The Pattern for Church Growth (6)
“‘For thus says the LORD God: 'Indeed I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so will I seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land; I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, in the valleys and in all the inhabited places of the country.'" Ezekiel 34.11-13
“I am the good shepherd.” John 10.11
“‘Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!’ says the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD God of Israel against the shepherds who feed My people: ‘You have scattered My flock, driven them away, and not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for the evil of your doings,’ says the LORD ‘But I will gather the remnant of My flock out of all countries where I have driven them, and bring them back to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase. I will set up shepherds over them who will feed them; and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, nor shall they be lacking,’ says the LORD.” Jeremiah 23.1-4
He confirms the promise, for he would give them faithful and true pastors, who would perform their office as it behoved them; for it would not be enough that the sheep should be restored to their folds, except they were fed. We indeed know that a sheep is a silly animal, and therefore has need of a shepherd to rule and guide it. God then intimates by these words, that after he had collected his flock into the fold it would be the object of his constant care; for he would appoint pastors, who would discharge their office in a far different way from wolves and sacrilegious robbers.
- John Calvin, Commentary on Jeremiah 23.4
In this series we have been examining the priorities of our Lord Jesus Christ for building His Church and advancing His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Only as we embrace and pursue the Lord’s priorities for His churches can we reasonably expect the Lord to build His Church as He has promised (Matt. 16.18; Ezek. 34.11-31).
Truth, grace, and peace are at the top of the Lord’s list. The truth of God, revealed in His Word, provides the foundation, framework, and furnishings for the temple of the Lord, which is His Church (Eph. 2.19-22). By His grace He saves, transforms, sustains, renews, and empowers His people for the work of building His Church. Peace issues from truth and grace as the soil from which all the flowering virtues of Christian life and witness grow. Truth, grace, and peace together combine to fuel and focus worship, foster fruitful disciple-making, and further faithful mission. Thus the local church fulfills its calling as a sign and outpost of the Kingdom.
Whatever else we are doing in the church, if we are not focusing on and pursuing these priorities as our guiding standards and objectives, we have no reason to expect the blessing and promises of the Lord for beauty, joy, holiness, and power to turn the world rightside-up for His glory (Ps. 48.1-3; Matt. 5.13-16; Acts 1.8; 17.6).
In this concluding part of our study we are examining the work of shepherding as the means whereby pastors and teachers equip the saints for ministry, unto healthy, growing churches where truth, grace, and peace abound. In the previous installment, we saw that Jesus and the apostles commended the work of shepherding as the means for engaging and realizing the Lord’s priorities in building His Church. Their conviction about this work derived, no doubt, from their understanding of the Old Testament.
It remains for us briefly to outline this important work and to indicate the promises of God which attend to it. This will be the focus of this installment, and in our final installment in this series on God’s Priorities for His Churches,we will consider how to implement and sustain a work of shepherding.
The work of shepherding
In John 10, Jesus identified six disciplines that constitute the work of a shepherd. First, a shepherd must know his sheep, working hard to develop relationships of mutual love and trust with those in his care (vv. 14, 27).
Second, a shepherd is also called to lead his sheep (vv. 3-5, 27). This implies both a clear and compelling Kingdom vision for the work of the church, and the skills to engage allthe flock in the pursuit of that vision, personally and as a body together.
Third, shepherds must at all times be ready to lay down their lives for their sheep, setting aside personal interests and making sacrifices beyond what may be required of others to ensure that the flock of God is receiving sufficient and appropriate care (vv. 11, 15).
Fourth, unlike someone who is simply “doing a job” a true shepherd will defend the flock of God against false teaching, temptation, and the ravages of sin and the devil (vv. 12, 13).
Fifth, as Jesus said that He gives eternal life to His sheep, shepherds must work hard to help their sheep grow in the experience of eternal life (v. 28).
Finally, shepherds not only care diligently for those entrusted to them, they also work hard to bring other sheep into the fold (v. 16). Pastors and elders should be the leading evangelists of their congregations, thereby setting an example for all the members concerning their witness for Christ.
Whatever else we are doing to build our churches, if we are not shepherding as Jesus did and taught, then we cannot expect to realize the promise of shepherding which the Lord holds out to us.
The promise of shepherding
The promise of shepherding is outlined in Ezekiel 34, where the Lord explains what the impact on His flock will be when He comes with faithful shepherds to build His Church. Again, we must be brief, providing only a bulleted outline of what we may expect as we take up the work of shepherding, If we are faithful in this ministry, as outlined by Jesus and the apostles, God will:
- make of His flocks a great gathering (vv. 11-13).
- ensure that all the members of His flock are well-fed and strong (vv. 13, 14).
- keep His flock safe from whatever may divide or devour them (vv. 20-22, 25, 28).
- bless them with His presence and make them a blessing to all around them (vv. 26, 27).
- draw His people to Him ever more deeply into eternal life (vv. 27, 30, 31).
- make of His Church a renowned garden where abundant fruit is cultivated for the Lord (v. 29).
What would these promises look like as they begin to be realized among the members of your church and by your church as a whole? The only way to know is to take up the work of shepherding, trusting the Lord to honor His priorities and the appointed means of securing them.
Shepherding God’s Flock
If you’re interested in a more detailed study of the work of shepherding, and of how to implement and sustain it, order a copy of our workbook, Shepherding God’s Flock, by clicking here.
Studies in Christian Worldview
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“He is shepherd to shepherds and a guide to guides: that we may feed his flock with knowledge, not with the instruments of a foolish shepherd.”
- Gregory of Nazianzus, In Defense of His Flight to Pontus, Oration 2.117
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T. M. Moore
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).