A Shepherd & His SheepThe unique relationship between pastors and their congregations

The image of the shepherd and sheep is familiar, seen throughout Scripture. The consistent imagery depicts the nature of pastoral leadership and relationships between pastors and their congregation. As pastors, we must view our church as a flock of sheep entrusted to us by the Father. 

Shepherds were responsible for their sheep and to the owner of the sheep. They protected the sheep from attackers, cared for wounded, and rescued them if they became lost or trapped. Shepherds spent enormous amounts of time guiding sheep to the places of nourishment and rest. The result was deep trust and a relationship that kept the sheep following the shepherd. 


Shepherding In The Old Testament

We see God as the Shepherd of his people in the Old Testament. He promises to one day set his “servant David” over his people under a new covenant and raise many shepherds to care for them.

In Psalm 23, David reflects on the confidence we can find in the good shepherds care, even in times of deep darkness. The purpose of this imagery is to describe the way God cares for his people. 

The image of God as our shepherd through the valley of the shadow of death is an image that comforts many throughout life and death.


Jesus As Our Perfect Shepherd

We see the Lord Jesus Christ as the true servant David taking on the same role as God of Chief Shepherd, and commissioning his disciples to feed his sheep.

The Bible teaches us that God, through Christ Jesus, is our great Shepherd, and we are his sheep. But this shepherding picture goes further, as we saw with the previous passages about elders/overseers. 

Also, Jesus commissioned his disciples, who then commanded the early church, to carry on the task of shepherding God’s flock. These stories layout the perfect example for faithful and biblical leadership in the Church today.

John Piper says

“This is the picture that God has ordained: that flocks exist, and shepherds exist, and that the shepherds have accountability for a particular flock; and that the flock should submit joyfully to its particular shepherd. This is a structure that no podcasting pastor can replace.”

We certainly need our good shepherd, Jesus. He is willing to care and sacrifice for us. Accepting that we are indeed like sheep is hard, but we must recognize our spiritual likeness to sheep and our need for a good shepherd as we lead others.


What Does It Mean For Pastors to Be a Shepherd?

Based on the metaphors used in both the old and new testament, to be a shepherd means that it is our responsibility to lead the sheep. 

Sheep are prone to get lost, getting injured, and are vulnerable unless they are cared for by a shepherd. So it is with the flock of Christ. 

God establishes leadership, and through His grace, He has called us to be shepherds to guide his flock. It is the chief responsibility of the pastor, who is the shepherd, to lead the sheep.

“Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.” 1 Peter 5:2-4

Like sheep, mankind tends to follow. Like sheep, we are endangered by those who prey on our vulnerability, the spiritual wolves. Like sheep, we are vulnerable to wander away from the care of the shepherd and safety.

As leaders and shepherds, we are called to lead, feed, and tend to the flock. We guide them as best we can away from dangerous ledges and pits. We feed and nurture them as they grow.

Our congregation and community must know that the shepherd of the flock is a shepherd: approachable, responsive, gentle, and genuinely filled with compassion. 

In every opportunity, we should aim to reflect the ministry of Jesus, who willingly gave Himself to His flock.

As pastors, we do many things, but in all our work, our primary purpose is to minister the Gospel for the sake of the sheep and give glory to God.