In the last installment (part 3) I noted that the content of John 10 is the fulfillment of Ezekiel 34 about the promise of a shepherd appointed directly by Yahweh. The promise has two parts: the first is David appointed king over Israel and the second is the eternal Good Shepherd, the Messiah that would come through David’s lineage. This promise was made during the failure ofIsrael’s ‘shepherds’ (i.e. political and religious leaders) to take care ofIsrael’s needs. John 10 can be read in a parallel fashion to Ezekiel 34 because many of the same sorts of conditions in Israel during Ezekiel’s day were being repeated in Jesus’ day. So we see Jesus, the promised Good Shepherd, as the true caretaker of Israel stands against the scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees of His day who, among other things, hid God from the people by the onerous requirements placed on them in the name of God.
The point of this article is that an under shepherd, or anyone caring for God’s people, who follows the example of the Good Shepherd will likely suffer personal sacrifice and be placed in harm’s way. Why?-because he stands between the sheep and whatever danger presents itself, from robbers and thieves to wild animals (read false doctrines, false prophets, worldly influences, demonic attacks etc).
Turning to Jesus as our model we see the idea of sacrifice in John 10:15. The flock belongs to the Good Shepherd because He gave His life for it (v11) and did so willingly (vv17-18). Not only is He the Shepherd, then, but He is the Owner of the sheep which puts Him in a unique position unlike any other shepherd. What this means to an ‘under shepherd’ is that sacrifice is part and parcel of true ministry; in extreme cases it might mean death. The needs of the flock come first (including an under shepherds family) so somewhere beneath the church and family come the needs of the under shepherd. This is a tough one because the temptation is ever-present to exploit the flock in order to better one’s ‘position’ monetarily, amongst one’s peers, or denominationally; i.e. climbing the economic and ecclesiastical ladders, so to speak. Embracing this temptation is the quickest route to turn from an under-shepherd to a mere hireling (John 10:11-13)
A hireling is a ‘hired hand’. They don’t own the sheep nor have a vested interest in the sheep except for a job. Their primary concern is their own welfare and well-being. Should the demands of the job threaten either one, the flock is abandoned and scattered. These hirelings are, in my opinion, like professional clergy who have chosen the ministry as a vocation usually because they have an itch to scratch and a congregation is a means to their end; i.e. the congregation is sacrificed for the needs of the hireling rather than the other way around. Jesus says of a hireling that they, especially in the face of danger or adversity, abandon the flock because they don’t care about the sheep (v 13).
Simply put, a true under-shepherd is called by the Good shepherd for the care of His people. Church leaders, then, who are not just hirelings will be intimately involved with their congregations and know where the ‘sheep’ go, what they ‘eat’, what they do for entertainment, what they need (not always what they think they need), what they are reading, watching on television, what trouble they might be getting into etc. Now, this might seem excessively intrusive, nosey even, ‘going above and beyond’, invading privacy and so on. But I think it very possible to know many of these things simply by being ‘with’ the sheep. In other words, under shepherds cannot be isolated or insulated from their flocks hiding behind the guise of ‘other church business’. The business of the church and its pastor are the sheep, plain and simple. And there is simply no way of doing all this properly without a great deal of personal sacrifice.
What about your church leaders? Do they know your name (more on this to come), where you live, who your family members are? Have they ever visited you and yours outside the church? Have they ever sincerely asked about your spiritual welfare, what they can do to guide and encourage you? Are they readily available to you or are they hard to reach, set appointments with, or ‘busy’? And if always busy, busy doing what, exactly?