 521.