He restores my soul… Psalm 23.3
The work of shepherds
The apostle Paul described his work as spending and being spent for the souls of those in his charge (2 Cor. 12.15). The writer of Hebrews explained that the work of shepherds was to “watch over” the souls of God’s people, as those who expected one day to give an account of their work (Heb. 13.17).
Jesus said that He had come to give abundant and eternal life to His sheep, life which only takes root and grows in the soil of the soul (Jn. 10.10, 28; 6.63).
Clearly, the focus of a shepherd’s work must be the souls of those entrusted to his care. God seeks to restore the souls of His people, and He has given His flocks shepherds to oversee and manage that work.
Right away we can see problems.
First, are we sure that we understand the nature and composition of the soul? It’s constituent parts, what each contributes, how they interact, and how they must be nurtured? A shepherd of the soul can no more be content with a general idea about the soul than a shepherd in the field could be with knowing the difference between his sheep and his sheep dog. The true shepherd keeps a close watch over his flock, beginning with the soul (Prov. 27.23), and this begins with the soul of each member of the flock.
Second, what does it mean to “restore” the soul? Restore it to what? The Hebrew word is richly nuanced, suggesting to refresh (cf. Philem. 1.7, 20), repair, bring back, and return. But to what? How can we restore the soul if we don’t know what a strong soul looks like?
And what do we have to “spend” for the souls of God’s sheep? How shall we “watch over” their souls, if we don’t know what the soul is or to what it is to be restored?
One day we will have to give an account of this work of shepherding. What do we expect to hear from the Good Shepherd at that time?
Resources for Shepherds
Our current ReVision series on “Strong Souls” addresses the primacy of the soul in the life of faith and explores in some detail both the components of the soul, as Scripture explains them, and what we can do to strengthen our souls for life in the Kingdom of God. You can download the installments in this series that are already available in this multi-part series by clicking here. To receive all the remaining installments – detailing the Biblical teaching about the heart, the mind, the conscience, and how to strengthen these – scroll down to the bottom of the home page and click the “Subscribe” button to add ReVision to your list. ReVision comes out every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and separate installments are available for download as free PDFs.
If you have not yet ordered your free copy of Fan into Flame, you can do so by clicking here. In this book we provide an overview of the work of shepherding and a variety of assessment tools to help you discover areas for growth in your walk with and work for the Lord.
Gildas (see below) was a harsh critic of the British Church in the early 6th century. You can read more about why he thought the shepherds of that day had failed the flocks of the Lord by ordering a free copy of our book, The Church Captive (click here). For more from William Cowper on the shepherd’s work as a preacher, tune in to our podcast, The InVerse Theology Project. Click here and herefor Parts 1 and 2 of the series, “An Essay on Preaching”, and join us on Monday for Part 3.
From the Celtic Revival
“What daring of man can, now or in the future, be more foul than to deny fear to God, charity to good fellow-countrymen, honour to those placed in higher authority (for that is their due, granted, of course, that there is no harm to the faith): to break faith with man and God: to cast away fear of heaven and earth, and to be ruled each man by his own contrivances and lusts?”
- Gildas, The Ruin of Britain, British, 6th century
“Would I describe a preacher, such as Paul,
Were he on earth, would hear, approve, and own,
Paul should himself direct me. I would trace
His master-strokes, and draw from his design.
I would express him simple, grave, sincere;
In doctrine uncorrupt; in language plain,
And plain in manner; decent, solemn, chaste,
And natural in gesture; much impressed
Himself, as conscious of his awful charge,
And anxious mainly that the flock he feeds
May feel it too; affectionate in look
And tender in address, as well becomes
A messenger of grace to guilty men.”
- William Cowper, The Task (19th century)
T. M. Moore
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.