Normally you go to bed thinking about sheep. This morning I woke up thinking about sheep. The Bible refers to us as sheep. The Bible refers to Jesus as the Shepherd. The Bible gives some people the task of shepherding. But, this job description is so limiting, it can't possibly refer to the job description we've given the people we are calling our spiritual shepherds (pastors) today. So what does it mean? And why do we think pastors are elevated above the sheep in some way?

This may be a stunning admission to some who don't live around us, but I've wrestled a lot with what a pastor is supposed to do. 

It's not that I've left myself uneducated in the area and have just tried figuring it out on my own. I've read many books on the subject and studied many pastors and their lives around me. But, much of what I read and see modeled doesn't line up with what the people in the Church perceive. 

Have you ever wondered what your pastor does? Would you say he visits the sick, reads the Bible, communes with God, teaches others to obey what Jesus said, prays with the needy and organizes the activities of the church body? If I told you all that was your job many of you would probably stop reading this article. So let me just say it: It's your job to be visiting the sick, reading the Bible, communing with God, teaching others to obey Jesus, praying with the needy and to organize the activities of the church body.



Now, for those of you who are left, first off, let me congratulate you for your desire to dig deeper into what the American Church today needs to push towards to see its power restored. Secondly, let me ask the question a different way for your contemplation: If the things you thought your Pastor was supposed to be doing was actually your job to be doing, what should your Pastor being doing? Stop reading and answer out loud before you keep reading. 

With an open ended question like that, I'd bet many of you would work in the word "Shepherd" somewhere in your answer. Even if the word doesn't show up in your answer, the concept is.


Does Pastor = Shepherd?

Why is being a shepherd synonymous with pastoring in your mindset? Is it Biblical or just something you've been told your whole life?


What if I told you that the idea of you having a Shepherd other than Jesus Christ is unbiblical and actually warned against by Jesus Christ himself? Read what he said about the sheep and the shepherd:

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. (John 10: 7-16 - ESV)

Before we continue, did you read the passage above? If not, this might be a good case in point. You would rather the teacher tell you what to believe than the Teacher.  If you didn't read it, go back and read it all. Don't just browse through it. Understand it! Now compare it to the almost verbatim phrase Moses prayed when looking for some to succeed him :

Moses spoke to the LORD, saying, “Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the LORD may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.” So the LORD said to Moses, “Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him. Make him stand before Eleazar the priest and all the congregation, and you shall commission him in their sight. You shall invest him with some of your authority, that all the congregation of the people of Israel may obey. (Numbers 27: 15-20 - ESV)

How many shepherds did Jesus say there would be when he brought in the gentiles into his flock? One. That is what I read, anyway.


A shadow of things to come

Who are these hired hands that run and scatter? He is referencing the prophecies that again and again pointed to humans failing the sheep they were supposed to be shepherding. Even in his own day it was apparent the "Shepherds" were failing the sheep. Read Ezekiel 34 for one example. The result in Ezekiel 34 is God says that his plan is that He will be the one shepherd as highlighted by the failings of the idea of having people trying to command other people into obedience: 

Thus says the Lord GOD, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them. The Lord GOD Will Seek Them Out. “For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out..." (Ezekiel 34:10-11 - ESV)

Jesus was the answer to this prophecy. No longer should shepherds be allowed to feed on their own sheep or even have the responsibility to feed them. He removed their responsibility and became the one shepherd. It was never God's plan for the new covenant to have people leading other people as a shepherd leads his sheep. As he told Peter in John 21, if we want to see other sheep around us fed, we just have to follow Him!


But the New Testament says there are "shepherds" and "shepherding"!

So where do we get the idea that there are men in the church who are acting as the shepherd to the rest? In short, largely the Roman government and the early Catholic church; this eventually led to wolves who had the power to drive the sheep. But, there are some scripture verses that refer to these things that many churches use today to still pile their responsibility on a handful who will eventually fail:

In Ephesians, Paul is talking about the gifts Jesus has given to the church to help it: 

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, (Ephesians 4:11-12 - ESV)

So here we see that shepherds are a gift given to the church to equip the saints. But, that word in most versions is translated as "pastor." It can mean a person like a shepherd that is commanding others. But, it also can just mean the one who is over the proceedings of the Christian assemblies at the time. So which do we go with? We should probably look to other context. We know from the verses above that Jesus said there is only one shepherd, himself, and others are just cheap imitations who eventually will flee those who are dumb enough to follow them.

But, look what Peter had to say about what a shepherd means. This is coming from the guy to whom Jesus said, "Lead my sheep, Feed my sheep." 

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 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. (1 Peter 5:1-3 - ESV)

Now, since we are setting context for what a shepherd might be in the new covenant let me ask you this question: Have you ever seen a shepherd who doesn't force the sheep to move? What shepherd walks a path and expects the sheep to follow him? I haven't been in many shepherds break rooms, but I can't imagine that the word around the water cooler is to just start driving on their four-wheelers or horses and the sheep will follow. I've watched many shepherds, they always drive from the back. Yet, the shepherd who is the elder in the church is not to lead this way, they are to lead by being examples to the flock. So what kind of shepherd is this?

Jesus reinforced this style of leadership when he said to his disciples:

..“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,  and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45 - ESV)

Pastors and other elders who lead by ruling over a church are doing it the worldly way. There is a better way: Servant leadership.


Pastors are the bellwhethers

Servant leadership is a buzzword in Christian pastor groups. But true servant leadership can only be found by recognizing you are just one of the sheep. This is where the analogy of shepherding gets really interesting. You know who really shepherds the sheep while they are out in the fields? The ones who wear the bells; the bellwhethers.

Shepherds know their sheep. They find the sheep who know their voice and they put bells on them. Even the sheep recognize the significance of the bells. If a shepherd brings in a brand new ewe to a flock and puts a bell on her, often there are many fights between her and the others, but the bell never seems to change necks (for some reason)!  That bellwhether is eventually the one that the others gather around and follow because they trust the one the Shepherd trusts. They find they are disciplined less and don't get lost. The bellwhether doesn't bother herding the sheep around. The bellwhether knows where the good food is and goes there. The bellwhether knows where the water is the calmest and drinks there. The bellwhether knows where the shade is and finds it. The bellwhether knows all this because it knows the shepherds voice. 

This is where it gets really interesting: Sheep naturally will group up into flocks of 25 or less. If there isn't a sheep with a bell in that group, they are likely to stray and be harder to find. In a large flock, there need to be many of these bellwethers. 

One thing we don't see in the biblical analogy is sheep dogs. But, there are wolves. And, the warning Jesus gave doesn't warn that there will be many false prophets and divisive people who come dressed as one of many shepherds to lead people astray. What do they come dressed up as? Sheep!

[15] “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. (Matthew 7:15 - ESV)

Now, why would Jesus warn that people who want to lead others astray would come as sheep if the people are following "shepherds?" Because, he knew that we are all sheep who have gone astray. He knew that his plan was for all of us to be sheep.

Jesus knew that there would be those sheep who would help "shepherd" but they would do so by their encouraging influence in obedience and their ability to know and hear His voice. Nothing more.


I have decided that whatever the size of the Sunday gathering, any church that depends on a "shepherd" to touch base with them once a week for a couple hours is not worth its weight. They are following a structure of Shepherd > "Shepherd" > Sheep instead of Shepherd > Sheep. They will continue to be grow only at the speed of their shepherd in holiness and eventually will wear their "shepherd" out.

I think the quicker we recognize that we are all sheep called to be sheep the quicker the body in Cascade will see power restored.


Introspection / Application

Did you know that you can "aspire" to be a bellwhether? The word pastor and elder is largely interchangeable. If you are interested in taking a next step towards truly leading others to Christ, read the qualifications in 1 Timothy 3. A pastor isn't somebody some board calls. It is someone who is following Jesus that others trust enough to follow in that practice of holiness.

How does your world view change if you just recognized your pastor as the one called to just set the example for you?

How would your life change if you recognized that those things you admire about your pastor are supposed to be yours in Christ Jesus?

How would your excuses change if you realized that you too are responsible to know the Shepherds voice and not just follow your bellwhether around?


Comment below with your thoughts and thanks for working through this with me!

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