We have a Good Shepherd in Jesus.  He is the fulfillment of Psalm 23 as He made that definitive statement in John 10:11.  As I think about standing in the pulpit this Sunday on the fifth anniversary of my ministry within my local church, my mind is occupied with what it means to be a good shepherd to the flock entrusted to my care.  I know it’s far more than being a good preacher.  There are many good preachers who are poor pastors.  It’s precisely that trap that I want to avoid in ministry.  As I read the New Testament and examine the words of Jesus and the responsibilities of elders, I think two primary things must be present in the life of an elder to make him a good shepherd.

A Love for God’s Word and a Commitment to Feed the Sheep

The preacher who cannot preach the Word but can tell really good stories and funny jokes proves himself to have a love for talking, but a lack of love for the Word.  Jesus told Peter, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17).  The repetition of these words signified importance.  It was Jesus who rebuked Satan by saying, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).  Under divine apostolic authority, the aged apostle Paul said to Timothy, “Preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2).  It’s obvious that a love for God’s Word is essential.  Like the Psalmist loved the Word more than the drippings from the honeycomb, so should the pastor love the Word.

That love should compel the pastor to feed the people with the Word – not with the opinions of man.  The role of a good shepherd is to minimize self and maximize God.  Since no pastor has personal authority worthy of submission, it’s the Word that is authoritative.  While the church is called to submit to the authority of their pastors (Hebrews 13:17), this is always as it flows through the Word – not personal agendas and opinions.  Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said, “The evangelical is one who is entirely subservient to the Bible…This is true of every evangelical. He is a man of one book; he starts with it; he submits himself to it; this is his authority.” [1]

It is my conviction that the best way to feed the flock entrusted to my care is by a careful method of verse by verse exposition.  If I’m not careful, as a pastor, I can use the pulpit to further my agenda, spotlight people and issues in the church out of sin rather than a careful pastoral love and care for the church, and even preach easy texts to make my week easy.  The best way for a church to come to a good understanding of the Word is by a verse by verse approach – otherwise known as expository preaching.  Although a need occasionally arises where we need to learn through a topical series, the main diet of the church is focused on a verse by verse approach in order to fulfill the demand of Christ upon the office of elder – “feed my sheep.”

A Love for God’s Sheep and a Commitment to Shepherd Them

Have you met a pastor who seemed to love preaching but he didn’t really care too much for the people in the church?  To love preaching and to be a good preacher is not enough to fulfill the office of an elder.  As Timothy Z. Witmer, in his excellent book, The Shepherd Leader, points out, “‘I SHALL NOT WANT’ (Ps. 23:1b) is the exclamation of a sheep contented in his divine Shepherd.” [2]  As we read the 23rd Psalm, we see the sheep and shepherd imagery clearly taught and embraced among the Israelites and the first century church.  As Phillip Keller states in his book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, “Green pastures are essential to success with sheep.” [3]

What does this success look like in the ministry of the Word?  As we examine the New Testament, it seems to be both public proclamation and personal guidance (feeding and leading).  In other words, the idea that the pastor is merely a prophet in the pulpit and absent through the week is not the biblical idea of shepherding.  God intends for sheep to know their shepherd leaders and for the shepherd to know the sheep.  As a pastor, I’m called to feed the sheep, pray for the sheep, care for the sheep, warn the sheep, guide the sheep, and the list goes on.  The responsibilities for careful shepherding are lengthy.

How must this process be carried out in the life of a church?  First of all, through shared shepherding.  Not only should there be a plurality of deacons serving, but likewise a plurality of elders leading.  In other words, the work of shepherding is not carried out by one pastor in the church.  All of the pastors (elders) in the church are called to care for the sheep and this is both public, private, and a joint effort.  No single pastor can care for an entire church body alone unless the church is the size of his family.

This process must likewise be carried out in the Word and prayer through visits to the home and private interaction with the people.  Richard Baxter had an approach that was focused on using the catechism and visiting homes of the members and walking them through the catechism in order to care for their souls.  This is not the only method, but for Baxter, it served as a means of organizing his efforts.

For me, I know that I desire to be more than a prophet in the pulpit on Sunday.  As a man who takes his calling seriously and has a love for the Word, I desire to be more than a “talking head” on Sunday while remaining distant from the sheep beyond the benediction.  This requires both a love for God and a love for God’s sheep.  It should be the desire of all pastors to have their church say – “I SHALL NOT WANT.”  The more we love the sheep and seek to lead them with the Word of God – their focus will be fixated upon God rather than pastors and the personalities of leaders – and the less they will be attracted to the world.  At this point their wants and needs will be unified and they will find satisfaction in God.

I long to be a better shepherd….as I await the return of the Great Shepherd to claim His flock (Hebrews 13:20).


[1] What is an Evangelical?  The Banner of Truth Trust, 1992, p. 42.

[2] The Shepherd Leader P&R Publishing, 2010, p. 139.

[3] A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23  Zondervan Publishing, 1970, p. 45.