Shepherding the Sheep with Skillfulness
“And he began to shepherd them according to the integrity of his heart, And with the skillfulness of his hands he began leading them.”—Ps. 78:72
1. What quality mentioned in Hebrews 11:6 is needed for one to be God’s minister, and so what does this cause us to ask?
THE reader may not be a religious clergyman, but have you ever thought about the responsibility that falls upon, not a mere clergyman, but a real minister of God? How strong or weak may his faith in his God be? One minister named Paul stated it plainly when he said: “Without faith it is impossible to win his good pleasure, for he that approaches God must believe that he is and that he becomes the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him.” (Heb. 11:6) Today one wonders how many clergymen have explicit faith in Jehovah God and his written Word and depend on it and how many are really seeking to win Jehovah’s good pleasure? How many ministers take on the full responsibility of doing the divine will?
2. How do the large majority of those in religious seminaries today view their faith? What does this cause honest truth seekers to think?
2 In an article in the New York Times Magazine of November 30, 1958, under the subject: “Students in Search of Faith” the writer, Stanley J. Rowland, Jr., says that those who are going to “today’s seminaries are, by and large, skeptical but hope to find belief through experience and a sense of purpose through service.” Commenting on the young men who are taking religious training, he says: “They are—paradoxically—somewhat skeptical of a call by God and the strength of their own Christian beliefs. They are keenly exploring the basic values of existence. They want to involve themselves deeply in life.” Must we believe that these young men who are skeptical about a call by God and not too sure of their faith are to be the ministers for the Christians of the present generation? The writer goes on to quote the president of the Union Theological Seminary in New York, Henry P. Van Dusen, who said: “They cannot be understood. Many of them seem without joy, and I wonder if they really know what it means to be happy. They are on a religious search, an exceptional attitude twenty years ago, but the prevailing one in the student body today.”
3. What kind of faith did the founder of Christianity have, and were his disciples of the same attitude?
3 What a contrast their lack of faith presents in comparison with the leader of Christian ministers, Christ Jesus! His faith and devotion to his Father and his desire to do the divine will were unquestionable, and this is clearly set forth in the four accounts of his life. Jesus Christ was truly a minister of God, willing to take the responsibility. He was full of faith, and he taught his followers who were full of faith to be ministers just like himself. Those disciples of Jesus were not trying “to find belief through experience”; they were not without joy, but had the faith and joy of their Master. They were happy ministers, believing that God is the “rewarder of those earnestly seeking him,” and were not the kind of persons that were still “in search of faith.” They had faith in Jehovah God, His Son Jesus Christ and God’s Word. Anyone studying for the ministry today must have faith or be a complete failure as a Christian minister.
4, 5. (a) Is the ministry for a limited number of people? (b) What greater responsibilities fall on some?
4 The apostle Paul, a strong believer in the one God, Jehovah, and an untiring preacher of the Word of God, admonished the Galatian congregation: “Let anyone who is being orally taught the word share in all good things with the one who gives such oral teaching.” (Gal. 6:6) So anyone who has heard and believes should back up his teacher and then himself teach. Ministers of the gospel are not confined to the few individuals who decide to go to a seminary, or a theological school for training, but the ministry takes in a broad class of people. It takes in everyone who believes and has faith and who is being orally taught the Word of God, for such one, too, is to share the good things that he has learned with other men whom he meets. Paul was emphatic when he said: “‘Anyone that calls upon the name of Jehovah will be saved’. However, how will they call upon him in whom they have not put faith? How, in turn, will they put faith in him of whom they have not heard? How, in turn, will they hear without someone to preach?” (Rom. 10:13, 14) The world needs ministers full of faith, not ministers still looking for a faith.
5 The Bible, God’s Word, clearly shows that every professed Christian must preach the good news concerning God and his kingdom of righteousness. But when Peter spoke to the older men in the congregation of believers he showed that a greater responsibility falls upon the older men as overseers or the shepherds of the flock of God. While all who have dedicated themselves to God’s service are ministers, still from this group of faithful Christians some men are selected to direct the affairs of the entire congregation. Therefore Peter said: “To the older men among you I give this exhortation . . . : Shepherd the flock of God in your care.”—1 Pet. 5:1-4.
SPIRITUAL SHEPHERDING A SERIOUS WORK
6. Who qualify as shepherds in the congregation, and how should this work be viewed?
6 Reliable shepherds of the flock could be chosen only from those who are already ministers, individuals wholly devoted to Jehovah God and who want to help their brothers in the congregation. This certainly is a right kind of work for any mature Christian. Concerning those already full of faith and active in God’s service, Paul said: “If any man is reaching out for an office of overseer, he is desirous of a right kind of work.” (1 Tim. 3:1) Certainly those older ones in the truth should desire this kind of work, helping to shepherd the sheep in God’s fold. This is a responsibility to be taken on only by those who have faith and truly love God and who are already acquainted with and doing the divine will. It is not a work for a novice, a beginner, one who is new to Christian work.
7. (a) Why is it so necessary that an overseer be a student of God’s Word? (b) What qualities did the apostle Paul say he must have?
7 First of all, an overseer must be a student of God’s Word, believe it, and conduct himself according to its teaching. He must hold to the faith, being alert today to what Paul told Timothy: “However, the inspired utterance says definitely that in later periods of time some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to misleading inspired utterances and teachings of demons, by the hypocrisy of men who speak lies, . . . forbidding to marry, commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be partaken of with thanksgiving . . . By giving these advices to the brothers you will be a right kind of minister of Christ Jesus, one nourished with the words of the faith and of the right teaching which you have followed closely.” (1 Tim. 4:1-3, 6) For one to give good advice, an overseer must be “nourished with the words of the faith” and follow closely “right teaching.” Then he can shepherd the flock of God skillfully. “He that presides [acts as leader], let him do it in real earnest; he that shows mercy, let him do it with cheerfulness.” (Rom. 12:8, footnote) An overseer must “act as leader” if he is selected to preside over the congregation. He must follow these instructions: “Abhor what is wicked, cling to what is good. In brotherly love have tender affection for one another. In showing honor to one another take the lead. Do not loiter at your business. Be aglow with the spirit. Be slaves to Jehovah. Rejoice in the hope ahead. Endure under tribulation. Persevere in prayer. Share with the holy ones according to their needs. Follow the course of hospitality. Keep on blessing those who persecute; be blessing and do not be cursing. Rejoice with people who rejoice; weep with people who weep. Be minded the same way toward others as to yourselves; do not be minding lofty things, but be led along with the lowly things. Do not become discreet in your own eyes. Return evil for evil to no one. Provide the right things in the sight of all men. If possible, as far as it depends upon you, be peaceable with all men.” (Rom. 12:9-18) To be a helpful minister of the above description one must already have faith in God, not be “in search of faith.”
8. Were the Scriptures written for overseers alone? So what is the obligation of all the Christian congregation?
8 With such leadership on the part of the shepherds of the congregations an excellent example is set for all Christian members to follow. Furthermore, the Holy Scriptures were written, not only for the overseers, but for all the congregation, including the overseers. It is the divine will that sheep, after being gathered together, should be just like a good shepherd. Back in Paul’s day God arranged for shepherds to take care of sheep, and in the same manner today shepherds set the example. It is serious business, shepherding sheep. The time is here for the separating of the people of all the nations, and this separating work is being done by the preaching of the good news of Jehovah’s kingdom, not only by the overseers, but by all Christian ministers in the congregation.
9, 10. (a) Is a shepherd’s responsibility great? Whose is greater? (b) What work has the remnant been doing since 1919 especially, and how is their view like that of Christ Jesus the Greater David?
9 One’s being in the position of an overseer, however, places a much greater responsibility upon one as shepherd of the sheep. An overseer, however, always keeps in mind that Jehovah is the Great Shepherd, not himself. David said: “Jehovah is my Shepherd.” (Ps. 23:1) Jehovah is chiefly responsible, then, for the gathering of and caring for the sheep, but he does use men to do the shepherding. Since 1919 we see not only the remnant of the anointed “little flock” being gathered, but we also see a great crowd of “other sheep” being gathered in, particularly since 1935. (Luke 12:32; John 10:16) The remaining ones or remnant of the little flock were scattered during the cloudy and dark days of World War I, but now many of the remnant, having been gathered, are being used to do shepherding work. All of them as ministers of God have gone out with the good news of the Kingdom and they have been preaching it and have been doing the divine will during the past forty years. They have been hunting for the sheep and have been bringing them in and feeding them with the necessary spiritual food.
10 In other words, there must be a great ingathering. However, all these sheep, the little flock and the other sheep, Jehovah now has made into one co-operative company or flock, all being heirs of life in the new world of righteousness. Faithfully Jehovah has done everything he promised for his people, but there are some things that Christians must do for themselves, and especially overseers, who must be faithful shepherds of the flock, or congregation. Christ Jesus is the Greater David, and when on earth he took on the responsibility of a shepherd and set the right example for other overseers. Psalm 78:70-72 refers to Jesus when it says: “He [Jehovah] chose David his servant . . . He brought him in to be a shepherd over Jacob his people and over Israel his possession. And he began to shepherd them according to the integrity of his heart, and with the skillfulness of his hands he began leading them.” Just like that Christ Jesus was a skillful shepherd. His Father said to him: “You loved righteousness and hated lawlessness.”—Heb. 1:9.
11. How does a shepherd acquire skillfulness?
11 Skill means the ability that comes with knowledge and practice; aptitude. Jesus, the Right Shepherd, had knowledge of God’s Word. He practiced what the Word taught. He applied it to his own life, thus showing wisdom and understanding. He recognized Jehovah God as the Great Shepherd and he directed the minds of men toward Jehovah, his Father, not toward himself. He was chosen by God to be the right kind of shepherd. Undershepherds today must be like Jesus and not be interested in having the flock for themselves. With integrity-keeping hearts they must skillfully shepherd God’s flock. How necessary it is, then, for overseers to have knowledge and in wisdom put that knowledge to work! A shepherd is not an awkward, clumsy, careless overseer. He uses God’s Word skillfully in caring for the other sheep. When the Right Shepherd, Jesus Christ, by holy spirit made appointments of the apostles to do shepherding work, they were put in that work because they knew how to use the Word of God “for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness,” and they did this work skillfully. (2 Tim. 3:16) All undershepherds must use the Word of God in the same way. Today’s overseers in the New World society are shepherds too and must handle God’s sheep with skillful hands and lead them just as David did when looking after the children of Israel and as Christ did when looking after his disciples.
12. Can a shepherd afford to be careless in handling sheep, and how does the apostle Peter counsel on this point?
12 The reward for faithful shepherding is not only saving oneself but saving others also, the other sheep. Remember, all are sheep, whether overseers or not. All are sheep under the Great Shepherd, Jehovah, and the Right Shepherd that he has chosen, Jesus Christ. Jesus himself said: “I am the right shepherd; the right shepherd surrenders his soul in behalf of the sheep.” (John 10:11) And again: “I am the right shepherd, and I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” (John 10:14) There is no reason, then, for one of the sheep, chosen to be shepherd, to get heady and to get careless in handling the Word of God. Peter, a sheep and an apostle of Jesus Christ, knew his own responsibility as an undershepherd when he was appointed as such by holy spirit. So to others Peter said: “Shepherd the flock of God in your care, not under compulsion, but willingly, neither for love of dishonest gain, but eagerly, neither as lording it over those who are God’s inheritance, but becoming examples to the flock. And when the chief shepherd has been made manifest, you will receive the unfadable crown of glory.”—1 Pet. 5:2-4.
13, 14. Having agreed to do the divine will, how should an should not a shepherd feel about his responsibilities?
13 All overseers in the New World society, such as Branch servants of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, district servants, circuit servants, congregational servants and ministerial servants, should feel the weighty charge that Jehovah’s Word places upon them as undershepherds, overseers. At the time of their dedication overseers agreed to do the divine will, and now as overseers they must appreciate that one of the commandments given them in God’s Word is: “Shepherd the flock of God in your care.” Overseers, how are you doing it? Under compulsion? Out of a sense of being burdened because you were appointed to that position? Do you want to be free from that responsibility? Peter kindly says to all: ‘Do it willingly.’
14 Could there be some who do it for the love of dishonest gain? For the prominence one receives in the congregation? Personal pride probably? Or for the influence he holds over the flock of God? Peter cautions: ‘Do it eagerly,’ joyfully, have warm love for all in the congregation, recognizing that all the sheep belong to Jehovah God and that the congregation that you are associated with is truly God’s flock.
15. Why is an overseer’s self-examination so necessary?
15 Examine yourself. Are you an overseer who is “lording it over those who are God’s inheritance”? Do you bully sheep? Are you a superior shepherd that cannot be talked to? Always too busy? May that never happen, for that is not a good example. Peter so helpfully said: ‘Become examples to the flock.’ In what way? In faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godly devotion, brotherly affection and love. “For if these things exist in you and overflow, they will prevent you from being either inactive or unfruitful regarding the accurate knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet. 1:5-8) An accurate knowledge and the proper way of life are so necessary for you as an overseer.
16. How does the New World Translation footnote of 1 Peter 5:3 stress the seriousness of a shepherd’s work?
16 Do you fully comprehend that you, having been appointed to the position of overseer, are a shepherd looking after God’s sheep allotted to you? The footnote in the New World Translation at 1 Peter 5:3 stresses that fact, saying: “Not lording it over those allotted to you.” In God’s great visible organization all these sheep are God’s sheep, but different groups of them are allotted to different shepherds. In the New World society in 1958 there were 17,878 groups or congregations of Jehovah’s witnesses world-wide. Peter counsels you overseers not to lord it over those allotted to you. So each shepherd should ask himself: “How am I handling God’s sheep? What example am I setting? How interested am I in their service meetings? Theocratic ministry school? Congregational book studies? House-to-house witnessing? Back-calls? Home Bible studies? Am I preaching this good news of God’s kingdom by these methods and helping all the sheep that have been allotted to me to do the same as I am doing, helping them to stay awake and to keep their ministerial garments on?”
17. What reward awaits the faithful shepherd of God’s sheep?
17 When an overseer follows the excellent counsel of Peter and shows love and hospitality toward the flock of God and to strangers, then when the chief shepherd has been made manifest, the overseer will “receive the unfadable crown of glory.” For one who belongs to the little flock the reward will mean joint heirship with Christ Jesus in heavenly glory. For the other sheep it will mean life in the paradise new earth. Those who are skillful and faithful in shepherding the sheep today will certainly be rewarded by being made, as it were, ‘rulers over many cities.’ If faithfulness is shown by them in small things, today’s overseers will be given greater things to do, just as the king in Jesus’ parable said: “Well done, good slave! Because in a very small matter you have proved yourself faithful, accept authority over ten cities.” (Luke 19:17) So, overseers, always appreciate your relationship to Jehovah God as well as to the flock that God has allotted to you and remember the commandment: “Pay attention to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the holy spirit has appointed you overseers, to shepherd the congregation of God, which he purchased with the blood of his own Son.”—Acts 20:28.
FULFILLING FEATURES OF A SHEPHERD
18. Appreciation of what facts is vital to a shepherd of the congregation?
18 Overseers must fully appreciate that the “flock” or “congregation” is God’s and that the appointment as shepherd is by God’s holy spirit. The flock is God’s by purchase. Let us never forget that! Paul, speaking to the anointed Christians at Corinth, asked: “Do you not know that the body of you people is the temple of the holy spirit within you which you have from God? Also, you do not belong to yourselves, for you were bought with a price. By all means, glorify God in the body of you people.” (1 Cor. 6:19, 20) There is still a small remnant of that “body of you people” on earth today, and many of these are in positions of overseers. But regardless of whether the overseer is of the remnant or of the other sheep class he still is God’s shepherd or overseer looking after God’s sheep, His purchase. Overseers must be doing the divine will among all God’s sheep within the New World society and among those still straying outside the society.
19. From whose authority does a shepherd want to turn the sheep, and why?
19 Christ Jesus used Paul to go to the nations outside as well as to comfort those in Israel. Jesus made himself visible to Paul in order to choose him as “an attendant and a witness . . . while I deliver you from this people and from the nations, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light and from the authority of Satan to God, in order for them to receive forgiveness of sins.” (Acts 26:16-18) Paul became an overseer and worked hard trying to turn the sheep away from the authority of Satan to the only true God. Overseers today should be doing the same. Then, after turning them to God, shepherds must help to keep them in the light. How much effort do you overseers put forth to do this? How much energy do you expend? How much love do you show toward everyone that has been “allotted to you” in your congregation? Undershepherds, be faithful and skillful in dealing with sheeplike humans, all of whom belong to Jehovah God!
20. (a) What are the essential features of a shepherd’s work? (b) Explain how one leads the sheep in imitation of Christ Jesus?
20 What are the essential features of a shepherd? (1) To lead; (2) to feed; (3) to shepherd. Jesus showed true leadership because he himself submitted to being led by his Father, Jehovah, the Great Shepherd. In effect he said: “My soul he refreshes. He leads me in the tracks of righteousness for his name’s sake.” (Ps. 23:3) He wanted his Father, the Great Shepherd, to guide him in the right course. Jesus said: “I seek not my own will but the will of him that sent me.” (John 5:30) Like Jesus, faithful and skillful undershepherds will lead God’s sheep in the ways of righteousness too. They may not lead the sheep away from the truth set forth in God’s Word, for that Word is the divine will. An undershepherd must always be mindful of the divine will, asking himself, what does Jehovah want done? How did Jesus do it? What path did he walk? One must always lead the sheep God’s way. One who leads God’s sheep must have in mind the sanctifying of Jehovah’s name. Jesus put his Father’s name first when he taught all his disciples to pray: “Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified. Let your kingdom come. Let your will come to pass, as in heaven, also upon earth.” (Matt. 6:9, 10) He led the sheep in Jehovah’s name.
21. Where does an overseer skillfully and expertly use the Word of God, and why can he not hold back?
21 Paul, a shepherd, showed leadership qualities when he said: “I did not hold back from telling you any of the things that were profitable nor from teaching you publicly and from house to house.” (Acts 20:20) Where did Paul learn these profitable things? From God’s Word. And where did he preach them? Everywhere. An overseer today knows and will expertly and skillfully use the Word of God in going from house to house preaching the good news and engaging in back-call activity and in Bible study work, giving the true lead in training other ministers. Sometimes, however, the overseer in the congregation allotted to him thinks that the circuit servant is coming around soon and that leading is part of his work. So he relaxes in helping the irregular ministers, and the sheep get no leadership. But the whole organization of God must work together, each one doing his share. A good shepherd is anxious to see the sheep grow strong, healthy and hearty, and he does the things profitable so that later on some of the sheep will be able to become overseers themselves and lead sheep too. This work never lets up. There are plenty of new sheep making up new congregations needing new shepherds. Paul “did not hold back.” Do you?