The Great Shepherd and Apostle of our Confession, Jesus Christ the Lord, has told us what to look for in those who are true shepherds, after the model which He Himself demonstrated while in His life on earth. In the ninth chapter of Matthew’s gospel, as the Lord looked over the crowd of people, He uttered a cry for assistance in the great work of shepherding the flock of God, which contains three characteristics of what He was looking for in those who would continue His ministry as shepherds of the sheep.
“Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then he said to His disciples, ‘The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.’ ” (Matthew 9:35-38 NKJV)
THE CONDITION OF THE FLOCK
True shepherds CARE about the CONDITION of the flock. Jesus was moved with compassion; He genuinely cared about their condition in all aspects. Most shepherds who are called by God begin with sincere motives that put the needs of the people ahead of personal agendas, empire building, and ladder-climbing in the Kingdom of God. Some, however, have become more concerned about the “contributions” of the flock, rather than the “condition” of the flock. As shepherds, we must maintain the heart of God for the people, not using them as means to an end, but placing the value on each individual that God has assigned to humanity, and serving them accordingly.
THE GATHERING OF THE FLOCK
True shepherds GATHER the flock of God. Jesus noted that the sheep were “scattered” without a protecting shepherd, making them more vulnerable to the attack of wolves and other predator beasts. The shepherd is motivated to gather the flock of God, not for numbers’ sake alone and reaching corporate ministry goals, but for their need of protection and direction. God’s people are to develop the nature of a sheep, which is to “follow the voice of another.” Jesus said, “My sheep know My voice.” (John 10:27). Christians must be gathered together for the protection offered by a spiritual covering, but also to learn how to be led by the Spirit of God as a result of learning to walk with the flock under the guidance of the local shepherds. As new believers, we don’t know His voice clearly yet; we are often confused about direction in our lives and, having the loving counsel of seasoned shepherds, we gain confirmation that we are truly hearing the voice of the Lord. The goal of true shepherds is to train people to hear His voice and to be led by the Spirit of God.
THE STRENGTHENING OF THE FLOCK
True shepherds STRENGTHEN the flock of God. Jesus also noted that the sheep were “weary” – they needed rest, but they also needed the strength that comes from proper nourishment. A true shepherd wants to produce strong Christians who are able to complete the journey through this life in victorious fashion that glorifies God. This means preaching and teaching the whole counsel of God, including “doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness.” (see 2 Timothy 3:16). Believers need not only milk (not too much candy!), but also meat (and strong meat) of the Word to grow from babyhood to manhood and become reproducing disciples. True shepherds know that the future of the flock depends on the healthy reproduction of the flock. As a shepherd, if my sheep are not reproducing more sheep as a result of being properly fed, trained, and equipped, then the future of the flock is jeopardized. As true shepherds, let us CARE, GATHER and STRENGTHEN the flock of God according to the apostolic model of Christ.