I've never stood in the midst of a large pasture-tending sheep (the kind that say "baa-baa"). However, I have served as a shepherd of a local church (the kind that say "Amen," "God bless" and "What time is the pot-luck?").
The Bible's word-picture of the pastor or church leader as a shepherd is powerful. A shepherd must guide, lead, protect, watch and guard. It is a weighty responsibility not to be taken lightly.
In Ezekiel 34, God entrusted a message to Ezekiel for the purpose of prophesying against the bad shepherds (people leaders) of Israel. In a stunning rebuke, he declares "Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?" (v. 2)
Next, the LORD proceeds to name these leaders' laundry list of sins:
- Demanding the choice animals for wool and food while neglecting the people.
- Not strengthening the weak, healing the sick or binding up the injured.
- Not rescuing the strays or searching for the lost.
- Ruling over the people harshly with brutality.
The result, God declares, is that the sheep were scattered and became prey to the wild animals and outside nations. Can you imagine being the shepherd who let the sheep wander astray and become ravaged by wolves? According to the LORD, the situation was so bad that it was as if the people had "no shepherd" (v. 5).
If I owned the sheep, I think I would find new shepherds.
I don't think God was angry that the leaders ate fine meat or clothed their families well. Instead, his concern was the fact that the sheep were being neglected while these leaders were living lavishly.
If you are a pastor, I'm sure you see the correlation.
- How many weak and hurting members of your flock are neglected while you sit in an office, isolated, to "tend to the business of the church"?
- When was the last time you pursued a wayward member in danger of leaving the faith?
- Who are the sheep you have avoided having a hard conversation with because you are more worried about their opinion of you than their relationship with Christ?
- What passage of Scripture have you "lightened up" in a sermon to avoid introducing a touchy subject for fear that it would offend?
- Which family's sin do you look over because of their influence in the church?
Have you forgotten that Shepherding is a calling, not a career? This ministry we have been entrusted with is a stewardship for which we will give an account (Heb. 13:17).
While that may seem overwhelming (and it is), don't forget that as a steward, you are an "under-shepherd." That means you are not alone in church leadership. The church's "chief shepherd" is Christ (I Peter 5:4). He will equip you, strengthen you, and give you the wisdom necessary for the task. He even ministers to the hurting and wayward sheep whom you have neglected.
That's the final word that God give Ezekiel in this prophesy. "I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David" (a phrase frequently referring to the Messiah who would come from David's line).
I don't know about you, but I want to make sure I am looking to the Chief Shepherd for my direction and guidance. That way, we are working together—not in opposition.
So ask yourself, as a shepherd, are you leading your sheep toward Christ or feeding your sheep to the wolves?
After serving in campus ministry at the University of Central Arkansas and coordinating student conferences for the Department of Church Ministries from 2000-2005, Scott Attebery pastored Wyatt Baptist Church in El Dorado Arkansas. Scott holds a bachelor of Arts in Bible from Central Baptist College , a Master's of Divinity from the BMA Theological Seminary, and is a candidate for Doctorate of Ministry from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. You can read his blog at scottattebery.com.
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