the weblog of Alan Knox

Shepherds – to equip the saints for the work of ministry

Posted by on Jan 11, 2013 in discipleship, edification, scripture, spiritual gifts | 22 comments

As I mentioned in my post “To equip the saints for the work of ministry,” for the next several posts I’m going to consider the work of the gifted individuals listed by Paul in Ephesians 4:11 in equipping Jesus’ followers for doing the hard work of serving others. Remember, in Ephesians 4:12, Paul wrote that this is one of the reasons that Jesus gave these spiritual gifted people. I’ve already written about some ways that some of those spiritually gifted people can equip the saints for the work of ministry: apostles, prophets, and evangelists.

So, in this post, I’m going to consider the fourth gifted group in the list: How do shepherds equip believers for the work of serving others?

Of course, as I said for apostles, prophets, and evangelists, shepherds (and any other follower of Jesus Christ) and build up and encourage their brothers and sisters in Christ in many different ways. But, in this passage, Paul is focusing on the spiritual gifts that God gives to his children through Jesus Christ. So, how does someone gifted as a shepherd prepare the church for works of service because of that gifting?

Now, as we consider the role of shepherds in equipping the saints, we need to remember a couple of things. 1) While Paul connected shepherding and teaching closely (they are actually one “item” in the list – i.e., shepherds-teachers), the fact that he used separate terms shows that there is some difference in the two. So, I’m going to deal with them separately. 2) The term shepherd is the same as the term pastor, but that doesn’t mean that the way the term “pastor” is normally used today is related to the work of “shepherds” in the New Testament. I’m dealing with how shepherds are described in the NT; I’m not dealing with the position / career normally called “pastor” today.

In the New Testament, the metaphorical use of the term “shepherd” is usually in the verbal form (except this one use in Ephesians 4:11), so no one is actually referred to as a “shepherd” by the authors. However, we do know that both Paul and Peter exhorted elders among the church to shepherd others.

Shepherding is related to caring for others, and since it’s almost impossible to separate the different aspects in the New Testament, it would include both physical and spiritual care.

So, when shepherds equip the saints, they do so by helping them notice the needs of others, and by helping them actually care for others. Perhaps the most important aspect here is empathy… actually being interested in other people, especially those who are in need. Of course, this is often dirty work, so much encouragement may be needed to help others understand how important this kind of care and concern is to God and for the benefit of others.

Here’s a great example of encouraging others to be “shepherds”:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:1-4 ESV)

Have you ever helped your brothers and sisters in Christ to shepherd others? Have you ever been equipped by shepherds to care for others?


Series: To Equip the Saints for the Work of Ministry

  1. Introduction
  2. Apostles
  3. Prophets
  4. Evangelists
  5. Shepherds and Teachers
  6. Others (Conclusion)


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 1-11-2013

    What do you mean by “The term shepherd is the same as the term pastor, but that doesn’t mean that the way the term “pastor” is normally used today is related to the work of “shepherds” in the New Testament.”?

  2. 1-11-2013


    I mean that today the term “pastor” is often used as a position of employment (regardless of spiritual gifting) like manager or director instead of referring to those who are gifted to care for others.


  3. 1-11-2013

    Thanks Alan.

    To answer Ron’s question, you said, “I’m dealing with how shepherds are described in the NT; I’m not dealing with the position / career normally called “pastor” today.”

    The term pastor is universally used today to refer to the person who heads up a religious organization. Eph. 4 refers to a specific gifting of shepherding, which is translated pastor. Many of those who are called pastors today do not have the gift of shepherding. In fact, research shows that the majority of those in the profession indeed do not have that gift as the profession attracts a majority of people who are introverted, preferring to time alone to read and study. Nothing wrong with that, it’s just that isn’t pastoring.

  4. 1-11-2013

    Oops. You beat me to it. But I wanted to weigh in anyhow.

  5. 1-11-2013


    That’s a good explanation. Thanks!


  6. 1-11-2013

    Can a person have a “position” and still be a pastor/shepherd according to the NT?

  7. 1-11-2013


    Of course. The two are separate issues: one of employment/position; the other of gifting. So someone can be gifted as a shepherd (pastor) with or without being in any kind of position within an organization.


  8. 1-11-2013

    Hey Ron, I bet you can identify some shepherds amongst the people you know. Look anywhere, not just in church circles. Some people are always drawn to help others in little ways as well as big ones. These are the people that notice someone carrying a package and go and open the door. And they’re the people who are always encouraging and smiling. And they’re the ones who do hospital visiting and popping in to see if an elderly neighbour is OK.

    And in the church they’re the ones who check up when a regular member fails to turn up, try to cheer up anyone who’s a bit down, they notice and they do something to help. Often they train others to shepherd just by modelling the task so well.

    Shepherding can grow to be more than that, but these are reliable signs that people have the gift. The Philippians passage Alan quotes is about this gift at work.

  9. 1-11-2013


    I love it when “shepherds” among the church help us recognize the needs of others. Their concern and care spreads among their brothers and sisters in Christ as we all learn to shepherd one another.


  10. 1-11-2013

    Have you ever helped your brothers and sisters in Christ to shepherd others?
    Yes, specially when I challenge them to aspire to do that work which God considers a noble task. This is from 1 Tim 3:1 concerning oversight, which is shepherding without the gift as a qualification.

    Have you ever been equipped by shepherds to care for others?
    I have had positioned pastors in my life but none of them have helped me care for others. It was more providing weekly Bible lectures. There have been deacons, spiritual brothers, and my father, who was a missionary, show me how to care for others. My father was the best at the real thing of shepherding but his job was managing a Bible school in the Philippines.

  11. 1-11-2013


    Thanks for sharing those examples. It sounds like your father, those deacons, and spiritual brothers were doing the work of shepherding and equipping you to do likewise.


  12. 1-11-2013

    Great series Alan, thanks. Perhaps not coincidentally, I find myself reading and re-reading 1Corinthians 12 after seeing in what was for me a new light. That is Paul describing the gifts as parts of the body, and no better or worse, higher or lower, essential … well you get the picture. I am still meditating and chewing on this, waiting to see where the Lord takes me with this, but it has been a very enjoyable meal so far.

  13. 1-12-2013


    Yes, all parts of the body of Christ are important and necessary for both the body’s proper functioning and for the body’s growth and maturity.


  14. 1-14-2013

    Alan, here’s a very real question that I have not yet found the answer to:

    How do we equip anyone to do anything when the Church is a volunteer organization that increasingly must compete against real world time conflicts?

    Case in point:

    Commutes are up in length. Americans are working longer hours at work. Parachurch organizations demand we “focus on the family” once we do get home from work. And we must do that while responding to text messages and cell phone calls from employers.

    I confess that I have no clue how any church functions today given all those demands on “the saints.” It’s hard to equip a group of harried people who get home at 7 p.m., slam down a quick meal, put in family “quality time,” must handle all the household’s management needs, fall into bed exhausted, and then must repeat for up to six days a week, with that seventh day on call.

    It seems to me that if the Church is to be effective at making disciples, something has got to give.

  15. 1-14-2013

    In this verse “shepherds and teachers” are actually together in Greek, so they should be considered together. To shepherd others really means to do what a shepherd does to the sheep: nourish them (by making sure they are properly fed in the right place at the right time) and cherish them (by bringing them to the best spots of pasture, making them happy, and taking an all-inclusive tender care of them).

    In the church life today we need to shepherd one another – we need to make one another happy in the humanity of Jesus and feed one another in the divinity of Christ. Actually, what we need to do is to learn from our Chief Shepherd, Christ, who not only taught His disciples but rather 24/7 for 3.5years lived with them and showed them a pattern, taking care of them by cherishing them and nourishing them. This One, Christ as the Great Shepherd of the flock, wants to be reproduced in us today in His heavenly ministry.

    If we all would learn to shepherd one another there would be no problems, no dissensions, no murmurings, no offenses… because we all live not to ourselves but to the Lord and to His Body. We eat Christ, we digest Him, and we feed others with the Christ in the Word that we also enjoyed…

    How much we all need to learn to not just teach one another but rather shepherd one another, bring one another to enjoy Christ as the rich pasture outside of the fold, so that we would grow in life and build up the Body! Lord, even online on the blogs and all kinds of social networks, we want to learn to shepherd one another!

  16. 1-14-2013


    Couldn’t some of that preparing/equipping happen on the job, during lunch/dinner, etc?


    I agree that Paul combined shepherds/teachers together, but he did use both terms. Thus, the people he listed in Ephesians 4:11 are gifted both as shepherds and as teachers (even though he was referring to one person). I definitely agree that we need to learn to shepherd one another, and I think that’s one thing that those gifted at shepherding can help us with… if we allow them to.


  17. 1-15-2013

    I think it likely that many first century believers – h some were slaves – found their lives extremely busy as well. Sometimes I wonder if the pressure we feel to be church in a specific location and at specific times impedes our being the church more than aids it. Whereas a slave discipled by Paul may have been able to take five minutes with a brother on the way to the market or what have you. That’s partly why I’ve appreciated Eric Carpenter’s blog.

  18. 1-15-2013


    That’s a great observation. In fact, in the first century, Jesus’ followers did not have the convenience of a weekend.


  19. 1-15-2013

    Dan and subsequent comments got me thinking.

    So much of the “conflict” occurs because we segment our life. We have work, and then we have family and then we have “church.” Church stuff usually means attending meetings or helping with programs, ostensibly for the purpose of making disciples. Jesus said Go (literally, as your are going, or journeying) make disciples. The command implies a wholeness or togetherness in our lives. A shalom life. For instance, for Dan, the season of life he is in involves raising children. Get involved in school and sports and club activities and as you do that, make disciples. You work. As you work, make disciples. You are part of your neighborhood. As you practice neighborliness, make disciples. And if that means you have to give up doing church stuff, where few disciples are actually made, so be it.

  20. 1-15-2013

    Dan B.,

    Yes, exactly. When we gathered with the church last weekend, we actually talked about this topic together. We ended up encouraging and challenging each other to see ourselves as missionaries sent by God into every aspect of our lives – family, neighborhood, school, workplace, etc.


  21. 1-15-2013

    I dunno, especially when it comes to ancient work patterns.

    Most of the research I’ve seen showed that a work day was more loosely structured in ancient times, with far more socialization time during the day and more periods of rest. Most research I’ve seen also shows that Americans of 2013 are putting in more time segmented into their actual job than ever in history. And that’s not counting commutes, which have never been longer.

    In addition, because the way we work brings us together from far points, it is far less likely that we will socialize with the people from work (who scatter when work is over) or locally (because everyone scattered to work, plus people work more alternative schedules). This not only cuts back on socialization time, but it also means we must dedicate more time to non-career work that might have been lessened by the cumulative work power of a social community. In other words, a community that works together actually has more free time because the work of many on one large project together amplifies the work of individuals who would otherwise have a more daunting task to face alone.

    In addition, more people work from home or work alternate shift times than ever before. This also makes gathering harder.

    Lastly, and on a personal note, 10 years ago we were the only true dual income family in our small group. Other families made note that this was most definitely NOT the case for them. Within five years, all those who were single income had moved to double wage earners, with all the attendant harriedness that entails. Most of those families eventually struggled to keep up and have struggled for years. Time pressures eventually resulted in the small group breaking up.

    These issues are HUGE for the Church. We meet together less than we ever have. And with less time for meetings, there’s less time for iron to sharpen iron.

  22. 1-15-2013

    Dan E.,

    Interestingly, I now find myself in many of those categories that you mention. I have a long commute 3 days per week, and I work from home 2 days per week. We’re a 1 income family. Our son works alternate shifts, and primarily on the weekends (when I’m not working). Plus, you can include the added time crunch of working multiple jobs (which is happening more and more today).

    Does this make community difficult? Yes. In fact, it gives me many excuses (perhaps even valid reasons) to stay away from other people. However, since I understand that it’s important to my spiritual growth and the spiritual growth of others to live in community with others, I make time for it. And, because of that, I’ve found this new schedule provides more opportunities for community (although, perhaps not the standard or expected opportunities).