Shepherds-Schmepherds,Tend My Sheep!
Jesus Calls the Church a Flock
As I wrote the first article on “Shephers-Schmepherds, What’s The Big Deal” I covered shepherding in general. Later I realized that there are some key verses in the New Testament that tell church leaders how to approach tending and maturing God’s flock (the church). Jesus likens the Church to a flock of sheep in the book of John, chapter 10 and spells out the roadmap of how He will tend the flock. He later challenges Peter to shepherd the flock and subsequently Peter challenges church leadership to do the same.
Sheep-pens and Shepherds
Will the Real Shepherd Please Call Your Sheep?
In John 10:1-5 the picture is of a holding pen where shepherds may keep their flock for a time. These sheep pens would have, many times, held multiple flocks. There was a gatekeeper who would know the shepherds who kept their flocks in the pen. The gatekeeper would open the gate and the shepherd would call his sheep. The sheep, knowing the shepherd’s voice, would respond by following the shepherd out of the pen.
But the demi-shepherd, on the other hand would not be allowed to enter the pen so he would have to climb over the wall to try and get sheep to follow him. The problem is that the sheep would not recognize the voice of the false shepherd and would run from him.
John 10:1-5 ““Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. 2But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. 3To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.”
We’re Sheep and That’s No Wool!
The disciples had no clue as to what Jesus was telling them. So Jesus had to be more specific, telling them that He was the door for the sheep. Jesus said “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture…I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” So Jesus was teaching the disciples, and us, that He is the gate to God’s pasture and that by entering through Him alone that the sheep (us) would have life and not only life but abundant life.
John 10:6-11 “This figure of speech Jesus spoke to them, but they did not understand what those things were which He had been saying to them. 7So Jesus said to them again, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. 9I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. 11I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”
No Shepherd’s Heart? – Then You’re Just a Hired Hand!
This is where the rubber meets the road for shepherds (pastors). So many times in churches today the pastor (poimenas – shepherds) has a heart for preaching, evangelizing or teaching but no deep love for the sheep in his pasture. Here the picture is one of a true shepherd that owns the sheep in his heart with a sacrificial love so great that he is willing to give his life for the sheep.
When the pastor of a church does not have the heart of a shepherd the sheep start to become discouraged and begin to wander. For us, as sheep, this means that we begin to walk according to the deeds of the flesh rather than walking by the Spirit. I’ve seen this phenomenon time and again all because the pastor does not have the heart of the shepherd.
John 10:12-17 “He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, 15even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd. 17For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again.”
The Threefold Call of a Shepherd
I have read the passage in John 21 for decades and always associated this passage with Jesus correcting Peter for denying Him three times. While that may be one of the intents, if you look at the things that Jesus said to Peter there is a clear pattern and, as we’ll see, Peter eventually gets it. However, initially Peter is in a quandary and really doesn’t understand that Jesus is telling him. There were three clear challenges from Jesus and three different things that Jesus told Peter to do.
The semantics that Jesus used in these three verses is simply incredible.
Tend My Lambs
John 21:15 “So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus *said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” *He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love *You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.”
First Jesus challenges Peter; “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” Following Peter’s response Jesus told Peter “Tend My lambs” (Βόσκε ta arnia). The Greek word used for “tend” is Βόσκε which means to feed (graze) and the Greek word for lambs is arnia. Jesus painted a picture of what He wanted Peter to do with new Christians. Jesus told Peter; “If you love Me Peter then teach My lambs to graze.”
Shepherd My Sheep
John 21:16 “He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love *Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love *You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.”
Next Jesus challenges Peter again; “Simon, son of John, do you love *Me?” Peter again responded but Jesus gave Peter a different command; “Shepherd My sheep”. The Greek words here were completely different. Here Jesus used the phrase “Poimaine ta probata”. Poimaine means “to shepherd” but the focus of the word is different from the word Βόσκε. While the focus of Βόσκε is feeding, the focus of Poimaine is tending. The word probata refers to grown sheep. Here Jesus told Peter; “If you love Me Peter then tend My sheep.”
Tend My Sheep
John 21:17 “He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus *said to him, “Tend My sheep.”
Here Jesus challenged Peter for the third time; “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter again responded and Jesus then gave Peter a third and still different command; “Tend My sheep.” This phrase was a different view of shepherding as well. Jesus said “Βόσκε ta probata”. So here Jesus told Peter; “If you love Me Peter then graze My sheep.”
Call to Lead the Flock
I believe that Peter got the message from Jesus. Perhaps it took some time for Peter to contemplate what Jesus had directed him to do but we clearly see in 1 Peter 5:1-5 that Peter is reflecting the commands he had been given by Jesus.
1 Peter 5:1-5 “Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 2shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; 3nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. 4And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”
Peter clearly believes that the church is God’s flock and that leadership is to “shepherd the flock of God”. But he does not stop there, he adds the phrase “among you”. In other words, you elders (pastors) must shepherd the flock that God has given you to shepherd. There is no leeway to pick and choose sheep but the directive is to shepherd the whole flock as God has provided. There are some clear parallels with John 10:
- All believers who come to Jesus, the door, are part of the flock (shepherd the flock of God among you)
- Shepherds are to love the flock (exercise oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, not as a hired hand but with eagerness)
- Shepherds must be willing to lay down their lives for the flock by setting the example (not lording over the flock of God over which they are given charge)
There is a clear promise for shepherds who follow Peter’s instructions. They will receive from the Chief Shepherd an unfading crown of glory! The implications of not following Peter’s instructions are quite obvious!
These instructions are also reflected in Acts 20:28 “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”
Here Paul reflects what Peter said in 1 Peter 5:1-5. He clearly tells the leadership of the church that they are to protect the flock, directed by the Holy Spirit, and shepherd the church of God which have been purchased by the blood of Jesus.
A Shepherd After God’s Own Heart!
I have always been struck with how God viewed David and the description of how David led is simply a beautiful picture of how any pastor must lead the flock that God has given them. Psalms 78:70-72 says “He also chose David His servant and took him from the sheepfolds; From the care of the ewes with suckling lambs He brought him to shepherd Jacob His people, and Israel His inheritance. So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them with his skillful hands.”
David had a love for the sheep that caused him to risk his life to save them from the predators of the day. David tended them, fed them, probably sang to them and protected them. God moved David from shepherding the sheepfold to shepherding the entire nation of Israel because David had the heart of a shepherd. Too many times these days church leaders are more concerned about programs and numbers than they are about the flock of believers that God has given them to tend.
Shepherding comes from the heart and in Ephesians 4:11 it tells that it is a gift of the Spirit. The problem is that far too many people put far too much trust in the institutions of man than they do in the power of the Holy Spirit and consequently, we end up with pastors who are only pastors in title but are not gifted in the slightest degree as a shepherd. Too many times pastors are thought of more as administrators, preachers or teachers but the word for pastor in Ephesians 4:11 is poimenas or shepherds. I wish that the Bible translators would get this right as pastor sounds prestigious while shepherd has a lowly ring to it. Give me the lowly ring any day. That is why God chose David and called him a man after God’s own heart.
The Institutions of Man a Shepherd Does Not Make
Let me address the education thing. It says in 1 Corinthians 8:1 “…Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies.” We do well to consider education a good supplement to the gifts of the Spirit. Preparation to minister in the name of Jesus is a high calling and studying God’s Word is a key ingredient. But too many times degrees of education are exalted over the Power of God’s Holy Spirit to the degree that men begin to walk in their own strength based on their own knowledge.
I have heard so many times that the apostle Paul was a highly educated man. He was, but he was also persecuting the church and Jesus blinded him and spoke to Paul directly. Paul later sums up his view of the education that caused him to persecute the church. Philippians 3:3-7 “…we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh, 4although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: 5circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. 7But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ”. The word Paul used for rubbish is skubalon which means “that which is thrown to the dogs”, ordure (dung). His goal was to gain Christ at any cost. So, show me a highly educated man whom God has blinded by the light and I’ll show you a man who places the value of his education well below the value of God’s power through His Holy Spirit.
I’ll conclude with one of my favorite sayings; “Institutions don’t gift apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors or teachers. God’s Holy Spirit does.”
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