Reading through the Old Testament Books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel recently, I was surprised by the amount of times the Lord mentions ‘shepherds’. Apparently, ‘shepherding’ is something that is near and dear to God’s heart. If you think about it, Jesus referred to Himself as ‘the Good Shepherd’, used the imagery of sheep and shepherds often, and even reinstated Peter (in John 21) by asking him to ‘feed My sheep’… something a shepherd would do.
But look how serious God views someone who carries the mantel of ‘shepherd‘:
“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend My people: “Because you have scattered My flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 23:1-2)
Earlier, in Jeremiah 12:10-11, we read:
“Many shepherds will ruin My vineyard and trample down My field; they will turn My pleasant field into a desolate wasteland. It will be made a wasteland, parched and desolate before Me; the whole land will be laid waste because there is no one who cares.”
Notice how the shepherds take central stage in these passages? Jeremiah is prophesying that they “ruin God’s vineyard” and “trample down God’s field” and “turn the green pasture into a desolate wasteland… parched and laid waste“. Sounds pretty horrible! But how did it get that way? What caused this desolation, this awful devastation? What did the shepherds do to bring about such a catastrophe? Simple, explains Jeremiah… they just didn’t care.
Crazy, right? They didn’t care? That’s it? What about greed? What about lust for power? What about the desire for comfort? What about the hankering for prestige, for acclaim, for influence or riches or special favors? What about any of those things or a thousand like them? Nope, says Jeremiah. None of those things came first. The core problem with Judah’s shepherds is that they simply did not care about their sheep. Maybe they were great leaders, had great personalities, had good senses of humor, even knew how to preach. But in the end none of that mattered. What mattered is that they didn’t care… and Judah died.
I can’t help but wonder if this is why we are seeing many churches decline in the number of those who attend. Maybe our beautiful buildings, neat programs, rockin’ music, artsy influences, up-to-date websites, and cool marketings don’t matter as much as we thought they did? What if people are leaving our churches because they’re like sheep… without a shepherd?
Jeremiah 50:6 declares; “My people have been lost sheep; their shepherds have led them astray and caused them to roam on the mountains. They wandered over mountain and hill and forgot their own resting place.” The word translated “led astray” here is the Hebrew term ta<ah, which means “to err” or “to cause to wander about. The most familiar biblical passage in which this term is uses is in Isaiah 53:6, where it states, “All we like sheep have gone astray…”.
So, sheep wander… they get ‘led astray’. By who? By shepherds. Why? Because they do not care for them. They don’t authentically love their sheep, their leadership reflects this lack of love, and as a result people wander over mountain and hill and forget their own resting place… maybe we could say ‘they church hop’.
I have many friends who have written me to express how they feel that they no longer have a ‘home’, because the church they were a part of no longer feels ‘right’. They mention words like, ‘click’ and ‘in-crowd’ and how they feel like ‘outcasts’ when they are at church because they’re not part of the ‘cool group’… so, they left. Churches can talk all day about small groups and service projects and being a part of ‘the ministry’… but if the shepherds don’t show genuine love for the sheep, then the sheep will leave. In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul warns us that it is possible to “give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames” – certainly awesome things to do – and yet in the end “gain nothing“. How is that possible? Because no one can do all that and still ‘have not love.”
People are crying out for true shepherds whose hearts overflow with loving care for the sheep. Sermons should be prepared, visits to the hospital should happen, and counseling should occur out of that overflow of authentic love. The heart of a man is like the heart of sheep, it beats at the sight of a shepherd. We live in a universe created by a Shepherd God. The Lord is our Shepherd. Our world is redeemed by a Shepherd Savior. Our Elder Brother is a shepherd. The Man whom humanity most needs is a shepherd. Every messenger of Christ is sent to do a shepherd’s work. We are to stand at last before a shepherd Judge. God is going to separate the good shepherds from the shepherds who are bad. The questions which every pastor/shepherd must meet and answer are three: “Did you feed my lambs? Did you tend my sheep? Did you feed my sheep?”
Are you called to be a leader? Has God placed people in your life that you influence? As hard as Jeremiah was on the shepherds of his day, he also looked forward to a happier time when God promised; “I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding” (Jeremiah 3:15). Could it be that you are such a person? Is it possible that your own pastor could become such a shepherd, if only he received some warm encouragement from his sheep? I hope so, because that’s truly the key… the hope… for the Church to make it.
I pray this ministered to you. Much love!