Principles for Faithful Shepherding
The Bible frequently uses the illustration of shepherding to describe a vital component of the Christian life. God regularly describes Himself as a shepherd, His people as sheep, and faithful ministry as shepherding work. Shepherding is essentially illustrative language for spiritual leadership—it’s a picture of Christian leadership. To shepherd is to exert a faithful influence and to provide spiritual protection for those whom the Lord has put under your care.
The work of shepherding is designed to take place within several spheres of the Christian life. We must shepherd our own hearts by dealing with sin, cultivating faith and pursuing devotion to Christ. We must shepherd those whom God has placed under our spiritual care, like our kids, our wives, and the individuals we are discipling. We must also submit to the shepherding cycle God has designed for the church by placing ourselves under qualified and faithful pastors and elders.
The objective of shepherding is not to control other people’s lives or dictate their every decision. The goal of shepherding is conformity to Christ through conviction of truth. In other words, the role of a shepherd is to employ and apply the truth in the lives of the sheep so they will be more like Christ. In order to be faithful as shepherds we must take this responsibility seriously and consider several vital principles that guide us on how to be a faithful shepherds.
1. Faithful shepherds must know the truth for their sheep (Jer 3:15).
The sheep God have placed under you do not need your opinions and preferences; they need the truth of Scripture if they are going to be saved and sanctified. Faithful shepherds must know the Word and be able to root the direction of their leadership in the Word, and they must be able to bring clarity to the life of their sheep with the Word.
2. Faithful shepherds must engage their sheep with the truth (1 Thess 5:14).
Shepherding requires communication with the sheep. If you see areas of spiritual danger or the need for spiritual growth, you must address these areas of concern with biblical direction. Sheep can’t follow if shepherds aren’t leading. Additionally, they remain vulnerable to wolves if shepherds aren’t protecting. As a shepherd, it is your responsibility to speak into the lives of your sheep with the truth
3. Faithful shepherds must patiently love their sheep (1 Pet 3:7; Eph 4:15).
Shepherds must exhibit a gentleness that comes from patiently loving the sheep. It is not enough to expose the sheep to the truth—shepherding requires that the truth be employed in love. The love that desire the good of the sheep will also be patient when sheep are stubborn and unresponsive, remembering that convictional change that leads to Christ-like growth requires time and truth.
4. Faithful shepherds must intentionally lead their sheep (John 10:12).
The best shepherding is intentional, which is to say it is thoughtful and proactive. It thoughtfully considers the needs of the sheep, the biblical principles that address those needs, and the wisest manner in which to meet those needs. It proactively leads in spiritual matters rather than always reacting to circumstances and conflict. Shepherds must be vigilant to prepare themselves and the sheep for the dangers that might lie ahead.
5. Faithful shepherds must humbly model the truth for their sheep (1 Pet 5:3).
Shepherds must model the growth in Christlikeness they seek in their sheep. Without a personal pattern of faithfulness, a shepherd will have very little credibility by which he can speak into the life of others. Shepherds must model the conviction and Christlikeness they seek in the sheep, and be willing to repent when they fall short of that standard.
Paul Shirley is a graduate of The Expositors Seminary and has served as the pastor of Grace Community Church in Wilmington, Delaware since 2011.