I am a sheep, complete with all the misguided, helpless stupidity that goes along with it. I am a sheep of the Good Pastor, Jesus. It’s awesome being in His flock under His provision and protection. It’s also humbling to be a pastor for the Good Pastor, to have a subset of that flock under my watchful eye. It means I can’t lead the sheep according to my own imagined wisdom or strength. Remember my misguided, helpless stupidity? All I can do is simply listen for the voice of the Good Pastor, and do my best to shepherd His sheep accordingly.
Good Pastor? Yea. The word “pastor” is derived from the word for shepherd. So, when Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd (Jn 10:11), we can also think of him as the Good Pastor. The same goes for the fellow sheep we call pastor. Your pastor, whoever he is, is a shepherd of God’s flock. We like to call him the “under-shepherd.” In fact, the shepherd is the dominant metaphor in the Bible for the pastoral ministry, and for good reason. The duties of the shepherd dovetail beautifully with the duties of the leader of God’s people. Let’s take a moment to look at those, and maybe we’ll get a better idea of how the under-shepherd leads God’s flock.
According to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, the shepherd of Bible times had a number of very important duties:
The chief care of the shepherd is to see that the sheep find plenty to eat and drink. The flocks are not fed in pens or folds, but, summer and winter, must depend upon foraging for their sustenance (Ps 23:2).
By way of analogy, the under-shepherd leads God’s sheep to the place where they will find pasture and water. As Christians, we are led to the pasture and water of eternal truths revealed to us through his word. While receiving God’s grace is something that is undeserved, our response is always active! Shepherds don’t have much shepherding to do if the sheep don’t move! Pastoral ministry is not about bringing God’s grace to the flock, but leading them to where it already is! Pastoral ministry is not about keeping the flock locked in the pen and harvesting grass and bringing pales of water so that the flock can be well fed and safe. You just get big lazy sheep and an overworked shepherd! No, the sheep are on the move.
At the first sound of his call, which is usually a peculiar guttural sound, hard to imitate, the flock follow off to new feeding-grounds. Even should two shepherds call their flocks at the same time and the sheep be intermingled, they never mistake their own master’s voice (Jn 10:3-5).
God has provided the pasture of forgiveness and new life through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Good Pastor calls us there. We get to know his voice by faith and continue to learn his voice by listening to him time and time again. Your under-shepherd is one who should know his voice very well and be able to lead others to know his voice also. The voice of the under-shepherd should never be confused with the Good Shepherd! The flock does not belong to the under-shepherd. The flock belongs to the Good Shepherd, Jesus, and will only find pasture by listening to his voice. The faithful under-shepherd will train his people to know the truth from God’s word so that they can follow their Good Shepherd to the grassy places (Jn 6:10) and the streams of living water (Jn 7:38).
The shepherd also does not tend to every sheep individually. While certainly accounting for every sheep, he shepherds the flock. Sheep within the flock have a sense of community and mutual accountability. Once a sheep enters the flock, it tends to stick together with the flock. Here, the congregation takes responsibility to know the voice of the Good Shepherd and follow together, helping one another within the congregation along the way, especially those who may not know his voice well, or who are weak or troubled. We should not expect to have pastors who tend to every individual on a day-to-day basis. Rather, pastors should shepherd the flock as a whole and also tend to those who need special attention or who are unable or unwilling to stay with the flock.
The birth of offspring in a flock often occurs far off on the mountain side. The shepherd solicitously guards the mother during her helpless moments and picks up the lamb and carries it to the fold. For the few days, until it is able to walk, he may carry it in his arms or in the loose folds of his coat above his girdle.
There are times when the shepherd must tend to those sheep who are in harm’s way. Our pastors should pay special attention to those sheep in the flock who are “giving birth,” be it a family who is expecting a new baby or a disciple of Jesus who is actively making new disciples for Jesus. Regardless, these people are in a position where the predator, the devil, will want to strike. This requires the special attention of the shepherd, especially when the “new sheep” is born. If we’re talking about a baby, the pastor should encourage the parents to have the child baptized, and then shepherd the child to know the voice of the Good Shepherd. A new believer is a similar situation where the pastor encourages baptism and shepherds into the flock. Once the new sheep knows the voice of the Good Shepherd and is among the flock, the pastor can shepherd them along with the whole flock, and turn his attention toward others who may be in harm’s way.
Another category of sheep who are in harm’s way are those sheep who stray from the flock. For one reason or another, they do not heed the voice of the Good Shepherd. Separated from the flock, they wander aimlessly, often straight into danger. As Jesus told us plainly, it was common practice for the shepherd to leave the 99 to go after the 1 who has strayed (Lk 15:4). The under-shepherd should follow his example and pursue those who are troubled, confused and disillusioned by sin and rejoice with the congregation when they return to the fold.
So, from one sheep to another, here it is. I love being a pastor under the Good Pastor. His voice calls us to a pasture of perfect peace. We go together.