Shepherd Questions

I got some questions the other day from a reader on the role of shepherding in the body. I know others have similar questions to his, so I thought I’d post our exchange here in case it will help other sort through these issues.

I was wondering if I could ask your opinion on something I’ve heard you make reference to, and seek a bit more clarification. I have heard you make reference to Ezekiel 34 in connection to who is to “shepherd the people” in the New Covenant. That the solution to the “bad shepherds” was not to replace them with “good shepherds”, but to do away with that whole system, and that God Himself would be the Shepherd to His people; that “my servant David” (i.e. the Messiah) would be the shepherd to the sheep. Obviously Jesus is the fulfillment of this prophecy, Who professes to be the True Shepherd.

My question is this: There do seem to be passages that assign a “shepherding role” to key leaders in the Body of Christ. Jesus, when comforting Peter after the denials, tells Him to “feed my lambs, care for my sheep, feed my sheep” (the task of a shepherd), and then we have Peter’s instructions to his fellow-elders, “Be shepherds of Gods flock that is under your care…” (1Peter 5:2), and in Eph 4:11, where it is said that Jesus gave some to be “pastors” is the same word used of Jesus as the “Good Shepherd”.

So while in one sense, it seems we are all sheep to Christ our Sole-Shepherd, in another sense, it seems the Scriptures do indicate that certain members of God’s flock share in the role of “shepherd”; that certain “elders” are “under-shepherds” to the Chief Shepherd; that Jesus does raise up certain individuals to be “shepherds” for the sake of the flock.

Can you offer any additional clarification? Is not this Chief-Shepherd/Under-shepherd paradigm what the typical Church System would claim to emulate? And if we do have “good shepherds” caring for the flock after all, how does this reconcile with Ezek 34?

Here’s how I tried to answer those issues in a 100 words or less: I agree with what you write here. I think the problem for me comes in how we’ve applied that over 2000 years, so that the idea of shepherding people no longer carries the sense of reflecting Jesus’ care in other lives, but in managing them as a wholly ‘other’—the clergy/laity distinction. I know some of that terminology is used in verb form (shepherding as opposed to shepherds in I Peter 5), but there is a marked contrast from the Old Testament to the New as to how the word shepherd is applied to human leaders. No human being, except Jesus is designated as a shepherd in the New Testament. Jesus became the Good Shepherd for all the sheep, promising we’d be one flock with one shepherd.

But I also see that there is a recognition that there are more mature brothers and sisters in this journey who have the calling and equipping to spend a significant part of their time coming alongside younger brothers and sisters helping them get this journey. But to describe that as being an under-shepherd moves away from biblical language and is grossly misunderstood semantically in our day. Shepherds often have a sense of ownership about sheep—‘my sheep’. They are threatened by ‘sheep stealing’ in the body and often treat the ‘sheep’ as different from themselves. None of that would have been in Paul or Peter’s mouths. So I do see this as a semantic problem in part, and also a management problem. To describe institutional leadership in this language definitely corrupts it, putting the emphasis on leading the ‘thing’, not equipping and caring for lives.

But, yes, I agree that there are elders and other gifts in the body who are a great help to equip, release, strengthen, rebuke, and facilitate the life of the body. I just think if we don’t keep the Shepherd definition attached clearly to Jesus alone, others start co-opting his place in the lives of others. This is most often with the best of intentions, but it is no less destructive when people start to follow another human, rather than Jesus…

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22 Comments
  1. Fran January 26, 2007 at 11:26 am

    Something that I have read about sheep comes to mind (paraphrasing from someone else’s blog):

    The bellwether is an older sheep, a random sheep, a castrated male, or a goat that you can take and put a bell around its neck and turn it into a bellwether. It must be a specific sheep which is naturally a bellwether (the bell is actually superfluous). The bellwether understands their role as leader; not that the bellwether physically leads the rest of the sheep herd (i.e. the bellwether is the first to reach new pastures, with the rest of the sheep trailing behind), but that the bellwether is in the center of the herd and moves the herd together. The bellwether is at no particular position and goes in no recognizable pattern but the rest of the herd ends up following it anyway.

  2. Fran January 26, 2007 at 2:26 pm

    Something that I have read about sheep comes to mind (paraphrasing from someone else’s blog):

    The bellwether is an older sheep, a random sheep, a castrated male, or a goat that you can take and put a bell around its neck and turn it into a bellwether. It must be a specific sheep which is naturally a bellwether (the bell is actually superfluous). The bellwether understands their role as leader; not that the bellwether physically leads the rest of the sheep herd (i.e. the bellwether is the first to reach new pastures, with the rest of the sheep trailing behind), but that the bellwether is in the center of the herd and moves the herd together. The bellwether is at no particular position and goes in no recognizable pattern but the rest of the herd ends up following it anyway.

  3. Alan Knox January 26, 2007 at 5:42 pm

    This is a great description of the “shepherding” role in the church compared to the shepherd of the flock. The church, the flock of God, is always described as belonging to God, and this includes those mature believers who help and care for other believers. Thank you for keeping our eyes on our only Senior Pastor (Cheif Shepherd)!

    -Alan

  4. Alan Knox January 26, 2007 at 8:42 pm

    This is a great description of the “shepherding” role in the church compared to the shepherd of the flock. The church, the flock of God, is always described as belonging to God, and this includes those mature believers who help and care for other believers. Thank you for keeping our eyes on our only Senior Pastor (Cheif Shepherd)!

    -Alan

  5. Totila January 29, 2007 at 8:14 pm

    I certaintly would agree with you that the whole concept of leadership as practiced in the modern “Christian” religious system is derived much more from the systems of the world than from the Scriptures, but I have to take issue with your statement that there are no persons in the New Testament who are called shepherds. The word which is transliterated pastor means shepherd.

  6. Wayne January 29, 2007 at 8:25 pm

    Interesting…

    I’m just curious, however. Who was ever called a pastor in the New Testament? Do we know of anyone using that title, or was it just to recognize a function among the family?

    Wayne

  7. Totila January 29, 2007 at 11:14 pm

    I certaintly would agree with you that the whole concept of leadership as practiced in the modern “Christian” religious system is derived much more from the systems of the world than from the Scriptures, but I have to take issue with your statement that there are no persons in the New Testament who are called shepherds. The word which is transliterated pastor means shepherd.

  8. Wayne January 29, 2007 at 11:25 pm

    Interesting…

    I’m just curious, however. Who was ever called a pastor in the New Testament? Do we know of anyone using that title, or was it just to recognize a function among the family?

    Wayne

  9. Mike Rea January 30, 2007 at 7:27 am

    Wayne,
    I like what you are saying here but I am still trying to work out the knots for myself. How do you reconcile the below verse with this teaching?

    Act 20:28 Then take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit placed you as overseers, to shepherd the assembly of God which He purchased through His own blood.

    Blessings,
    Mike

  10. Mike Rea January 30, 2007 at 10:27 am

    Wayne,
    I like what you are saying here but I am still trying to work out the knots for myself. How do you reconcile the below verse with this teaching?

    Act 20:28 Then take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit placed you as overseers, to shepherd the assembly of God which He purchased through His own blood.

    Blessings,
    Mike

  11. Wayne January 30, 2007 at 2:27 pm

    Mike,

    As I said, it is used in the verb form, as it is here. Certainly there is much in the New Testament about older brothers and sisters helping others in this journey—caring for young ones and equipping them to live their own lives in Jesus. There just isn’t a place in the New Testament for someone to be a shepherd over someone else, because Jesus is the Good Shepherd. And we won’t be one flock until we live in the reality of that one Shepherd!

    Notice how careful the early church was in ensuring that Jesus always maintained first place in everything. Those who are helping others grow are careful not to take his place even as the help others. They eschewed titles that only distanced them from the people they wanted to be alongside to help them learn to follow…

    At least that’s how I see it. The noun form of shepherd is used throughout the old testament to speak of human leaders. In the new it is overwhelmingly used in the verb form to express care that one sheep might give to another. But clearly we are all sheep and we have need of only one shepherd.

    Wayne

  12. Wayne January 30, 2007 at 5:27 pm

    Mike,

    As I said, it is used in the verb form, as it is here. Certainly there is much in the New Testament about older brothers and sisters helping others in this journey—caring for young ones and equipping them to live their own lives in Jesus. There just isn’t a place in the New Testament for someone to be a shepherd over someone else, because Jesus is the Good Shepherd. And we won’t be one flock until we live in the reality of that one Shepherd!

    Notice how careful the early church was in ensuring that Jesus always maintained first place in everything. Those who are helping others grow are careful not to take his place even as the help others. They eschewed titles that only distanced them from the people they wanted to be alongside to help them learn to follow…

    At least that’s how I see it. The noun form of shepherd is used throughout the old testament to speak of human leaders. In the new it is overwhelmingly used in the verb form to express care that one sheep might give to another. But clearly we are all sheep and we have need of only one shepherd.

    Wayne

  13. Dan February 2, 2007 at 12:20 pm

    Help me understand the following. I am not quick to be under submission to anyone. But this passage does say to obey and submit to your leaders. Another interesting part is that the leaders are to do this as those that will (not would, could or might) give an account. Do they really give an account of those under them to the Lord? Or are they to be committed to the task “as if” they were going to give an account, speaking of the seriousness of their commitment.

    Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you. Hebrews 13:17

  14. Dan February 2, 2007 at 3:20 pm

    Help me understand the following. I am not quick to be under submission to anyone. But this passage does say to obey and submit to your leaders. Another interesting part is that the leaders are to do this as those that will (not would, could or might) give an account. Do they really give an account of those under them to the Lord? Or are they to be committed to the task “as if” they were going to give an account, speaking of the seriousness of their commitment.

    Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you. Hebrews 13:17

  15. Wayne February 2, 2007 at 4:38 pm

    Dan,

    As they say, context is everything. When Hebrews was written those reputed to be leaders among the early believers were mature men and women who were helping others live and grow in this journey. The writer encourages believers to yield to such people. (This word in Hebrews 13 is NOT ‘submit’ in the original as is used in Ephesians 5. That’s a different word and that kind of submission is what we share generally in the body with other brothers and sisters.) Look at the difference. True leaders in the body were not managing institutions and demanding that people conform to their programs to prove their love for Jesus. These were just maturer saints scattered through the family helping others grow. The writer of Hebrews wants us to know that yielding to them in the insight they have is a blessing to us and doesn’t wear them out.

    This yiedling, however is not and never will be ‘unquestioned obedience.’ It is not ‘lording over’ as Jesus denied his disciples in Mark 10:42-45. There is no one over or under anyone in this family. That language tries to press body life into an institutional mold and it will always prove confuse rather than release and equip the body.

    As to the account they give, I think your second option is closest. The are accountable to God for the way they treat every life in their influence. This Scripture doesn’t say they are accountable for the people, but for themselves in how they have loved them, not mistreated them, not misinformed them and certainly not lorded ove them.

    I hope that answers what you’re asking…

    Wayne

  16. Wayne February 2, 2007 at 7:38 pm

    Dan,

    As they say, context is everything. When Hebrews was written those reputed to be leaders among the early believers were mature men and women who were helping others live and grow in this journey. The writer encourages believers to yield to such people. (This word in Hebrews 13 is NOT ‘submit’ in the original as is used in Ephesians 5. That’s a different word and that kind of submission is what we share generally in the body with other brothers and sisters.) Look at the difference. True leaders in the body were not managing institutions and demanding that people conform to their programs to prove their love for Jesus. These were just maturer saints scattered through the family helping others grow. The writer of Hebrews wants us to know that yielding to them in the insight they have is a blessing to us and doesn’t wear them out.

    This yiedling, however is not and never will be ‘unquestioned obedience.’ It is not ‘lording over’ as Jesus denied his disciples in Mark 10:42-45. There is no one over or under anyone in this family. That language tries to press body life into an institutional mold and it will always prove confuse rather than release and equip the body.

    As to the account they give, I think your second option is closest. The are accountable to God for the way they treat every life in their influence. This Scripture doesn’t say they are accountable for the people, but for themselves in how they have loved them, not mistreated them, not misinformed them and certainly not lorded ove them.

    I hope that answers what you’re asking…

    Wayne

  17. Mike Rea February 5, 2007 at 7:42 am

    In regards to Dan’s question, I agree with how Wayne is interpreting this scripture. I have recently had conversations about this verse. If we all stand on our own before an all knowing God it seems wierd that He would need me to give an account for the actions of “My Sheep” or even hold me accountable for their actions.

    I think it is more correctly understood that as a leader/maturer saint (pick your lingo) I am accountable for my actions towards them. Did I lord it over and control or did I encourage and build up? With this mindset, “let them do it with joy and not grief” begins to make much more sense.

    Am I my brother’s keeper? Yes I am, but as a brother not a master. A good brother goes looking for his sibling when he is lost, encourages him to get up and try again, and is his biggest fan.

    Pro 17:17 A friend loves at every time, but a brother is born for distress.

  18. Mike Rea February 5, 2007 at 10:42 am

    In regards to Dan’s question, I agree with how Wayne is interpreting this scripture. I have recently had conversations about this verse. If we all stand on our own before an all knowing God it seems wierd that He would need me to give an account for the actions of “My Sheep” or even hold me accountable for their actions.

    I think it is more correctly understood that as a leader/maturer saint (pick your lingo) I am accountable for my actions towards them. Did I lord it over and control or did I encourage and build up? With this mindset, “let them do it with joy and not grief” begins to make much more sense.

    Am I my brother’s keeper? Yes I am, but as a brother not a master. A good brother goes looking for his sibling when he is lost, encourages him to get up and try again, and is his biggest fan.

    Pro 17:17 A friend loves at every time, but a brother is born for distress.

  19. Dan February 5, 2007 at 7:28 pm

    Mike Rea and Wayne,

    Good words – good hearts. Thank you brothers, I like that.

  20. Dan February 5, 2007 at 10:28 pm

    Mike Rea and Wayne,

    Good words – good hearts. Thank you brothers, I like that.

  21. Don. February 17, 2007 at 7:54 pm

    hi all i know is i am tired of been scolded in the pastors sermons all the time . i call them should dos . you should do this or that . how does that pastor know my relation i have with God ? they are always scolding us. as if we were dummies or some thing . i feel so free right now . praise the Lord. thank you Wayne & Brad. in Christs Love Don.

  22. Don. February 17, 2007 at 10:54 pm

    hi all i know is i am tired of been scolded in the pastors sermons all the time . i call them should dos . you should do this or that . how does that pastor know my relation i have with God ? they are always scolding us. as if we were dummies or some thing . i feel so free right now . praise the Lord. thank you Wayne & Brad. in Christs Love Don.

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