11.06.14

What is a Shepherd?

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



Introduction

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 ().

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 . 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 we learn, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” In , 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” (). 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 (). 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” (). 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.

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (ESV)

34:1 The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.

“Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: (ESV)

23:1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
forever. (ESV)

34:1 The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.

“Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As I live, declares the Lord God, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 10 Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.

11 “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 12 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. 13 And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. 14 I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.

17 “As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats. 18 Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture; and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feet? 19 And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet?

20 “Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: Behold, I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad, 22 I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. 23 And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24 And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken.

25 “I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild beasts from the land, so that they may dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods. 26 And I will make them and the places all around my hill a blessing, and I will send down the showers in their season; they shall be showers of blessing. 27 And the trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield its increase, and they shall be secure in their land. And they shall know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke, and deliver them from the hand of those who enslaved them. 28 They shall no more be a prey to the nations, nor shall the beasts of the land devour them. They shall dwell securely, and none shall make them afraid. 29 And I will provide for them renowned plantations so that they shall no more be consumed with hunger in the land, and no longer suffer the reproach of the nations. 30 And they shall know that I am the Lord their God with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Lord God. 31 And you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Lord God.” (ESV)

11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (ESV)

10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. (ESV)

And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (ESV)

Thabiti Anyabwile
Thabiti Anyabwile serves as a pastor of Anacostia River Church (Washington DC). He is the happy husband of Kristie and the adoring father of two daughters and one son. Holler at him on Twitter: @ThabitiAnyabwil

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