Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.  So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well. If I love you more, will you love me less? …  Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? We have been speaking in the sight of God as those in Christ; and everything we do, dear friends, is for your strengthening. (2 Corinthians 12:14–15, 19)
There are many examples of bad shepherds in the Bible, those with misguided motives and self-centered behavior. However, the Apostle Paul is by no means counted among them. Like anyone placed in leadership, he was occasionally under criticism or suspicion. But his life was a continual witness to the purity and goodness of his motives and obedience to his Lord.
Paul made it clear to the Corinthians that he did not want their possessions – their money and material goods, their power or influence – he wanted them. He had labored alongside them for the sake of this church. He told them not only would he spend his own money on them and give them what he had, but he would even spend himself – his very being – for their sake. That’s how much he wanted to see them grow in grace.
Paul told them that all he had done, and was doing, was for their strengthening, for building them up in their faith. His great desire was to equip and edify them to know and follow Christ Jesus the Lord.
This should be at the heart of every shepherd of Jesus Christ. And that list of “every shepherd” is a long list indeed. For it is not merely those who have been ordained by the church who are shepherds, but also those who are mothers and fathers, Bible study teachers and small group leaders, youth counselors and Vacation Bible School volunteers, just to name a few.
I wonder how many shepherds today are “spending and being spent” (as the KJV puts it) on behalf of their flock – those entrusted by God to their care. I wonder how many would look more like those chastised shepherds of the Old Testament who worked from unworthy motives.
To help you discern where your heart is on this, take some time to reflect on the questions and next steps below. Ask God to search your heart and weed out any impure and ungodly motives. And ask him for a fresh filling of his Spirit to renew you and give you the same heart that animated the faith and ministry of the Apostle Paul.
- Who has God entrusted to your care for the purpose of shepherding them in their faith and life?
- What does a regular week of shepherding look like for you? What are the ways you are investing in the lives of those entrusted to your care? What sort of preparation is required on your part?
- What are your motives in your call as a shepherd? Are you looking for a “paycheck” or looking to invest yourself in people’s lives? A “paycheck” may be money, attention, seeking to be well thought of, or any number of things that put us at the center of the equation.
- Are you “doing time” or are you seeking to build up those in your care? Are you spending yourself that others may see Christ in your life, or are you doing just enough to get by?
- Do a search of those key “shepherding” verses in Scripture and jot down the important principles that will help encourage you as you invest your life as a shepherd for the sake of others.
It’s good for us to ask ourselves these tough questions. The discernment process is not about self-condemnation. Instead, it should serve as an aid to help us see our need for renewal in this vital calling to shepherd others. Let us recommit ourselves to be faithful shepherds for our Good Shepherd, that we may be counted worthy to serve him and be a blessing in the lives of others.