I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.
Jeremiah 3:15 ESV
His Own Heart begins a three-part series today that, from the very outset, has experienced an ironic twist. God’s ways are funny like that; just when you have your plans mapped out in the most logical order, He re-maps them with His perfect ones.
If you’ll join me for this post and the two that follow – this week, next week and then the next – we’ll examine the relationship between shepherd and sheep both literally and metaphorically. The two individual roles as well as how they fit together appear regularly throughout Old Testament and New – so regularly, in fact – that they provide pivotal concepts for spiritual wholeness in the life of any follower of Christ.
That said, I originally intended this week’s post to serve as the final one in the series. But two things happened that nudged me toward shifting it to the lead position. First, the quote from Anne Graham Lotz (as used below) resurfaced in my email a few days ago. And then this weekend marked the end of classes for the soon-to-be 2018 graduating class of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary – Charlotte. In recent years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with several of the dedicated students who walked across the finish line on Saturday; I decided to honor them this week by sharing – with them as well as you – some thoughts from my own GCTS graduation day a few years ago.
The text has been edited minimally in order to be current, but the subject matter stands as true today as it did on that day and, in a very real way, applies to techniques of shepherding for all walks and all ages of Christian life.
Of Shepherds, Tents and Authenticity
Congratulations to GCTS-Charlotte’s Graduating Flock. It is such an honor to stand before you, your families and friends at our commencement ceremony today.
The topic that I’d like to share with you this morning took a series of unexpected twists and turns that left me pondering the identity of leader as shepherd. It started with a definition coined a number of years ago by the late Billy Graham. Dr. Graham envisioned Evangelicalism as a large tent pitched for the purpose of individuals dwelling therein for a time, encountering the Gospel of Jesus Christ in an up-close-and-personal way; then go forth equipped to carry those experiences into a world in desperate need of its own face-to-face encounter with that same Gospel.
Over time and perhaps as a result of Dr. Graham’s affiliation as a founder of GCTS-Charlotte, this tent imagery impacts us greatly. The idea indeed draws an inspiring word-picture that has me considering both my past experiences here and my future goals for ministry. Specifically, I wondered how I might wrap into one thematic package both the token moments I’ve encountered as a student dwelling inside the GCTS tent and the resulting experiences I will carry with me as I step tenuously into the field of Christian education. When I found the above charcoal drawing of “The Good Shepherd” – unframed and hidden among a sea of other discarded art at a charity fundraiser – I came face-to-face with the perfect packaging for my needs. First, the drawing captured the beauty, essence and efficiency of the instruction, ministry and leadership skills that I have learned from and been nourished by over the past four years. It then sparked the idea that a ministry built upon shepherd imagery is quite possibly the most valuable and all-inclusive benefit that one can take on one’s journey into the world.
Admittedly, Scripture paints many pictures concerning ministerial leadership, but at the end of the day the scriptural image of shepherd is arguably its best known metaphor, appearing more than 115 times over the course of Scripture and serving as the focus of some of its most familiar passages.
So with my packaging in tow, I developed an acrostic – the literary device in which each letter of a thematic word represents some element of the theme itself – to organize the contents that would actually go into it. Using the theme of SHEPHERD, I divided these contents among the shepherd-related areas of
The idea unfolds like so:
Sacrifice: Authentic shepherds lead sacrificially, rising early in the morning to check on their fields, their flocks, their students. John 10:11 notes that “the Good Shepherd sacrifices His life for the sheep.” As shepherds, believers manage with tireless precision to sacrifice time, energy, and sleep in order to fully support the people God has entrusted to their care.
Honor: Authentic shepherds take their callings personally, bustling about daily tasks with a sense of honor and dignity while providing for and guiding the flock. A living, breathing application of 1 Peter 5:2 shows when we, as shepherds for Christ “watch over [others], not because [we] must, but because [we] are willing…[and] eager to serve.”
Empowerment: Authentic shepherds motivate their flocks with constant nudging toward fresh pastures even when the flocks resist. After Peter’s denial disaster, Jesus engages and empowers the despondent disciple in John 21 with the career-altering commission to feed and care for the Master’s sheep. Similarly, empowerment occurs when we as shepherds reach out to engage struggling believers with Christ-like acceptance and belief in their potential as creations of God.
Pro-action: Authentic shepherds know by name each individual member of their flocks, which enhances the ability to guide and serve those entrusted to their care as illustrated in Luke 15’s Parable of the Lost Sheep. Christ’s shepherds likewise serve their flocks masterfully by affirming each individual as a unique being created in God’s own image and for His glory.
Humility: Authentic shepherds lead their flocks with assertive humility. Numbers 13 describes Moses as a vastly humble shepherd, but Scripture also reveals that he led Israel from Egypt to Canaan with Godly assertion. Likewise, I firmly believe that GCTS is blessed with its rank among the top seminaries in this country because its traditional, hybrid and online programs are organized and instructed by shepherds who serve with that same assertive humility. When we direct and nurture fellow man with his best interest ahead of our own, we call into play the wisdom of Hebrews 13:17: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as [they] will…give an account.” Example: Authentic shepherds, in keeping with 1 Peter 5:3, serve their flocks by example. This truth is lived out by our shepherds through clear demonstration that serving as example involves the pursuit of holiness and integrity in every aspect of life: our walk, our talk, our dress, our attitudes toward Christ, toward each other and toward those He places in authority over us.
Restoration: Authentic shepherds bring restoration to flocks as needed. Many passages of Scripture that paint Christ as Shepherd, in fact, are connected to the idea of restoration. I was so blessed to personally experience Isaiah 40:11 during my years as a student at GCTS: “He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart.” So many times I arrived to campus wearied in the most literal sense, weathered from personal or cultural expectations of myself on a given day or week or month. But I never left campus without feeling rejuvenated and restored by the affirmation, encouragement and genuine fellowship that God provided through His shepherds there.
Discipline: Finally, authentic shepherds exercise self-discipline. How? They constantly investigate land that will better serve the needs of their sheep; this discipline guarantees the sheep the greenest grass and purest water for nourishment as depicted in Psalm 23. Believers as shepherds are called to develop some unlikely habits. In the words of Beth Moore, as we journey forward into ministry may we never gain such confidence that we neglect the need to “study, study, study!” Stay current with aspects of theology, but measure each against the lessons that church history has taught us. Search diligently to discover the threads that connect each book, chapter, verse to the beautifully overarching Story that winds its way from Genesis to Revelation. Only when we as shepherds continue to grow spiritually will others in the flock receive sound nourishment.
Over the coming two weeks, we will take an in-depth look at the shepherd-sheep relationship from the point implications made in this week’s post. I so hope you’ll return for those!
Meanwhile, let’s consider two applications drawn from John 10:2-3 by Anne Graham Lotz, daughter of Billy Graham, as we move through the week and ponder what it looks like to let God work them out to His glory through our lives.
The first is this: “You and I, as God’s sheep, can determine the authenticity of our shepherds by their approach to us.”
The second expands on the first: “The criterion for the authentic shepherd is that he or she always approaches us through the door of God’s Word.”
– Copyright 2018, Carole Anne Hallyburton. All rights reserved.
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