Friday, November 03, 2006

True Shepherds Don't "Abandon"

The following article is a follow-up to the recent weekly post that we ran by Pastor Anton Bosch called "Spot the Wolf." Today's commentary on the true shepherds stands in stark contrast to the false shepherds. It also paints a picture of a loving pastor that is radically different from the concept of a "leader" who "abandons" his sheep. Elsewhere this blog has noted how the purpose-driven movement learned to practice abandonment from business leader Peter Drucker.


True Shepherds

While there are many wolves in sheep’s clothing, there are also a few true shepherds who can be trusted. So what does a good shepherd look like? The easiest reply would be to look at Jesus. He is the great and perfect Shepherd and sets the example for all other under-shepherds to follow. In Ezekiel 34, the Lord takes the shepherds of Israel to task for the failure to be good shepherds, but in the process also explains what a good shepherd should do.

Good shepherds will feed the flock. (v2-3). The shepherds of Israel are rebuked for feeding themselves at the expense of the sheep but true shepherds make sure that the sheep are provided for. In Psalm 23:5, David says “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.” A true shepherd will make sure that the church is spiritually fed by the Word of the Lord. This often takes hard work as he labors in the word and doctrine (1Timothy 5:17), but when folks meet with him, whether he is preaching or not, they feel fed and satisfied by the Word of God. Shepherds must not only spoon-feed the lambs, but they must also teach the older sheep to feed themselves. No true shepherd will keep the sheep on milk, but will rather encourage folk to move to stronger food and feeding themselves as they grow.

A good shepherd makes sure that folks are fed according to their spiritual ability. One does not feed steak to babies or baby food to men. A good shepherd breaks the Word into manageable pieces for the different people he cares for. Yes, some preachers think they are clever when they speak big words and difficult concepts but the true shepherd makes the Word plain so that everyone can understand and be fed (Habakkuk 2:2). Paul says that this is such important work that “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine” (1Timothy 5:17). Jesus commissioned Peter with the words “feed my sheep” (John 21:15,16,17). Paul’s last words to the elders of the church at Ephesus were “feed the church of God” (Acts 20:28). Peter confirms this message to shepherds: “Feed the flock of God” (1Peter 5:2).

True shepherds strengthen the weak, heal the sick and bind up the broken. (v4). The heart of a true shepherd is especially manifest in the way he deals with those who are weak, sick, broken and struggling. Wolves have no time for people who are needy, but Jesus said that He had come for those who are sick and that He will heal the broken-hearted. (Luke 4:18). In all of Jesus’ ministry He was drawn to those who were poor, sick and needy -- and true shepherds will follow His example. The Lord says:

“I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick; but I will destroy the fat and the strong, and feed them in judgment” (Ezekiel 34:16).

Many preachers like the fat (rich) and the strong people who can help them to realize their personal ambitions, while they despise the poor and needy. But the Lord says he will destroy the fat and strong but strengthen those who are broken and sick, because the strong often abuse the weak. (Ezekiel 34:21). We live in times when people are hurting in many different ways and shepherds should be attending to the needs of those who are spiritually, emotionally, relationally and physically disenfranchised.

I don’t think there has ever been a time when more people are physically, emotionally and spiritually sick. It seems that more homes, relationships, spirits and minds are broken than ever before. The world and church is filled with those who are weak in the faith who need strengthening, rather than condemnation. So, if ever there has been a need for true shepherds who, like the good Samaritan will stoop down and help those who are struggling, the time is now. The lion preys on the weak but the true shepherd defends and strengthens those who are bruised. Praise God for the promise of the Great Shepherd who said:

"A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench, Till He sends forth justice to victory” (Matthew 12:20).

Good shepherds seek the lost and bring back those who have been driven away or who have simply strayed. (Ezekiel 34:4,16). Jesus said “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). He also tells the parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son to show how His heart is set on finding and restoring those who have gone astray. (Luke 15). Some, like the prodigal son’s brother, are still present physically, but spiritually just as lost as those we never see in the meetings. It just seems to be in the nature of sheep to go astray (Isaiah 53:6), and thus shepherds have to be on the constant lookout for those who are drifting from the fold. Look at the cry of the Great Shepherd:

“So they were scattered because there was no shepherd; and they became food for all the beasts of the field when they were scattered. My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and on every high hill; yes, My flock was scattered over the whole face of the earth, and no one was seeking or searching for them” (Ezekiel 34:5,6).

Of course, even the Lord Himself cannot bring those back who are willfully determined to go their own way. Jesus Himself wept over Jerusalem because He had often tried to gather the lost sheep of His father’s house but they would not return to Him. (Matthew 23:37).

Sometimes we look at the lost with a sense of pride that we are not like them. But the true shepherd’s heart is moved with compassion for those who are lost. Mark says that

“Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things." (Mark 6:34).

Look at the picture that Isaiah draws of the Lord:

“He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, And carry them in His bosom, And gently lead those who are with young” (Isaiah 40:11).

Thank you, Father, for the Great Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep that He might bring us, who had each turned to his own way, back to the fold again. Thank you that He cares for us, leads us and feeds us. Give us under-shepherds with the same heart of compassion for the sheep as the Lord Jesus. We need men who, like David, will be willing to stand between the sheep and the lion and the bear and defend the sick, weak and lost – Amen.