Godly Shepherds and Obedient Sheep

There is a great need in local churches today for godly shepherds. The absence of such shepherds is readily apparent. Many of the saints are as sheep having no shepherd. Many who are referred to as "elders" are more involved in "scheduling" speakers and activities than they are in "shepherding."

Sheep are often poorly fed and others simply wander off without the shepherd knowing or searching them out and bringing them back to the fold. (Luke 15:4) Other sheep are suffering and receive little or no compassion. Some shepherds are absent for months at a time, while others fail to attend many of the meetings of the assembly. In addition hospitality is rarely practiced. (1 Tim. 3:2) As a result of these failures those having the responsibility of shepherding the Lord's sheep barely know them. (John 10:14) Sadly, the Lord's charges against the false shepherds of Israel would be applicable to many shepherds today. (Ezek. 34:1-10)

Let's consider briefly the great need for godly shepherds today. First, it is clear that these are days of depravity. In such days there is a great need for shepherds who are men of character. Shepherds who will "Stand Out" as models whom the sheep can follow. (John 10:27; 2 Thess 3:7)

Second, these are days of discouragement, and thus there is a need for shepherds who are men of compassion. Shepherds who will "Stand By" the sheep in times of difficulty and discouragement. While shepherds must be strong, they must also be men of compassion. We see this perfectly displayed in the Good Shepherd. (John 8:44; 11:35)

Third, we live in times of departure. The Scriptures are being abandoned and rationalized away. Pragmatism rules, and many churches have gone to the world for help. (Isa. 31:1) In days of departure we need shepherds who are men of conviction. Men who will not be swayed by public opinion. Men who know what they believe and why they believe it. Men who will "Stand Fast" in days of departure. (Tit. 1:9)

Lastly, these are dangerous days in which Scriptures are being challenged and when those who take a stand for them will come under fire, even from the saints! We need men of courage. Men, like David, who are not only shepherds, but men who will "Stand Up" and be counted. David saw Goliath and the battle in a different light than his brethren and was willing to get into the battle, even when his own brethren misunderstood him. David, the skilled shepherd and musician, stood up as a courageous soldier.

In days of depravity we need men of character who will Stand Out as models for the sheep to follow. In days of discouragement we need men of compassion who will Stand By the sheep. In days of departure we need men of conviction who will Stand Fast and hold firmly to the Word of God. In days of danger we need men of courage who will Stand Up in the battle.

While shepherds are responsible for the Lord's sheep and must give account for their souls (Heb. 13:7), the sheep are not without their responsibilities towards the shepherds. We live in a very self- centered world, one in which individuals demand much service, but are unwilling to serve others. This carries over into the local church and many saints demand much of those in oversight, but fail to carry out their responsibilities towards those who are attempting to provide needed spiritual leadership and care. Many murmur, but rarely pray for these finite men who have such a great responsibility, and their own trials and discouragements as well.

The sheep are exhorted to "know them which labor among you and are over (leading) you in the Lord, and admonish you.." (I Thess. 5:12) Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine." Sheep are to recognize those who are shepherding the Lord's sheep. Any shepherd who is doing the work will be "recognizable," and the sheep are to do just that. The sheep are to be aware of those who guide and care for the sheep.

The passage quoted above goes on to say, "And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake." (1 Thess. 5:13) The sheep are to recognize the shepherds and to respect them as well. They are to esteem, or value them for the work they are doing. How often do the sheep value the work of the shepherds? How often do the sheep stop to consider the responsibility and labor associated with leading the Lord's people? While the shepherds are not "above" the saints in the sense of being in a different class, they are to be esteemed for their works sake. The sheep are to be appreciative and thankful for those who sacrifice themselves for the sheep. Sadly, the sheep may demand all the attention, but be unaware of the value of a caring shepherd.

Scripture also instructs the sheep to respond to the shepherds. "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief...." (Heb. 13:17) The sheep are to "obey" the shepherds, or "to be persuaded" by them. The sheep are to trust the shepherds and "submit," or "not resist" them for they watch for your souls. How important this is in a day of rebellion and the "resisting" of leadership in many areas of society. By obeying and submitting, the sheep make the task of the shepherd an enjoyable one, rather than a difficult and discouraging one.

We are also told to remember them that have the rule (lead) over you. (Heb.13:7) It was the Lord Jesus who said, "A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house." How easy it is for the sheep to get caught up with their own needs, and to forget those who labor day and night (Acts 20:31; 1 Thess. 2:9), day after day, month after month, and year after year for the sheep. I would suggest that a major part of "remembering" them would be to pray for them. Mere mortals attempting to provide care for the Lord's sheep as those "who must give account for their souls." How they need to be remembered and prayed for, and yet how infrequently they are prayed for privately or publicly?

Lastly, if necessary, the sheep are to recompense the shepherds. "Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine." (I Ti. 5:17) This does not imply some business-like contract of some sort, but a sensitivity and exercise on the part of the sheep to the needs of the shepherds. Scriptures are far from silent in this area. "For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, the labourer is worthy of his reward." (I Tim. 5:18) If the demands of shepherding eliminate or reduce the possibility of secular employment, the saints should be willing to support those who labor to provide care for the Lord's sheep.

In a day when there is so much error coming into the church, and when so many of God's people have strayed from the things of the Lord, and when many others are passing through deep waters, it may be that those who are doing the work of shepherding simply do not have enough time to do all that is required and hold down secular responsibility as well. Certainly the Biblical principle of plurality of leadership is designed to help in this area, but at times it may be necessary for the sheep to recompense those serving them in this way. It may also be true that the work of shepherding may incur some expenses which the saints should be willing to reimburse to those doing the work.

In a local assembly where there are godly shepherds who love the Lord's people and give themselves for them, and where the sheep recognize, value, and obey those doing this important work, there will a healthy harmony and an atmosphere conducive to spiritual and numerical growth.