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The imagery of a shepherd is used in Scripture for a pastor or elder. Jesus is called our “Chief Shepherd.” It pictures how you are to care for the people God has called you to lead and oversee:
Parents shepherd their children.
Small group leaders shepherd their people.
A pastor shepherds his congregation.
In 1 Peter 5:1-3 Peter challenges, “I exhort the elders among you: Shepherd God’s flock among you . . . being examples to the flock.” What does God require from shepherds?
There are many expectations for pastors and to be quite honest many of them are unrealistic. What are the biblical requirements for the called overseer of God’s flock? In Peter 5 the comparison of negatives vs. positives point us in the right direction:
Do not shepherd because you have to, but minister because you are willing.
Do not serve for the financial gain, but because you are eager to help.
Do not pastor to control or dominate but to be an example of servant leadership.
In Kingdom Men Devotional Tony Evans reminds us that “true greatness is outward focused and others-driven.” Shepherding is not about power plays, intimidation, fear tactics, guilt trips, and gaining leverage. Tony continues, “It is not dominance, but rather dominion that benefits those around you.” As examples we are to follow our example, Jesus Christ, who said in John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
The primary function of a shepherd is to lead, and the best way to lead is by example. The word exhort in 1 Peter 5:1 means to “call alongside.” Peter is encouraging and compelling elders to lead in a certain direction:
You are to lead the sheep where the Lord wants them to be as they faithfully and obediently follow God.
This points to guidance and supervision more than sheep care or the typical way we think of pastoral care. Psalm 23:2 says, “He leads me beside the still waters.” We even sing “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us.”
Pastoral care is important, but a greater need is developing a system for membership care that involves everyone. It is not the shepherd’s responsibility to care for everyone personally but to make sure that every sheep is properly cared for.
One unrealistic expectation is that you must always treat everyone the same. It is not realistic because need creates attention to the things that need attention when they need attention. People have different needs at different times and at different levels of intensity.
When a code blue occurs in a hospital the entire medical staff is focused on the one person whose life hangs in the balance. They are not concerned about the person three rooms down who has pushed their call button because they want a Diet Coke. A shepherd must be trusted to evaluate and step into situations that call for the greatest attention based on the priority of the emergency. When a couple calls because their marriage is ending, the “needs” of other sheep are placed on hold.
A shepherd focuses on the greatest needs and Three Timeless Functions that never change in their watch care and oversight:
#1 – A shepherd is called to protect the flock. Acts 20:28-31 challenges you to protect your people from false teaching, heresy, and doctrinal error. Wolves will attack and enter from the outside and sometimes there are even those who will rise up from within. Paul painstakingly spent night and day for three years passionately warning the Ephesians believers.
#2 – Teach and feed the flock. When Jesus is restoring Peter in John 21, asks Peter three times if he truly loves him. He then challenges him to feed the lambs, shepherd the sheep, and to feed the sheep. Baby sheep and grown sheep need to be fed and they need to be led. This admonition to focus on teaching God’s sheep was given to the man who would preach a great message on the day of Pentecost and then exhort pastors to feed their flocks well.
#3 – Lead the flock that God has given to you as oversight. In 1 Timothy 5:17 we are instructed to “rule well” and that is a call to be a good leader. Shepherds are called to direct the affairs of the church and that require leading them to where they need to be spiritually. The most important aspect of spiritual leadership, and the best test of its effectiveness, is the power of an exemplary life! You cannot deny that the emphasis of the primary role of elders is to be leaders, shepherds, and overseers of God’s flock.
These functions are not exhaustive but they are the primary and timeless roles that every pastor must remain focused on.
Are you working to protect God’s flock from the wolves of heresy?
Are you teaching them to observe “all” the things God has commanded?
Are you leading them in the mission and vision that God has given you for your church: Go and make disciples?
Copyright © 2021 by Larry Barker @ https://healthychurchpodcast.com. No part of this article may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from Lifeword.org.