Our series for Pastor & People for November 2014 is:
“You Need More Than a Church: You Need a Shepherd”


In an age when so many Christians do not think they need a church, it may sound funny to say, “You need more than a church.” Christians do need to be a part of a local church. The church is God’s only plan for our maturity in Christ (Eph. 4:11-16).

We do believe that church membership is essential to the Christian life. However, we are not defending membership in this podcast. Those who are interested in the case for local church membership might consult a number of useful small books, including:

But for this podcast, we want to focus on a different question that is very key to the life and health of Christians and the church as a whole: Are the leaders truly shepherds?

What Is a Shepherd?

The Bible uses the shepherd metaphor to describe the role of spiritual leaders. The image goes all the way back to the Old Testament where the kings of Israel are called “shepherds.” As leaders of the people they were not to be tyrants but caretakers.

Perhaps looking at a negative example of shepherding is the best way to positively define what a shepherd is. We find such an example in Ezekiel 34:1-7. In that passage God rebukes the leaders of Israel for failing to:

  • Feed the sheep (vv. 2-3)
  • Strengthen the weak (v. 4)
  • Heal the sick (v. 4)
  • Bind the injured (v. 4)
  • Bring back the strays (v. 4)
  • Seek the lost (v. 4)
  • Lead gently (v. 4)

Instead, these men fed themselves and exploited the people. They provide us a horrible example of what a shepherd is not, and by their example we see what a shepherd should be.

There are two things to note about shepherds and sheep from this passage. Unfaithful shepherds devastate the sheep (Ezek. 34:5-6). God destroys unfaithful shepherds (34:7-10). Nobody wins when the people don’t have shepherds.

The True Shepherd

Of course, the shepherd theme finds its true and greatest fulfillment in Jesus Christ. As early as Psalm 23 we learn, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” In Ezekiel 34, God speaks through the prophet to say that He will take up shepherding responsibilities with Israel. The Lord says, “Behold I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness” (Ezek. 34:11-12). The prophet Isaiah calls us to “Behold your God!” Then what does Isaiah tell us to behold? He writes, “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the labs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom and gently lead those that are with young” (Is. 40:11).

When the Lord Jesus comes onto the New Testament scene, He applies this shepherding imagery to himself. He looks over Jerusalem and sees “they are like sheep without a shepherd.” He teaches the disciples that He is “the Good Shepherd” who “lays down His life for the sheep” (John 10:11). So, ultimately, the cross of Christ is central to the shepherding of Christ. That’s why shepherds who feed themselves or feed on the sheep are such a contradiction and disgrace.

When our leaders are shepherds, they will treat us the way Jesus treats us (John 10:10-15). That will be for the people’s joy.

But this is not all sacrifice and no reward. When our leaders are shepherds, they will be greatly rewarded. Peter writes to elders who shepherd saying, “When the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Pet. 5:4). So, shepherding is also for the pastor’s joy.

What Is the Difference between a Preach and a Pastor

Imagine you are a soldier at war (and all Christians are). Imagine you have been wounded in action behind enemy lines. You are not only wounded but also lost. You have run out of rations and supplies. Now the rains have begun to fall. You make your way to a hiding place and you radio your commanding officer for a rescue.

Who do you want them to send? Would you rather a team of snipers come for you, or would you rather the Navy Seals?

Snipers are great. They can hit targets from long distance. But snipers need safe places to hide themselves and aren’t generally used in close quarter extractions.

What you really want is a team of Navy Seals to come to your rescue. You want guys who can come into the jungle, find you, and get you safely back across enemy lines. You want guys who can not only shoot but also battle hand-to-hand in rough places. If you’re wounded, tired, sick, and lost, you want Seals.

The preacher is a sniper firing sermons from the high ground of the pulpit. The shepherd is a seal. A man can be a preacher without being a shepherd. But every true shepherd will also be a teacher or preacher of some sort. But the shepherd will come down off the high ground, get down in the mud or wilderness with the sheep, and carry you on his shoulders or near his heart safely home. Christians have far more need for a search and rescue shepherd than they do a target practicing sniper.

A shepherd makes all the difference between survival and death.

The music for this podcast is entitled, “RMX Walk with Me,” which is an instrumental produced and edited by Dalmond Bodden, who also helps produce this podcast.

The Front Porch
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Thabiti M Anyabwile

Thabiti M Anyabwile

Thabiti is one of the pastors of Anacostia River Church in Washington, DC and the president of The Crete Collective. He is the author of several books and as an introvert enjoys quiet things at home.


  • Avatar Brad Achenbaugh says:

    I’ve been to a church in the past where the pastor during a Christmas sermon, keep going on and on about how shepherds were the lowest of the low in biblical times, that they were despised by all, I totally got the feeling that even he disliked being considered a “shepherd” when I made a passing comment much later that he was the shepherd of the church I was attending at that time. Where shepherds considered the “dredge of society” in those times as be portrayed them to be? And shouldn’t we consider our pastors as shepherds, charged with a flock?

  • Avatar Thabiti Anyabwile says:

    Hey Brad,

    Thanks for joining us on The Front Porch and engaging this conversation about shepherds. While shepherding would have been a humble profession, I’m not aware of anything that says they would have been “the dregs of society.” Perhaps some, like the Egyptians, would have despised shepherds (Gen. 46:34). But in the literature of God’s people, the role has incredible dignity because God likens the rulers of Israel to shepherds and, most importantly, uses the shepherd metaphor to teach us about His own character. We should certainly consider our pastors to be shepherds of the flock, and if they aren’t shepherds they shouldn’t be in pastoral ministry. In truth, “pastor” and “shepherds” are synonymous.

    I hope that helps. Pull up a rocker any time and join us on the porch!

  • Avatar Brad Achenbaugh says:

    It does and thank you very much, it has been my perception of the scriptures as well, I just needed another opinion. May God bless you and this forum, I think it’s wonderful! 🙂

The Front Porch

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