The shepherd in Scripture is a picture of one who cares for, tends to and defends a flock. A shepherd has authority through being a servant to those under their care.
Jesus describes Himself as the “Good Shepherd” in John 10:11. He even lays down His life for His sheep. Ultimately, Jesus is the Great Shepherd of the sheep (Heb. 13:20-21; 1 Peter 5:2-4), and those who care for His flock in the Church are His under-shepherds.
If evangelists spend lots of time around non-Christians, then shepherds tend to spend lots of time around Christians (but not exclusively). They seek to help them grow healthy, eat well, leading them on safe paths. They are moved by compassion to care for people. They help nurture sick and weak sheep back to strength (both physically and spiritually).
Shepherds are concerned with spiritual formation, helping those in their care demonstrate a fully developed spirituality. They will be champions of love and hope in the midst of the reality of pain and weakness.
Shepherds are no strangers to the messes that their flocks can produce, but their job is not to leave people in their mess but to exhort them to follow the Great Shepherd out of their mess into greener pastures.
Psalm 23 is a beautiful picture of the kind of Shepherd that the Lord is. It is a wonderful vision for pastoral ministry.
I want to highlight one verse that is often overlooked: In verse 4 we read that ‘Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” We often like to think of “pastors” as being sympathetic and caring people who show great empathy towards people experiencing hard times. This verse points to another reality though.
When a shepherd uses his staff to “comfort” his sheep, he is actually jabbing them with the sharp end of his stick! He is provoking his unwilling sheep to move for their own benefit.
Sometimes sheep are stubborn and they need to be provoked out of their stubbornness! The shepherds who oversee God’s flock will sometimes need to prod them out of their stubborn attitudes.
Shepherds are not afraid of conflict—in fact, they understand the necessity of healthy conflict for the benefit of the flock. They are not cruel to their flock, but they have sufficient concern for their wellbeing that they will not shy away from “comforting” a sheep out of a potentially dangerous or harmful situation. Comforting includes disciplining.
When we take a truly biblical approach to dealing with conflict based on love, honesty, forgiveness, courage and honor, we will create healthy environments and healthy relationships.