The Shepherd’s Gift
June 24, 1990
About the time I graduated from seminary in 1978, a leading Christian magazine published an article entitled, “Things They Didn’t Tell You at Your Seminary Graduation.” It is subtitled, “Some aphorisms for the brand-new pastor.” I cut it out and saved it because at that time I was most definitely a brand-new pastor. Here are a few gems from that article:
•If you don’t know what you’re doing, do it neatly.
•If you do know what you’re doing, try to explain it to the official board.
•Let your first request at the trustees’ meeting not be for an exterminator at the parsonage.
•Leave your German shepherd at home when you go to the Sunday School picnic.
•Take your German shepherd with you when you go to the first ministerial meeting.
•Always remember to take the offering before the sermon.
•Fifty-one Sundays out of the year, preach so that the youngest child in your congregation can understand you. The fifty-second Sunday, preach so that the Ph.D., the Th.D., the Ed.D., and the M.D. are bewildered, awestruck and filled with amazement.
•When people comment on your sermon as they are going out the door, don’t take them seriously.
•If you can’t tell a joke, don’t.
•There are limits to participation in community life. You don’t need to prove yourself by taking part in the annual rodeo.
•Most old people will love you even when you goof. Maybe even more then.
•Don’t press for action the first time you bring a matter up at a board meeting.
•Never surprise the chairman of your board.
•Remember that being a pastor is a lot like being the lead dog in a team of Alaskan huskies. You’re the only one who has a view of the horizon. So tell them what it looks like.
I have saved that column and referred to it over the years because it is filled with so much common sense. This summer I wrap up my twelfth year as a pastor. In many ways I feel as if I’m just beginning. There is so much more I need to learn. Being a good pastor takes both common sense and a good dose of the grace of God. To properly care for the people of God is both an art and a science and it takes a lifetime to learn how to do it well.
A Surprising Spiritual Gift
You probably didn’t know there was a spiritual gift called pastoring. Now that you know it, you may assume that there is only one person in this church with that gift. In fact, you may assume that I am therefore preaching only to myself this morning. But that is definitely not the case. As I have studied the question, I have come to the conclusion that the gift of pastoring is like any of the other spiritual gifts. In our congregation, I believe there are many people with this gift. That is, I believe there are many men—and women—who are spiritually gifted to do the work of pastoring.
Because this comes as a surprise to many people, the best place to begin is with the biblical evidence. There is only one verse in the New Testament which speaks of this gift—Ephesians 4:11. The surrounding context has to do with the unity and diversity of the body of Christ. Ephesians 4:1-6 stresses the grounds for unity. Ephesians 4:7-16 stresses the diversity within that unity. Paul is talking about how the individual parts of the body work together for the good of the whole. In verse 11 he mentions various gifted men given to the churchby the risen Christ: “It was he (the risen Christ) who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers.”
You will notice immediately a certain progression. Apostles and prophets refer to those men who played a foundational role in the early days of the church. They spoke with direct authority from God in a sense that no one can speak today. It would be perfectly accurate to say that no one can claim to be an apostle or prophet today in the same sense Paul speaks of here.
The Gift Of Changing Dirty Diapers
Evangelists were those gifted men who spread the Gospel, won the lost and founded churches. They were like spiritual obstetricians whose main task was delivering the babies. The pastors and teachers were like spiritual pediatricians. They came along after the evangelists left and started changing the diapers. They taught the new believers and organized them into local churches. By definition, the evangelist’s work was short-term, while the pastor’s work was long-term.
You’ll notice that we have called the gift of pastoring “the shepherd’s gift.” That’s because the English word “pastor” comes from the Greek word poimen, which means “shepherd.” When that Greek word was translated into Latin it came out pastores. But the meaning is the same. To say “pastor” is to say “shepherd.” And in fact there is a whole field of pastoral theology called poimenics. You might call it “shepherdology.”
That should not surprise us because in the Old Testament when God needed to get something done, he often laid hold of a shepherd. When he wanted to found a great nation, he laid hold of a shepherd in Ur named Abraham. When he wanted to give birth to the tribes of Israel, he laid hold of a shepherd named Jacob. When he wanted to protect his people in Egypt, he laid hold of a shepherd named Joseph. And when he wanted a man to be king, he found a young shepherd on the hills of Bethlehem named David.
That’s why when Jesus wanted a metaphor to describe his relationship to the nation of Israel, he said, “I am the good shepherd.” (John 10:11) It was an image his hearers easily understood. Hebrews 13:20 calls him “that Great Shepherd of the sheep.” And I Peter 5:4 calls him “the Chief Shepherd.”
To sum up, there is a spiritual gift called pastoring. It could just as easily be called shepherding. Its roots go back deep into the Old Testament. It finds its ultimate expression in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is therefore a worthy spiritual gift which will repay careful study.
I. What Is The Shepherd’s Gift?
Here is the definition we are using in the Spiritual Gifts Inventory. The gift of pastoring is the special ability which God gives to certain members of the body of Christ which enables them to assume a long-term personal relationship for spiritually guiding, feeding, protecting and caring for a group of believers effectively. That’s a mouthful, isn’t it? The key is the phrase “long-term personal responsibility.” It means shepherds stay with their flocks over the long haul. They don’t bolt and run. They aren’t looking to trade in their old sheep for new ones. Their commitment is long-term.
And it involves taking personal responsibility for the sheep. A good shepherd understands that he must give an account for the sheep under his care. That will mean long hours in the pasture and many sleepless nights. Being a shepherd is hard, thankless work. Only those truly gifted do it well.
The Gift And The Office
Right here I need to make a crucial distinction. I have already said that pastoring is a spiritual gift. But we tend not to think of it that way. We tend to think of it as an office in the church. But there is a difference. Even though most modern churches have an office of pastor, that’s not the same thing as the biblical gift. While only one man can fill the office of pastor, there can and should be many people in the congregation with the gift of pastoring.
What I’m saying is that there will be many people who have the gift who don’t fill the office. The reason is obvious. Once a church grows beyond 200 people, it’s impossible for one man to truly “pastor” the whole church. He can lead the church in terms of setting an overall direction, but there is simply no way he can give personal attention to all the members. And in a church of 500 people, the pastor will have a hard time remem-bering the names of all the church members.
So what happens then? One of three things happens. The pastor may go on trying to personally pastor 500 people. It’s impossible and he will eventually give up in frustration. Or he may keep on trying and the church will slowly begin to shrink. Or he (and the church) will realize that God never meant him to carry that load alone. And he will find those men and women who are gifted in pastoring and allow them to share the load with him. Thus, he is freed up to do the job he can do best and the needs of the individual members are still being met.
In my opinion, it is less important for the pastor to have this gift than it is for many of his members to have this gift. That is, I think there are some highly-effective pastors who do not have the gift of pastoring even though they fill the office of pastor. Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s good for the pastor to have this gift. But I think it is even better when many of the lay men and women have this gift.
That’s why this spiritual gift is so important. It’s a key to the continued growth of any church. As long as the congregation expects the pastor to do all the pastoring, they will be sadly disappointed and the church will slowly stagnate. But when a congregation begins to find and recognize those gifted men and women who can pastor as well as the pastor, that church is on the road to growth and expansion. There is no limit to how large a church can grow when this principle is applied.
Wanted: More Shepherds
Let’s take our own situation at Calvary as a good example of that principle. Several weeks ago I saw the most recent count of the total number of people who are part of our church family. The number was 1341. That includes our members, regular attenders, and those who have visited us recently.
Now how are we going to take care of 1341 people? One pastor can’t do it. It’s just not possible. That’s why we started our Shepherding ministry last year. We took a map of Chicago and located all our people on the map. Then we divided the map up into 16 geographical areas. Shepherds were recruited who could serve in each area.
That was a year ago. Today we have 21 areas and we are ready to divide four of those. When we do, we will have 25 areas covering all 1341 people in our church family.
Who are these shepherds? They are husband and wife teams who have accepted the responsibility of providing pastoral care to the people in their area. That means calling each family, getting to know each family, praying for their people one by one, visiting them in the hospital, caring for their per-sonal and family needs.
It’s not an easy job because all the shepherds have fulltime jobs elsewhere. None of them get paid for their work. I do not exaggerate, however, when I say that they are the heart and soul of the church. They care for people in a personal way that I could never do. And they are the “pastors” of their area just as much as I am the pastor of the church.
As I said, right now we have 21 areas, but we have only 20 shepherding couples. One area (Oak Park, far south, east half) is open. And we need to split four other areas. So we have a current need for five more shepherding couples.
What are the requirements for being a part of the shepherding ministry?
1. You must be born again.
2. You must be a member of Calvary Memorial Church (or be willing to become a member).
3. You must be growing in your Christian life.
4. You must be willing to be trained in this ministry.
5. You must be willing to commit the time necessary to care for the people in your area.
If you fit those requirements, perhaps God is calling you to become a shepherd at Calvary. Rightly under-stood, we have many pastors in this church and we need many more. It’s a key to our future growth.
II. Can A Woman Exercise This Spiritual Gift?
The key here is to remember we are talking about a gift, not an office. As far as we know, there are no gender-specific spiritual gifts. That is, all the gifts are equally available to both men and women. Therefore, it is perfectly proper to think of women who have the gift of pastoring.
The only stricture the New Testament places on this gift is where it can be used. I Timothy 2:9-12 indicates that the ultimate spiritual authority in the church is reserved for men. Thus, it would not be proper for a woman to hold the office of pastor. But many women have the gift of pastoring.
As a matter of fact, I think that in most local churches more women than men have this gift. I have no doubt that many of the women at Calvary have this gift. I think you can see it so clearly among our Sunday School teachers. Not all of them have this gift, but many of them do. They do more than just teach their class; they shepherd the flock God has given them. We saw it so clearly when Mark had his appendix out several months ago. It was an emergency appendectomy so no one had any advance warning. But when his teachers found out, they all made sure he was okay. Carol Bonham came by the hospital to see him. She and Rich brought candy—Chocolate Turtles, I think—and a Viewmaster. Then Irma Csakai wrote him a note and enclosed some money and then sent over a plate of cookies. And Shirley Jager sent him a card and some money. (Mark ended up making a profit from his time in the hospital.)
You won’t be surprised to hear that Mark loves Sunday School—and not just because of the money either! He loves it because his teachers love him and it shows in everything they do. Almost every week he comes home and talks about the Bible story he learned in class. That’s more than teaching; that’s shepherding God’s flock. I don’t doubt that Carol and Irma and Shirley have this spiritual gift. And I think many of our other women have it as well.
III. What Does A Shepherd Do?
There is one final question we must answer. What exactly does a shepherd do? That’s a hard question because it’s like asking, what does a parent do? It’s hard to list everything a shepherd does for his flock. But the Bible indicates three main things every shepherd must do.
First, he leads the flock. Psalm 78:70-72 describes David in these words:
He chose David his servant and took him from the sheep pens; from tending the sheep he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance. And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.
So the shepherd goes in front and leads the way from pasture to pasture, from still water to running brook, from the high country to the rolling meadow. He knows where the wolves are and he knows where the green grass grows. It’s the job of the shepherd to lead the way.
Notice how David led his people—”With integrity of heart.’ That’s almost a forgotten word these days. If a man is charismatic and attractive, he can be a leader. But without integrity, where will he end up? And what will happen to the sheep?
I am so tired of turning on the nightly news and hearing yet another story about a preacher who has gotten into trouble. It seems like you hear about a new episode every few weeks. It’s so discouraging. And what a blot it is on the cause of Christ. It happens because we have leaders without integrity.
Second, he feeds the flock. This is the shepherd’s main duty. He has to see that the sheep are well-fed. When Jesus gave Peter his final instructions in John 21, he told him, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:17) Nothing is more important than this. What will it matter if while the shepherd is writing books, the sheep starve to death? Unless the sheep are fed, you aren’t doing your job. In our day we have substituted entertainment for ministry and flash for substance. No wonder the flock is hungry.
It matters not whether you are preaching behind a pulpit or leading a small group or teaching a Sunday School class or working with the Prime Timers. Unless the sheep are fed, you aren’t doing your job. All the other fun and games don’t really matter if this one great thing isn’t being accomplished.
Third, he guards the flock. When Paul was passing by Ephesus for the last time, he called the elders of the church to meet him at Miletus. In that great farewell speech, he said these words, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.” (Acts 20:28-29) Those verses tell us two things: First, there are many wolves who are waiting to attack the flock. Second, if we allow them in, they will do great damage. Therefore, part of a shepherd’s job is to guard the flock from those who would harm it. That means staying up late and getting up early. There is an old Welsh proverb which says, “A lazy shepherd is the wolf’s best friend.”
Against All Hope
As you begin to think about all that it means to be a good shepherd, you wonder, how can anyone do it? The task seems so great, the demands so heavy. To be a good shepherd will cost you everything. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11) But is that just hyperbole? Does anyone do that today?
A while back I read a sobering book called Against All Hope by Armando Valladares. The book is the story of his 22 years in a Cuban prison. I do not have the words to tell you what it was like. The brutality was beyond belief. Suffice it to say that the Nazis had nothing on the Cubans. They only did it on a larger scale. Truly, the Cubans treated pigs better than they treated prisoners.
During his early years, over 6,000 prisoners were kept in a massive prison on the Isla de Pinos. Most of them were political prisoners whose only crime was opposing Castro. Valladares describes the punishment pavilions where men were left naked to wallow for months in their own excrement, the beatings, the food unfit for barn-yard animals, and systematic attacks by the guards.
The men were organized into forced-labor teams and sent to the rock quarries. They came back tired, hungry, exhausted. They were dirty, some of them barefoot, with their clothes hanging in tatters. As they entered the compound the guards screamed for them to go faster. When the men didn’t respond, the guards began beating them with machetes. As the beatings increased, something strange happened:
Suddenly one prisoner, as the guards rained blows on his back, raised his arms and face to the sky and shouted, “Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do!” There was not a trace of pain, not a tremble in his voice; it was as though it were not his back the machete was lashing, over and over again, shredding his skin. The brilliant eyes of the “Brother of the Faith” seemed to burn; his arms open to the sky seemed to draw down pardon for his executioners … Very few men knew his real name, but they knew that he was an inexhaustible store of faith. He managed somehow to transmit that faith to his companions, even in the hardest, most desperate circumstances. (p. 199)
They called him the “Brother of the Faith.” He was a Protestant minister who had dedicated his life to spreading the Word of God. Valladares says, “He was his own most moving sermon.” He spent his days and nights going through the cells, finding sick men and washing their dirty clothes for them. He started a prayer meeting and even preached sermons standing behind a pulpit improvised from an old salt-codfish box. The soldiers tried to break up the meetings by beating the prisoners, but they never succeeded.
If some exhausted or sick prisoner fell behind in the furrows or hadn’t piled up the amount of rock he had been ordered to break, the Brother of the Faith would turn up. He was thin and wiry, with an incredible stamina for physical labor. He would catch the other man up in his work, save him from brutal beatings. When one of the guards would walk up behind him and hit him, the Brother of the Faith would spring erect, look into the guard’s eyes, and say, “May God pardon you.”
There were more than a thousand prisoners in that building. We all had great admiration, great affection for the Brother of the Faith. Whenever the guards broke in to beat the stragglers out to work, there, always encouraging us, cheering us up was the Brother of the Faith. “Don’t tempt the Devil, brothers,” he would call out to the tardy men. While we stood in the long line for “breakfast”—the never-failing sugar water—many times the Brother of the Faith would tell Bible stories or make us laugh with his original and highly personal disquisitions on sin and men’s conduct. “Don’t ever forget that I lived in sin and knew temptation,” he would tell us. His constant labor was to teach us not to hate; all his sermons carried that message. (pp. 200-201)
Eventually the men were transferred to an even worse prison—Boniato. Torture went from unspeakable to unimaginable. One day a riot broke out and the guards moved in with machine guns. Total slaughter ensued. Then it happened again.
But suddenly, as though to protect them, there appeared a skeletal figure with white hair and flaming blazing eyes, who opened his arms into a cross, raised his head to the invisible sky, and said, “Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do.” The Brother of the Faith hardly had time to finish his sentence, because as soon as he appeared, Lieutenant Raul Perez de la Rosa ordered his guards to step back, and as the Brother of the Faith was speaking he fired his AK submachine gun. The burst of fire climbed the Brother of the Faith’s chest, up to his neck. His head was almost severed, as though from the blow of an ax. He died instantly. (pp. 325-326)
Many years later, Valladares was set free. He ends his book by recalling his friends who died in prison. He names them one by one and tells how they died. It is a roll call of the dead.
And in the midst of that apocalyptic vision of the most dreadful and terrifying moments in my life, in the midst of the gray, ashy dust and the orgy of beatings and blood, prisoners beaten to the ground, a man emerged, the skeletal figure of a man wasted by hunger, with white hair, blazing blue eyes, and a heart overflowing with love, raising his arms to the invisible heaven, and pleading for mercy for his executioners.
“Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” And a burst of machine-gun fire ripping open his breast.” (p. 380)
Jesus said, “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” We wonder, is it possible to live that way? The answer is yes, even in the most desperate circumstances, even in the midst of unspeakable brutality. Yes, you can. If you are willing to lay down your life.
You Can Be A Shepherd If …
No matter where you are, you can care for the Lord’s sheep if you are willing to lay down your life. Someone says, “But I’m only a Sunday School teacher.” You can be the shepherd for those boys and girls if you are wil-ling to lay down your life. “But I’m only a youth worker.” You can make a difference if you are willing to lay down your life. “But all I do is teach school.” Your students are your flock. Are you willing to lay down your life for them? “All I have is my family.” Then lay down your life for your family. “What about my friends at work?” They are like sheep without a shepherd. Who will die for them if you don’t?
The search is on today for things that are bigger, slicker, faster, higher, stronger and better. We put a premium on degrees, methods, programs and new ideas. We want the spectacular, the miraculous, signs and wonders, a demonstration of the power of God.
But since the days of Genesis, God has been searching for one thing: Shepherds who will care for his sheep. Such men and women are hard to find. There is no need any greater, no reward any higher, no task more difficult, no effort more exhausting, no work more ultimately gratifying. The greatest miracle of all is a shepherd who is willing to lay down his life for the sheep.
It is still true that all we like sheep have gone astray. And God is looking for some shepherds to bring his wandering flock back into the fold.