The most basic definition of a shepherd is one who: herds, tends, guards, protects, guides, watches over and leads a flock of sheep. That is certainly a tough job description and one which demands commitment and dedication. Biblical shepherds sometimes worked in teams (Lk 2: 8-10) (Amos 1: 1) (Amos 7: 14-15) but might work alone and face great dangers at a young age as David did (1 Sam 17: 34-35).

Evidently not all shepherds were as brave and loyal as David.  Some actually destroyed and scattered the flock (Jer 23: 1-6), Others lead them astray (Jer 50: 6), and called thieves and robbers who would run away from dangers caring nothing for the sheep (Jo 10: 7-13).  Although it is sometimes difficult to tell whether the scriptures are talking about literal sheep and shepherds or a group of people and their leaders, the analogy of sheep and people is certainly apropos.

Jesus Christ is called the Chief Shepherd (1 Pe 5: 4) and the Good Shepherd (Jo 10: 14) who would lay down His life for His sheep.  He tenderly gathers the lambs and carries them close to His heart (Isa 40: 11).  Psalms 23 compares how a good shepherd cares for his sheep and pictures a wonderful example of how Jesus cares for his disciples.  All of the traits Jesus outlines in John 10 apply to us as his followers—He goes ahead and we follow: He speaks and we know His voice: He allows us to have a relationship with the Father: etc, etc.

The elders (pastors, overseers, bishops, and other titles) are frequently called shepherds in Christ’s church (Act 20: 28) (1 Pe 5: 1-3).  Their job description is even stricter than the physical shepherd’s—not greedy for money; eager to serve; be an example to the flock; be on your guard (Acts 20: 28-30); and most challenging of all; give an account of the souls of the flock (Heb 13: 17).

Unfortunately, there are false leaders who have secretly slipped in to deceive the Lord’s people—godless men, (Jude 12) savage wolves and distorters of the truth who will try to draw away disciples (Act 20: 29-30).  What to do?  Paul says to, “Be on your guard!” (Acts 20: 31)  Check the manual (Bible).  Have the lambs (naïve Christians) protected by the rams and sheepdogs (strongest members).  Pray without ceasing! (1 Th 5: 17) (Eph 6: 18) Trust in the Chief Shepherd!

–Jim Bailey