The Mutual Knowledge of Shepherding

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*This post is by Dave Zuleger, lead pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church (south campus).

Our Chief Shepherd 

Jesus is referred to as the Chief Shepherd (cf. 1 Peter 5:4) of the sheep. Why use this analogy for the way that Jesus cares for the church? Because Jesus is with us (Matthew 28:20) and intimately knows us (cf. John 10) so that he can lead us to green pastures, still waters, restore our souls, and protect us in the valley of the shadow of death. Jesus is a personal Shepherd that knows his sheep and is with them to provide and protect.

And Jesus calls us to know him and follow him. We could sum up this shepherding dynamic with our Chief Shepherd from these verses in John 10:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:27-28)

Jesus died for a blood-bought flock and he doesn’t leave them on their own, he walks with them, knows them, and invites them to know him and follow him.

Undershepherds Need to Know God’s Flock

Jesus cares so much for his flock that he gives imperfect shepherds as gifts to the flock to be undershepherds. Not surprisingly, these undershepherds are called to follow the example of the Chief Shepherd in his tender care of the flock he loves.

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 5:2-3)

There is a spatial aspect to this care. Elders in God’s Church, undershepherds of the blood-bought flock of God, are called to shepherd the flock of God “among them.”

The historical background of this analogy is one in which Shepherds were continually with their sheep. They led them to green pastures and waters. At night they protected sheep from the attack of predators. It would have made no sense to have a shepherd whose flock was in some distant place.

The shepherd would have known his sheep well because he spent time with them regularly. He would have known their particular needs and weaknesses. Helpful and careful shepherding would not exist apart from a deep knowledge of the flock assigned to them.

In the same way, undershepherds in God’s church must know their people. They must know their particular flock well enough in order to know their particular needs and weaknesses. This depth of knowledge allows undershepherds to apply the gospel of Jesus in ways that nourish and protect the sheep.

The takeaway is that one crucial aspect of shepherding the flock of God is being among the flock of God. Elders in the church should smell like the sheep. They should have a growing sense of the pulse of the flock they are assigned to. They should have a growing sense, with the other shepherds of that flock, what the needs and challenges are, so that they can pray and plan to address them for the glory of Christ and the good of the people.

God’s Flock Needs to Know Their Undershepherds

Sometimes overlooked is how important it is for the flock to get to know their shepherds. This blood-bought family is meant to be a genuine family. A family that walks together towards holiness, constantly pointing each other to the gospel. It is good for a shepherd to know the flock. And it is also good for a flock to know its shepherds and good for those shepherds to be known.

There are a relational aspects and challenges to all of this knowing and being known. That is, leaders and the people of God should model the deep truths of the gospel in such a way that they open themselves up to one another:

So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. (1 Thessalonians 2:8)

How can Paul even say, “not only the gospel?” Isn’t the gospel enough? Of course the gospel is enough for salvation – but the gospel is meant to be lived and modeled and enjoyed among the blood-bought flock of God.

How can shepherds “be an example” (1 Peter 5:3) to the flock if they never see them outside of a few minutes on Sunday morning?

The elders of God’s church need to be known by the people and know the people. The people of God’s church need to be known by the elders and know the elders. That means opening ourselves up to one another; spending time together; being involved in day-to-day life with one another. This is how we walk forward together as the blood-bought family and flock of God. And together is better!

A Personal Example

Recently my son had open-heart surgery. My wife and I were afraid. I’ve spent many hours in hospitals with others in hard situations, but now we were facing it ourselves. And as we made the decision to let the blood-bought family in to pray for our fears, pray for our boy, and pray for our family we did so because we really believe we need the people of God to uphold us, to walk through life with us. We need our church family to see we are weak and need a Savior just as much as anyone. We want our church family to see that we need them as much as they need us. Pastors are not superheroes – instead, they are imperfect servants seeking to lead the flock of God toward that heavenly pasture where one day we will see our Great Shepherd face to face.

I sit with people in counseling, in hospitals, and in-home visits – it shapes how I preach and pastor. It shapes how I seek to lead our blood-bought family. I need to know them in order to lead and care for them well. And they need to know me in order to help me lead and care for us all.

So, if you’re a shepherd in the flock of God, seek to know your people and let them know you. And if you’re a sheep in the flock of God (which, by the way, every shepherd is also a sheep), seek to be known by your pastors and to know them. We need each other to march towards glory as the blood-bought, Spirit-empowered family of God.

One thought on “The Mutual Knowledge of Shepherding

  1. Pingback: The Mutual Knowledge of Shepherding - The Aquila Report

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