The Pattern for Church Growth (7)
“‘Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: ‘As I live,’ says the LORD God, ‘surely because My flock became a prey, and My flock became food for every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, nor did My shepherds search for My flock, but the shepherds fed themselves and did not feed My flock’— therefore, O shepherds, hear the word of the LORD! Thus says the Lord God: ‘Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require My flock at their hand; I will cause them to cease feeding the sheep, and the shepherds shall feed themselves no more; for I will deliver My flock from their mouths, that they may no longer be food for them.’” Ezekiel 34.7-10
Surely it was not to feed, to have no care for the sheep. To visit is to be extended here to every part of the duty of overseeing, as though he had said, that the flock had been by them neglected, betrayed, and deserted. We hence see that they had wholly neglected their pastoral office.
- John Calvin, Commentary on Jeremiah 23.2
Called to shepherd
The Lord Jesus cherishes His people as His chosen flock. He is our Good Shepherd, and we are His sheep. His desire is that each of us might be healthy, strong, and fruitful, and that together His flock might cover the green pastures of the world with His blessing and Presence.
To that end, He calls pastors and teachers to equip His sheep with truth, grace, and peace, that they, connected with Him and increasingly transformed into His image, might take up those works He Himself did, and greater works than these, thus growing His churches in unity and maturity as the Body of the Lord.
The work assigned to pastors and teachers is the work of shepherding, which Jesus Himself practiced and taught. We are called pastors because our calling is to feed, tend, and shepherd the flocks of the Lord. We have seen what this work entails, and we have glimpsed what the Lord promises for those who faithfully pursue it.
If the promises of shepherding elude us, it is because we have not taken up the specific work to which those promises are attached. We can continue to perpetuate our ecclesiastical status quoand culture, adding new programs and adjusting existing ones in the hope that we might attract more people to our pews; but if we neglect the work of shepherding, or if we prefer other ways of equipping the saints and building the church to that work, we should not be surprised if our flock does not increase in the ways of truth, grace, and peace according to the promises outlined in Ezekiel 34.11-31.
When we do not shepherd as Jesus and the apostles taught, we not only do not build His Church as He intends, but we scatter and impoverish the very flocks for which He died and rose again.
How can we begin to move toward more of a shepherding model of ministry?
From here to there
First, we have to agree that shepherding is the template Jesus and all Scripture prescribe for the work of building His Church. We’ll need to study the subject further, look at the Scriptures all over again through the lens of shepherding, and consult our faithful forebears for writings and examples that can guide us in this work. We are not free to define shepherding to suit what we’re already doing. We must return to the Scriptures and the record of our forebears to learn all over again this work that is so crucial to our callings.
Second, we must prepare ourselves and our church’s leaders for the work of shepherding. What does it mean to know the Lord’s sheep as Jesus knew His disciples? Are we prepared to lead as He did? To lay down our lives for the needs of the saints and the health of the flock? To defend the sheep, bring other sheep into the church, and give greater measures of eternal life to all the Lord’s sheep?
We will have to devote ourselves to understanding these disciplines, acquiring the necessary skills, and improving our abilities as shepherds if we expect this labor to bear the promised fruit.
Third, we will need to organize the congregation in some manner to ensure that every member has a shepherd, and every shepherd is working with the members assigned to him according to the goals and protocols of the work. No sheep must be left unattended. Strays must be sought. The weak must be fed and bandaged. Families of sheep must be strengthened, guarded, and guided to green pastures. Wherever still waters have become troubled, shepherds must bring the truth, grace, and peace of the Lord.
Shepherds must make sure that all the Lord’s sheep are accounted for by their pastoral care. While people may opt in or out of programs, every member must be assigned a shepherd to help them grow as disciples. Thus, every member of the church will benefit from the work of shepherds, as they labor together as a team to care for all the Lord’s sheep.
Shepherds should meet together to pray for the people, study their calling, share with one another from their work, learn from and encourage one another, and seek the Lord’s direction for their flock.
It will take some time to get organized, going, and functioning effectively in this important calling. Take the next steps right away that will enable you to establish the work of shepherding as the defining template for all your work of making disciples and building the Lord’s church.
Warning to shepherds
Churches today are in decline everywhere. People are losing interest in the faith. Young people abandon Jesus as soon as they are out of their home. The people in our communities seem uninterested in church or Jesus, no matter how many different ways we try to attract or please them.
The Lord’s sheep are scattered. Many are floundering in their faith. Others whom the Lord would save have yet to hear His Good News.
Is this the judgment of the Lord on His shepherds? Is He taking His sheep away from us, or keeping them from our care until we desist from running programs and take up the work to which He has actually called us?
This much is clear from Scripture: If we will not shepherd those sheep entrusted to our care, and will not follow the example and teaching of Jesus and the apostles, then the Lord Himself will oppose us and our ministries and bring to naught our efforts to do church our way rather than His. He will not give us sheep to care for if we refuse to care for them as He prescribes.
But if we will take up this work of shepherding and embrace as guiding priorities the truth, grace, and peace of the Lord in all we do, then we may be assured the Lord will see, accompany, and bless our churches and their members to increase in Jesus day by day and year after year.
Shepherding God’s Flock
Studies in Christian Worldview
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“You may learn, if you will, the profound wisdom of the most holy Shepherd and instructor, the Lord of the universe and the Word of the Father. He presents himself to us by way of allegory as the shepherd of the sheep, and so in this way serves also as the teacher of children. Speaking through Ezekiel to the Jewish elders, he gives them a salutary example of true care. ‘I will bind up the injured and will heal the sick; I will bring back the strays and pasture them on my holy mountain.’ These are the promises of the good Shepherd. Pasture us children like sheep, O Lord.”
- Clement of Alexandria, Christ the Educator 1.9
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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).