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The Shepherding Side of Pastoring

Participating with Jesus in shepherding his flock is one of my greatest blessings.

By Marty Davey, Pastor, GCI Jacksonville

I was recently reflecting on Jesus being our good shepherd and was reminded of our role as “under-shepherds” participating with Christ as ministry leaders and pastors. Paul refers to the call to pastor as grace that has been given (Ephesians 4:7-11). It is a spiritual and supernatural grace, which means gift, given to specific believers to help the whole Body of Christ.

The word “pastors” here in Ephesians 4 is the Greek word “poimenas,” which means shepherd. A shepherd is one who leads, feeds, and protects the flock. This is the same Greek word that Jesus used in John 21 the second time he asked Peter if he loved him and added, “tend my sheep” or “take care of my sheep.” Peter, and all subsequent pastors, are called to participate with Jesus in shepherding his beloved flock. Peter also uses this terminology when giving instruction to elders (1 Peter 5:2).

What does Jesus, as well as Peter, have in mind when they exhort ministers to be shepherds? A good place to look is John 10 where Jesus describes what he, as the good shepherd, will do. Then he draws contrasts between himself and bad shepherds. Jesus describes himself as the one who knows and calls the sheep by name, who leads them out to good pasture and goes ahead of them. He says he gives them life to the full, saves them, and won’t leave them when danger comes, but would instead lay down his own life for them.

The bad shepherd, so to speak, is there for himself, not showing genuine care for the sheep, and is unwilling to sacrifice for them. One is reminded of the selfish and failing shepherds of Israel that God inspired Ezekiel to call out in chapter 34 of his prophecy. His criticisms include that they “only take care of yourselves,” and “you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered …” (Ezekiel 34:3-5 NIV). By noting what the selfish shepherds didn’t do, we see what the Lord expects good shepherds, pastors shepherding under Jesus, to do: strengthen the weak, heal and bind up the hurting, seek the lost and straying, and bring them back. This is what healthy pastors do.

As we in GCI endeavor to upgrade and improve our management-based leadership skills in Team Based – Pastor Led leadership, we can look at the 4 Es as mechanics (Engage, Equip, Empower, Encourage), but they also cover the fundamental calling of pastors to be shepherds.

I try to keep this in my own mind as a pastor by using the acronym “LESS” – which also reminds me that pastoring requires less self-serving and more self-denial, and less reliance upon physical methods and mechanics and more reliance upon spiritual methods and qualities. The shepherding aspects of pastoring are, for me, summed up in these four aspects as represented by the letters L, E, S, S.

L — Love the flock, including both those in the flock and those not yet in. (Engage)

E — Exhort the flock through teaching to nourish the flock with the truth of Jesus and God’s will. (Equip and Empower)

S — Shepherd the flock – tend, care for, bind up, visit, seek out, provide healing comfort. (Encourage)

S — Serve the flock, as Jesus did, according to his teaching that those who are truly great leaders will be serving. (All 4 Es)

Ephesians 4:11 speaks of pastors doing “works of service,” which is what “ministry” means. Many commentaries point out that the grammar of the Greek in these verses more naturally connects this phrase to the actions and expectations of the pastors. Yes, we want our ministry leaders to also Engage, Equip, Empower, and Encourage, but we must never forget that the responsibility to lead by example is on pastors. We are to lead with a genuine loving, caring, and serving attitude of one willing to wash the feet of others, as did our Lord.

For me, I consider my calling to be a pastor as one of my greatest blessings. Thank you, Jesus, for this wonderful grace, this gift, to serve your flock!

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