Summary: This message looks at the significance of the shepherd and how it is essential to understanding God’s plan for church leadership.
The image of the shepherd seems somewhat irrelevant to modern Americans. Without a doubt this makes it quite difficult to communicate God’s plan for church leadership. The picture of the shepherd fails to connect with us in the modern church. Shepherds would have been as common to the original readers as telephones and Wal-Marts are to modern Americans. You would think that we could find an image that would be more easily understood by the modern person. Regardless of how hard we search there is just no modern equivalent to reflect accurately the concept of Biblical leadership. Dr. Lynn Anderson writes, “I cannot find any figure equivalent to the shepherd idea in our modern, urban world. Besides if I drop the shepherd and flock idea, I would have to tear about five hundred pages out of my Bible, plus leave the modern church with a distorted, if not neutered view of spiritual leadership.” As you read through the Bible it is impossible to miss the numerous references to God as a shepherd. The image of a shepherd appears more than five hundred times throughout the Bible. Jesus Himself says in John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” As we begin our study of God’s plan for church leadership, we must begin by gaining a better grasp on exactly what a shepherd is. If we want to implement God’s plan for spiritual leadership we must accept the concept of the shepherd.
I. A historical view of shepherds.
A. What are shepherds and what do they do?
1. A shepherd is one who pastures or tends a flock of sheep and/or goats. Since these were the most important domestic animals in Palestine, there are many references to sheep and shepherds throughout the Bible.
2. Shepherds were in charge of keeping a group of sheep known as a flock. The average size for a flock was one hundred sheep.
3. The task of the shepherd was to care for the flock, to find grass and water, to protect it from wild animals, to look for and restore those that strayed, to lead the flock out each day going before it and to return the flock at the close of the day to the fold.
4. The shepherd was responsible to the owner for every sheep and was required to make restitution for losses.
5. Shepherds and their flocks enjoyed a close relationship since they were responsible for giving the sheep constant care.
B. The Old Testament pictures God’s relationship with His people in the context of the shepherd/sheep relationship.
2. Isaiah beautifully captures this image of God, “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” (Isaiah 40:11—NIV)
3. Old Testament readers would have pictured this type of gentle caring relationship between God and His people.
4. Although we all like sheep have gone astray, we have a good shepherd who will love us and gently lead us back to the flock.
C. God pictured His prophets, priest and kings as shepherds.
1. Despite the fact some were bad shepherds and did not live up to their task, God continued to use the idea that the leaders of His people were shepherds.
2. For example the leaders of Judah who were responsible for their spiritual well being failed miserably leading the people into sin and setting them up for captivity in Babylon.
3. “My people have been lost sheep; their shepherds have led them astray and caused them to roam on the mountains. They wandered over mountain and hill and forgot their own resting place.” (Jeremiah 50:6—NIV)
4. These warnings have significance for us today; modern leaders have been entrusted with the same life and death responsibility.
D. The New Testament presents Jesus as being our Shepherd.
1. In our text Jesus pictures Himself as a loving shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine in the open country and goes in search of the lost one.
2. The point is that the lost sheep is as important as any of them and must be found. The fact that the shepherd puts it on his shoulders suggests the tender love of the shepherd.
3. It would be unusual for a shepherd to call his friends and neighbors to celebrate the finding of a sheep with him, but that is the point. God loves each person so much that there is rejoicing in heaven over every single sinner who repents.
4. The Son of God left heaven and came into our pasture and got sheep smell all over Himself. He walked our paths, took on our wolves, faced our temptations and shared our struggles.