Article: Are pastors our shepherds? | Jacob Varghese
God’s plan for leadership in the church is shepherds caring for His flock. The pastor as a shepherd is someone who committed to knowing, feeding, leading, and protecting the church flock. We live in a day and age where anyone can listen to their favourite preachers and teachers, follow them on social media, watch them online, and read their books. And the best part is that we can do all this without them ever knowing us, holding us accountable, providing reproof and correction, or giving us any specific direction for our life whatsoever. Are they successful in these responsibilities?
So, who is a shepherd? A shepherd is simply someone who shepherds, or cares for, God’s flock. In our churches today we typically call them pastors. However, our English word “pastor” is not actually found in the scripture, but comes from the Latin word pastor, which means “shepherd.” In other words, our pastors are supposed to be our shepherds. The Bible also has several other names for the men in our churches we call pastors: “shepherd-teachers” (Eph. 4:11), “elders,” and “overseers (Titus 1:5-9 & 1 Tim. 3:1-7). In fact, these are synonymous and overlapping names for the same office in several places in the New Testament. These shepherds are to be men who will know us, feed us, lead us, and protect us as their sheep.
Since the Bible calls these men in leadership shepherds, this means that we are the sheep. The picture of shepherds and sheep is found all throughout the Old and New Testaments. The Bible teaches us that God, through Christ Jesus, is truly our great Shepherd and we are his sheep (Ezek 34:16; Luke 15:8). In addition, Jesus commissioned his disciples, who then commanded the early church, to carry on the task of shepherding God’s flock (John 20:15-17; 1 Peter 5:1-2a; Acts 20:28). So, as Christians, we must conform our lives, and our churches, to what Scripture says. The call is clear for pastors to nourish the people God has placed in their care. Shepherds need to lead and protect their flock.
Psalm 23 is one of the most recognizable Psalms that utilizes the shepherding metaphor. God has given pastors a very clear job description in the Bible. 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 and nothing is lacking in His care for us. He is our God and we are the people of His pasture, the flock under His care. 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 who are young” (Isaiah 40:11). God is tender, gentle, and loving toward His sheep.
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).
Jesus declares “I am the Good Shepherd I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” Shepherd leadership is modelled in Jesus. But 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. The characteristics of a poor shepherd leader are seen 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
I was prompted to think about the role of the pastor as a shepherd after a recent conversation with
one of my believer friends who was really missing the care from his church pastor. Are they really
shepherding the church flock the way our Lord and saviour, our good shepherd expected them to be?
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).
Shepherd leadership is to be motivated by love and more good shepherds for church are needed in this generation. Pastors have many important responsibilities in their role as spiritual leaders and they are to know the sheep, feed the sheep, lead the sheep, protect the sheep and gather the sheep. Shepherding is more than just preaching and leading church services. It is also about caring for the spiritual and emotional needs of the congregation. The church can be a great place for the people to find a community, grow in their faith, and find support, if the church pastor is a good shepherd-pastor. A big part of the growth and success of a church lies with the pastor. A church with a good shepherd pastor at the helm will have members passionate about their faith and eager to share it with others.
I asked one of my young believer friends, what does he think about a pastor and he replied “A pastor can at times . . . be like a dad, uncle or brother. A dear friend and confidant who can give me both a hug and a nudge to grow, who is there through life’s storms and cheering in life’s triumphs. He shows me how to follow Jesus Christ and encourages me with the challenges in my life.” Yes, Pastors fulfil many roles, but the most important is that Pastors are called to be loving shepherds of God’s flock.