Over the last few days I've been chatting through the implications of Jesus' famous words in John 10 with a number of people and small groups. We've been exploring together what impact these statements about his Good Shepherding have for those of us who are walking through a church leadership transition.
God Himself is the supreme Shepherd of his people - That's one of the primary ways that he reveals himself through the Old Testament. But his plan has always been to entrust some of the weight of his leadership to under Shepherds, to enable them to express something of his heart and his care. So, from Moses, through Joshua, the Judges, Samuel, the great King David, God's people were Shepherded. There were more bad Shepherds than good - These, the Prophets denounced, even as they longed for the one true Shepherd who would come and lead God's people.
In Jesus the Messiah, the Good Shepherd arrived. At the same time, He is both the Lamb and the Shepherd. The one who chooses to willingly sacrifice his perfect life for our imperfection, to lay down his life for his sheep. In Jesus, we have the fulfilment of all the prophetic yearning in the scriptures for a new kind of pastoral leadership of God's people.
When Jesus underlines this in John 10, it's evident that relationship is the most vital ingredient. The bottom line is that his sheep know his voice, and he knows them. There is a deep security in this kind of intimacy. Indeed, the contrasting scenario given by Jesus, whereby a stranger tries to call the sheep, is striking. Sheep will not follow a voice they don't know. More than this, they will scatter and fear and danger ensues. It's the polar opposite of the intimacy and security of the familiar voice of the true Shepherd.
The urgent provocation for our lives is that we recognise our deep need as Jesus followers to know his voice, and to know it better. This is even more vital for a church community that is undergoing a change of under Shepherd. More valuable than ever in such a time is the mature ability of every member to connect themselves in a meaningful way to the voice and path of the Good Shepherd.
It is after all a time where a familiar voice of pastoral care is being replaced by an unknown voice. The danger of insecurity and scattering is real. An enemy, whose schemes we are aware of, waits in hope of picking off the vulnerable. Whilst it naturally takes time to trust and follow a new voice, the need to do so must never override the greater need for each individual to connect themselves to the only truly Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Only here do we find the safety, intimacy and nourishment that we are longing for.
We won't find this in a man. However accomplished an under Shepherd he may be, even as we learn to know his voice, we find his leadership is simply a reflection of a greater Pastor. Only in Jesus do we rest in agreement with David's magnificent Psalm 23, 'The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want.' Perhaps by turning our faces, our ears, and our hearts to him, we will find that we also walk in step with each other as he leads us in paths of righteousness?