“And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding” (Jer. 3:15, KJV). Another translation puts it this way: “Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding” (Jer. 3:15, NIV).
We have all heard a pastor referred to as the shepherd of his flock, but it is more than a catchy phrase. It is a call from God to those he has led to be pastors — a call to have a heart after God’s own heart and to have the heart of a shepherd.
So, what does this high calling look like for the pastor today? I would like to look to Psalm 23, where, I would submit, the imagery of the shepherd is intimately tied to pastoral ministry. The opening words of Psalm 23 tell us, “The Lord is my shepherd.” True shepherd leadership, then, should be modeled after Jesus. It goes without saying that to model Jesus, one must know Jesus, one must know him as their Shepherd.
It is likely that you have heard the story of the accomplished actor who was asked by an elderly pastor to recite Psalm 23 to a large gathering of people. It has been told many times and in many ways, so whether it truly happened is questionable. But the message of the story certainly speaks the truth. The actor agrees to the request on the condition that the elderly pastor also recites the psalm. All are agreed, and the actor goes first.
When he is finished, the audience erupts in applause, acknowledging the brilliant performance. The elderly clergyman then begins. It is clear he is not as polished in speech and performance as the actor, and when he had finished, no sound of applause broke the silence — but there was not a dry eye in the room, and many heads were bowed. Then the actor rose to his feet again.
His voice shook as he laid his hand upon the shoulder of the old clergyman and said, “I reached your eyes and ears, my friends; he reached your hearts. The difference is just this — I know the 23rd psalm, but he knows the Shepherd.” To truly shepherd after God’s heart, one must know the Shepherd.
With this in mind, Psalm 23 becomes the ideal guide for the pastor who desires to be a shepherd to their flock.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul, he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. A good shepherd provides for the flock. I love to picture here, Jesus as the Bread of Life and as the Living Water. Jesus is the provision for the flock. Blessed is the shepherd who leads their flock to Jesus, for those who hunger and thirst after righteousness will be filled. They will be restored. They will walk righteous paths.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me. Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. Living in our world today is, in so many ways, living in the shadow of fear and anxiety. Wondering what the future might hold brings no comfort or peace, and perhaps one of the most difficult tasks in pastoring today is leading people to a place of peace and rest while living under this dark shadow.
The goal is to lead them to know Jesus as their strength, their rock, their fortress, their deliverer, the one in whom they can take refuge; to know Jesus is their salvation today, even as they may be walking through the valley of the shadow of death. A shepherd today must lead their flock to see beyond the dark shadows to One whose rod and staff bring comfort and peace.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies. Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. We see here a picture of a banquet, but more than that, a banquet that appears to be prepared for royalty. The banquet reminds us of a heavenly feast prepared for the redeemed, but this one in the presence of enemies.
To shepherd the flock as Jesus models is to lead them to trust in a heavenly life, even now while living here on earth in the presence of the enemy, so they could know the overflowing abundance prepared for the child of God in this life.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. What a beautiful thought! Not only does Jesus lead us, in His goodness and mercy, He follows. The word follow here literally means to pursue. If one should go astray, He pursues. He leaves the 99 and pursues the one! And when He finds the one, He restores that one back to the flock.
To model Jesus, our Shepherd, is to teach the flock of the goodness and mercy of the Shepherd, who not only leads but also pursues and restores. Teach them to know a Jesus who follows, to ensure that all in the flock may have a future in the house of the Lord, forever.
“Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding.” What God promised for his people in the time of Jeremiah, He also promised for His people today. That promise is a call to pastors today. “Be shepherds of the church of God, which He bought with his own blood” (Acts 20:28, NIV).