“The whole of our ministry must be carried on
in tender love to our people.
We must let them see that nothing pleaseth us
but what profiteth them;
and that what doeth them good doeth us good;
and that nothing troubleth us more than their hurt.
We must feel toward our people,
as a father toward his children:
yea, the tenderest love of a mother must not surpass ours.
We must even travail in birth, till Christ be formed in them”
- Richard Baxter - The Reformed Pastor
I’m not hearing much about the pastor’s role as a shepherd. I suppose coming to conference on shepherding isn't all that exciting. How about TSC, “The Shepherding Coalition”… you get my point. I don’t have the time to fully analyze why that is the case, however I am convinced that the root cause of our ignoring this thoroughly Biblical focus is because it means a ministry that is hard, intrusive, and messy! Most of us would rather find another method to grow a church that would free us up to be left alone so we could study, preach, teach, and blog!
Irrespective of your ministry model, philosophy of ministry, or leadership style, every pastor is to be a shepherd at some level. The truth is, if you are called to be a pastor, you are an Elder or “overseer” whose definition is rooted in the shepherd analogy. Remember these words from Peter, “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory”. (1 Pe 5:1–4).
Here are a couple of things to consider:
Good Preachers are Good Shepherds. You can be a great communicator and not shepherd the people in your church and community, but you cannot be a great preacher and not shepherd. A good preacher accurately communicates the truth of Scripture and applies it to the lives of the congregation. If you are not shepherding your congregation, you will not know your congregation and you will not effectively apply your sermons to both the heads and hearts of your congregation. When you shepherd your people you get into their lives and see their spiritual needs. Another important part of shepherding is that as you immerse yourself in people’s lives they get to see your life, adding impact to your preaching.
Good Shepherds multiply. On the other end of the scale from those who don’t do any shepherding are those who do all the shepherding. For many keeping busy with shepherding gives a purpose, fills a personal need, or is simply job security. Others find it a pure joy and honor! Nevertheless, regardless of the size of your church it is important that you are continuously training new shepherds as you shepherd. Make the effort to shepherd your elders and other leaders and therefore modeling how it is to be done. Trust me there will never be a shortage of shepherding needs! Don’t make the mistake Moses made and try to go it alone.
Good Shepherds do not forget the Lost Sheep. A third area that is often neglected when it comes to shepherding is the ongoing task of growing the flock or as Scripture teaches, finding the lost sheep (Luke 15). Good shepherds both tend too, and grow their flock. A healthy growing flock is not accomplished simply through the existing sheep having lambs. If a shepherd relies exclusively on this method for growth both the sheep and the flock will become unhealthy due to inbreeding. New sheep bring both health and vitality to the flock. Adding to point one, not only are good preachers good shepherds, but good evangelists are good shepherds. You cannot expect to connect with lost sheep, if you don’t spend time with them.
There is much more that could be written on this topic, yet I will conclude with these passages of Scripture for you to think about as we follow in the footsteps of our Brother and Savior, the true Good Shepherd – Jesus Christ.
Love: “37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ i 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ j 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”” (Matthew 22:37-40)
Humility: “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:1-3)
Compassion: “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.” (Mark 6:34)
Courage: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.” (Acts 20:28-30)
Delight/Eagerness: “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:1-3)
• Adams, Jay E., Shepherding God's Flock: A Handbook on Pastoral Ministry, Counseling and Leadership, Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1996.
• Keller, W. Philip, A Shepherd Looks at Psalms 23, Grand Rapids, Zondervan 2008.