This will be the final lesson of this series. There are some other things I would like to examine from Acts 2:42-47, but I am going to save those things for some future series that I will do with you. But we are about to come into the summer months, and I will be out of town and many of you will be as well. I want to put something into your minds as you travel and vacation. A local church needs leadership. I want to introduce this idea with Acts 20:28-32. The context is that the apostle Paul is speaking to the elders of the church in Ephesus. Paul is going to Jerusalem and knows he will be arrested. So he has some final words for them about their important roles in the church.
28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:28–32 ESV)
There is a need for leadership. Paul explains the reason why. There are going to be people who will rise up and speak twisted things, drawing disciples away from the Lord. We need people who will watch out for our souls. We are sheep, according to the scriptures (cf. Isaiah 53; John 10) and we need shepherds. This is why Paul appointed elders in every church on his missionary journeys (Acts 14:23). The apostle Paul says that God gave shepherds, along with other gifts, for the building up the body (Ephesians 4:11).
But I think that Christians have had the tendency to look at the role of leadership and being a shepherd backward. We have the tendency to think that if I were made to be a shepherd, then I would help lead the flock of God. But this is the flaw because if we wait to become leaders, then we will not be doing what the scriptures describe God’s shepherds doing and we will be disqualified. If we wait to concern ourselves with being elders later in life when we get old enough to be an elder, it will be too late and we will not meet the qualifications given to us by God. I believe this is one reason why so many churches struggle to have shepherds. Frequently the problem is that younger people are not preparing themselves to be ready for the work. When we appointed shepherds at this congregation we found men who showed a great concern for the flock here and were exercising varying degrees of leadership for the congregation. This is what we are looking for again as we move forward with the need for shepherds.
So I want to do something a little different today. I am speaking to two different groups of people. First, I am primarily speaking to the men in this congregation who are in their 20s and 30s. You are the future shepherds of this church. We need you to be the leaders. This lesson is designed to help you set your life up to be ready to take on this work when you have matured in your faith. Second, I am speaking to the rest of the congregation who are not these men in their 20s and 30s. I am speaking to you to listen to this message and encourage these men and instruct them to be our shepherds. Listen to what they need to be doing in their lives and help them move their lives in the right direction. So we are going to look at the scriptures to see what God describes his leaders to look like and what they will not do. Turn to Ezekiel 34 where God condemns Israel’s shepherds for their lack of proper leadership.
Shepherds Feed Sheep, Not Themselves Alone (34:2-3)
God’s shepherds are concerned with the maturity and spirituality of others. They want to make sure that others are fed with God’s word. They take personal responsibility for the feeding of sheep. They will build relationships with one another so as to be able to teach them and have a spiritual impact on their lives. This will reveal itself in a number of ways. One of the most obvious things is being here when the church is gathering to be able to have an impact. One cannot feed the sheep if they are not devoted to meeting together. Further, they will speak the scriptures. A person cannot feed the sheep if he keeps to himself. They will speak in Bible studies, in classes, and in general. They will not only speak, but they will speak with thought about the impact the words will have on the sheep. He will not speak for his own interests, but for the interests of the sheep that are listening, whether it is one sheep or the whole flock. To flip the picture around, the flock cannot know if you are growing into spiritual maturity without listening to your words, your beliefs, and your teachings. If you are silent, then you cannot lead. God spoke through Jeremiah that his shepherds will feed the flock with knowledge and understanding (Jeremiah 3:15). They speak for the good of the flock, not for the good of themselves.
Shepherds Seek Weak Sheep and Strengthen Them (34:4)
God’s shepherds look for sheep that are in need of help and do something about it. It is not enough to simply notice that there are people are struggling with their faith. They look to themselves, not others, as being responsible to do something. They will find ways to strengthen the weak. They will try to heal the sick. They will bind up the injured. They will try to bring back the straying. They will seek after the lost. I want us to notice that there is nothing passive about God’s shepherds. Shepherds are proactive, helping everyone they notice that is slipping or straying. They do not wait to be told to do something. They are actively helping other sheep. It is a great mistake to sit back and do nothing, expecting someone to tell you to do something. This is a horrible display of laziness. Christians do the work and do not wait to be told to do something. Shepherds must be very proactive, trying to spiritually build every person they can.
Shepherds are not hindrances to other sheep. They do not make it difficult for others to follow and serve the Lord. You are going to seek to do the will of the Lord. Jeremiah prophesied and called Israel’s shepherds stupid and senseless because they did not inquire of the Lord (Jeremiah 10:21). Seeking the Lord is the primary objective. When we seek Christ then we will act in ways that help not hurt the flock. Carefully consider your actions so that what you do would not hinder others from drawing closer to God.
This also implies that the shepherd himself is strong in the faith. He does not need to be rescued himself but is able to rescue others. The shepherd must have spiritual strength to help others. Therefore you will grow in this by seeking the Lord, studying God’s word, and starting now by looking to be an encouragement to others.
Shepherds Are Not Harsh or Forceful (34:4)
God’s shepherds do not interact with the flock harshly, angrily, or forcefully. They are going to lead with care. Harshness comes out in a number of ways. First, it comes out with our words. Shepherds will not be slanderous about the flock. They will not speak derogatory things about other sheep. Words will not be said to injure, discourage, or inflame others. Words will be spoken with care to help. Second, we will not be harsh in our actions and behaviors. We must not act forcefully against others. We will not act in ways that will be stumbling block to other sheep or drive others away. Our actions will reflect meekness, not exerting our own rights or power, but deferring to others. One cannot help but think of Diotrophes in John’s third epistle. He liked having a position before the flock and used his position to throw people out and drive away the flock. Shepherds understand their position as a position of service not a position of power. Christ is the chief shepherd and you will see the work of shepherding as a service to the flock and service to Christ.
Shepherds Care About Sheep Being Without a Shepherd (34:5-6)
Shepherds recognize that sheep are easily scattered when there are not shepherds to watch out for them. We should have a heart for the souls of others that we do not want to do anything that would cause the sheep to be scattered. Therefore our actions will have concern to not harm the faith of the sheep. Also, our present condition of not having shepherds hopefully burns in our hearts to cause us to want to prepare our lives to be ready to be a shepherd.
But I want to take this thought further. When Ezekiel prophesied these words, Israel had shepherds but they were so terrible that it was as if they had no shepherds. Bad shepherding is devastating to the flock. I have seen this truth come to pass far too many times. Being a shepherd means being a leader. There is no way around this. To move your life toward being a shepherd means you are going to be a leader and make decisions for the good of the flock. Shepherding is not a passive work but a difficult work. But your love for the flock and desire for the flock to not be scattered and injured will lead you to want to do this important work even though it is difficult. Shepherding is not a title. It is a work and a very important work.
We need men to prepare their lives now to be leaders. God has commanded for local churches to have shepherds. Each of us possess the responsibility to work toward that God so we can do our part to be leaders in God’s service.
I encourage you to develop a love for sheep. You can read 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 all you want, but if you do not love the souls of the people here then you cannot be a shepherd. Shepherding requires rolling up one’s sleeves and involving yourself in the messy lives of others. You have to be willing to help them. You have to be willing to listen to them. You have to be willing to care for them. You have to be willing to be there for them at any time. This will only happen when you love the sheep.
Then prepare your life to be a shepherd. Starting living like a shepherd now. Do not wait or else it will be too late. Take advantage of opportunities to feed the flock. Look for ways to help the sheep. Seek after other sheep and be a help and encouragement to them. We need shepherds. Live your life with this as your short term goal.