What is the believer’s role in shepherding? Are all believers shepherds, or only some?
The word for shepherd in scripture means this: “One who tends, feeds, leads, cherishes, guides, and protects a flock.”
This definition is used to describe actual shepherds who watch over sheep (Luke 2), it is used to describe Jesus (John 10), and it’s used to describe some believers (Ephesians 4).
I want to talk about believers who are called to be shepherds.
God appoints living, breathing, eating, sweating people to tend to other people.
That’s kind of an odd idea, right?
But we can probably all point to instrumental people in our lives who served as guides and have helped us live well. God has given me so many shepherds in my life that it’s almost ridiculous. And I bet the same is true for anyone who takes a moment to think about it.
I also believe that many people are called to be shepherds, but ignore the call completely. This passage from Ezekiel has haunted me over the past few months (It’s a long passage, but please read it):
“The word of the LORD came to me: Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.” (Ezekiel 34:1-6, ESV)
Some people are made to lead the charge in making sure the vulnerable are taken care of. When Jesus walked the earth, he took note of the reality of Ezekiel’s words:
“And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:35-36, ESV)
Jesus notices the problem quite quickly. There are all of these people who need to be cared for…
And no one is doing it.
So he tells his disciples to plead with God to send out more workers to care for these people. To teach them, tell them the good news, and bring healing.
But Jesus doesn’t stop at asking for prayer. He actually sends his 12 students to go and shepherd the people (See Matthew 10).
I live and work in a neighborhood that has mostly been abandoned by shepherds. Almost everyone I meet is struggling with chronic illness, has never been taught the bible, and hears mostly bad news all day, every day.
This makes Jesus’ gut churn.
The question often arises, “Why won’t God do something about all of the pain and suffering in the world?”
Beyond the message of the cross, Jesus has commissioned shepherds to tend to his people.
But where are they?
I work with a handful of these shepherds, but I know in my heart that God has called more than a handful of people to shepherd an ever-growing population of the poor and vulnerable.
This is not a cynical guilt trip, but a call to reflect.
Has God called you to be a shepherd? Maybe a shepherd to a rough neighborhood or a roughed-up demographic?
If so, please respond to the call. Because many people are praying for God to send out workers like yourself to the harvest.