Meeting Today’s Needs of the Sheep
1. How is a shepherd made to be skillful, and what questions might shepherds ask themselves?
JESUS said: “Feed my little sheep.” A good shepherd will lead sheep to tender grass and clear water. The Lamb of God further said, with regard to the sheep, that he would “guide [or lead] them to fountains of waters of life.” (Rev. 7:17) Will you men as overseers be anxious to do the same, feed the sheep on good food and guide them to waters of life? Did not someone lead you shepherds some years ago so as to drink of the water of life freely? Why not see to it, then, that other sheep can eat from the same pasture and drink from the same waters that were used to help you. Skillful leadership comes from having an accurate knowledge of the truth and an excellent acquaintance with the sheep themselves. Are you well acquainted with your congregation? And have you trained them to listen to the right voice? Give ear to what Jesus said: “The sheep listen to his [the shepherd’s] voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” (John 10:3) Jesus knew all his sheep by name. Do you know every member in your congregation by name? Do you talk to them? Are you anxious to meet new sheep and get acquainted with them when they come into the Kingdom Hall? Jesus was. Love the strangers. Get acquainted with Jehovah’s sheep by associating with them in the field service work and in the congregation meetings of God.
2. How are sheep being fed? Even so, what must shepherds do?
2 Sheep need to be fed, not only led. How are they being fed? “The faithful and discreet slave whom his master appointed over his domestics to give them their food at the proper time” certainly is making ample provision. The governing body of Jehovah’s visible organization supplies plenty of good food for all the sheep, including the overseers. Are you shepherds encouraging the sheep to eat this food, leading them to it as it comes from Jehovah’s organization? How much time do you spend in bringing them to meetings if they are frequently absent? Do you help the weak sheep get to the food? How often do you take them in the field service or ask them to go with you? How much time do you spend with sick sheep or arranging for others to call on them? Doing the divine will in every respect is good food. Here is how Jesus put it: “My food is for me to do the will of him that sent me and to finish his work.”—John 4:34.
3, 4. (a) What importance did Jesus attach to spiritual food? (b) To what did the apostle Peter liken God’s Word?
3 The material things of the world are not the most important things. These could starve a person spiritually. It is the spiritual food, God’s Word, that will keep one alive. “Man must live, not on bread alone, but on every utterance coming forth through Jehovah’s mouth.” (Matt. 4:4) Being acquainted with and understanding the divine will and doing it are really the only proper food. Everyone shepherding sheep needs to feed on God’s Word.
4 Jesus emphasized the fact that, when finding sheep, “make disciples . . . , teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:19, 20) A disciple is a learner, and one coming out of darkness has much to learn. Learning, or being well fed, is hard to accomplish amid moral badness, or among brothers harboring envy or strife. That is why Peter wrote: “Accordingly, put away all moral badness and all deceitfulness and hypocrisy and envies and all kinds of backbiting, and, as newborn infants, form a longing for the unadulterated milk belonging to the word, that through it you may grow to salvation, provided you have tasted that the Lord is kind.” (1 Pet. 2:1-3) Overseers know “the Lord is kind”; so they should want to see to it that the sheep “grow to salvation” by getting the “unadulterated milk belonging to the word.” Show the sheep how good it is for them to eat this food. It takes time, yes, but all sheep, novices and mature ones, hunger and thirst for righteousness. Both must keep eating or die from starving. Help them as shepherds should, seeing to it that the sheep get their hunger and thirst satisfied. “Happy are those hungering and thirsting for righteousness, since they will be filled.” (Matt. 5:6) Are you as an undershepherd taking good care of your responsibilities?
THE NEED OF FOOD AND DRINK
5, 6. Is there an abundance of spiritual food and drink available now, and so should overseers be stingy?
5 Do not put the sheep on a starvation diet. Overseers who feed the sheep with the truth of God’s Word will never need to worry about the sheep. They will grow on to maturity, because “whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty at all, but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water bubbling up to impart everlasting life.” (John 4:14) Keep that water bubbling. Keep the sheep drinking this water that imparts everlasting life. Jehovah provides good fruit, too, every month on “trees of life producing twelve crops of fruit, yielding their fruits each month.” (Rev. 22:2) An overseer with the proper spirit will see to it that the sheep of God are helped to get everything they need so as to serve Jehovah God for eternity.
6 All in the New World society, congregational ministers and shepherds, “Keep on saying ‘Come!’” “And let anyone hearing say, ‘Come!’ And let anyone thirsting come; let anyone that wishes take life’s water free.” (Rev. 22:17) Surely overseers cannot be stingy with such plenty. They, with God’s sheep, have received freely and they want to give freely. They know the truth of the wise man who says: “To my words do pay attention. . . . they are life to those finding them and health to all their flesh.” (Prov. 4:20, 22) Think of that! To give the other sheep the proper food and proper drink, which is the truth of God’s Word, means life for them. It means health to their flesh. Shepherds, look after the sheep so that they will never become hungry or thirsty!
7. What advice given in the Law of Moses is applicable today among God’s sheep?
7 Good sheep must be made conscious of their spiritual needs. Shepherds can help them in this. Young sheep cared for in a flock are just like little children wanting their parents. Young sheep must be wanting Jehovah God their Father and Jehovah’s motherlike visible organization. They will get better acquainted with both as they listen to God’s Word, just as it is written: “These words that I am commanding you today must prove to be on your heart, and you must inculcate them in your son and speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road and when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deut. 6:6, 7) Are we doing this for all the babies that come into Jehovah’s organization? If these new ones are properly taught the Word of God, they will never turn away but will stay awake, remain happy and contented in their newfound ministerial service of Jehovah.
8. What does it mean to shepherd, and why in this time of the end must a shepherd be ever vigilant in shepherding work?
8 To shepherd means “to watch over carefully,” that is, tend, guard and protect the sheep. There must be real integrity shown on the part of a shepherd to do that. He must be a person looking after every one of the sheep in his care, protecting them from every danger. David took on the responsibility of being a shepherd, and it is written of him: “He began to shepherd them according to the integrity of his heart.” (Ps. 78:72) Jesus said to Peter for the benefit of all his disciples: “Shepherd my little sheep.” (John 21:16) Peter later said to overseers: “Shepherd the flock of God in your care.” (1 Pet. 5:2) Paul was very definite too when he said: “Pay attention to yourselves [overseers] and to all the flock, among which the holy spirit has appointed you overseers, to shepherd the congregation of God.” (Acts 20:28) So then, there is no question about some men being shepherds, having the responsibility of carefully watching over the sheep, tending them and protecting them. For the shepherd it is not just a matter of leading them and feeding them, but guarding them. There are so many things a shepherd must guard his sheep against. Listen to the shepherd Jude: “I found it necessary to write you to exhort you to put up a hard fight for the faith that was once for all time delivered to the holy ones. My reason is that certain men have slipped in who have long ago been appointed by the Scriptures to the judgment described below, ungodly men, turning the undeserved kindness of our God into an excuse for loose conduct and proving false to our only Owner and Lord, Jesus Christ.”—Jude 3, 4.
9. What can happen to an overseer who becomes proud and haughty, and why are such to be avoided?
9 Overseers must be on guard so that such ungodly men do not slip into the organization. Sometimes even an overseer becomes haughty and proud and thinks that he can get away with such a thing as written about by Jude! Being in the exalted position of a shepherd, rather than protecting the sheep he takes advantage of them and goes so far as destroying them with his immoral conduct. No matter what position an overseer holds within the congregation of God, that of Branch servant, district servant, circuit servant, congregation servant or ministerial servant, do not let him think for one minute that he can take advantage of his position by acting immorally. For such secret conduct God has already assigned him to judgment and his judgment is destruction. If such kind of person, no matter who he may be, slips into the congregation, see to it that he is disfellowshiped and have no association with him. God’s sheep do not want such person around the congregation, because they want a pure organization that will bring glory and honor to Jehovah God. They take heed to Paul’s words: “Quit mixing in company with anyone called a brother that is a fornicator or a greedy person or an idolater or a reviler or a drunkard.”—1 Cor. 5:11.
10, 11. (a) What unpleasant task does an overseer sometimes face? Yet why can he not overlook trouble? (b) Where does the situation of God’s sheep make Jesus’ words at Matthew 10:16, 17 fitting?
10 When overseers are looking after the interests of the sheep they are going to give them all the necessary protection. It is not pleasant to get mixed in with trouble or to find it or to have to dig around looking for it when one knows it is there. But if a shepherd does not chase it down and root it out when it is in the flock, he might lose his whole flock. “Happy is the one that stays awake and keeps his outer garments.” (Rev. 16:15) He might even lose his own life because of being a negligent shepherd not on the watch.
11 Where are God’s sheep? Right here in this old world. They are not in the new world yet, but they are in the New World society. However, that is not yet the new world of righteousness. Jesus said he was in this old evil world, but he certainly was no part of it. Jehovah’s witnesses are in the same position, in an old world as ministers, but not a part of it. That is why Jesus said: “Look! I am sending you forth as sheep amidst wolves; therefore prove yourselves cautious as serpents and yet innocent as doves. Be on your guard against men.”—Matt. 10:16, 17.
CARE FOR THE SICK SHEEP
12. What will a wide-awake shepherd do about sick sheep, and why is this necessary?
12 Overseers do not have to wait until an overt act is performed before a person is spoken to or brought before the congregation’s committee and put on probation or before a person is disfellowshiped. If the overseer is a wide-awake shepherd he will recognize sick sheep, and he will try to give them the tender care or corrective measures that they need so that they will be brought to good mental, moral and spiritual health again before they get so sick that nothing will help them and they will only be fit for death. James wrote: “Is there anyone sick among you? Let him call the older men of the congregation to him, and let them pray over him, rubbing him with oil in the name of Jehovah. And the prayer of faith will make the indisposed one well, and Jehovah will raise him up. Also if he has committed sins, it will be forgiven him.” (Jas. 5:14, 15) Sometimes these sick sheep do not have good enough judgment to call on the older men, the shepherds in the congregation, to come in and pray over them. What must the overseer do then?
13. (a) Name some causes of sickness among God’s sheep? (b) Why is brotherly love so vital?
13 The shepherd should go to that sick one. A good shepherd will know who are absent from the congregation. Then, rather than wait until the sheep calls the shepherd, would it not be better for the shepherd to call on the sheep? The kind thing for a shepherd to do is call on the sick person. Maybe he lacked spiritual food. He may be in some trouble and needs advice, or someone may have offended him. Whatever it may be, he needs a shepherd to help him. Think of the joy an overseer will have if he helps one of these sick sheep to stay in the organization and regain health under the shepherd’s guidance because of his love. John wrote: “Do not marvel, brothers, that the world hates you. We know we have passed over from death to life, because we love the brothers.” (1 John 3:13, 14) John knew what real love meant. Jesus showed it in life and by death. The brothers in Jehovah’s organization can show this same kind of love too in so many ways. In their stand together against persecution, yes, but even more so among themselves by their unfailing love for one another in all kinds of difficulties. Sometimes this love shown for another is not appreciated by the receiver, but it must be expressed by the giver anyway.
14, 15. (a) What counsel of Paul is fitting for overseers to follow? (b) How many of the sheep allotted to a shepherd must he care for?
14 Therefore a shepherd must help the congregation to do as the apostle said. “Let all malicious bitterness and anger and wrath and screaming and abusive speech be taken away from you along with all injuriousness,” said Paul to the Ephesian congregation. “Become kind to one another, tenderly compassionate, freely forgiving one another just as God also by Christ freely forgave you.” (Eph. 4:31, 32) Overseers, remember you are God’s chosen ones to look after all the sheep, not only the healthy ones, not only the ones that go out with you in service, not only the ones that come to meetings, but all those who have dedicated themselves to do Jehovah’s will. By holy spirit you have been appointed to shepherd God’s flock.
15 You know that Jehovah God makes it rain upon the just and the unjust alike. The sun shines upon the wicked as well as the good. Jehovah is always on the giving side. He continually gives and gives of his undeserved kindness. Christ Jesus laid down his life willingly for the just and the unjust. So, then, overseers, shepherds of the sheep, how far will you go to lead, feed and shepherd the sheep? Jesus said it so simply: “These things I command you, that you love one another.”—John 15:17.
16. With the Great Shepherd looking after all the sheep, what can they say as spoken by David?
16 The Great Shepherd in heaven is looking after his sheep on earth, whether they be of the little flock or the other sheep. Appointed overseers on earth should be doing the same with real diligence and under all circumstances, for God is with them, too, in their heavier responsibilities. They, like all the rest of the sheep, say: “Jehovah is my Shepherd. I shall lack nothing. Even though I walk in the valley of deep shadow, I fear nothing bad, for you are with me; your rod and your staff are the things that comfort me. You arrange before me a table in front of those showing hostility to me. With oil you have greased my head; my cup is well filled. Surely goodness and loving-kindness themselves will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of Jehovah to the length of days.”—Ps. 23:1, 4-6.
THE SHEEP’S NEED OF SHEPHERDS
17, 18. (a) How can a shepherd keep the sheep in the fold? (b) Why was Jesus such a good shepherd of sheep, and are more shepherds required now?
17 Undershepherds, imitate the Great Shepherd. The sheep need you so much. They expect you to help them. God appointed you for that purpose. “Go on carrying the burdens of one another, and thus fulfill the law of the Christ.” (Gal. 6:2) God showed kindness to the sinner and the unthankful ones. Cannot shepherds do the same with skillfulness, always showing kindness with those who are in his charge? A good shepherd will keep the sheep in the fold. He may not neglect his work as a protecting shepherd and allow the sheep to get outside the flock. If any do, he will look for them and bring them back to safety.
18 Jesus built an organization and he kept the sheep in it. His Father gave them to him, for Jesus so acknowledged: “I make request, not concerning the world, but concerning those you have given me, because they are yours.” (John 17:9) He watched over them in every respect. He knew they belonged to his Father, but he was their shepherd appointed as such by his Father to lead them on to salvation, and that is why he further said in his prayer: “When I was with them I used to watch over them out of respect for your own name which you have given me, and I have kept them, and not one of them is destroyed except the son of destruction, so that the scripture has been fulfilled.” (John 17:12) Jesus kept the sheep together for their life. In Jesus’ day it was a small congregation. How the flock grew under shepherds like Peter, Paul and others! Now in these last days the great crowd, which no man is able to number, out of all the nations and tribes and peoples and tongues, is standing before the throne and before the Lamb as God’s congregation. (Rev. 7:9-15) Many more undershepherds are now needed. At the close of last year there were 17,878 congregations. Surely with sixty to seventy thousand more sheep coming into Jehovah’s organization yearly it will require many more shepherds to take on the responsibility of overseers. Cherish your blessed privilege, and may many others reach out for this right kind of work!
19, 20. Since more shepherds will be required, what questions arise, and what must all sheep continue to recognize?
19 Yes, more district servants, more circuit servants, more congregation servants and more ministerial servants will be needed. As this great crowd grows, more shepherds will be appointed to look after God’s flock. More persons will have to take on the shepherding. Will you be one of these? When that opportunity comes to you to look after your assigned part of the great flock of God, will you take on that responsibility willingly, eagerly, and be a good example to the flock?
20 As new shepherds are appointed to these positions of responsibility, the more than 800,000 sheep must continue to recognize the organization that Jehovah God through his Son, Christ Jesus, has set up for their protection. Sheep look to the shepherd to lead them to green pastures.
21. How should those in the congregation view the overseers?
21 Likewise members of the congregation must have respect for those who are appointed as overseers, regardless of who the individuals may be. The undershepherd Paul said: “Be obedient to those who are governing you and be submissive, for they are keeping watch over your souls as those who will render an account, that they may do this with joy and not with sighing, for this would be damaging to you.”—Heb. 13:17.
22. What should overseers pray for?
22 Overseers, on your part continually pray to Jehovah your God to open your hearts and minds to the understanding of the divine will. “Turn down foolish and speculative questionings, knowing they produce fights. But a slave of the Lord does not need to fight, but needs to be tactful toward all, qualified to teach, keeping himself restrained under evil, instructing with mildness those not favorably disposed, as perhaps God may give them repentance leading to an accurate knowledge of truth, and they may come back to their proper senses out from the snare of the Devil, seeing that they have been caught alive by him for the will of that one.”—2 Tim. 2:23-26.
23. How does a shepherd care for himself, and in whose love does he keep the sheep?
23 A good shepherd not only takes care of sheep, but he takes care of himself too. A shepherd eats. He needs refreshing water. He gets his rest. A skillful shepherd keeps himself healthy spiritually, physically, morally, so that he can be a true leader and guide for all the sheep that have been allotted to him in the congregation. He appreciates Jude’s counsel to the sheep and shepherd alike: “But you, beloved ones, by building up yourselves on your most holy faith, and praying with holy spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love, while you are waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ with everlasting life in view.” (Jude 20, 21) Shepherds, take care of God’s sheep and keep yourself in God’s love and active in Jehovah’s expanding organization. With skillful shepherding come joy and gladness and a love that surpasses all understanding. It is love such as Jesus the Right Shepherd had. He said: “No one has love greater than this, that someone should surrender his soul in behalf of his friends.” (John 15:13) It is such a love that loyally safeguards God’s sheep and that shepherds the flock to life everlasting in God’s righteous new world.