Second Reformed Church

Monday, March 23, 2015

Review: "Shepherding God's Flock"

I chose to read and review Shepherding God’s Flock:  Biblical Leadership in the New Testament and Beyond, edited by Benjamin L. Merkle and Thomas R. Schreiner, because I thought it was a book on pastoral theology.  It is not, it is (almost entirely) a book on the offices of elder and deacon.

I was encouraged by the upfront admission in the introduction that all of the contributors to this study are Baptists (8).  Thus, as objective as the authors tried to be in their essays, I knew where the authors’ bias lay.

 The first chapter considers leadership in the Old Testament, and specifically in the Temple.  The author concludes that there is a parallel between Old Testament and New Testament leadership (shepherding), though there is no direct parallel of the office of elder to be found in the Temple system.

In chapters two through four, authors look at the shepherd figure as shepherd and elder in the New Testament literature.  It is strongly noted that Christ is the Head Shepherd and we in the ministry are His under-shepherds.  There is, in fact, a plurality of elders to be found in the New Testament churches, and the minister, pastor, overseer, bishop, and elder all refer to the same office.

Chapters five and six look at the history of leadership in the Roman Catholic Church and its development over time – including the disruption of the Reformation. 

The seventh chapter by Nathan A. Finn concerns the Presbyterian understanding of eldership and contains the only formal critique within the collection.

Finn explains that Presbyterians discern two types of elders:  teaching and ruling (200) – of which only the teaching elders are preachers.  They discern this from verses such as:  “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17, ESV).

Finn argues this is an informal distinction, not a functional one (216).

Presbyterians also hold to a presbytery – groups of elders which hold each other accountable from a variety of churches.  This they discern from Acts 15 and the Council at Jerusalem (207).

Finn argues this example in no way proves a universal practice or submission (221).

Chapter eight considers the Anglican understanding of church leadership.

Nine explores the Baptist rational for the plurality of elders (as opposed to the Presbyterian understanding).

In the tenth chapter, Bruce A, Ware constructs “a theology of Church Leadership.”  He curiously begins by arguing that formal education ought not to be mandated for the elder (pastor) (283).

Ware continues by arguing that the Christ is head of the Church (284), the Scripture supports a plurality of elders who preach (289), and he outlines the biblical qualifications and responsibilities of elders (291) and deacons (297) – deacons, he argues can be men or women.

The book concludes with a “practical” chapter by Andrew M. Davis, in which he enumerates and explains twelve practical elements of Christian Leadership.  (This chapter is what I thought the book was about, based on the title.)

I found the authors convincing in their survey of the Scripture and history that there are only two offices in the Scripture – that of elder and deacon.  I am in the Reformed and Presbyterian tradition, and I believe we have erred in some regards on this issue.

However, especially in looking at the 1 Timothy text above, I don’t see how it can be denied that the Scripture puts forth a formal division within the body of elders:  those who preach and those who do not.  I did not find the assertions of the authors the least bit convincing on this issue.

To a lesser extent, I did not find them convincing in saying there is no mutual oversight among groups of churches.  True, one example to not prove the practice, but as One Body, does it not seem that mutual care and discipline is mandated?

I found the final chapter encouraging and engaging in thinking about how I am functioning as a leader in my church.  Davis makes sure that we who are leaders are always looking back to Christ, our Shepherd, and seeing that all is done for His Glory and the proclamation of His Gospel.

I found this book thought-provoking and very engaging, and I enjoyed reading it.

Three suggestions I would make are (1) to change the title, (2) to smooth out Finn’s chapter to be in similar style to the rest of the essays, and (3) to make Davis’ chapter the foundation of a separate book on pastoral leadership – I would greatly look forward to reading more like this.

[I received this book free from Kregel in exchange for an honest review.  This review appears on my blog and on] #ShepherdingGodsFlock

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