I return in this post to a theme that is dear to my heart, and one that desperately needs to be rediscovered by pastors today, the shepherding ministry to which all of us are called if we have truly been called to do the work of ministry among the sheep of God’s pasture. I confess that I do not understand how any pastor can ignore the biblical admonitions, “Tend my sheep…Tend my sheep,” “Tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it – not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock” (John 2:15-17, and I Peter 5:1-3), unless he or she does not believe in the authority of scripture as our rule for faith and practice.
Nor can I possibly believe that any pastor would choose to miss out on the blessing that all faithful shepherds will inherit, according to God’s promise: “When the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that never fades away” (I Peter 5:4), unless he or she does not believe we will be rewarded as pastor-shepherds for fulfilling our ministry of pastoral care – feeding, tending, leading, guarding, and protecting the sheep entrusted to our care. These words of the Apostle Peter were addressed to the “elders” ( verse 1) in all the churches that had been planted during the missionary journeys of the apostles. There were both teaching elders (pastors) and ruling elders (lay persons) in every church, ordained to their leadership positions to “be examples to the flock” (verse 3).
What kind of “examples”? Spiritual leaders who lead by following the example of Jesus, who said, “I have given you an example” (John 13:15). Those words were spoken after Jesus had humbled Himself and washed the feet of His disciples, assuming the role of a servant. That was an acted-out parable of servant leadership, loving leadership, caring leadership, the style of leadership that would be needed in the Church He was going to build, the kind of leadership Jesus expected His disciples to exemplify.
He had told them, “The Gentiles lord it over one another, but it shall not be so among you” and then after girding Himself with a towel, and stooping to wash their feet, He said, “If I, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet…you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are there any messengers who are greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:14-17).
There should be no place in Christ’s Church for arrogant leadership, for leaders who refuse to humble themselves, for pastors who are more concerned for maintaining their image as capable managers than modeling the example of our Servant Lord. We not only have the model of Jesus, we have His message, and His most critical words for those spiritual leaders of His own time who were more interested in impressing others than in pleasing God (Matthew 6:1,7,16-18). He heaped His “woes” on the Scribes and Pharisees who were in the habit of lording it over others, who were more concerned with protecting their own positions than with practicing the style of leadership God had designed and demanded.
Of all the biblical metaphors we find in both the Old and New Testaments, for illustrating the relationship that should exist between leaders and the people of God, that of a shepherd and his sheep is both the most prominent and most dominant. Furthermore, it is also the most common metaphor the Bible uses to describe the relationship that God desires between Himself and His covenant people. It is most significant that Jesus called Himself the “Good Shepherd” (John 10:1-15), who knows His sheep and calls them by name. His sheep know His voice, and they obey His call. He “goes ahead of them” to show them the best and safest way, to go out to find pasture and to come in to find protection. Jesus also calls Himself “the gate” which is the only way into the sheepfold; and, just as every faithful shepherd will not only guide but also guard his sheep by placing his own body across the entrance, so the Good Shepherd will “lay down his life for his sheep.”
Almost everyone, even many non-believers, are familiar with the so-called “Shepherd Psalm” in the Old Testament (Psalm 23). The psalmist, David, says, “The Lord is my shepherd, he makes me lie down in green pastures (feeds me), he leads me beside still waters (quenches my thirst), he restores my soul…he leads me in paths of righteousness (the right paths)…Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death (the darkest and most dangerous of all places), I will fear no evil” — WHY? Because the shepherd of my soul “is with me; his road and his staff, they comfort me” (both presence and power, for the rod and staff were not only used to help guide the sheep, but were used as weapons to guard the sheep, to keep ravenous beasts of prey away from the sheep, for they come only to devour and destroy – also to protect the sheep from thieves who come only to steal, to lure the sheep away from their sheepfold, where they are “safe and secure from all alarm” (from an old hymn, “Leaning on Jesus”).
It is a grand thing to know the “Shepherd Psalm”, but the far greater thing is to know the Shepherd! Can anyone reading this blog explain to me how any pastor who knows the Shepherd and wants to follow His example, can possibly have either an aversion to the shepherding ministry, or a desire to avoid it? Have they never read those passages where God denounces those leaders among God’s people who are faithless shepherds? One of the prophets of the exile, Ezekiel, speaking as “Thus saith the Lord” at a time when there was such a serious shortage of faithful shepherds, prophesied “against the shepherds” who were “feeding themselves,” but not feeding their sheep, who were “clothing themselves with their wool,” but not caring for the flock, not binding up the wounds of the sheep, not strengthening the weak, not seeking to bring back the sheep that had strayed (Ezekiel 34:1-4). DOES THAT SOUND FAMILIAR?
One day when Jesus was looking out upon the large crowd that had been following Him, we are told He was “moved with compassion, for he saw them as scattered sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:30ff). Mark says our Lord also realized that they were “harassed” and feeling “helpless.” Was it because they had no shepherd to care for them, no shepherd to watch over them, no shepherd to guard them against all of the downward and backward pulls of life, causing them to be stressed and distressed? I don’t know, but I do know that this is what the context seems to suggest, for Jesus goes on to say, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore to the lord of the harvest, to send more laborers into the harvest.” What kind of laborers? Obviously, SHEPHERD LABORERS!
Pastors, THINK ABOUT IT! In the JOY of His Service Together.