*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)