Shepherding—a Demanding yet Rewarding Work
ARE you one who has been entrusted with responsibility to care for sheeplike ones in the Christian congregation? To “shepherd the flock of God” is not easy work, but it is rewarding. (1 Pet. 5:2-4) The work of a spiritual shepherd can, in certain respects, be compared to that of a literal shepherd.
In the Middle East the Bedouin shepherd has remained essentially unchanged through the centuries. He still wears a long shirtlike garment that nearly touches the ground. His outer coat, or aba, may be of camel’s hair or of coarse handspun wool. And on his head he wears his Arabic headdress.
The shepherd is responsible to find good pastures and suitable watering places. Then when sheep become sick, or when lambs are born, special attention is required. A native of Syria years ago reported watching shepherds tend their flocks upon the slopes of Mount Hermon:
“Each shepherd watched his flock closely to see how they fared. When he found a newborn lamb he put it in the folds of his aba, or great coat, since it would be too feeble to follow the mother. When his bosom was full, he put lambs on his shoulders, holding them by the feet, or in a bag or basket on the back of a donkey, until the little ones were able to follow the mothers.”
Similarly, a good spiritual shepherd gives loving attention to “the flock,” tenderly caring for weak or new members of the congregation. In this way he imitates the example of Jehovah God, whose loving care for his people is so fittingly described in this way: “Like a shepherd he will shepherd his own drove. With his arm he will collect together the lambs; and in his bosom he will carry them. Those giving suck he will conduct with care.”—Isa. 40:11.
It is interesting, too, that Middle Eastern shepherds call their sheep, and the sheep know the voice of the shepherd and obediently follow. J. L. Porter described a scene he witnessed among the hills of Bashan:
“The shepherds led their flocks forth from the gates of the city. . . . The shepherds stood together until all [the sheep] came out. Then they separated, each shepherd taking a different path, and uttering as he advanced a shrill, peculiar call. The sheep heard them. At first the masses swayed and moved as if shaken by some internal convulsion; then points struck out in the direction taken by the shepherds; these became longer and longer until the confused masses were resolved in long, living streams, flowing after their leaders.”—The Giant Cities of Bashan and Syria’s Holy Places, page 45.
But is it really the voice of the shepherd that the sheep recognize? Yes, it is, as was observed by W. M. Thomson when visiting the Middle East years ago. He wrote: “The shepherd calls sharply from time to time, to remind them of his presence. They know his voice, and follow on. . . . This is not the fanciful costume of a parable; it is simple fact. I have made the experiment repeatedly.”
Jesus Christ said that he was the “fine shepherd” of the “sheep,” and that “my sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:14, 27) If those who serve as undershepherds of Jesus really speak his words, adhering closely to what is found in the Bible, the “sheep” will respond. They will follow the lead of those who faithfully shepherd the flock of God.
How well do you, as spiritual shepherds, know the “sheep” that have been entrusted to your care? A good shepherd keeps busy looking after the individual needs of the sheep, heeding closely the Bible admonition: “You ought to know positively the appearance of your flock. Set your heart to your droves.”—Prov. 27:23.
A good shepherd needs to have endurance and courage, and needs to give careful attention to the flock. In the summer there is exposure to the blazing sun; and in the winter, to cold rain or snow. There may be danger from wild beasts, and even from robbers who may try to steal the sheep. A shepherd of “the flock of God” similarly must have endurance and courage. He needs to be on guard against wolflike men who would turn the flock from the paths of righteousness.—Acts 20:28-30.
While shepherding is demanding work, it is also rewarding work. A spiritual shepherd, in particular, has the satisfaction of serving the interests of God, the One he confidently looks to as the rewarder of his people.