It’s interesting to me that one of the prominent ways God defined leadership was through shepherding. Moses’ leadership of Israel was likened to that of a shepherd (Ps. 77:20). God chose the young David to shepherd Israel just as he did sheep (Ps. 78:71; 2 Sam. 5:2). The elders of a local congregation are told to “shepherd the church” (Acts 20:28).
Shepherds care for the sheep. The main role, function, the primary responsibility of shepherds is sheep. Caring for the sheep. Feeding the sheep. Leading the sheep. Protecting the sheep. It’s all about the sheep. Any other role or responsibility, whether if it’s buildings or budgets, plans or meetings, must be seen as secondary to their primary objective – sheep. In the words of Acts 6:2, there are more important things they cannot neglect for the sake of the lesser important things.
Hebrews 13:17 gives the reminder that the role of these shepherds is to “keep watch over the souls” in their congregation. Understanding this ought to change the way we look at this role. It ought to change what dominates the focus of elders meetings or agendas. What good is a new parking lot if the members who park there are struggling spiritually? What good is a freshly painted building if those who worship there are drifting, hurting, in great need and the shepherds remain unaware?
Here are three responsibilities shepherds have towards their sheep:
1. Shepherds Set the Example (1 Peter 5:3)
Peter teaches that the shepherd leads by example. It’s not pointing from the sidelines and giving orders. Rather it is leading the way – showing how the work is to be done by demonstrating that work. The way to help a congregation get engaged is not merely bas asking them, or telling them, but by showing them. It’s not leading merely by words, but by action.
Does the congregation need to grow in their hospitality? What would work more, having the order the group to do so, or the elders having people in their homes, leading the way by doing so themselves?
What about evangelism? What would greater spark an interest in the church of being involved sharing the gospel – being told over and over again that they need to do so, or if the shepherds were seen active in this area – inviting others to services, leading Bible studies in homes, etc.
The church will follow your example, so give them an excellent example to follow.
2. Shepherds Know the Sheep (Proverbs 27:23)
There’s an old quote that said about elders, “they smell like sheep.” Someone only smells like sheep by spending a lot of time around the sheep. That’s the role of the shepherd. You are to know your flock. Christ, our good Shepherd knows His sheep (John 10:3, 14, 27).
What does it mean to know the sheep? I’d venture to say it’s more than their name, their occupation, their hobbies and favorite sports teams. That’s the beginning.
- How’s their walk with the Lord? Are they growing? Are they struggling? Are they drifting? Do they need some help? Are they discouraged? Are they going through some hardship? Are they in a spiritual rut? Are they zealous? Has the spiritual fire gone out?
- How is their family? How is their marriage? How are their children and their relationship with God?
- What talents do they have? What are some of their strengths? Are they being used well?
- Are there some areas of their walk with God where they are weaker? Are there areas they would like some help improving?
This shows us you cannot learn all of this information through our few moments together after services. To be a shepherd is to be involved and invested in the lives of the people. Listen to that Proverb again – “know well the condition of your flock.” Are they hungry? Are they eating enough? Are they eating the right food? Are they sick? Are they injured? Are they wandering? Are they lost? Would I know?
To know the sheep the shepherd must offer his time – the one thing we just never seem to have enough of. Yet the one thing that is crucial to this role is time spent with people. How special is it to see the shepherds taking an active interest in the souls of the congregation – when a shepherd takes you out to lunch just to see how you’re doing and if they can help today. Or when a shepherd comes to a young persons’ game or recital. Or when you’re at the hospital for a loved one, and out in the waiting room are the shepherds and their wives.
Do you know your sheep?
3. Shepherds Lead the Sheep (Psalm 23)
The shepherd psalm teaches us a lot about shepherding and leadership. One thing to notice is how the emphasis put on leading. He took the sheep to the green pastures (v. 2), he leads them beside the quiet waters (v. 2), he leads them in the paths of righteousness (v. 3). He is taking them somewhere. Shepherds lead the sheep.
Leading implies a goal in mind – a destination, a direction, a goal. This shepherd is taking the sheep to a place of nourishment (green pastures), to a place they ca ben refreshed and quench their thirst (still waters), to a place where they could grow and mature (paths of righteousness).
Where are shepherds of a local church to lead their sheep? Of course the ultimate goal is heaven, home with God, but what about greater spiritual growth? What about helping each soul mature, to become more like Jesus and increase and abound in their service in Christ’s Kingdom?
It’s asking questions like, “In 5 years, where will this church be? Closer to the Lord? Experiencing growth numerically? Growth spiritually? Adding more shepherds and deacons?” The more important question is, “Since, as a shepherd, I know these people, where should they be in 5 years? Growing? Learning? Improving? Overcoming certain struggles?” And once you ask those questions, you follow up with, “What will we do to achieve it?” Will it take special Bible classes or studies? Maybe some one on one time with some members who are facing hardships and struggles? Maybe giving some members more responsibilities to prepare them for future roles of leading and serving in the future?
The shepherd of psalm 23 didn’t happen upon the place of rest. He didn’t stumble upon the still waters. He didn’t come to the paths of righteousness by accident. He led them there. In the hymn, “Heavenly Love Abiding,” one verse says, “He knows the way He’s taking, and I will walk with Him.” Do you know where you are leading the sheep entrusted to your care?
God knew what He was doing when He gave these roles of leadership in a local congregation. When shepherds lead and care for the sheep, and when sheep listen and follow their shepherds, great things take place. Souls are strengthened. Sheep remain safe. We grow and learn. And God is glorified.
By Jordan Shouse