This last week, I had a variety of conversations centering around the ministry of a pastor. Having spent 35 years as a pastor, even though it was not my primary gifting, I learned a few things about the role. When it comes to processing the word “pastor”, I have come to appreciate the word “shepherd” when describing the role of a pastor.
David is the primary biblical example of a shepherd. As a shepherd, David didn’t just feed his father’s sheep and sing them sweet pastoral lullabies. His work as a shepherd carried a certain level of danger. David had to kill bears and lions to defend the sheep. When trying to convince Saul to let him have a go at Goliath, David said, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it, and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it” (I Samuel 17: 34-35). David also played the harp and wrote poetic psalms. He knew the appropriate time to play soothing music and write devotional words. David was a balanced shepherd.
In his farewell address to the Ephesian elders, Paul said “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock” (Acts 20:28-29). My pastor once said, “You don’t try to convert wolves when they are eating your flock – you shoot them.” Of course, he was speaking about spiritual conflict for those who might need such a clarification.
Sheep get nervous if they feel their shepherd is not strong enough to protect them or too war-minded to offer them comfort. Shepherding the lives of those in our care is both a courageous and tender calling. Both attributes are needed. It is never an either/or proposition.
This may be hard for some to digest, but we as sheep don’t always know what we need. There are times when we need soft and calming words to lessen our stress and refocus our lives on what truly matters. At other times we need a shepherd who is willing to step over our lack of discernment or disagreement and sink a spiritual spear into the heart of an approaching lie we didn’t see coming. Such is the life of a shepherd.