The stream of Christian social media outlets teemed with the news of the comeback of this former mega-pastor. For a time, he had been the brightest star in modern evangelicalism. He’d led a rock-star crusade through culture by preaching solid biblical truth and bringing out followers in droves. With prophetic precision, his preaching made what God said way-back-when so relevant for right now. In my eyes, the man was a prophet! I adored him. I looked up to him the way teenagers look up to the posters of their favorite celebrities on their bedroom walls.
I was younger then and had not yet stood like Jesus. “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt. 9:36). I hadn’t yet experienced the wreckage of a church when its shepherd is struck by accusations, slander, and gossip and the flock is scattered in confusion and uncertainty. I hadn’t yet been one of those sheep so distracted by the pandemonium in the fold, that I blindly wandered off until I was alone, defenseless, and in the company of a ravenous wolf. I had not yet suffered the pain of a church split or the moral failure of a spiritual leader. Until then, I did not know that a good shepherd dies for the cause when the Father has made the sheep the cause.
JESUS IS THE GOOD SHEPHERD
In the Gospel of John, Jesus boldly demonstrates his power (e.g., the seven “I AM” statements) and uses everyday images to to explain spiritual truths about his identity. My favorite everyday image used by Jesus is, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (Jn. 10:11). He is speaking to the Pharisees. They should have easily understood his analogy. First, Israel was a Bedouin people, nomadic people of the desert, usually sheepherders; Second, the Pharisees were the current shepherds of Israel, responsible for leading the people into true worship and observance of Yahweh. But they’re not being very good ones.
Their shepherding is characterized by showing off in the synagogues and in the streets with charming eloquence in their preaching, memorizing and quoting the Law by rote, and lording their public demonstrations of piety over those under their care for admiration and accolades. Jesus goes straight for the jugular by showing them that the validation of their ministry is not in the praise they get from men but by the sacrifice they are compelled to make by God, for men.
Jesus is that kind of shepherd. He prophetically throws down the Calvary card on the table and says, “Boom! You’re taking, but I’m giving. You’re fleecing, but I’m feeding. You’re skating, but I’m staying.” Jesus makes the pinnacle proof of his ministry as a shepherd, not that he lived well off the sheep, but that he died willingly for the sheep. The good shepherd has the Father’s best intention at heart for the sheep and will give his life to secure it. “Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep” (10:15). The small word “for” (Gk. huper, “in behalf of” or “instead of”) contrasts Jesus with these other cast members in regards to the way they shepherd the sheep. Jesus, the good shepherd, guards, guides, protects, and preserves God’s flock by dying “in behalf of” and “instead of” the sheep to give them abundant life. Leading well, for this shepherd, looks like dying (1 Pt. 5:1-4).
CONSIDER THE CAST
The good shepherd does not leave his sheep or under-shepherds ignorant. One shepherd wrote to his mentee, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers,” (1 Tim. 4:16). Good shepherds can fall into these categories below, by neglecting that charge from the Apostle Paul. A good shepherd must persist in this: he must believe and continually return to the gospel that saved him. A good shepherd always acknowledges need of the gospel for himself. This rebuke to the Pharisees warns the sheep what to beware. Let’s consider that cast:
- Thieves (10:1,8): Both the thief and robber refuse to enter by the door, both abuse, use, misuse the sheep, but the thief is more covert, steals by fraud and in secret, operates by unethical means, with a motive to kill and destroy.
- Robbers (10:1,8): Robbers differ slightly by immorally depriving one of his possession openly and by violence. They can also boldly be on a self-righteous, renegade campaign, or under the guise of a false crusade.
- Wolf (10:12): Wild, hungry, cruel, rapacious, ravenous, destructive and greedy. Will upset the whole flock in order to murder by isolation. One agenda, to satisfy hunger. One agenda, to satisfy hunger.
- Strangers (10:5): Ones who have no intimacy with the sheep and doesn’t even know their names, but will attempt to call them out and summon them as their own.
- Hireling: He is the most dangerous character of all. Get this scene in your mind and it is most certainly not PG-13. A wolf descends upon the flock from a distance. Jesus said the hireling “sees the wolf coming.” (10:12), but does he pray, plan, rally the troops, or load his weapons? Jesus says, “[he] leaves the sheep … because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep” (10:12b,14). The wolf tears into the sheep—bleating and bleeding, carnage and chaos. The hireling watches from a secure vantage point. Though he is responsible for the rampage, he has calculated the cost and the sheep aren’t worth it. The wolf then turns on him with glowering, steel eyes and a mouth rimmed red with blood, unmasking his location. In fear, the hireling thinks, “There could be others out there!” So “He flees” (10:14). He sacrifices the sheep for his own safety.
The hireling says, “bye!”
The sheep says, “baa-aah!”
The wolf says, “dinner!”
But Jesus said, “You’ve got to go through me.”
THE GOOD SHEPHERD’S EXAMPLE
There was no price too high and no length too far. Jesus set an example of what to expect from the ministry of shepherding and of the minister as shepherd. It’s big, up front and in bold: Are you prepared to die?
We live in a culture of sore losers. Church leadership is being populated by hired hands; people who would quit to save face before falling on the sword of their own failure and assuming responsibility. We want the honor from God of presiding over his people—but not the responsibility of protecting them at all costs. I’ve heard it said that we have ministers today, who love the crowds, but hate the people. That’s the hireling. He loves the benefit of their following, their likes on his statuses, and the adoration in their eyes-but he doesn’t even know their names and wouldn’t die for these people.
There is a difference between a leader falling and a leader taking the fall. I am terribly afraid that there’s a spirit at work in the Church which is seducing us into celebrating failure so much so that our leaders are excused from accountability and lauded for a so-called resiliency, expressed by packing up and moving on to another ministry. And the sheep are left holding the bag of confusion, bewilderment, loss, mistrust and abandonment. To see fatherlessness and abdication of responsibility in the world is expected. But not in God’s church! We are fathering a generation of pastors, leaders, and laypersons who cannot do hard things, be accountable, submit to spiritual authority, suffer well, or hold a long onto obedience.
But what if the legacy of some of our greatest leaders is to be their repentance? I believe that God positions great leaders to make great impact—even when they fail. Hello, King David! Rosaria Champagne Butterfield says, “Repentance is the only no shame solution to a renewed Christian conscience, because it only proves the obvious: God was right all along.” How about we prove that and model that to a generation. Wouldn’t that give glory to God! Look at what Joshua says to Achan when he urges him to confess and stop the plague of judgment against the nation of Israel, “My son, give glory to the LORD God of Israel and give praise to Him. And tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.” (Josh 7:19).
Confession is not only good for the individual soul, but also for the corporate body. When leaders repent, we discern for ourselves whether we are hirelings or good shepherds. Our sheep are able to discern whether they are being sacrificed on the altar of the hireling’s lust or preserved by the sacrifice of the shepherd. We also inspire repentance in our congregations instead of inciting a culture of disobedience. I’ve sat in the midst of sheep who were in emotional turmoil and shepherds, so blinded by their own sin and the sins they believed others had perpetrated against them and I’ve thought: This whole storm could be over if this person just died; died to their want to justify themselves, died to their want to be right, died to their want to have control and died to their lack of trusting in God’s sovereignty and goodness as the true Lord of their circumstances.
Especially, since that’s what Jesus told us we were signing up for.
THE GREAT REWARD
Because of Jesus’ example, we should be encouraged as shepherds. The writer of Hebrews says, “Consider Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). If we follow Jesus’ lead as the good shepherd, we are promised great reward! “And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Pt. 5:4). Jesus “will provide a crown of glory to those who serve in his own pattern of selfless leadership for his flock. Herein lies the [your] power to obey: looking back to Jesus’ sacrifice that justifies us and looking forward to Jesus’ return that will glorify us.”
Oh, brother shepherd, Peter was not a perfect shepherd, but God made him a good one. Now he is “a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed,” (1 Pt. 5:1b). And he is calling you to come up where he and Jesus are. But you must shepherd well by fixing your eyes on Jesus as he fixed his eyes on his future glory. No cross, no crown. Christ is glad to share his glory with those who share his cross. Let God take the opposition of death and turn it into an opportunity to manifest his glory in you and you will share the great reward of the good Shepherd forever. “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (5:6).
Kileeo Rashad is based in Philadelphia, PA, where he serves his local church in many capacities; speaker, preacher, deacon, and hospitality director. He is currently working on a debut writing project which will address breaking silence on sexual brokenness within the church. Kileeo is also the founder of Restoring the Breaches, a ministry that aims to help churches and individuals facilitate gospel-centered conversations around sexuality.