Shepherds are Overseers, not CEO’S (Chief Executive Overlords). Their role is not simply to sit in a bored room (pun intended) and make decisions or bark out orders. Their role, as underling shepherds of the Chief Shepherd Jesus Christ (I Peter 5:4), is to follow His lead in leading His flock. They are to lead. They are to lead in humility. And they are to lead in humility through their example of doing (for that is true Christianity—James 1:22), not merely speaking. (I Peter 5:3)
1) Shepherds Know Their Sheep:
“Know well the condition of your flocks, And pay attention to your herds;” - (Proverbs 27:23) Sound advice for the profession of a shepherd and an applicable spiritual principle for spiritual shepherds. For spiritual prosperity to abound in the church the shepherds must know the sheep; know their strengths, their weaknesses, their tendencies, their needs. Maybe it starts with knowing their names...
“To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out. When he puts forth all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” - (John 10:3-4) Believe it or not (and you should believe it because it is 100% true), I have known shepherds in a church who didn’t even know the names of people in the flock of which they had oversight. Not because of age. Not because of inability. But because they didn’t seem to think they needed to. Shepherds, as Jesus points out here, know their sheep. If they can’t, if they don’t, if they won’t; then they should not be shepherds. It takes work. Shepherds are hard workers.
2) Shepherds “Smell Like Sheep”
This is a corollary established by another illustration of Jesus of “it is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.” (Matthew 9:12) Jesus was criticized for being around sinners, but it was the sinners who needed Him, who called for Him, who He came to serve! So it is with shepherds. They are called to work amongst the local flock. Not at a distance. They are of the people (insiders. not outsiders.), for the people (not themselves), with the people (not above the people), serving the people (not themselves). The joys of the flock will be their joys. The sorrows of the flock will be their sorrows. The spiritual needs of the flock will be their solemn charge of service. (I Peter 5:2) The spiritual defense of the flock; their calling. (Acts 20:28) Following the example of the Chief Shepherd, they are “over” the people as “overseers”, but “below” the people in humbling themselves in service to them. (Matthew 20:28)
3) Shepherds Work Like Shepherds:
“So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus *said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?’ He *said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He *said to him, ‘Tend My lambs..’ - (John 21:15) How would he prove his love to Jesus by tending the lambs? By working like a shepherd.
“He *said to him again a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’ He *said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He *said to him, ‘Shepherd My sheep.’” - (John 21:16) How would he prove his love to Jesus by shepherding His sheep? By doing the work of a spiritual shepherd. Shepherds don’t just sit around and meet once or twice a month as “decision makers”. They work. (See: Psalm 23) They work hard. Doing all in service, and to the glory, of the Chief Shepherd. (Colossians 3:23)
“He *said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’ Jesus *said to him, ‘Tend My sheep.’” - (John 21:17) Shepherds love Jesus. Because they love Jesus they love His people. Because they love His people they love Jesus. You cannot have one without the other. (Matthew 25:31-46) How is that love proven? By doing the work, yes; but not just by doing the work. Doing the work like Jesus did.
4) Shepherds Lead through Sacrifice:
The greatest example of love and leadership is the self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ upon the cross (John 15:13). The lengths He’s willing to go to for just one sheep. (Luke 15:1-7) The legacy of leadership He has left us is not just in His words… but in His example.
When Jesus was training His Apostles to be shepherds of His flock He didn’t have them build Him a throne to sit on. He instead, knelt down and washed their feet. "You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master; neither is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (John 13:13-17) Shepherds do not sit on a throne to have their signet rings kissed. They are humbly down on their knees in the difficult diligent service of others. Not different than the Chief Shepherd… but merely following His example and setting it for the flock. (Hebrews 13:7)
While being a shepherd is obviously a tremendous, solemn, sometimes burdensome and thankless duty; why do men (should men) do it? 1) Because they love the Lord and His people. 2) It is needed and they are qualified, able, and willing. 3) It is worth it. (Mark 9:34-35; Mt. 20:25-28) It is a “noble task”. (I Timothy 3:1 –ESV)