What Does it Mean that a Pastor is a Shepherd?

God has given pastors a very clear job description in the Bible. Central to that role is shepherding. Peter provides instruction regarding what the shepherding role of a pastor is to entail: “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away” (1 Peter 5:2-4).

As someone who was a pastor for nearly twenty years, I read these words and feel the weight of responsibility to the Chief Shepherd. The word that should jump out is the word entrusted. Pastors are entrusted with a great responsibility—the souls of people in a congregation. Sadly, we are all to familiar with pastoral malpractice where a pastor neglects, abandons, abuses, or uses a congregation for his own selfish gain. Equally as common is the pastor who functions as CEO and operates a church like a corporation. The larger a church gets, the further away from the sheep a pastor becomes. Shepherds need to have the smell of sheep on their hands.

I was prompted to think about the role of the pastor shepherd after a recent conversation with a pastor. The pastor is making a philosophical shift from a discipleship-oriented ministry to an evangelism-focused, seeker approach. All pastors feel a tension between evangelism and discipleship, but one of the two will always lead the way in preaching, program details, and primary audience. The seeker-model moves the focus from congregation to community and operates on pragmatism, consumerism, and a faulty theology of the church. It is a proven church growth strategy, so many pastors are attracted to it like a pig to slop because it will help them grow their numbers. Of course, all this happens under the banner of reaching the lost. Therefore, no sacrifice is too great, including the loss of individuals already under the shepherding care of the pastor. They are the sacrificial sheep on the alter of ministry. Pragmatically, it is fine to lose individuals as long as the church regains more. In their mind, growth justifies the decision. Nothing could be further from the shepherding heart of God than this mindset. Let us all rejoice when a new individual comes to faith in Christ, but this is not justification to abandon some of the flock.

It is important to have a clear theology of the church and understand God’s purpose for the gathered community. When the church is gathered its primary purpose is the exaltation of God and the edification, equipping, and encouragement of believers. Preaching done well will always be gospel-centered, but with a focus on calling the believing community to grow in Christ and reach the lost. The great commission is not a summons to come and see, but a call to go and tell. When the church is scattered throughout the week, they are given the responsibility of being salt and light to the community and sharing the gospel with those who need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. With all of that in mind, I thought it would be helpful to briefly explore what the Bible says about the role of the pastor shepherd in the Bible.

Examples of Shepherd Leaders

Throughout the Bible we see examples of shepherding to care for God’s people. The Old Testament gives us human examples to keep watch over God’s people. God said to David, “You will shepherd my people Israel and you will become their ruler” (2 Samuel 78:72). Moses “brought his peoples out like a flock; he led them like sheep through desert” (Psalm 78:52). Isaiah says of Moses, “He brought them through the sea, with the shepherd of his flock” (Isaiah 63:11).

God used shepherd-leaders such as David and Moses to guide and care for Israel. The Old Testament Prophets called back the sheep that had gone astray and pointed to the God shepherd to come. Those who lead in the church are by definition a shepherd. If you are in a leadership role, what kind of shepherd are you? If you serve in ministry under a shepherd’s leadership, what kind of sheep are you?

Shepherd leadership is manifested in God

If I asked you “Who is God?” Would shepherd rise to the top of your description of him? One of the names God chooses for himself is shepherd. In Psalm 23:1 we are told that the Lord is my shepherd I shall not want. God is the ultimate provider, protector and guider for his sheep. “I shall not want.” Nothing is lacking in his care for us. The Psalmist calls us to worship, in part, because he is a good shepherd who loves us, “Come let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our maker; He is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.” What does God’s shepherding care look like? “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young” (Isaiah 40:11). God is tender, gentle, and loving toward His sheep.

Shepherd leadership is modeled in Jesus

Jesus declares “I am the Good Shepherd I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” Jesus demonstrates for the disciples the model to follow. It is our responsibility as leaders to carry on in obedience the call to protect, provide, and guide Christ’s sheep. Jesus is the true shepherd and we are completely dependent on Him. You are to know God as shepherd and rely on Him for ministry. We cannot lead apart from Him. Of Jesus we read “The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11) Jesus modeled what a shepherd is to do. There is a great price to be a shepherd. It will cost you your life. Every time you lead and bring forth the Word of God to others, you are dying to self. The model is sacrificial service.

Shepherd leadership is motivated by love

The problem with human shepherds is we always fall short. We abuse power. We act selfishly. The frailty of human shepherds was a major theme in Israel’s history. Ezekiel 34 contains detailed charges against the under shepherds of Israel, who should have been caring for God’s flocks. What are the characteristics of a poor shepherd leader from this passage? They fed themselves rather than the flock (34:2). They failed to strengthen the sick, heal the diseased, bind up the broken and seek the lost (34:4). The result was that people were scattered to foreign lands and became food for beasts. These shepherds failed at their most basics tasks. They were harsh rather than gentle (34:4). Eventually, God removes them and promises his shepherding care (34:7-10).           

Faithful shepherds are not self-serving. God speaks strongly against the selfish motives of leaders who neglect, exploit, and prey upon others. The Bible condemns those who act like owners over a ministry rather than stewards of the sheep entrusted to them. There is responsibility language in Ezekiel 34 and lots of sins of omission, what shepherds aren’t doing.

More good shepherds are needed

Maybe God is calling you to shepherd a flock. We need godly men to take the mantle of leadership and say “Here am I Lord, send me.” Has God given you a desire to lead? Has he gifted you to lead? Have others spoken into your life in this way? We need leaders like 1 Peter 5:2-4: self-giving leaders who willingly provide oversight of the flock, are gentle, and not motivated by their own gain. Sheep are precious because they have been purchased by the blood of Christ.

The five functions of a shepherd:

  1. Know the sheep. From the moment we are born we want meaningful relationships. Loneliness, depression, and isolated people in the age of social media are reaching epidemic proportions. Once again, God provides the model for us. Just as God initiated a relationship with us, shepherds are to pursue sheep to know them (Psalm 100:3). What does it mean to know our sheep? We must know who is in our flock and know the details of their life enough to shepherd them. Peter reminds us that each sheep is “entrusted to your care” (1 Peter 5:3) and we will be held accountable for how we shepherd each person.

  2. Feed the sheep. Provision is the second need met by the shepherd. Sheep always depend on the shepherd. What does the shepherd feed the sheep? Matthew 4:14 tells us that it is the living, powerful Word of God. The Word of God is what satisfies the soul. Shepherds are to feed the whole council of God’s Word. It is the Word that will nourish and encourage the sheep. “Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart who will feed you on knowledge and understanding” (Jeremiah 3:15). The Bible suggests the following need feeding: (1) Young and weak (Titus 2). (2) Those who labor under sin (1 Peter 1:3). (3) Declining Christians in serious sin and losing zeal (1 Thessalonians 5:14). (4) The strong. They need encouragement to keep on.

  3. Lead the sheep. The psalmist states, “Then he led out his own people like sheep and guided them in the wilderness like a flock” (Psalm 78:52). Jesus is the Good Shepherd. “He leads me beside quite waters.” Good shepherd leaders do the same. Our people face decisions and crossroads in life. Shepherds show them the right path to take. How do they lead? Not lording it over. Shepherds always lead the flock from the front. They never drive them from behind. They stay ahead, show the way, and protect, but not too far ahead. Shepherds are told to be an example to the flock (1 Peter 1:3). Leading begins with Christ-like character. Failure here sabotages the rest of ministry. It must be clear that you know Christ and burn for Him.
  4. Protect the sheep. Sheep need safety from wolves (Acts 20:29). Sometimes wolves come from outside the church and sometimes they come from within. Both require strong leadership. Shepherds are commanded to “be alert” (Acts 22:31). They are told, “Watch out for false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but they are ferocious wolves (Matthew 7:15). Shepherds have a responsibility to address false doctrine, distortions of the truth, and erroneous teachings. Sheep are vulnerable creatures. They easily wander, which is why protection is critical for shepherds. We are to be like David who fought the lion and bear (Ps. 23:4-5) and the apostle Paul who addressed false doctrine and sin in the church.

  5. Gather the sheep. If a sheep goes astray, a shepherd is to make every attempt to go after it. God gathers his people. He leaves the 99 to find the one. God has given shepherds important tools and they are to be used. Shepherds have the staff and rod for discipline and defense. They have a voice so that sheep may know and follow. They have fences to keep sheep from wandering.

God’s call to shepherds is to pay careful attention to your flock. If shepherding is something leaders are called to do. It is important to have a well-considered strategy to accomplish the task. Do you have a plan to shepherd your flock? Is there a system so that you do not miss people? Is it comprehensive to include all those under your care? Is there training for leaders so they know how to shepherd?

Diagnose each sheep: Consider which category each sheep falls into. Healthy sheep: Regular attendance at worship, ministers to others in some way, seeks to live in obedience to Christ and the Bible. Weak sheep: Attend worship, but do not serve. May have absorbed worldly ideas or priorities other than Christ. Their main concern is limited to themselves or they may have relationship struggles that prevent fruitful ministry. Stray sheep: Uninvolved in ministry and sporadic attendance. Pursing sin or making foolish choices. Lost sheep: Forsaken the church and Christ. They have wandered away. Inactive sheep: Would like to be here, but cannot. This could include the elderly, college students, or someone who is sick.

Shepherding must be relational. We must know our sheep. The business of the shepherd-leader is the sheep. May it be reflected in how we operate as the church.

 

 

 

 

 

New Resource: My Story Guidebook for Small Groups or Sunday Classes

In Psalm 78, God instructs older generations to tell younger generations about the work of God and His nature so young people will set their hope in God and keep His commands. The Psalmist states, “Tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and His might, and the wonders He has done. He established a testimony in Jacob.” God wants us to report to future generations what God has done in our life. God wants us to share our story and talk about our experience with God. God is very specific regarding what we are to talk about: His deeds, His might, and His wonders. Our story isn’t the point, it’s the pointer.

According to the Bible, our story is a means of describing the work of God and His nature. It is our testimony recounting what God has done and who God is. We read, “God has established a testimony in Jacob” (Ps. 78:5). God has also established a testimony in every Christian and He wants us to tell it. We can ask questions such as, “How has God worked in our life? How has He proven faithful? How has He provided for us? What have we learned about God throughout our life? Do our children or grandchildren know about our God stories?”

One method to tell our story is to create a written record to pass on to our children and grandchildren. The Bible utilizes this method to encourage future generations to praise God, “Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord” (Ps. 102:18). God has chosen the written Word as the key method to draw us to Christ and deepen our faith (2 Tim. 3:15; Col. 1:28) and we can do the same by recording our story in writing for our children and grandchildren.

Are You Looking for Help Writing Your Story?

My Story Groups are designed to help Christians write their faith story and capture meaningful memories that will strengthen their children’s and grandchildren’s faith in Christ. My Story Groups were created because many individuals have the best intentions to write their story, but sometimes struggle to accomplish this goal on their own. Recently, my father presented my children (his grandchildren) with his written testimony and the details about not knowing Christ in his childhood or teenage years, coming to faith in college, growing in faith as a young man and newly married couple, and wisdom he wanted to pass on to his grandchildren. My dad’s faith story is a wonderful gift to my children that I pray God uses to draw them to Him and establish a deep faith in their heart. My Story groups help you to write your story and pass it on to your family as a tool to grow their faith in Christ.

The My Story Guidebook is designed around community. Gathering in community with other Christians helps us complete the task of writing our story because we are cheered on by others, inspired by other people’s stories, and supported when we get stuck. The My Story Guidebook can be used in a small group setting, a Sunday School class, or even by Zoom. The guidebook provides details about how to launch and lead a My Story Group. It walks you through how to facilitate, plan, and promote your group. The resource provides sessions and topics of discussion, a group covenant, tips to start and finish writing your story, resources, and some ideas about how to share your faith story with your children or grandchildren. 

The My Story Guidebook is available as a digital download for $7.99 or as a book for $9.99

We have seen My Story Groups become transformative for those who wrote their faith stories and those who received them, bearing fruit and impacting individuals in countless and unseen ways. When we share our story, we are honoring the biblical command to tell the next generation about God. Gather with a group of parents, grandparents, or fellow believers and write your story today and bless your family tomorrow. 

The Gospel and Geocaching

Geocaching is an outdoor treasure hunting game using a geocache app on GPS-enabled devices, like a smartphone. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) someone has hidden around that location. Unlike traditional treasure hunting, geocaching is more about the hunt than it is the treasure. In most cases, once the treasure is found, the treasure seeker simply records his/her name, leaves the treasure where it was found, and moves on to the next treasure cache.

Grandparenting can be a lot like geocaching. While our grandchildren are grand treasures to us, we must be careful not to forget what the real treasure is. Gospel-shaped grandparents intentionally seek a greater treasure—that our precious grandchildren will know the treasure of being made alive in Christ and the all-satisfying delight of living to the praise of His glory.

It is true that a new grandchild born into our family is a treasure. But we dare not forget the sad reality that every human being born into this world is born with a sin nature. It is easy to forget that when we gaze into the cherub faces of a newborn grandchild, or as we revel in the enjoyment and memorable moments with young grandchildren. We must not forget that they, like the rest of us, need the life-giving transformation that only Christ can provide.

The ultimate treasure we seek for these treasures delivered into our families is that they one day know and embrace the truth of the Gospel of Christ. If we do not seek that treasure for them, we are like geocachers who find a treasure, but then walk away without it. “Oh, that’s nice. Let’s see what else is out there.”

On the other hand, grandparents can serve much like the GPS system used in geocaching. We point them to the treasure that is available to those who seek and understand what a treasure it is. We do that by praying for them and with them, sharing the story of reality found only in the Bible, and by living a life that says what we profess to believe is evident in how we live.

Which means we know what we believe and why. Some say that is not the ‘treasure’ that is important, only the journey of seeking. And since there are many ‘treasures’ to be found, why stop with only one. Keep seeking and discover the joy of lots of different treasures—like geocache treasure hunters do.

That may work for geocaching where none of the treasures have any eternal significance. In the game of life, the treasure our grandchildren seek matters. We are responsible to point them to the true treasure and teach them to understand the significance of this treasure. They also need to know why no other so-called treasure can offer eternal life.

Godly grandparents want to provide a spiritual impact upon their grandchildren. Whether you do or not, is up to you. Do you want these treasured members of your family to find the treasure of all treasures—Christ, our Redeemer and Friend, or will they see no reason to believe it is the treasure we claim it to be?

[BTW, geocaching could be a great activity to do with your grandchildren, and to use it to talk about the difference between the kind of treasures being sought in geocaching and the true treasure of Christ’s love and grace. For more information about geocaching, click here.]

GRANDPAUSE: Thy love is most unsearchable, and dazzles all above; They gaze, but cannot count or tell the treasures of Thy love! -Charles Wesley

You may also view this post on the Gospel Shaped Family website.

Setting the Pace for Grandkids

Impacting the Faith of Future Generations Through Family Devotions

I LOVE having my grandkids at my house for an overnight!  We watch movies, eat popcorn and stay up late playing card games.  It brings joy to my heart to love on these children.  But I know my “job” as a grandmother goes far deeper.  I have been called by the Lord to impact their young hearts for Him.  I cannot assume they will follow in my footsteps in the faith.

Do you know that 75% of children raised in Christian churches leave the church by the age of 25 (Barna, Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions)? These are the children who go to Sunday School every Sunday and become the leaders of their Youth Group. Yet statistics show once they live independently from their home, often they abandon their church and their faith.

Studies reveal that parents modeling and teaching their faith in the home are the number one influence encouraging their children to keep their faith.  Grandparents are a close second.  Surprisingly, youth pastors are a distant third source of impact. 

Yes, we grandparents have been assigned by the Lord the eternally important job of passing to our grandchildren our faith in Jesus Christ.

The question, then, for grandparents is how do we effectively impact the hearts of our grandchildren?  One of the most powerful ways is reading the Bible together.  I call these times “Family Devotions”.  These moments include reading a Bible story followed by prayer time.  Oh, I know life is hectic and busy.  It is easy to think we cannot cram one more thing into a day.  But time together in the presence of the Lord is invaluable.  It is worth every minute and every effort.  It builds a legacy of faith.

We begin our family time with one or two familiar songs. Next, we read our story.  As my grandchildren age, I transition from Bible storybooks to the Bible.  We talk for a few minutes about the meaning of the story.  Usually, I ask three questions.  What does this story (or passage) say about God?  What does it say about me?  What does it say about my relationship with God?  In the closing moments of our Devotions, we grab hands and pray.  Our prayers consist of some “thank you’s” followed by some “please help us, Lord, with …”.  The children often fill in the blanks.

It sounds easy, doesn’t it?  Actually, it is.  Effective Family Devotions doesn’t require a long time.  Usually, shorter is better.  BUT we all have an Enemy who will diligently attempt to thwart the time between a grandparent and his grandchild in the presence of the Lord.  I know!  Personally, I struggle with this discipline.  Often, I am the one who is nodding off.  Not my four or five-year-old grandchild.

However, I am determined to stand strong.  I long to leave to my children and grandchildren a legacy of loving God’s Word.  One day, when I am in the full presence of the Lord and my family remains on the face of this earth, my prayer is that they will pick up their Bibles.  As the pace had been set in our Family Devotions, may they gather their family remembering the moments I read and prayed with them.  

 “Teach them to your children and to their children after them.”
Deuteronomy 4:9

“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”
Proverbs 22:6

What’s the Gospel?

There is no more important message to understand in life than the gospel. Yet, for many Christians there is a fog of confusion that surrounds the gospel. If someone says the gospel is the way of Jesus, the kingdom of God, positive thinking, or compassion toward others would you be able to explain why each of these explanations of the gospel is insufficient? The gospel has been the recipient of massive distortions and over simplifications. In relation to the gospel you should have a four-fold aim: (1) clearly understand it, (2) concisely explain it, (3) culturally connect it, and (4) confidently proclaim it.

Greg Gilbert wrote a helpful book called What is the Gospel where he used four words to summarize the gospel: God, man, Christ, and response. Remembering these four will help us understand, explain, and proclaim the gospel. The gospel is the good news because it addressed the most serious problem that humans have. R.C. Sproul summarizes this problem by saying, “God is holy and He is just, and I’m not.” Here is the gospel in a nutshell.

God is creator and he is holy. He is perfect. He has not sinned. He is just; he will not ignore or excuse the sin of others. The Bible teaches that all humans are accountable to God. He created us; therefore, he can demand we worship him.

Man has rebelled against God. We have placed ourselves on the throne of life. Romans 1:23 says we have exchanged the glory of God for idols. We are glory thieves, yet God will not share his glory with another. We have fallen short of God’s demand for perfection. At the end of your life you will stand before a just and holy God and be judged on the basis of your righteousness. Romans 3:19 says that when we stand before the judge, every mouth will be silenced. No one will offer a defense or any excuses. That is a sobering image. You have rebelled against a holy God that created you. That is the bad news.

The good news of the gospel is that Jesus lived a perfect life of righteousness and offered himself as a perfect sacrifice to satisfy the justice of God. God’s solution to humanity’s sin is the death and resurrection of Jesus. We can be saved from the condemnation our sin deserves through redemption in Jesus (Romans 3:24). The gospel is news, not advice. It is news that something has happened and we must respond to it. All religions are advice.

A response by faith is needed. The great lie of our day is that God forgives everybody; that he is a loving God who sweeps our sins under the carpet and grants forgiveness to those who are good people. The Bible is clear that we are not justified by our works, our efforts, our deeds, but by faith alone. Salvation comes “through faith in Jesus Christ” and it is “for all who believe” (Romans 3:22). How is the good news for you? Believe in Jesus Christ and repent of your sins. When you do that you are declared righteous by God, you are adopted into his family, and forgiven of all your sins. God acted in Jesus to save us and we take hold of that salvation by repentance of sin through faith in Jesus. That’s good news. And that is the gospel.

In Jesus Name, Amen: The Most Powerful Words You Can Say

A gospel shaped parent or grandparent is a praying person because there is the recognition that we are powerless to change a heart and are completely dependent upon God. I am reminded of Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 1:2, “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers.”

The most powerful words you can ever say on behalf of your family are the words, “In Jesus name, Amen.” Click To Tweet

The most powerful words you can ever say on behalf of your family are the words, “In Jesus name, Amen.” There are plenty of excuses not to pray such as busyness, short attention span, or lack of desire. If you are not praying daily for your children, grandchildren and future generations, then may these voices from the past encourage you to make prayer a priority:

  • “God does nothing but by prayer, and everything with it.” John Wesley
  • “No duty is more earnestly impressed upon us in Scripture than the duty of continual communion with Him.” David McIntyre
  • “Prayer does not fit us for the greater work; prayer is the greater work.” Oswald Chambers
  • “Prayer is the forerunner of mercy. Turn to sacred history, and you will find that scarecely ever did a great mercy come to this world unheralded by supplication.” Charles Spurgeon
  • “Next to the wonder of seeing my Savior will be, I think, the wonder that I made so little use of the power of prayer.”  D.L. Moody
  • “The greatest tragedy in life is not unanswered prayer, but unoffered prayer.” F.B. Meyer
  • “The devil is aware that one hour of close fellowship, hearty converse with God in prayer, is able to pull down what he hath been contriving and building many a year.” John Flavel
  • “There is no way that Christians, in a private capacity, can do so much to promote the work of God and advance the kingdom of Christ as by prayer.” Jonathan Edwards
  • “As it is the business of tailors to make clothes, and the business of cobblers to mend shoes, so it is the business of Christians to pray!” Martin Luther
  • “Search for a person who claims to have found Christ apart from someone else’s prayer, and your search may go on forever.” E. Bauman

Blessed is the child or grandchild that has a praying parent and grandparent. What families need today are not new and novel methods, but people who are mighty in prayer. God is able to do immeasurable more than we imagine. Through prayer God can transform the hardest heart or restore the most challenging relationship.