A few weeks ago I asked you to call shepherds “brothers” or “sisters” when they stopped serving as shepherds. I wanted to make it clear that the word “shepherd” represents their ministry, not a title.
Those of us who are involved in the House Church movement desire to restore the original New Testament churches. Article 6 of our Mission Statement says: “We do not pursue small groups or cell churches, but New Testament prototypical churches.”
Prototypical churches in the New Testament were like stem cells that developed into various body parts in later stages. They developed into Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, or Pentecostal churches later.
Some people with Reformed backgrounds claim that a house church cannot be called a “church” because it does not practice formal preaching or formal discipline. But the definition of “church” as the meeting where preaching and discipline take place is based on a particular 16th century historical situation. What the New Testament calls the church (ekklesia in Greek) were loose communities that confessed Jesus as the Son of God and the Christ. I think that our house churches are rightly called “churches” by the standards of the New Testament.
Even church offices are not clearly defined in the New Testament. For example, the title “Deacon” more likely designates the ministry of serving rather than a church office. The same goes for “Elders” and “Episcopate” (or “Bishops”): one signifies a ministry of being elderly leaders, the other a ministry of overseeing a flock. House churches that are trying to revive New Testament churches should accordingly use particular church titles for specific ministries, rather than offices.
The title “Shepherd” designates a ministry, not an office. When we call people “Shepherds” after they’ve finished serving in that function, we make it a title of church office. Then the difference between the house churches and traditional churches disappear as far as titles are concerned; we’re merely adding another office to the traditional offices of Deacons and Elders.
We can establish the church offices of Deacons or Elders if it is necessary. But Shepherds must remain a designation of ministry, not office. For this reason, we must call people who no longer serve as shepherds simply brothers or sisters.
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