Pastors, We Are Shepherds
Pastor, you are a shepherd. It seems redundant to say this since the word “pastor” means shepherd, but sadly this is a necessary reminder today. Leadership in the church is very different than leadership in the world. While there might be some similarities and crossover, God’s qualifications and job descriptions for church leaders are very different than what is esteemed in most secular leadership positions. Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusion about leadership in the church as the world’s vision of leadership has leaked into the church. Words like visionary, great communicator, charisma, business savvy, marketing ingenuity, energetic, bright, intelligent and dynamic are sought after pastoral commodities. Even terms like hip, cool, and engaging are used to describe pastors today. The Bible uses very different descriptions for church leaders: humble (1 Pet 5:5), godly (1 Tim 4:7), faithful (Eph 6:21), selfless (Phil 2:17), student (2 Tim 2:15), and teacher (1 Tim 3:2), just to name a few. Many others could be listed but perhaps the greatest description of contrast is evidenced by the simple title that many church leaders go by—pastor. A pastor is a shepherd and the church needs shepherds.
Scripture often highlights this shepherding motif for church leaders. In 1 Peter 5:2, Peter exhorts his fellow elders to “shepherd the flock of God among you.” In the next verse he appeals to this terminology again in calling elders to be “examples to the flock” (1 Pet 5:3). Paul also uses this terminology when exhorting the Ephesian elders: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock” (Acts 20:28). In the next verse he warns that “fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:29). In Ephesians 4:11-12 Paul explains that pastors and teachers are given to the church “to equip the saints for the work of ministry.” The ESV actually translates the word pastor here as shepherd. Church leaders are called to be shepherds.
What do shepherds do? To state the obvious, shepherds care for sheep. Most are familiar with this basic idea, but the idea of shepherding is actually a very foreign concept to our thinking. While there are certainly exceptions, most people in our country are not very familiar with sheep, and most people do not know a shepherd. In fact, the label “shepherd” has an almost archaic feeling. I don’t think I have ever heard of a child growing up who says, “Mom, Dad, I want to be a shepherd.” We are familiar with the word, but it is a very foreign idea that we know little about. In contrast, when Peter and Paul used this term, their audiences were more familiar with this imagery. Shepherds watched over sheep, fed sheep, lead sheep, protected sheep, nourished sheep, restored sick or injured sheep, and cared for sheep. Shepherds lived with the sheep and for the sheep. Their life was all about the sheep. This was not a glamorous job or a popular job. Shepherding was dirty, smelly, exhausting, laborious, tedious, and had long hours. Sheep ran away, got lost, found trouble, bit, and were stubborn. At times, even when the shepherd was trying to help, the sheep did not want shepherding. The sheep never stopped being sheep, and the shepherd never stopped being a shepherd.
This is the chosen imagery the Lord uses to describe church leaders. We are shepherds. We are shepherds, or maybe better stated, undershepherds beneath the great shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the chief shepherd (1 Pet 5:4), the head of the church (Col 1:18), and the perfect shepherd (Jn 10:1-19). Ultimately, the sheep are His sheep, whom He loves so much that He laid down His life for them (Jn 10:11, 15, 17). Following this example of sacrificial love, the Lord has called pastors to care for His sheep. Pastors do not replace Christ. Quite the contrary, as sheep themselves the job of pastors is to point people to Christ who is the true good shepherd (Jn 10:1-19; Ps 23). Yet this vivid imagery is the chosen job description for leaders in the church. Pastors, we are shepherds.
Sadly, in our day and age, like the term shepherd, the idea of a pastor being a shepherd is in danger of becoming an archaic idea. Our title should remind us what pastoral ministry is about. A pastor is not called to be a CEO. He is not called to be a great visionary. He is not an entertainer or a comedian. While he needs to be able to preach and teach the Scriptures, his goal is not even to be a great orator that wows the audience with fanciful words. The pastor is not called to be a motivational speaker or have charisma that lights up a room when he walks on stage. He is not called to be a business genius or a marketing guru. His job is not to be inspirational. A pastor is not called to be relevant, cool, hip, in, stylish, trendy or radical. Likewise, the pastor is not called to be old-fashioned, antiquated or intentionally outdated. What is a pastor called to do? Just what his title declares—he is to be a shepherd, a shepherd of the sheep. This is God’s design for church leadership. While one may possess other strengths and talents that benefit spiritual leadership, may we never forget what pastoral ministry is about: shepherding the flock of God. Pastor, you are a shepherd! While the world and sadly even some churches may not esteem such a job description, this is the calling of God for our lives.
Justin McKitterick is one of our nine TES campus pastors, having served as the Pastor-Teacher of Grace Community Church in Jacksonville, Florida since 2011.