“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)
The purpose of a shepherd is to lead us the correct way. Jesus takes on the title of a shepherd because He is the Way. He leads us the only true way that is towards the Father: “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6.)
Jesus releases His character and His purpose throughout His body, so although He is The Shepherd, that does not negate the need for and the calling of earthly shepherds, (the title “pastor,” is simply the Latin word for shepherd.)
“Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1Pe 5:2-5.)
In the same way that Jesus leads us straight to Him and to the Father, the job of the pastor is to lead God’s people, or the sheep, to Jesus himself. Every piece of church activity, every sermon, and every time of ministry must have the overall goal of leading people to Jesus and to what He is doing. One way to discern a good shepherd from an incorrect one is seeing who they are leading to. The false shepherd will use the name of Jesus as much as anyone, but they will use His name to bring people either to them or to their ministry. The false shepherd is always concerned about increasing themselves and their number of followers. The false seeks to make their ministry a success, and will work everything to that end.
It is so easy to fall into the trap of losing our vision of Jesus and focusing on the things of Him, rather than Him directly, and certainly I have fallen into this trap many times. Nobody ever sets out with the goal of being wrong or false, but this is something we naturally move into when we cease to humble ourselves and take our eyes off of Him. The more that we walk in our own ways or understanding, the more we will lead our churches into error. When we are in ministry, it is easy to get caught up in the things we are doing, even the good things of Him such as ministry itself. As soon as we focus upon the things of Him, rather than Jesus Himself, we will walk away from the path of life, and that which we create or the ministry that we do will soon become religious works accomplished by our own strength and vision. Again, this is why Jesus is called the Plumb Line (Amos 7:8,) only He is the measure of straightness.
A good shepherd does not care about numbers, popularity or earthly success, and although they may well end up with big ministries, that in itself is not their goal. They are the ones with a heart that only desires what the Father is doing, who desire to follow the Spirit, regardless of the cost. They also desire to see God’s sheep go in the right direction, to enable them to walk closer to God too. They will protect the sheep to ensure that they are always being fed and that they are following, Jesus. Their vision and purpose is always Jesus Himself. If a shepherd does not keep their eyes fixed upon Jesus, The Way, then they will not be able to lead people in the right direction. When our focus is on Him alone, His Spirit will lead us into the true ministry that He is doing.
As well as leading the people in the right direction, the other job of the shepherd is to protect the people from wolves.
“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:29- 31.)
The wolf, as defined here in Acts 20 is somebody who comes up from within the church with a desire to lead God’s people to them and to what they are doing. The wolf diverts the sheep from following the voice of God, and instead tries to take people for the sole reason of increasing themselves or their ministry. When the shepherd has His eyes upon God, it is easy to spot those who are trying to draw the people to themselves. Such clarity of vision only comes from seeing things Jesus’ way. It is impossible to discern correctly if we do not have His vision. Any pastor who is not walking with God will be unable to lead the people the right way, and they will also be unable to discern those who are wolves drawing everything to them.
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” (Matt 7:15.)
Wolves never appear like wolves. They are part of the church, they come using Jesus’ name, and are usually nice people, and often charismatic. It is this charisma and people-friendliness that attracts people to them, and to their ministries. They tell the people what they want to hear. The false prophet will proclaim things that make people feel good but ultimately keeps them in chains and lead them away from God. Such ministries will not necessarily look bad from the outside. They may have great social media and advertisements and an attractive church programme, but they will ultimately only lead people to them. Such a ministry may have a veneer of life, but in reality the members will not be being fed. Instead the pastor will actually feed on them, as it is their attention and support that drives him. Consequently, most of the members will be in poor spiritual shape.
A false ministry is geared up towards pleasing the people, because attracting people is the aim, whereas a true shepherd will not focus upon pleasing the people, but upon pleasing God, and in doing so, the people will be led to Him. The goal of a good shepherd is not pleasing the people’s desires, but loving them. This may lead to a clash with people, and may actually lead to the true being rejected because of the desire to follow Jesus:
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” (Mat 5:11.)
Unfortunately, even within the church a desire to follow God is not always popular. It was God’s own people who killed Jesus for this reason. The Roman authorities, who represent the world, could find no fault in Jesus, instead it was His own people who hated Him and wanted Jesus killed. The sheep will know the real shepherd for no other reason that they will recognise God’s voice working through them. True sheep will not seek the shepherd who simply wants to keep them happy where they are, but will instead seek the shepherd who will lead them closer to God.
It is people with this heart who God has prepared, and is still preparing to lead what He wants to do in His church. The church will be defined by its passion for and faithfulness to the Holy Spirit. This church movement will be known by its holiness. To be holy simply means to be set apart for the purposes of God, which is also what the definition of “ecclesia,” or church is. A new generation of shepherds are being prepared to lead this movement, shepherds whose only desire is God Himself.