Mr. Brands is an elder in the Protestant Reformed Church of Loveland, Colorado.

It is in keeping with our theme, “Shepherding God’s Flock,” that we now consider the involvement of the elders and deacons in the labors of pastoral care. I take it for granted that you are all agreed that the elders and deacons have a definite responsibility in regard to pastoral care. What we must determine is to what extent we are to be involved in this work, and what is the precise character of our work.

Although our ministers especially have been given the title of pastors, it is also true that the elders and deacons are pastors. The term “pastor” is a title which means “shepherd.” In Hebrews 13:20 Jesus is referred to as the great Shepherd of the sheep. In I Peter 5:4 He is called the chief Shepherd, and in John 10:11 Jesus refers to Himself as the good Shepherd who giveth His life for the sheep. This latter chapter provides the highest comfort possible, as it emphatically asserts the safety of the sheep. Indeed, Jesus is the great and good Shepherd who giveth His life for His sheep. He bought them with His blood. He is the door, and whoso would enter into the heavenly mansions must enter through Him. He holds the threefold office of prophet, priest, and king. This threefold office is now divided up into three distinct offices, namely, the minister preaching the Word of the Lord as prophet, the deacon providing for the needs of the church as priest, and the elder exercising the rule over the church as king. These offices cannot be separated from each other but must be kept distinct.

Although each office has its own distinct labor, a labor which does not belong to the other offices, there are labors which overlap and can be carried out mutually. It is with these labors that we are dealing when we speak of pastoral care. Ministers, elders, and deacons have been called by the great Shepherd to lead His sheep in the green pastures of His Word. They are to exercise extreme care for the sheep because those sheep are very precious in the sight of the Lord. It is absolutely essential that officebearers have a deep and overwhelming love for the sheep, and that they see to it that the sheep with whom they are working can see this in them.

As we labor with the wayward we must be deeply aware of our own sinful nature, acknowledging that in us dwelleth no good thing. There is no room for pride on the part of an officebearer. He must come as a servant of the Lord in all meekness and humility. Jesus taught that lesson to His disciples as He washed their feet. And in Numbers 12 we are informed that the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.

It is also necessary that we be patient with stubborn sheep. It is impossible to force sheep to go where they do not want to go. Our calling is to lead them, and this we have to do gently. They must follow willingly, being persuaded that this is the best path for them to follow. Since sheep can easily be led astray we have to be certain that we are leading them faithfully to the great Shepherd.

It must be remembered that most of the people are followers and are looking for leadership. The Lord has placed His sheep under our care and has given us the mandate to lead them according to His Word. The Lord has made us to be leaders by giving us the authority to teach His Word to these sheep. We will be held accountable if we fail to carry out this task faithfully. We also have to see to it that the helpless sheep are using the Bible for direction and guidance in their life and that they are turning to it often as a remedy for the manifold problems which they encounter. Since they are spiritually unable to care for themselves, they are to be instructed to seek the Lord zealously in prayer, since the Lord will grant His grace and Holy Spirit only to those who sincerely and continuously ask this of Him. We also must pray that the Lord will grant this to them, since our labors are in vain if the Lord does not work in the hearts of His sheep by His Holy Spirit.

We now consider some of the specific work of pastoral care, which in large part is carried out by the minister. This is work which is kept confidential and of necessity has to do with stressful situations. It has to do with serious problems which, for one reason or another, cannot be solved by the parties involved. These are problems which fit in the following categories: lack of assurance of salvation, depression, loneliness, dissatisfaction with God’s way, discipline problems, marital problems, physical problems, and a number of other problems which can cause much grief. There is no question about it that the elders are in duty bound to be involved in this type of work. Their calling is to comfort and instruct the members. This is so important that the church visitors will ask if these tasks are carried out faithfully by the elders.

You might have reservations concerning this work, and believe that this work should be done only by the minister because he has much more knowledge in this field of labor and has received training to do this particular work. There is an element of truth in that. No doubt this is why members who need help will often call on the minister. It must not be forgotten, however, that the effectiveness of the work lies strictly in the power of the written Word of the Lord, applied to the heart by the working of the Holy Spirit. There is no reason why the elder cannot be prepared to bring that Word. It is incumbent upon him that he study that Word diligently and thereby be equipped to bring it to God’s people in all of their distresses, no matter what they may be. He has just as much authority as the minister does and can say, “Thus saith the Lord.” He has to go forward with confidence in the lord, believing that, even as the Lord has called him to this high office, He will also qualify him, and will give him the strength to do the work.

I want to emphasize, however, that the Lord does not qualify automatically without any effort on our part, but rather uses means. Just as the Lord does not have any use for a lazy preacher, He also does not have any use for a lazy elder or deacon. We have to be fully dedicated to the work. In addition to making a diligent study of the Word of God, we will find it very beneficial to read good Reformed books and magazines. Although these are not infallible, they are extremely valuable as an aid to understanding the Bible. We live in the communion of saints and can learn from each other.

We also should be well acquainted with the confessions of our church, as they are the expressions of what we believe concerning various points of doctrine of the Bible. Still another means which the Lord uses to qualify His officebearers, and which I want to emphasize, is the use of prayer. The Lord will not grant His grace and Holy Spirit to us if we do not pray fervently for it. We have to pray for wisdom and understanding in doing c the work of the Lord properly. An officebearer should never leave his home without first praying that the Lord will provide for all of his needs in his spiritual labors, and that the Lord will bless the work that he does. You will be surprised at what the Lord will enable you to do when you rely on Him in such a manner. Prayer is also an art which has to be learned and developed as you work with the saints and pray with them.

There is another very compelling reason why elders must be prepared to do this type of pastoral work, namely that they cannot take for granted that the minister will always be available for the work. He might be gone temporarily, or it could be that the congregation is without a minister. Taking this into consideration, we should dismiss any notion that we will never be called into a very difficult pastoral labor.

There is also a broader perspective of this matter of pastoral care by the elders and deacons which we must now consider. It can be said that all of the work which is done by the officebearers has to do with pastoral care of the flock. They are called to watch over the flock in all things, being fully aware of the very powerful threefold enemy, namely the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. This enemy will never cease to assault the sheep as long as they are on this side of the grave. The sheep have to be encouraged to fight this battle, and they must be guided along the pathway which leads to eternal life and glory. They are to be led with a shepherd’s rod, namely the Word of God which is also used to protect and correct them. They are to be kept together as a flock, and, therefore, all strife must be removed as soon as it comes up. There is nothing that the devil thrives on more than division in a congregation. This gives him fuel to work with. Put a stop to it right away. Members at serious odds with each other have to be denied the right to come to the Lord’s Supper. How wicked it is in the Lord’s sight when grudges are harbored, to the extent that one saint will not speak to another. There is nothing more detrimental to being a faithful witness in the world than this matter of strife in the congregation. It is to be avoided at all costs. The officebearer has to admonish the flock to seek peace with all of their hearts, pointing out that the mark of Christians is that they love even their enemies, as Christ commanded, or they are not different from unbelievers, who love only those who show love to them.

The chief task of the officebearer in pastoral care is to take good heed to the spiritual condition of the flock and to see to it that all of their needs are met. This begins with the little lambs of the flock and ends with the elderly members. I am very thankful for Article 23 of the Church Order, which demands that the families of the congregation be visited. There is no better way to become acquainted with the flock and to learn to know them, than through family visitation. It is through these visits that a determination can be made as to their spiritual condition and as to what their needs are. Avoid questions which require only a yes or no answer. Ask questions which require an explanation on their part. The idea is to get the sheep to open up their hearts and souls to you. In connection with this, I highly recommend a book entitled, Taking Heed to the Flock, by P.Y. DeJong, which gives valuable information for the conducting of family visitation.

The elders are also to visit the sick, the aged, and those who are dying. I would like to bring to your attention a rather neglected form in the back of our Psalter, entitled “The Consolation of the Sick.” This is an excellent form to prepare the sheep to meet their Maker. Be acquainted with it, and use it as the need may require. I would also like to recommend a book entitled, The Elder’s Handbook, by Berghoef and DeKoster, which I found to be extremely helpful. It is a good idea to prepare ahead of time for various pastoral labors such as death, sickness, or discipline, by selecting appropriate Bible texts, since you never know how much time will be available when the need arises.

Pastoral care also includes the discipline of the youth, as it is often the young who are guilty of straying from the fold. When working with them, always treat them as redeemed in the blood of Christ, even though you might feel otherwise. It is highly desirable to have a good working relationship with them. Officebearers must evaluate each case separately, while paying attention also to the effect which one member has on-the rest of the flock. Discipline has to be carried out with dispatch if a member is influencing other members with his life style.

We also have to look at worship as pastoral care. It is through the worship services that the gospel is preached and the sheep are fed. The elders are to see to it that the minister preaches Jesus Christ and Him crucified, which is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes. The flock has to be edified through the preaching and be blessed by it, having their faith strengthened. God has to be honored, glorified, and worshiped through the sermons. The question is not, first of all, “What’s in it for me?” but rather, “Can I worship God through the preaching?” Is His name highly exalted so that I can bow down before Him in holy adoration and reverence? The congregation is to be made aware of their sins and admonished to flee from them. They are to be comforted with the knowledge that deliverance has come through the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world. They are to be exhorted to live a life of thankfulness for this great salvation.

The elders should feel free to discuss with the minister the contents of the sermons, what is not being preached and should be, and improvements in the delivery of the sermons. The elders have to make the judgment themselves if the Word is edifying in the preaching and if the minister is proclaiming the Word faithfully – apart from what the people might say about it. It can be that the people are completely satisfied with the preaching, but yet the minister is not pleasing in the Lords sight. Think of the many false churches who have people satisfied with the preaching because they are not confronted with their sins.

As for the deacons, they are involved with pastoral care especially by providing for the needs of the poor and distressed. They must reveal themselves as messengers from Christ, comforting the sheep with His word. They are to apply that Word to them in their needs. Sometimes these sheep can become very despondent, being dissatisfied with the ways of the Lord. In that case the deacons have to be more concerned about that spiritual problem than with their financial one. The Lord is sovereign who makes rich and makes poor. Our trust is to be placed in Him at all times to provide for all of our needs. The deacons are also to give instruction concerning proper stewardship, and they must make sure that these sheep are not lazy, but are working to the best of their ability. The deacons should seek out the poor and not wait for a call from them. When the deacons do this, they are showing genuine love and concern for the sheep.

As we consider all of the pastoral labors which the Lord has given us, we may wish, like the apostle Paul, to have various thorns in the flesh removed so that we can do the work more effectively. I believe, however, that the Lord’s purpose with these thorns is to keep us from sinful pride and to cause us to turn to Him in prayer for all of our needs. He is our help, our strength, and our great Shepherd who leads us. Let us follow Him faithfully and let us lead the sheep to the arms of this merciful Savior. What a blessed work and what a blessed privilege the Lord has given unto us. We should be deeply concerned that we do it right and that we do it heartily as to the Lord.