When God looked for a king to lead His people, He chose a young shepherd boy from among Jesse’s well-endowed sons. “He chose David his servant and took him from the sheep pens; from tending the sheep he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance. And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skilful hands he led them” (Psalm 78:70-72). God looked for a man after His own heart and found that man in David for God Himself “…tends his flock like a shepherd; He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads leads those that have young” Isaiah 40:11).
It is not surprising that a shepherd is one of Jesus’ favourite images of true leadership as is evident especially in John 10. In the context of calling on church elders to be shepherds among God’s people Peter calls Jesus the “Chief Shepherd!” (1 Peter 5:4)
As I see it, following the image of shepherding, there are four main responsibilities of a pastor. The first is leading or guiding. This involves providing vision for God’s people through preaching and teaching. Sometimes it is spoken of these days as vision-casting. This is a large part of what pastoring God’s people is all about. It entails accurately understanding and communicating the will of God as revealed in His Word and through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. It is both academic and spiritual at the same time and requires great care and artistry.
The second job of the pastor-shepherd among God’s people entails personally loving the sheep through providing what we might call pastoral care and counsel. It is what Eugene Peterson refers to as the “cure of souls.” It is that “…Scripture-directed, prayer-shaped care that is dovoted to persons singly or in groups, in settings sacred and profane.” It entails listening, counseling, praying, correcting, and healing. No one can pastor effectively who doesn’t know how to exercise these uniquely pastoral skills.
The third task of the pastor is feeding the sheep with truth. Here the focus is on presenting truth in such a way so as to evangelize and disciple, building the individual sheep and flock to be strong and healthy to be productive — even reproductive. It also entails building them up by this means so as to protect them from attacks from within and without. It involves training God’s people to discern good and evil and how to make decisions that strengthen faith and commitment.
The last role of the pastor is also crucial. It is that of serving the flock by identifying and training some to be leaders among them so as to assist with the work of building it for the fulfillment of God’s best purposes. This is servant leadership at its best — organizing and administrating so that others can do the “work of the ministry”.
Leading, loving, feeding, and serving. No pastor can be fully effective without a good balance between each of these. Though no human pastor is perfect in the way the Chief Shepherd is, and each will demonstrate more strength in one of these or another, all are important aspects of what it means to be a faithful and true shepherd of God’s people in every generation.