No pastor is born to the work. None of us come to pastoring naturally. We must all go to shepherding school, which requires us to shadow Jesus who said, “I am the good shepherd.”
When Jesus made that “I am” statement, he took on himself God’s own promises in Psalm 23, Ezekiel 34, Jeremiah 23, and Zechariah 10 to be Israel’s shepherd—gathering, healing, feeding, and protecting his people.
But Jesus’ claim in John 10:11-18 revealed something new—unheard of up to that point. He raised the good in “the good shepherd” to a new level by explaining just how he would accomplish all God had promised:
He would lay down his life for the sheep.
He would draw his flock into the intimate knowing of the Father and Son.
He would bring in other sheep “not of this sheep pen.”
He would take up his life again, bringing his resurrection life to his flock.
All of that was new shepherding information.
In laying down his life for the sheep, Jesus contrasted himself with the hired hand …
“… when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it.” (John 10:12)
We must never, ever enrich our pockets nor our pride at the expense of our congregation. We are servants of the Lord Jesus and his flock, not employees. We are bound to them by grace and love. We would rather die than abandon them to the wolf!
“I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the LORD. (Jer. 23:4)
God himself entrusted us with our shepherd’s staff and placed us among our flock. Our duty and delight, our compensation, is to nourish God’s people with his peace and protection, no matter the cost.
The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:11, cf. 15 & 18)
Only Jesus could save the flock from the vicious wolves of sin and death. Only Jesus could make a public spectacle of Satan and his forces by triumphing over them on the Cross. But his shepherds must also lay down our lives for the sheep. Pastoring is a dying profession.
When we entered the ministry, we didn’t reckon on just how much dying would be involved. To carry the sorrows and failings of our people, to step into their messes and walk with them in dark places, to wrestle constantly (sometimes publicly) with our own faults and weaknesses, and to know the stab of Satan’s thorns—all that takes a toll.
But Christians have no one else in their lives like their pastor and they’re not meant to be without a shepherd. We aren’t their Redeemer, but we are in league with Jesus’ own redemptive work in their lives. In serving them, we share in the sufferings of Christ, but we also share in his comforting presence. In turn, we share that comfort with our people as we preach, lead, and love them.
John the Baptist found joy in saying, “He must become greater; I must become less.” There’s a healthy dying in that. By laying down our lives for Jesus’ own flock, we are blessed in ways that other people aren’t. We are loved and remembered as only a pastor can be. We walk alongside them on paths of righteousness. We help anoint them with grace. We walk them to the threshold of heaven. And those dear people become for us “our joy and crown.”
Be ye glad!
Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He writes a weekly devotional for preachers on Preaching Today.