The Pastor as Shepherd

No title that a minister of the Gospel shares is more picturesque than that of “shepherd.” It is the title Jesus assumed in John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd.” The title was filled with practical and rich association because Jesus moved among and ministered to a pastoral people. Their heritage was anchored in the nomadic culture of their forefathers.

While the figure of the shepherd is not one with which a modern high tech society would readily identify, the pastoral allusions are not obscure to the person who has some historical perspective or biblical background.

The imagery of John 10:11 is that Jesus is the Good Shepherd as contrasted to the hireling or poor shepherd. The latter does the job for pay with a minimum of commitment. The hireling will shepherd within the parameters of the normal but will not demonstrate a caring that could be costly.

The picture of the shepherd is one of a strong defender who wields the weaponry of the trade to protect the sheep. The shepherd is a leader-provider. When some of the resources that make for a strong and healthy flock may be absent, the shepherd leads the flock to the grasses that are green and waters that are still. A unique and intimate exists between shepherd and sheep. The shepherd communicated well. The flock knows the shepherd’s voice and the shepherd knows the flock. So sharp and distinct is that relationship that the sheep will not follow a stranger.

The ultimate in caring is expressed in that the shepherd will lay down his/her life for the sheep. The shepherd will scale the treacherous precipice to rescue the one that is lost or has strayed. The sheepfold will be guarded with the shepherd’s own being and the staff will be wielded with skill and wisdom to ward off predators and poachers.

The shepherd role of the pastor is one which expresses ultimate caring. In a real measure, the roles of preacher, administrator, prophet, and priest are at the least impoverished if the clergy does not have the shepherd’s concern, the pastoral heart.

The shepherd must lead the people as opposed to following them. Leadership that will bring nourishment and sustain spiritual health must be provided. The people must be defended with skill so that they will not be destroyed by the ravenous forces of overt evil or subtle ignorance. The shepherd must have a fearless commitment to the preservation of the flock.

None of these can be successfully fulfilled without intimacy and knowledge. The pastor must know the church congregation in a way that will enable speaking and ministering with compassion and authority because he/she has walked in their shoes, broken bread with them, sat where they sat, cried when they cried, and laughed when they laughed.

The pastor is not “The Shepherd.” The clergy is an undershepherd of the Lord who is the Good Shepherd. The pastors’ skills, abilities, sensitivity, strength, and leadership must all be graced by the presence of Christ and empowered by His Spirit. Without the constraining power of a holy passion, a professional shepherd, regardless of skills, is just a hireling.

The shepherd never looks upon the congregation as ignorant and uninformed. The shepherd compassionately loves, leads, and serves in the name of Christ.