Lecture 2: An Urgent Call to Shepherd – Part 2
Course: Urgent Call to Shepherd – Lectures 1-5
Lecture 2: An Urgent Call to Shepherd – Part 2
Peter’s charge to the Elders of the church from 1 Peter 5:2 regarding what shepherds do.
1 Peter 5:2: ‘’be shepherds of God’s flock that is among you, watching over it, not because you must, but because you want to and not greedily but eagerly, as God desires.’
A. Be A Good Shepherd and Work Hard
So the charge is to do everything that shepherding requires of you. Be a good shepherd. But what do shepherds do? Like the apostle Paul, Peter uses vivid imagery of sheep and a shepherd. It is the Old Testament ancient imagery that both Peter and Paul use. So we need to know something about this imagery. First, I want to recommend a book by Philip Keller, a Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. He was a shepherd for many years. Most of us do not understand the shepherd imagery. It is a rich image of God and us and leaders and followers; this book will explain this to you. It is easy to read and you can read it very quickly. I recommend this to all elders. You may not know this, but there is a call to change imagery; we need the imagery of the CEO some say. But the CEO imagery doesn’t fit the nature of the church. Whatever imagery we use of leadership, it has to fit and harmonize and promote the nature of the church. The church is a family, it is the household of God; it is the body of Christ. But the CEO image doesn’t fit that. One of the beautiful concepts of shepherding is love; this isn’t part of business imagery. So, we would do much better staying with the Biblical imagery because God knows better.
Let’s look at some of the concepts involved in shepherding people; we are not really shepherding literal sheep. We will bring the analogy over and apply it to people. First, what is involved in the image of shepherds is hard work. Shepherding is hard work and if you are allergic to hard work, this is definitely not a job for you. A shepherd works long hours and it is just hard work. It is nothing easy about it. This is why Paul says in Acts 20:35, in every way I showed you that by working hard like this we should help the weak and remember the words that the Lord Jesus himself said, ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive.’ Jacob in complaining to Laban about his life says in Genesis 31:40, there I was, by day the heat consumed me and the cold by night and my sleep fell from my eyes. The work is 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. Sheep do not take vacations and the work is really never done. Early in the morning, you have to lead the sleep out of the fold; they have to be taken back to the fold. They have to be led to water, led to land and grass. Then, all night they have to be protected. So, it is long hours and the same thing is true when you shepherd God’s people. It is long hours of work and even when you are not working, I can tell you from many years of experience that the people are upon your heart and on your mind. They are so many problems and sometimes horrible things that happen to people; to marriages and to children. Sometimes there is cancer and disease and you carry that around with you, their burden never lets up. Sometimes, it wakes you up late at night; sometimes people call you early in the morning or late at night. I remember one time when a lady that I knew very well, called me very early in the morning. I answered the phone; her son had died in a car accident. She wanted to know what she could do now. So, we carry the people with us all the time.
B. Be Sacrificial
I do believe elders should have job descriptions and everyone should know each person’s job description with our special gifts that we have. But no job description can be written for the people of the church and their problems, it is an intangible description within your own mind and heart. There is a lot of sacrifice in being a shepherd; you literally do give your life for them. You spend time with them giving up many legitimate things to do the job of shepherding. It is total dedication because so many people are dependent upon you. So there is sacrifice; you cannot do this job without sacrifice. And then it is dangerous work; we know that sheep have many predators. And they will die if you don’t protect them. There are wolves and lions and bears and many other things; they even fight among themselves. So you have to be constantly alert. I think of that beautiful story in 1 Samuel 17 when David as a teenager tells Saul that when he was with the sheep, a lion and a bear came against the sheep. They wanted to kill and eat the sheep. Here he is as a teenager standing against these animals and killing them. The true shepherd doesn’t run for his life, he stays and fights for his sheep. So there is a literal sense that we may give our lives, particularly if you are in a part of the world with severe persecution. Let me remind you that we are not fighting literal wolves but instead demonic hosts such as false teachers who are agents of Satan seeking to destroy the sheep. So, we have fierce enemies and we need to know them and stand strong against them and not run like cowards.
Then, there is skill. A good shepherd needs a lot of management skills such as managing land, water and the health of the sheep. You have to watch the weather, the heat of the summer and leading them up to green pastors and then to bring them back to the fold. So, a good shepherd has knowledge of sheep and all that is involved in managing those sheep. If you read Philip Keller, he will tell you about those management skills. The same thing is true in the local church; we have to manage people and church programs, helping people to take part in the church. We have to evaluate not squandering the skills of the Lord’s people. We have to manage meetings and organize and motivate people. So, shepherds need good skills in management. When a church is mismanaged, it causes a lot of frustration and even fighting in the church. Some elders are better than others at this; there will be good managers with discipline and good organizers. And then there is the presence of the shepherd; this is almost mysterious. In the literal sheep and shepherd relationship, the sheep do not rest. They cannot relax and eat and drink without the presence of the shepherd. This very unique relationship between the shepherd and the sheep and this is the same in the church. People know if you are there; they know if you are alert and they know if you care. You have greater influence over the people than you could ever imagine. You need to understand this influence. We had this picnic in our church once with most of the elders not showing up until quite late. I was there early and going around and wondering where the elders were. People know if you are there or not. They also know those who really care for them, those who they can trust and go to and share their lives and problems. So, never underestimate your presence; make your presence known, be at the front door when people arrive and when people leave. Let them see you; don’t hide from them. You need to be circulating and percolating when the saints gather together. Go out and shake hands and get people’s names, looking for new people. Your presence is important. Make your influence felt there in the church; understand it and use it to shepherd people. They are watching you far more than you ever know and they are taking your example home with them.
I remember when my wife and I were in Spain visiting some of our missionaries. We were driving out into the country to visit a little village church. On the way, I saw this shepherd. I wanted to stop and talk to the shepherd as again, I always want to learn things about sheep and shepherds. We went out and sat down with him; he was the mental image of what a shepherd looked like with tan skin and a big nose and had all the shepherding gear. He smelled like sheep; he had been a shepherd all of his life. He was a man of about fifty years of age. So, we sat down and it was a perfect pastoral scene. So we sat with him, John was his name, for over an hour and we talked to him about sheep and shepherding. At the end of our time, I ask him what the most important thing I needed to know about shepherding. He said that I must love the sheep. I thought that was a great answer. The Lord Jesus loved the sheep; he gave his life for them. We must be like the Lord Jesus and love the people. Sometimes they kick and complain and criticize you and others. They did that to the Lord also. But, you must love them. This is part of the imagery that you cannot pick up with the cooperation or CEO imagery. It is a love relationship and we give ourselves for them. The Lord Jesus literally died for the sheep and some of you may also have to die for your flock. You may even break your health and I know shepherds who have done that through caring for the Lord’s people.
And then, there is authority; this is also part of the imagery. We do have authority over the sheep to discipline and to teach and to protect and care for them. You see this in Titus 1:10-13, we are to sharply rebuke the false teacher. We are to silence them; that is part of our work. Now, our kind of authority is Christ like authority, but we do have authority to do the job God has given us to do. However, it must be used properly. So, the more you know about this wonderful concept of shepherding, the better you will be at it and the more skilled you will be at it.
C. Protect the Sheep
There are four aspects to shepherding; first, there is protecting. One of the emphases of the New Testament is that we protect sheep. That is why we can’t go to sleep; we can’t be unprepared. We can’t be fearful, for there are many enemies. And the false teachers are the arch enemies of the church and they don’t go to sleep nor do they give up, for they are constantly spreading their lies and their false Gospel. This is a spiritual battle and we are like David, we are there to stop the lion and the bear and then to do teaching. This is certainly the first duty of the elders; they are to teach. But we need to be effective in our teaching. When Ezekiel criticizes the shepherds of Israel, he says in Ezekiel 34:2, shouldn’t the shepherds feed the sheep? These shepherds were feeding themselves. That is how we protect the people, by good solid teaching. We are also to lead the people. One of the chief characteristics of sheep, they have no sense of direction. They get lost almost immediately. We must provide leadership for them; we must handle problems that arise giving direction and vision. We are there to guide people and answer questions and encourage them on and to motivate them. The chief criticism I have heard over the years about elders, they are not leading us. We need to improve our leadership skills. We need to lead them in and out and through all the problems and frustrations of human life. Let us be good leaders and know what it is to lead and be good shepherds. There is finally the practical care such as shearing the sheep and keeping them from fighting, keeping them clean. For us, it is counseling people, marrying people and burying them and ministering to families and just being there to attend their many needs. The apostle Peter and the Lord Jesus says, shepherd the flock of God; lead them, feed them, protect them and care for them. They are my sheep and I love the flock.