Shepherds That Lead (Nov-Dec 2000)

By Matt Dabbs

by Lydia M. Guillot
November – December, 2000

In the Old Testament, shepherds that led the flocks were of one or two types. There was the shepherd that, when he saw hurting or wounded sheep, tended to them. For those animals that were doing just fine, the shepherd fed and watered them and made sure they were protected from the elements. What we today would call routine maintenance. This shepherd also looked to the stragglers, providing them with just enough impetus to keep them in the flock, never taking away their freedom, but always making them feel they were a part of the flock. In fact, the shepherd went out of his way to bring the sheep back to the fold, knowing there were scavengers just waiting to devour these sheep. The shepherd led the flock in a way that made you know they understood each individual sheep. That way, each individual sheep was useful to the shepherd and others, for wool, for food, and for sacrificial offerings. This is Jesus’ perception of a good shepherd: the one that sacrifices his life for his sheep, who stays with his sheep and doesn’t lead them astray. The one that knows his sheep by their name and whose sheep know him. (John 10:7-18)

And then there were the shepherds who only wanted to see that the flock increased, and only wanted to ensure the flock was of the mainstream. He wanted a certain type of sheep, never looked to the stragglers, or those who were sick and hurting. Oh, maybe he looked to the sheep that had superficial wounds, maybe those with bruises. But let his sheep have defects or deeper needs and the sheep were considered outcasts, and were not really looked after by the shepherd. Why? He had to keep the mainstream happy. Besides, looking to those that were wounded or that were stragglers would take away from the shepherd’s time with the majority. Deep wounds and stragglers take time to deal with, and this shepherd wanted sheep that would heal quickly and without too much effort. He had to make sure that the mainstream was happy and numerous, rather than preparing them for service. It was a case of the shepherds being led by the flock. It is this shepherd that Jesus refers to as the hireling, and the sheep are not really his.

What according to Jesus is the difference in shepherds? The first difference is show each shepherd saw perfection. The first shepherd had a completely different idea of what perfection was than his counterpart. The first never infringed on the individual thoughts, feelings, etc. He knew his sheep and his sheep knew him and they grew together like family, achieving spiritual perfection. The second shepherd was trying to ensure that all were included and that after a fashion all were happy. While this looks good on paper, it doesn’t allow for individuals who may not fit into the perception of what makes everyone happy. And this shepherd was not living up to the purpose of being a shepherd, at least not in the biblical sense.

This brings the reader to the second difference in shepherds according to Jesus: The purpose of being a shepherd. The first shepherd understood that his main purpose was to serve his flock, but serve in such a way that the flock understood how to serve. That is, to lead by serving. It was up to the shepherd to train his sheep to move along the right path without taking away the individual qualities and talents that made each sheep special and important in the eyes of the shepherd.

The second shepherd had a completely diferent purpose. His purpose was not to see that his flocks served, but to see that his flock grew. But it wasn’t just that. Instead of trying to see that each was on the right path, he wanted to ensure each was of a particular type. And so the shepherd enabled his sheep to get them to that point. He controlled his sheep, afraid of losing healthy ones from the flock. Not realizing that attrition happens naturally. Instead of following the Lord’s purpose in being a shepherd, this shepherd acted according to this own purpose.

God, through Jeremiah (23:2), warns all shepherds, or pastors, of these differences, to make sure that each person who is asked to serve as a pastor actually sees to the basic needs of his flock, but also to keep them on the right path. The pastors in Jeremiah’s day were misleading their people by forgetting the true purpose of being in God’s family, so that the Temple financial needs and greeds were attained. Jeremiah was trying to convince his people to return to God, to get back to the basics of doing what God wanted. He wanted them to realize that God provides. Today, we must take that to heart. Our needs, physical emotional, and spiritual, will be taken care of by God (Matthew 6:25ff). Our goal, in the flock, is to serve him, which may be through serving each other, washing each other’s feet, instead of being concerned about what we need. The shepherd’s goal is to ensure that we never forget that our purpose is to serve him. We may not like the way we are asked to serve, it may not seem to meet our needs. But when we obey God and are seeking to please him, what more do we need? Cannot the Good Shepherd take cae of us? It is the pastor’s purpose to help us remember that. So many times pastors want to enter the modern age, in order to reach more people, in order that more people could come into the fold. An admirable goal, truly.

But while that sounds good on paper, how is that teaching God’s people to have a heart to serve him? How is that relying on God, and not us, to add to the fold? Is that not where our goal lies, instead of looking to what meets our needs? Is it not our reliance on God? Is that not what separates a Christian from someone not in his heart of hearts? By doing things to enter into the modern age, does that not try to fill holes that God should fill? Does that not teach us to forget what reliance on God does, even though in our services we may continually spread his name around? There is a warning in Isaiah about that, as well. God’s people were sacrificing and invoking God’s name over and over and over but God didn’t hear them, because they were not living according to God’s purpose, and they were accepting worship at the Asherah poles, in front of strange altars. The modern age has nothing we need to help us survive. By conforming to the world via trying to imitate the modern age, we are not even allowing our minds to be transformed (Romans 12:2).

God must do the adding to our flock, not us, although we can be useful in adding to the flock. May we not sacrifice his word and purpose, for our purpose.Wineskins Magazine

 

Lydia M. Guillot

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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