Shepherds in the Church

I read and recommend Jim Putman’s book called, “Church is a Team Sport.” As followers of Jesus, we know that the Bible uses the imagery of a shepherd to describe the leadership in a church, but many pastors and leaders fail to lead the sheep as God intends. Here are a few quotes from the book…

Jesus gave us the example of a true shepherd when He gave up His life for us. In Acts 20:28, Paul tells the elders to shepherd the flock of which he had made them overseers. He reminds the leaders in that passage that the sheep were purchased by God.

God describes His expectations of a shepherd in Ezekiel 34:2–10. [ read more about shepherds here and here ]

We see God judging the shepherds because they failed to fulfill their responsibility—they had not fed the sheep but only themselves.

In Ezekiel 34, the sheep were not cared for. When they were hurt, they were not nursed back to health. When they strayed or were lost, the shepherd didn’t look for them. They became food for wild animals. This is what happens in the church when God’s people are not shepherded.

Unfortunately, sheep stink, bite, and wander, and they can be stubborn. Yet God expects shepherds to care for His flock.

Many pastors teach but are not around when the sheep need help. Granted, a pastor can’t do everything, but his responsibility is to make sure all the positions on the team are filled.

Every coach needs to have a game plan for shepherding the hurting and chasing strays. We are often like the hired hand Jesus talks about. When the wolf comes, we run or ignore the plight of the sheep because we don’t really love them.

Sometimes, shepherding means getting dirty. People’s lives are messy, and it takes time for the Lord to clean them up. Too often our lives are so busy that the only people we can see ourselves working with are those who won’t take much time. We don’t think in terms of relationship; we think in terms of information.

Most of us think this means writing better sermons, but you have heard the true statement that “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” A leader must be someone who knows his sheep and understands their needs. He leads them, teaches them, and models for them how to serve God and others. There is mutual accountability and trust. The shepherd knows when his sheep have succeeded, and he celebrates with them. He knows when they feel defeated and need encouragement and support. He grieves with them, and when the sheep wander, he does all he can to get them back on track.

When a church becomes a shepherding community, when they care for the needs of others, when they help people beat the habits that have always beaten them, when they dare to be real, others can’t help but notice. They see joy and a change in the person they have always known, and they become interested—even excited. At the very least, they keep watching.

What We Need From Pastors

Today, I was reading Brian Dodd on Leadership. A good word for pastors…

We want our pastors to work on their craft, to be prepared, to think of new and creative ways to communicate the timeless message of Jesus Christ. But because of the over-abundance of pastoral talent and our access to it, we no longer need slickness and craftiness.

Here are a Few Things we Need:

  1. When you stand up on Sunday, we do not need you to impress us with your brilliance and insight. We just need to know you have been with alone with God and he has marked your life.
  2. We do not need a talk. We need you to have a message for us from the Ancient of Days addressing the issues we face at this point and time in human history.
  3. We need you to have calloused knees on our behalf.
  4. We need you to elevate the importance of the Bible. It is God’s Word on paper and we want to know what it says.
  5. We need you to preach the truth of Scripture, the virgin birth, the sinless life of Jesus, and Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.
  6. We need you to tell people there is a heaven and a hell and everyone will go to one or the other.
  7. We need you to challenge us to live righteous and holy lives.
  8. We need you to prioritize the pursuit of personal holiness over the pursuit of personal freedoms.
  9. We need you to be a picture of the desired destination at which you wish for us to arrive.
  10. We need you to put your relationship with God above all else and your family second.

Here are a Few Things we Need for You to Know:

  1. We need you to know how much we love and admire you.
  2. We need you to know how often we pray for you.
  3. We need you to know how much we appreciate the fact you could make far more money consulting or in corporate America but you choose to pastor sheep like us.
  4. We need you to know how much we look forward to hearing you each Sunday.
  5. We need you to know we have you and your family’s back.
  6. We need you to know we were glad you were there at our most defining moments – weddings, funerals, baptisms and baby dedications.
  7. We need you to know how sorry we are for saying stupid, uneducated, and ill-advised things we deeply regretted later on.
  8. We need you to know we should have paid you more.
  9. We need you to know that if you need anything, all you have to do is ask.
  10. We need you to know how glad we are you did not resign this past Monday but decided to come back for another Sunday.

[print_link] [email_link] [ Brian Dodd on Leadership ]

The Shepherd’s Sacrifice

Today is the day that we in the USA set aside to recognize and honor the place of mothers in our society.

Celebrations of mothers and motherhood can be traced back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, who held festivals in honor of their mother goddesses, but the clearest modern precedent for Mother’s Day is the early Christian festival known as “Mothering Sunday.” Once a major tradition in the United Kingdom and parts of Europe, this celebration fell on the fourth Sunday in Lent and was originally seen as a time when the faithful would return to their “mother church”—the main church in the vicinity of their home—for a special service.

The official Mother’s Day holiday arose in the 1900s as a result of the efforts of Anna Jarvis. Following her mother’s death in 1905, Anna Jarvis conceived of Mother’s Day as a way of honoring the sacrifices mothers made for their children. After gaining financial backing from a Philadelphia department store owner, in May 1908 she organized the first official Mother’s Day celebration at a Methodist church in Grafton, West Virginia.

Over the years, many towns and churches adopted the holiday and Mother’s Day became an official U.S. holiday in 1914, by Woodrow Wilson.

Get this, Jarvis would later denounce the holiday’s commercialization and spent the latter part of her life trying to remove it from the calendar.

On Mother’s Day we celebrate moms, and with good reason because they are always looking out for someone else, they sacrifice so much for others, they protect their children and their household, and mothers lead their families in ways that are best, right, and true. They are not like the nanny or the babysitter.

The babysitter is a hired hand, and while they may be looking out for the children while mom is away, it would be unusual for the hired hand to sacrifice themselves by running into a burning building to rescue the children. It is the maternal instinct that kicks in and allows a mother to make such a sacrifice.

Enter the shepherd in John chapter ten:

Today we are looking at a passage of Scripture that reveals the magnificence of our Good Shepherd. We are going to see how the heavenly shepherd behaves, and you will likely make an obvious connection to the sacrifices of earthly parents.

In John 10, this particular debate grew out of our Lord’s confrontation with Jewish leaders, following the excommunication of the blind beggar (John 9). Jesus had briefly spoken to the people about light and darkness, but here he changed the imagery to that of a shepherd and his sheep. Why? Because to the Jewish mind, a “shepherd” was any kind of leader, spiritual or political. People looked on the king and prophets as shepherds. Israel was privileged to be “the flock of the Lord” (Psalm 100:3).

Jesus opened his sermon with a familiar illustration (John 10:1–6), one that every listener would understand. The sheepfold was usually an enclosure made of rocks, with an opening for the door. The shepherd would guard the flock at night by lying across the opening. It was not unusual for several flocks to be sheltered together in the same fold. In the morning, the shepherds would get up, call to their sheep, and assemble their own flocks. Each sheep recognized his own master’s voice.

The true shepherd comes in through the door, and the sheep recognize him. The thieves and robbers could never enter through the door, so they have to climb over the wall and enter the fold through deception. But even if they did get in, they would never get the sheep to follow them, because sheep follow only the voice of their own shepherd. The false shepherds can never lead the sheep, so false shepherds have to steal them away.

It is unfortunate that John 10:1 is often used to teach that the sheepfold is heaven, and that those who try to get in by any way other than Christ are destined to fail. While the teaching is true (Acts 4:12 says there is no other name under heaven by which men can be saved), it is not based on this verse. Jesus made it clear that the fold is the nation of Israel (John 10:16). Did you know that Mormons use that verse and claim that THEY are the other sheep of which Jesus was referring? Jesus makes it clear that it is the Gentiles who are the “other sheep” not of the fold of Israel.

When Jesus came to the nation of Israel, he came the appointed way, just as the Scriptures promised. Every true shepherd must be called of God and sent by God. If he truly speaks God’s Word, the true sheep will “hear his voice” and not be afraid to follow him. The true shepherd will love the sheep and care for them.

Since the people did not understand his symbolic language, Jesus followed the illustration with some application (John 10:7–10). Twice He said, “I am the Door.” HE is the Door of the sheepfold and makes it possible for the sheep to leave the fold (the religion of Judaism) and to enter HIS flock. The Pharisees threw the beggar out of the synagogue, but Jesus led him out of Judaism and into the flock of God!

But the Shepherd does not stop with leading the sheep out; He also leads the sheep in. They become a part of the “one flock” (not “fold” – see John 10:16) which is his church. He is the Door of salvation (John 10:9). When you keep in mind that the shepherd actually was the “door” of the fold, this image becomes very real.

He is the DOOR for the Sheep (John 10:7-10). As the Door, Jesus delivers sinners from bondage and leads them into freedom. They have salvation! This word “saved” means “delivered safe and sound.” It was used to say that a person had recovered from severe illness, come through a bad storm, survived a war, or was acquitted at court.

Jesus was referring primarily to the religious leaders of that day (John 10:8). He was not condemning every prophet or servant of God who ever ministered before He came to earth. The statement “ARE thieves and robbers” (not “were”) makes it clear that He had the present religious leaders in mind. They were not true shepherds nor did they have the approval of God on their ministry. They did not love the sheep, but instead exploited them and abused them. The beggar was a good example of what the “thieves and robbers” could do.

It is clear in the Gospel record that the religious rulers of Israel were interested only in providing for themselves and protecting themselves. They turned God’s temple into a den of thieves (Matthew 21:13), and they plotted to kill Jesus so that Rome would not take away their privileges (John 11:49–53).

The True Shepherd came to save the sheep, but the false shepherds take advantage of the sheep and exploit them. Behind these false shepherds is “the thief” (John 10:10), which is probably a reference to Satan. The thief wants to steal the sheep from the fold, slaughter them, and destroy them.

When you go through “the Door,” you receive life and you are saved. As you go “in and out,” you enjoy abundant life in the rich pastures of the Lord. His sheep enjoy fullness and freedom. Jesus not only GAVE His life for us, but He GIVES His life to us right now!

Jesus also declares, “I Am the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11–21). This is the fourth of our Lord’s I AM statements in John’s Gospel (John 6:35; 8:12; 10:9). Certainly in making this statement, He is contrasting Himself to the false shepherds who were in charge of the Jewish religion of that day. He had already called them “thieves and robbers,” and now He would describe them as “hirelings.”

Some of the greatest people named in the Bible were shepherds by occupation: Abel, the patriarchs, Moses, and David, to name a few. Keep in mind that Jewish shepherds did not tend the sheep in order to slaughter them, unless they were used for sacrifice. Shepherds tended them that the sheep might give wool, milk, and lambs.

Jesus pointed out four special ministries that He performs as the Good Shepherd.

He DIES for the sheep (John 10:11–13). Under the old covenant, the sheep died for the shepherd; but now the Good Shepherd dies for the sheep! Five times in this sermon, Jesus clearly affirmed the sacrificial nature of His death (John 10:11, 15, 17–18). He did not die as a martyr, killed by men; He died as a substitute, willingly laying down His life for us.

Jesus contrasted Himself to the hireling who watches over the sheep only because he is paid to do so. But when there is danger, the hireling runs away, while the true shepherd stays and cares for the flock. The key phrase is “who is not the owner of the sheep” (John 10:12). The Good Shepherd purchases the sheep and they are His because He died for them. They belong to Him, and He cares for them.

Throughout the Bible, God’s people are compared to sheep; and the comparison is a good one. Sheep are clean animals, unlike pigs and dogs (2 Peter 2:20–22). They are defenseless and need the care of the shepherd (Psalm 23). They are, to use Wesley’s phrase, “prone to wander,” and must often be searched for and brought back to the fold (Luke 15:3–7). Sheep are peaceful animals, useful to the shepherd. In these ways, they picture those who have trusted Jesus Christ and are a part of God’s flock.

The Pharisees, in contrast to good shepherds, had no loving concern for the beggar of John 9, so they put him out of the synagogue. Jesus found him and cared for him.

He DISCERNS (knows) His sheep (John 10:14–15). In the Gospel of John, the word know means much more than intellectual awareness. It is more of an intimate relationship between God and His people (see John 17:3). The shepherd knows his sheep personally and therefore knows best how to minister to them.

To begin with, our Lord knows our names (see John 10:3). He knew Simon (John 1:42) and even gave him a new name. He called Zaccheus by name (Luke 19:5); and when He spoke Mary’s name in the garden, she recognized her Shepherd (John 20:16). If you have ever had your identity “lost” in a maze of computer operations, then you can appreciate the comforting fact that the Good Shepherd knows each of His sheep by name.

He also knows our natures. While all sheep are alike in their essential nature, each sheep has its own distinctive characteristics; and the loving shepherd recognizes these traits. One sheep may be afraid of high places, another of dark shadows. A faithful shepherd will consider these special needs as he tends the flock.

Have you ever noticed how different the 12 disciples were from one another? Peter was impulsive and outspoken, while Thomas was hesitant and doubting. Andrew was a “people person” who was always bringing somebody to Jesus, while Judas wanted to “use” people in order to get their money for himself. Jesus knew each of the men personally, and He knew exactly how to deal with them.

Because He knows our natures, He also knows our needs. Often, we don’t even know our own needs! Psalm 23 is a beautiful poetic description of how the Good Shepherd cares for His sheep. In the pastures, by the waters, and even through the valleys, the sheep need not fear, because the shepherd is caring for them and meeting their needs. If you connect Psalm 23:1 and 6, you get the main theme of the poem: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want … all the days of my life.”

As the shepherd cares for the sheep, the sheep get to know their shepherd better. The Good Shepherd knows His sheep and His sheep know Him. They get to know Him better by listening to His voice (the Word) and experiencing His daily care. As the sheep follow the Shepherd, they learn to love and to trust Him.

He DELIVERS (brings) other sheep into the flock (John 10:16). The “fold” is Judaism (John 10:1), but there is another fold—the Gentiles who are outside the covenants of Israel (Eph. 2:11ff). In our Lord’s early ministry, He concentrated on the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5–6; 15:24–27). While the people converted at Pentecost were Jews and Jewish proselytes (Acts 2:5, 14), the church was NOT to remain a “Jewish flock.” Peter took the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 10–11), and Paul carried the message to the Gentiles in the far reaches of the Roman Empire (Acts 13:1ff).

The missionary message of the Gospel of John is obvious: “For God so loved the world” (John 3:16). Jesus Himself defied custom and witnessed to a Samaritan woman. He refused to defend the exclusivist approach of the Jewish religious leaders. He died for a lost world, and His desire is that His people reach a lost world with the message of eternal life.

He has DOMINION over (takes up) His life (John 10:17–21) which benefits the sheep. This is a reference to his voluntary death was followed by his victorious resurrection. From the human point of view, it appeared that Jesus was executed; but from the divine point of view, he laid down his life willingly. Three days later, he voluntarily took up his life again and arose from the dead, demonstrating his dominion over sin and death.

Sometimes the Scriptures teach that it was the Father who raised the Son (Acts 2:32; Romans 6:4; Hebrews 13:20). Yet here, the Son stated that he had authority to take up his life again. Both are true, because the Father and the Son worked together in perfect harmony (John 5:17, 19).

I have one final D word, DIVISION. That is how the listeners responded to Jesus’ message. “There was a division therefore again among the Jews” (John 10:19). This is not the only time this word is used (John 7:43; 9:16). The old accusation that Jesus was a demon-possessed was hurled at him once again (John 7:20; 8:48, 52). People will do almost anything to avoid facing the truth!

We think this is only a Jesus story, this sort of thing doesn’t happen to us today. But whenever someone stands for the truth, stands for right, proposes something new that will enhance our worship experience or challenge us to grow in our faith and in numbers, it can cause division, even among God’s people. The root cause of this sort of division can be linked to our corporate attitude. Do we move ahead in faith, trusting God to move us to higher levels of commitment to Christ and his church? Or will we resist growth and change, and even the ability of God to work through us because we treat the traditions of men as doctrines of God?

Since Jesus Christ is “the Door,” we should expect a division, because a door shuts some people in and others out! He is the Good Shepherd, and the shepherd must separate the sheep from the goats. It is impossible to be neutral about Jesus Christ; because, what we believe about him is a matter of life or death (John 8:24).

In conclusion, let me tell you another shepherd story:

Two men were called on, in a large classroom, to recite the 23rd Psalm. One was a published orator trained in speech technique and drama. He repeated the psalm in a very powerful way. When he finished, the audience cheered and even asked for an encore that they might hear his wonderful voice again. (I think of Alexander Scourby reading the KJV Bible).

Then the other man, who was much older, repeated the same words–‘The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want…’ But when he finished, no sound came from the large class. Instead, people sat in a deep mood of devotion and prayer.

Then the first man, the orator, stood to his feet. ‘I have a confession to make,’ he said. ‘The difference between what you have just heard from my old friend, and what you heard from me is this: I know the Psalm, my friend knows the Shepherd.

So, do you know this Shepherd of whom I speak? It is a matter of faith to trust that he is who he said he is. Today can be your fresh start of salvation.

How can you be more attentive to the voice of Jesus? I remember playing out in the neighborhood all day and then it came time for supper. Each of my friends and I could easily pick out that one voice, their own mom’s voice, from all the others calling us home for dinner. Have you heard HIS voice? That one voice that calls you to himself?

How can you develop a closer connection to Jesus; through prayer, Bible study, serving others?

The Shepherd’s Staff

The Shepherd’s Staff – Ezekiel 34:7-16

This is a difficult and ambiguous time at King’s Grant Baptist Church. It is hard to take in that the person who has shepherded us for all these years has decided to leave us. Many couples have been married, many family members have been buried. A pastor goes through life with us, we were a family.

On the other side, now we feel alone, vulnerable, anxious, and to some degree we feel betrayed by the simple fact that our pastor is going to shepherd other people instead of us. Yes, we recognize God’s calling on his life, and sometimes following that call moves our ministers in a different direction, but we grieve the loss none the less.

There is no doubt that losing a pastor can be a time of upheaval for a church. When a pastor simply retires after long and faithful service (like Jerry), or if he moves on to another area of service in response to God’s leading (like Skip), it can be a time of sweet sorrow. We can, and should lift him up in prayer and encourage him in his new adventure.

But there is also a flip side. We grieve the loss, the ambiguity, and the anxiety, the uncertainty: who will faithfully teach us the Bible? Who will do our wedding? Who will preach my funeral? Who will train me to be all that God wants me to be for his kingdom’s sake?

Then there is the inevitable posturing for leadership by various members of a congregation. This is generally done because some people sense a vacuum of leadership now that the CEO is gone. The thought is that WE need to gain control of the situation, perhaps others feel that no one can better lead during this time than so and so, and during this election year, we can tend to campaign for taking on such leadership. After all this potential tension, it comes down to trusting the body of Christ, and in the Holy Spirit who is leading the people of King’s Grant Baptist Church.

In order to help us through this difficult time, we must first begin with an understanding of exactly whom the church belongs to. The church does not belong to the pastor or to the leadership or even to the congregation. While we embrace congregational rule and autonomy in a Baptist church, we cannot lose sight of the fact of whose church this really is.

The church belongs to Christ. The Bible says that Christ is the Head of the church. The word church (ekklesia) literally means the “assembly of the called-out ones.” These called-out ones gather together to worship the head of the church, our Savior, our Lord, our True Shepherd.

The church (all those who profess faith in Jesus Christ) is committed to following the leadership of Christ in all that we do; by obeying Him, and even presenting an accurate image of Christ to a lost world who is constantly watching. The church is the body of Christ. He died for His body, and His body dies daily in order to live for Him. Until and unless church leadership is committed to this biblical model and the congregation comes to grips with this truth, no pastor can really be successful.

So the first step in surviving the loss of a pastor is to understand the definition of the church. Additionally, we should be united in our understanding of and our commitment to the church, both the local church and the universal church. A lot of church conflict comes from a lack of unity in the beliefs of the church and the commitments of the church to its mission and purpose. The church is not about US, the church is about and FOR him. So, before beginning to seek a new pastor, the church, the body, must agree on the true leader of the church.

It is amazing that when we have a proper Christology, other issues become very clear. As an example, our understanding of Christ will determine our understanding of our mission; which in turn determines our understanding of church. We cannot get this out of order. For the visually inspired, it looks something like this:

Christology-Missiology-EcclesiologySecond, the church must understand and be committed to the sovereignty of God in all things. Nothing that happens is a surprise to God, God allowed this to accomplish his will and his purposes, for US and for HIM. God has assured us that, all things work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). The church can take comfort in the knowledge that we are being led by the sovereign God who is involved in the details of everyday life and the ministry of his church.

Third, the departure of a pastor is a good time to reevaluate and/or redefine the mission and work of the church. There are obvious commands from Scripture—teaching and preaching the Word of God, being a people of prayer, worshipping and glorifying our heavenly Father, and fulfilling the Great Commission to make disciples. But we have to ask ourselves if we have moved from our original calling to be on mission; living with purpose and intentionality. Have we embraced a more comfortable lifestyle and do we emphasize our own worship preferences? We must ask the question, as John says in the Revelation, “Have we lost our first love, and left the mission and vision that Jesus has for us?” Leaving our first love can manifest itself by promoting our own desires and preferences over Jesus and his mission, the lost, and God’s calling us to be on mission with him.

All this is to say, God is in charge, so we don’t have to take control of the situation. He knew that we would be going this long before the announcement was ever made. Nothing catches God off guard, and we don’t have to worry. Cast all your cares on him because he cares for you, Peter tells us (1 Peter 5:7). I believe that God is going to teach us something during this time. While our local shepherd has left us, the Good Shepherd will never leave us nor forsake us. We are NOT lost sheep and we are NOT left as orphans. God has a plan for us and we must simply trust that he is looking out for us!

This church has gathered under the leadership of the Holy Spirit; we have among us a fine group of servant leaders. You have a capable and faithful staff that is in place to care for the needs of this congregation and offer leadership during this interim time. It is my desire that the congregation have confidence in your current staff to guide us through this time of change and uncertainty.

Ok, so let’s get to this passage about shepherds in Ezekiel 34.

This passage begins with a look at the ungodly leaders of Israel, and the apostasy of the kings of Israel. When ungodly leaders lead God’s people, everyone suffers. While they are called “shepherds,” they are actually political leaders, perhaps kings. Of Israel’s 20 kings, ALL of them were weak, unspiritual, and evil leaders. Of the 20 kings of Judah, only six were good. Godliness was missing from every aspect of community life, just take a look at Ezekiel 22. Leaders used their strength to shed blood (Ezekiel 22:4, 6), prophets devoured people and seized their valuables, they multiplied widows (Ezekiel 22:25), the priests did violence and profaned the holy things of God (Ezekiel 22:26). So, with leaders like this, who will blame the people for practicing extortion, robbery, oppression of the poor, or exploitation of the foreigners, (Ezekiel 22:29). There is a great and sober truth at play here: people learn by example.

There was an absence of leadership in every way possible. And because if it, the Lord counted them all guilty of violating his trust and he announced their destruction. As a result, God’s lament over the situation is recorded in Ezekiel 22:30, “I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one.” The people needed a leader who would challenge them toward personal holiness and embrace God’s global purpose.

This verse of Scripture, Ezekiel 22:30, reminds me of a song years ago by Al Denson, called “Be the One”

In a world full of broken dreams, Where the truth is hard to find
For every promise that is kept, There are many left behind
Though it seems that nobody cares, It still matters what you do
Cause there’s a difference you can make, But the choice is up to you

Will you be the one, To answer to His call
Will you stand, When those around you fall
To take His light, Into a darkened world
Tell me will you be the one?

Instead of having leaders who were consumed by God’s glory, God’s mission, and leading the people for their own good, Israel’s shepherds were concerned with themselves, (Ezekiel 34:2). Look at some of the issues revealed in Ezekiel 34:1-8…

The False Shepherds (Ezekiel 34:1-8)

  1. They feed and water themselves (Ezekiel 34:1-3)
  2. They refuse to care for the weak, sick, injured (Ezekiel 34:4)
  3. They allow wild animals to devour them (Ezekiel 34:5-8)

It was the responsibility of the shepherds, the leaders, to care for the people, to protect them, and to see to it that their needs were met. But these selfish leaders of the kingdom of Israel had abused and exploited the people because they thought only of themselves.

The leaders not only exploited the sheep but they also abused them by neglecting to meet their needs. Sheep require constant care, but the leaders didn’t manage the nation’s affairs for the sake of the sheep, but for their own profit. They didn’t care for the sheep at all, but only for themselves. As I put this together, I thought, any resemblance to those in DC is purely coincidental.

False shepherds of the Old Testament had led the nation to ruin, yet God will come to rescue his people. True leaders don’t exploit their people—they sacrifice for them. Jesus, the true shepherd, set the example by laying down His life for His flock (John 10:10). I’ll talk more about this on Mother’s Day May 8.

Rather than focus on the ungodly shepherds of their day, I want to focus on that which God expects of US today, for the leaders of his sheep.

When I was a kid, one of my favorite shows was called, “the Dukes of Hazard.” At least once each week Uncle Jessie would get on the CB radio and call out, “Shepherd to lost sheep, shepherd to lost sheep, y’all got your ears on?” So, in this passage, while God has stern words for the shepherds, he will also comfort his people, because he has a message for his lost sheep.

God may have been chastising the shepherds, but he never gave up on his sheep. Check out what he expected the shepherd to do.

The Faithful Shepherd (Ezekiel 34:11-16)

  1. He seeks the sheep (Ezekiel 34:11)
  2. He cares for his sheep (Ezekiel 34:12a)
  3. He delivers or rescues his sheep (Ezekiel 34:12b)
  4. He gathers his sheep (Ezekiel 34:13)
  5. He feeds his sheep (Ezekiel 34:14-15a)
  6. He leads his sheep (Ezekiel 34:15b)
  7. He pastors his sheep (Ezekiel 34:16)
    1. Positive: seeks the lost, brings back the scattered, binds the broken, strengthens the sick (Ezekiel 34:16a)
    2. Negative: destroys the fat and strong, feeding them with judgment

I want you to notice the personal pronouns used in this section, Ezekiel 34:11-16. These are first person promises, some 25 promises in all. These promises include judgment as well as deliverance. When we read about all of the exploitation of the kings, these “I will” statements in Ezekiel 34 suggest God’s determination to be involved in the lives and destinies of his people. No longer will there be a human mediator between God and his people. The Messiah was to be the shepherd of God’s people.

God was leading the sheep for their own good, not as Israel’s shepherds had done, who were in it for themselves. After reading this list of what the faithful shepherd is going to do, why would the people of God want a different kind of king over them, other than God?

What about us? God wants to have authority over us, but we often feel that his authority is NOT in our best interest. Is he really looking out for us? Don’t I get a say in this? I have all of my life goals and plans, or the vision for this church, all set and they’re beginning to unfold, so don’t come in a make me change anything. Let me tell you, immediate obedience to God is always in our best interest; disobedience always brings vulnerability and downfall.

God wants to lead us for our own good. He is not a tyrant; he is one who wants to relate to us and carefully lead his sheep.

What I see here is actually pretty staggering; but the truth is that we DO NOT deserve this type of leadership. In case we are viewing ourselves as defenseless, fluffy, innocent sheep who are worthy of a sacrificial leader, we should always remember that just like Israel, we have often rejected God’s leadership. Perhaps we have even hated God’s leadership. In fact, every sin that we commit is actually a profession that WE are really in charge. Each sin is a reminder of our OWN reign in our lives, and a demotion of God’s reign. And we are ALL guilty, “All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way;” (Isaiah 53:6).

In spite of our rebellion, God has never wavered from his desire to reconcile sinners to himself. No one has ever sacrificed so much, his own Son, to bring an ungrateful people into his presence.

So during this time of uncertainty of not having a senior pastor, I trust that you will have confidence in God’s direction and leadership, and in the earthly shepherds that our heavenly father has provided. We need, and have, shepherds (your staff members) who are looking out for your best interests. We are here to love you, care for you. We are here to challenge you to strive for God’s best, and to take risks for the kingdom’s sake. You are not left as orphans because our pastor is gone. This time in the life of our church is cause to embrace the True Shepherd who cares for us more than any earthly human being is ever able to do. Don’t fret, don’t worry, but have confidence in God, in our Savior, and in his timing. Anticipate and expect much greater things in our future. For his glory and his honor! Amen.

Next Steps:

  1. Will you commit yourself to prayer during this time, as we seek a new pastor?
  2. Will you commit yourself to others in this church through faithful participation and active service?
  3. Will you put your own desires and personal preferences aside as we seek to become a church focused on God’s mission and global purpose?
  4. In what ways will you seek the lost? Bring back the scattered? Bind the broken? Strengthen the sick? Feed or lead the sheep?
  5. In what ways will you meet the needs of others during this time of uncertainty?

Sheep Are Led, Not Driven

I was recently reading some A. W. Tozer on leadership; very sobering and needed in American cultural Christianity…

Cattle are driven; sheep are led; and our Lord compares his people to sheep, not to cattle.
It is especially important that Christian ministers know the law of the leader—that he can lead others only as far as he himself has gone.

Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. For he is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand.—Psalm 95:6-7

The minister must EXPERIENCE what he would teach or he will find himself in the impossible position of trying to drive sheep. For this reason he should seek to CULTIVATE his OWN heart before he attempts to preach to the hearts of others.

If he tries to bring them into a heart knowledge of truth which he has not actually experienced he will SURELY FAIL. In his frustration he may attempt to drive them; and scarcely anything is so disheartening as the sight of a vexed and confused shepherd using the lash on his bewildered flock in a vain attempt to persuade them to go on beyond the point to which he himself has attained.

The law of the leader tells us who are preachers that it is better to cultivate our souls than our voices. It is better to polish our hearts than our pulpit manners, though if the first has been done well and successfully it may be profitable for us to do the second. We cannot take our people beyond where we ourselves have been, and it thus becomes vitally important that we be men of God in the last and highest sense of that term.

[ The Price of Neglect, 151-153 ]