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In Ephesians 4, Paul says that God give five special gifts to the church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. All of these are necessary for the maturity of the church, but to me, the ministry of the pastor is special. The role of the pastor, or shepherd, is special for me because I believe this is one of the five-fold ministries that most resembles Jesus. A pastoral role is special because all Christians have some responsibility to show love and care for one another. At some level, we are all called to be a shepherd to Christians who are younger than ourselves in the faith. Not everyone is a pastor, but we all function in pastoral ministry to some extent. I personally believe that we need more pastors in the church than apostles, prophets, evangelists, or teachers. There always seems to be a lack of people who have the heart to shepherd God’s people.
Importance of the shepherd role
Before He ascended to heaven, Jesus restored Peter and gave him his most important calling. In John 21:15-17, Jesus makes it clear that if Peter truly wanted to prove his love for Jesus, then he must love Jesus’ sheep. Jesus did not call Peter to be an apostle or evangelist, although Peter eventually filled both those roles. Jesus called Peter to be a pastor, a shepherd, and a spiritual overseer. In 1 Timothy 3:2, Paul says that whoever has the goal of becoming an overseer in the church desires a noble task. To be a shepherd is a high calling.
Responsibilities of a shepherd
King David, who himself was a shepherd for many years and also a shepherd for the entire nation of Israel, wrote Psalm 23 to describe how God shepherds His people. In these verses, we can see the responsibilities of a good shepherd.
Nourish the sheep with spiritual food
Psalm 23:2 says “He makes me lie down in green pastures.” When sheep are put into green pastures, they eat until they are satisfied and lie down to rest. In the same way, spiritual shepherds need to provide their sheep with sufficient spiritual food. We need to be hungry for God’s word ourselves so that we’re always learning and gathering new material to pass on to our sheep. We need to make our own hearts storehouses of the treasures of God’s word, so that we can bring out the appropriate teaching. This requires constant hunger to learn ever-deeper truths about God’s word. Matthew 13:52 He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” Shepherds need to understand the learning styles of their sheep, their ability to handle different teaching, and the timeliness of each topic.
Lead the sheep to spiritual refreshment
Psalm 23:2 also says “… he leads me beside quiet waters.” We need to lead our sheep to spiritual water, which is the Holy Spirit. Our ministry needs to be the Holy Spirit’s ministry. If we only plan and act according to our human wisdom, our sheep will soon be spiritually thirsty. Shepherds need to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and teach their sheep to be sensitive as well. We should teach our sheep how to receive spiritual refreshment by praying with them, sharing our God-given joy, and demonstrating how we receive supernatural strength in times of difficulty. We must lead them to experience a life-giving relationship with the Holy Spirit so they can refresh themselves whenever they are dry. When we meet with them, we should be sure to talk about spiritual things. Ask them what they’ve learned or experienced with God lately. Talk with them about the things going on in their life and help them to see how God plays a role.
Help in spiritual restoration
Psalm 23:3 says “… he restores my soul.” We must also help our sheep heal their spiritual sicknesses and wounds. We should work to restore our sheep to a right relationship with God and others when those relationships are broken. In Galatians 6:2, Paul says that Christ’s law for Christians is that they carry one another’s burdens. Shepherds especially cannot ignore the spiritual illnesses of their sheep. They should look carefully to see if their sheep are discouraged or have bad attitudes. We should aim to restore them to full and vigorous spiritual health. We may need to confront our sheep in love. Paul tells Timothy to gently instruct those who oppose him, without being resentful (2 Timothy 2:24-26). How much more should we patiently bear with the people God has given us special watch over? Sometimes people need encouragement. We should always be ready to encourage our sheep with words full of faith. 1 Thessalonians 5:14 And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. We should instruct, encourage, show love in practical ways, but the most important thing we can do to help restore people spiritually is to pray for them. We need to intercede on their behalf. Samuel was the last of the prophets to lead Israel. When he anointed a king to lead in his place, he promised he would pray for the nation, which was his spiritual flock, that they would always follow God. 1 Samuel 12:23 As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right.
Guide the sheep in godly living
Psalm 23:3 also says, “He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” Good sheep follow their shepherd, for better or worse. We need to set a good example for everyone, but especially for those who we take responsibility for as
shepherds. Paul tells Timothy to set an example for everyone in the church, even those who are much older than him. Everyone has influence through their life example. Your pastors will be encouraged to see you full of zeal and love. 1 Timothy 4:12 Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. We should set an example for our sheep to follow. Our actions are much more powerful lessons than our words. We need to watch ourselves in how we treat people, how we honor our word, how hard we work, how we make decisions, and how we manage our finances. God is honored when His people walk in paths of righteousness. Remember, we are disciples of Jesus. Spiritual shepherds also need to listen to the Holy Spirit in order to give godly advice and guidance. We should be very careful about advising people. For our part, we should not force them to do anything. (After all, even God does not force us to do His will!) But for their part, they should look to us as God’s representative. We need to ask God for wisdom in what to say when we give counsel.
Support and protect the sheep in difficulty
Psalm 23:4 says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” We need to be with our sheep in difficult times, ready to support and protect them. John 10:12-13 The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
The shepherd role, or pastoral role, in the church is very important. God uses Christians to take care of younger believers. God Himself is the excellent role model for a spiritual shepherd as illustrated in Psalm 23.
1. To what extent are you a spiritual shepherd? Who do you have responsibility to be a shepherd over? 2. What are some of the most important roles of a shepherd for you personally? What do you appreciate most about your shepherds? 3. Why did Jesus make such a big deal about sheep with Peter in John 21?
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