As we have explored the concept in both the Old and New Testaments, we have seen that the office of pastor is more than a good suggestion that can be taken or left, the fruits of successful pragmatism, or the culmination of the personal preferences of men. Instead, the office of pastor is based on specific biblical foundations resulting in a philosophy of biblical shepherding. Surely, then, the goal of our leading, what we do and why we do it in and through church, is not based on mere pragmatism or preferences either. God does not give the biblical theology of the office only to leave the purpose and goal up to good ideas or our own interpretation. “Where” a shepherd is going is a thoroughly biblical concept as well. In this article, I want briefly to look at “where” a shepherd must lead. To do so we will look at four places he is not going in order to understand the two places he must be going.
Not to Political Revolution. As a pastor, you will be pressured to push a certain political candidate, advocate for certain political ideologies, or lobby for the creation or change of certain laws. You may even face the temptation to center your ministry on the adoption of a political cause or feel the draw to turn your pulpit into a place to give stump speeches. You never see Jesus commanding His followers to storm Rome, run for Senate, or protest on the steps of the coliseum. I have looked and I cannot find any of these imperatives in the New Testament. It is not there. None of these are the distinctive calling that God has given the shepherd in His Word.
Not to Social Advocacy. Closely related to political activism is social advocacy. There are so many legitimate needs in our world. Many from your own community, including inner-city poverty and homelessness, senior adult healthcare, immigrant needs, and foster care will be dropped on the doorstep of the church. Yes, the Bible does uphold the idea of taking care of orphans and widows (James 1:27). Yes, Jesus in the context of discipleship did call His followers to give a cup of cold water (Matthew 10:4). Yet at the same time, Jesus did not meet every social request that came His way. As a matter fact, He turned down some, even some that were legitimate (more about this below). You and your church will not be able to meet every demand that comes your way either. A biblical shepherd ultimately is not leading to social advocacy.
Not to Event Coordination. A trend has arisen for the church to provide an alternative to every fun activity or hobby the world offers. Perhaps this is no longer a trend but an expectation for the church. These events include Christian concerts, Christian movie nights, and church sports, just to name a few. Not that these things are always bad, but your calling is not to reproduce every community event in a distinctively “church” way or with the label “Christian” attached to it. Jesus did not busy Himself with this. A biblical shepherd will not either.
Not to Benevolent Engagement. One ministry a church can and should engage in is helping its own members who are struggling financially (Acts 4:32-27; 1 Timothy 5:9-16). At times, you will even be given opportunities to meet the needs of those outside the membership of your church who are struggling to provide for themselves. You will take some of these opportunities. But trust me, you will not be able to respond to all of these nor should you. A biblical shepherd does not give all of his time and energy to solving the community’s financial woes.
None of these activities are bad in and of themselves. And furthermore, often one or more of these will fit into the mission of the church or allow for ministry engagement that leads to opportunities to fulfill the greater calling God has given us. Actually in the right context and approached in the correct manner, parts of each of these can be biblical ministries. But they are not the ministry, the mission. Two passages of Scripture may help us to better understand. The first is Mark 6:34. This is in the context of one of the occasions on which Jesus fed a multitude. The passage tells us, “When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like a sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them“ (NASB). What Mark notes here and how he does so is significant. Jesus felt compassion for the crowd and He taught them. He taught them not because He didn’t care. He taught them because He did. It’s what they needed most. It’s what they needed before and more than food.
The second is John 6. Recall the context. Jesus has once again fed a multitude. Then, in the middle of the night, Jesus crossed to the other die of the Sea of Galilee by way of another miracle, walking on the water. The next day the crowds showed up again seeking more food from Jesus. This time He refused and told them He is all they are getting because He is all they need (“Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourself” v. 53). Their response was telling. By the end of the chapter even some who had previously been following Him left.
Jesus didn’t refuse to feed the crowd because He didn’t care about whether they had food. It is not that this was unimportant. It’s that it was not of utmost importance. He didn’t feed them because He was concerned that they would get bread but miss Him, the Bread of Life. Peter’s response to Jesus at the end of the chapter puts an exclamation mark on the point for us. “Lord, to who, shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have believed and come to know that You are the Holy One of God” (vv. 68-69).
The problem with the four activities listed above being the goals of a shepherd’s leading is two-fold. First, these things often take the place of the mission. If we engage these we must never allow them to substitute for the actual goal. This leads to a second problem. Any organization can and often does take up these four causes. But, there are at least two parts of God’s mission that are unique to the work of the church and thus must be expressly the destinations to which a shepherd is leading.
To Christ-likeness. One goal of a biblical shepherd is to lead his people to have hearts that are more and more like Christ. We call this process discipleship. Our goal should be that we ourselves and those under our charge grow to have a clearer and sharper biblical worldview and act consistently in that worldview. A pastor shepherds his people to look, think, believe, and behave like Christ. Consider Acts 11:26 for a moment: “The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” I do not want to make too much of what the text does not say, but notice this does not seem to be a term the church coined for itself. Rather, the context seems to suggest that others, outsiders, identified the members of the church by this address.
What led to this result? Remember after the gospel took root in Antioch, Barnabas came down from Jerusalem to see the state of the church. He then went to Tarsus to find Saul, who accompanied him back to Antioch, where they spent an entire year teaching the church. They may have engaged in other activities, but the one Luke highlights for us is teaching (vv. 25-26). This detail is not given by accident nor is it insignificant. Surely the faithfulness of shepherds’ teachings to the church is one of, if not the primary, means God used to bring about such a display of Christlikeness in the membership that they were recognized and called “Christians.” A pastor faithfully and consistently teaches the Word so that his people will reflect Christ. Christlikeness is one place a shepherd leads.
To Disciple-Making. Not only must a shepherd concern himself with the growth of his own flock, but he must lead them and join them in reproducing this same effect in others who are not yet a part of the church. Perhaps we can call this process disciple-making. Certainly a part of this process includes preaching the gospel to unbelievers. But the process extends beyond this initial step. In its most basic form, this includes baptizing new converts into the body of Christ, that is the church, which Christ intended to be the cradle of discipleship, and instructing them to obey the commands and teachings of Christ as a part of His body. Essentially this is what we recognize as Jesus’s Great Commission. A pastor models and leads his people toward faithful and consistent Disciple-Making. The Great Commission is another place a shepherd leads.
So what is the vision of a biblical shepherd? Where should you be leading? We do not have to blindly or hopelessly guess at the answer. Jesus, the ultimate shepherd, explicitly gave it to us. It is His vision. “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and people and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with loud voices, saying, ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb’” (Revelation 7:9-10). Since in this passage similar language and concepts are used, it appears to be the fulfillment of the mission Jesus assigned (Matthew 28:18-20). People from every nation and all tribes around the throne of the Lamb for all eternity is the destination of the Great Shepherd. This, then, must be where the faithful shepherd leads!