One of the greatest insights into the life and work of a shepherd is found within the 23rd Psalm. Here we can learn the way of the Heavenly Shepherd through David’s comparison with the earthly shepherd (of which he was one). This illustrative Psalm further causes us to understand something of what the ministry of the local pastor should be.
The pastor should provide spiritual food for those under his care. This involves the meat, bread, and the milk of the word of God. As the shepherd of the Bible days did not allow his sheep to roam and feed wherever they pleased, so to the pastor cannot permit anything other than the purity of God’s word to be taught in the church. Modern day feeding methods have caused diseases in sheep, in a sense this illustrates the sad fact that some ministers offer their flock a diet of secular and philosophical teaching instead of the pure word of God. As “green pastures” make healthy sheep so the uncorrupted word of God is health to God’s people.
The shepherd would care for the sheep and would not allow anything to hurt them. With his rod and staff he would ward off any predators, and also rescue the sheep from dangerous places. He cannot fear those who seek to come to destroy and scatter the flock. He should not run and hide when trouble arises, but stand his ground for the sake of the people God has committed to his care (John 10:13). The shepherd went before his sheep leading them to the best feeding grounds. The shepherd of today follows his sheep by driving them forward (with the use of dogs). These opposite methods describe the two kinds of pastor today. Those who lead the flock make personally sure that the way ahead is good. Sheep know the voice of a good shepherd (John 10:27) and are content to follow his example and teaching. He guides rather than forces forward. He uses words of comfort instead of frightening them forward with threats (dogs). The modern day shepherding movement is a dictatorship rather than a loving relationship between leader and members of the church. In caring for the sheep the shepherd would go out of his way to find that one that has gone astray, “How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray” (Matthew 18:12-13). The true pastor will only lead his people on the “path of righteousness”. This is true of all natural shepherds who care for the sheep.
The valley of the shadow of death. Throughout his ministry the pastor will have to face dark and gloomy moments regarding the personal and spiritual lives of his people. This may involve terminal illness, pain, fears, or the inability to overcome sin and temptation. No matter how dark things may become his God-given responsibility is to protect them and guide them even nearer to the Lord. If the shepherd fears or is uncertain about the way to go then the sheep will sense this. At all times, even in the darkest, stormiest of hours the shepherd remains with his sheep. The modern shepherd drives his sheep out in the morning, and returns in the evening to drive them home (some leave the sheep out all night alone). This is not the practice of the Biblical shepherd, nor should it be that of the spiritual shepherd. The pastor has to be there for his people. He cannot take time-out from caring for them. In a sense he worries about them as a mother for her children. His desire is to see them all safe and well, and the only way to achieve this is to be there with them. People need to know that the ministry are concerned for them.
Today the shepherd would call in a vet if an animal was wounded or sick. The middle eastern shepherd in Bible times would anoint the sheep with olive oil to heal wounds. Here we see that he was able to do something about the situation himself. This describes what James exhorted to be done if their is sickness amongst the members of the local church, “Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him” (James 5:14-15). Comforting the sick has always been part of the ministry of the pastor, therefore he should not pass the responsibility off onto third parties (those claiming healing powers), but should have enough faith to pray for the recovery of the person himself.
David closes his Psalm by saying, “I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever”. The practice of bringing the sheep into the same house as their master was common in the ancient world. The shepherd would not leave them in a fold overnight unless he was their with them, but would bring them into the security of his own home. The modern shepherd is more likely to be away from his people than with them. There are those today who want nothing to do with their people once the church door is locked on Sunday evening. Paul told Timothy that a pastor must be a man with an open heart and an open door, “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach” ( 1 Timothy 3:2). In Titus 1:8 we read that the spiritual shepherd must be a “lover of hospitality”.
In reality God is calling for His shepherds to lay down their lives for those who are under their care (John 15:13). It is impossible for a true pastor to be a private man, for he has the burden for his people. He desires to nurture and bring them unto maturity in Christ. Like the man in Nathan’s parable the pastor should love them (even if few in number) like his own family (2 Samuel 12:1-4). The ability to speak is not sufficient proof of being a good pastor, without a sharing, caring, loving attitude he is wasting his time. The true pastor will follow the perfect example of the Chief Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ.