He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. - John 10:12-13 (ESV)
The biggest difference between a true shepherd and a “hired hand” is that the shepherd cares for the sheep, while the hired hand does not. The shepherd doesn’t abandon his post when faced with wolves. Neither does he resent the necessary labor of tending sick sheep and seeking lost sheep. He embraces these responsibilities, because he loves the sheep – following the model of the Chief Shepherd himself.
Jim Elliff, in his extended meditation on this passage in his essay “The Cure of Souls,” writes: “ Since the word pastor is literally the word shepherd, we must assume that what we are seeing in so many of our churches is a “pastor” who is not a pastor. He may be concerned for truth; he may be concerned for preaching; he may be concerned for growth; he may be concerned for evangelism. But if he is not concerned about the sheep, he is only a hireling.”[i] So, what does a shepherd’s love for the sheep look like?
Elliff suggests six components:
"1) Pastoral intimacy: Developing the relationship that underguirds all other ministry toward the individual.
2) Pastoral tutelage: Providing personal biblical instruction for increasing character, skills, or knowledge.
3) Pastoral guidance: Offering objective biblical direction through conflicts, reversals of life, distortions in thinking, and decision-making for those overwhelmed by them.
4) Pastoral consolation: Giving spiritual comfort during trials.
5) Pastoral guardianship: Watching out for the enemy’s assaults on the weakness of the sheep and warning and disciplining the sheep when they are rebellious.
6) Pastoral intercession: Praying with believers."[ii]
In other words, the true shepherd knows his sheep, feeds his sheep, guides his sheep, comforts his sheep, guards his sheep, and prays for his sheep. Knowing the sheep means that we will live with and among our people, seeking to befriend them and understand them. Breakfasts and lunches, visits in their homes and ours, small talk after church and serious personal interaction are all valuable and necessary means for helping us know the sheep. Feeding the sheep demands not only an intimate knowledge of the sheep themselves, but also of the Chief Shepherd whose word nourishes and strengthens the sheep. Guiding the sheep presupposes earned trust as our people have come to see that we not only care about them, but know the Shepherd well enough to show them the way to Him. The high privilege of comforting the sheep is ours when they are battered and bruised, wounded and winded with the difficulties of life. Sickbeds and funerals, troubled marriages and wayward children are seasons of deep grief that can be turned to great spiritual good as we love the sheep in and through them. Guarding the sheep is our constant labor as we watch out for predators who devour the sheep with their false doctrine and unholy living. And praying for the sheep will be our most natural course of action when we realize the gravity of our responsibility and the depth of our people’s need. “Who is sufficient for these things?” Only God.
Making It Personal
-How well do I know my sheep? Do I regularly seek out opportunities to develop deeper relationships with my people?
-Am I faithfully feeding my sheep with the food provided for them by the Chief Shepherd? Are my messages marked by clear biblical teaching more than therapeutic and motivational pop-psychology?
-Am I equipped to wisely guide the sheep with biblical counsel? Do people who come to me for counsel leave with a clear understanding of the biblical course of action?
-Am I available to comfort the sick and dying sheep among the flock? Do I give adequate time and attention to the elderly?
-Have I been alert to potential threats the flock? Do I warn the sheep against false teaching? Have I led our church in the exercise of biblical church discipline?
-Do I consistently pray for the flock? Do I follow up on prayer requests and on promises made to pray for people?
[i] Jim Elliff, “The Cure of Souls: The Pastor Serving the Flock” in John H. Armstrong, ed., Reforming Pastoral Ministry: Challenges for Ministry in Postmodern Times (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001) 148.
[ii] Ibid., 152-153.