By Roger Oakland
Both the Old and New Testaments consist of numerous references that provide the guidelines required for a leader to be classified as a good shepherd. It makes sense that we would look to the Scriptures for guidance because the Bible is the inspired Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16) and should be our ultimate authority when it comes to discussing this topic.
First, the Psalmist describes the Good Shepherd as the one who goes ahead of the flock to lead the sheep. He is a true leader always on the lookout for their safety.
Thou leddest thy people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron. (Psalms 77:20)
But made his own people to go forth like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock. And he led them on safely, so that they feared not: but the sea overwhelmed their enemies. (Psalms 78:52-53)
Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock; thou that dwellest between the cherubims, shine forth. Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh stir up thy strength, and come and save us. (Psalms 80:1-2)
Second, a good shepherd is constantly aware of where his sheep are in relationship to himself and concerned about their well-being. He is always searching them out when they are lost or remaining behind and does all he can to bring them back to the flock.
For thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out. As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. (Ezekiel 34:11-12)
What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. (Luke 15: 4-6)
Third, a good shepherd shows tenderness for the weak, the ewes, and the young lambs. He attends those who are sick and in need of special care.
I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick. (Ezekiel 34:16)
And he said unto him, My lord knoweth that the children are tender, and the flocks and herds with young are with me: and if men should overdrive them one day, all the flock will die. Let my lord, I pray thee, pass over before his servant: and I will lead on softly, according as the cattle that goeth before me and the children be able to endure, until I come unto my lord unto Seir. (Genesis 33: 13-14)
So he [David] fed them according to the integrity of his heart; and guided them by the skilfulness of his hands. (Psalms 78:72)
While many other characteristics of a good shepherd are found in the Bible, there is one more in particular I want to include. A good shepherd watches out for and protects his sheep from wild beasts or predators such as wolves that feed upon the sheep. The good shepherd will lay down his life to protect them with a strong dedication and commitment as we see here:
And David said unto Saul, Thy servant kept his father’s sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock . . .Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God. (1 Samuel 17:34, 36)
I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:11-15)
There is a connection between the term good shepherd and the well-known term pastor. While Christians have made this connection and given this title to leaders who stand behind pulpits, oftentimes these leaders are not being true to the biblical qualifications. Walking in the flesh (human nature) rather than the Spirit, these men are driven by man’s fallen nature which seeks power and attention thereby corrupting what it means to be a pastor. This, of course, has impacted Christianity throughout the ages, but over the past several decades the problem has accelerated to the point where we are now witnessing this present apostasy ravaging churches throughout the nations.
Addressing this topic is not easy nor will it be welcomed by many. Efforts to be helpful will be met by an avalanche of opposition. So many of today’s Christian leaders believe they are above reproach and should not be challenged. In fact, they find biblical correction useless and unnecessary, especially when headed down Apostasy Road. However, the Bible is clear that God has serious concerns about those who pervert the Word of God and lead the sheep astray. For such, serious consequences lie ahead.
Jeremiah’s warning to the spiritual leaders of his day is a good reminder for us today. Consider the similarities to what is happening at present:
Thus saith the LORD of hosts, Hearken not unto the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you: they make you vain: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the LORD. They say still unto them that despise me, The LORD hath said, Ye shall have peace; and they say unto every one that walketh after the imagination of his own heart, No evil shall come upon you. (Jeremiah 23: 16-17)
As in Jeremiah’s day, our modern-day prophets speak of peace and prosperity. But if they were truly speaking for the Lord, they would be preaching of repentance from sin and faith toward God as becomes apparent below:
For who hath stood in the counsel of the LORD, and hath perceived and heard his word? who hath marked his word, and heard it? Behold, a whirlwind of the LORD is gone forth in fury, even a grievous whirlwind: it shall fall grievously upon the head of the wicked. The anger of the LORD shall not return, until he have executed, and till he have performed the thoughts of his heart: in the latter days ye shall consider it perfectly. I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my counsel, and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings. Am I a God at hand, saith the LORD, and not a God afar off? Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the LORD. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the LORD. I have heard what the prophets said, that prophesy lies in my name, saying, I have dreamed, I have dreamed. . . . Which think to cause my people to forget my name by their dreams which they tell every man to his neighbour, as their fathers have forgotten my name for Baal. (Jeremiah 23:18-25, 27)
The prophet Jeremiah concludes this passage with an urgent appeal to the shepherds of the land not to speak falsely but to proclaim the Word of the Lord. We have a powerful Gospel that needs to be proclaimed to an increasingly godless world, but the words of peace and prosperity we hear are only vanity, while God’s Word shall never return void:
The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the LORD. Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces? Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, saith the LORD, that steal my words every one from his neighbour. (Jeremiah 23: 28-30)
While we have the Good Shepherd to follow—a Shepherd who is faithful and true—our own earthly shepherds and leaders should remember with soberness that leaders will be judged more strictly than others (James 3:1). It is a calling that should never be taken lightly.
(This is an excerpt from Roger Oakland’s new book, The Good Shepherd Calls)