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Characteristics of a good shepherd

| by Bob Russell

In John 10:11, Jesus described himself as “the good shepherd.” That is an important distinction for church leaders to consider. The qualities that made Jesus the Good Shepherd are the same qualities that still characterize a worthy pastor/elder.

Simon Peter encouraged elders to “be shepherds of God’s flock” [under their care so that], “…when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away” (1 Peter 5:2-4). The good shepherd knows his sheep because “…the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name…” (John 10:3).

Taking time to listen

The Bible says that Jesus knew what was in men’s hearts. A good pastor takes time to listen to people, learns as many of their names as possible, and takes a keen interest in their everyday activities.

When I was 11 years old I was thrilled when the new minister of our church attended one of my Little League baseball games. I never forgot the fact that he took the time to watch me play ball. That may have done more to motivate me into ministry than the scores of sermons I heard from him.

The good shepherd leads the sheep: he “leads them out” (John 10:3). Jesus never coercesus; He invitesus to follow Him. A good pastor does not manipulate or threaten the flock. The people have such love and respect for him that they instinctively follow. That is why integrity and consistency represent essential virtues for pastors. Ministers inspire people to follow them whenever the people can trust their shepherd to guide them to green pastures. The pastor understands that he is their shining example.

Offering protection

The good shepherd also protects his sheep. Jesus said, “I am the gate for the sheep” (John 10:7). He spoke in a vernacular common to that time. A good shepherd led the flock into a protected enclosure and then slept in the opening of the sheepfold. He became the gate and personally blocked the entryway. Any wild animal seeking to harm the sheep could only enter through the gate guarded by the shepherd.

Jesus taught: “The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep” (John 10:12-13).

The New Testament identifies three types of wolves that will kill, steal and destroy unprotected sheep: false teachers (Acts 20:29), grossly immoral believers (1Corinthians 5:1-2), and those who are repeatedly divisive (Titus 3:10). The good elder protects the flock even if the adversary disguises himself as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, meaning that many in the church don’t recognize the danger.

Sacrificial actions

Most importantly, the good shepherd loves his sheep and sacrifices. As John 10:11 puts it, “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Christ demonstrated His love for us by dying for us while we were still sinners. The church senses that the good shepherd genuinely cares for them and puts their interest ahead of his own. They observe him sacrificing time, money and energy for them. They see that he is there to weep with them when they weep and rejoice with them when they rejoice. They know he cares.

One of the keys to successful capital campaigns is for church leaders to make advance commitments and for that total to be revealed to the congregation. Time and again church members will say, “When I saw what the elders did, I was inspired and knew this was for real.”

Practical application   

There is very little practical training for elders today. Shepherds are often thrust into a difficult assignment and expected to instinctively know how to lead. A brief formula for being a good pastor/elder is to say to the flock, “Follow me as I follow Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:11). Then, “when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away” (1 Peter 5:4).

Bob Russell

At just twenty-two years of age, Bob became the pastor of Southeast Christian Church. That small congregation of 120 members became one of the largest churches in America, with 18,000 people attending the four worship services every weekend in 2006 when Bob retired. Now through Bob Russell Ministries, Bob continues to preach at churches & conferences throughout the United States, provide guidance for church leadership, mentor other ministers and author Bible study videos for use in small groups.

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Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Romans 12:2 (NIV)
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