They Compassionately Shepherd the Little Sheep
OF ALL the animals that live close to man, none are quite like domestic sheep. Most animals have the strength and instincts needed to search out food and elude creatures that prey upon them, but a sheep is different. It is vulnerable to predators, offering little in the way of a defense. Without a shepherd, a sheep is fearful and helpless. Separated from the flock, it easily gets lost. Docile sheep therefore have overpowering reasons to feel an attachment to their shepherd. Without him they would have little chance of survival. Because of these characteristics, the Bible uses sheep figuratively to depict innocent, abused, or defenseless people.
To be sure, the rewards of a shepherd are well earned. His life is not an easy one. He is exposed to both heat and cold, and he experiences sleepless nights. He has to protect the flock from predators, often at his own peril. Since a shepherd must keep the flock together, much of his time is spent searching for sheep that stray or get lost. He has to treat the sick and the injured. Feeble or weary lambs have to be carried. There is constant concern about getting an adequate supply of food and water. It is not uncommon for a shepherd to sleep overnight out in the field so as to ensure the flock’s safety. Hence, shepherding is a rigorous life requiring the services of a man who is brave, diligent, and resourceful. Most of all, he must have the capacity to show genuine concern for the flock entrusted to his care.
Shepherding the Flock of God
The Bible depicts God’s people as docile sheep and those in charge of them as shepherds. Jehovah himself is ‘the shepherd and overseer of our souls.’ (1 Peter 2:25) Jesus Christ, “the fine shepherd,” expressed his wish that the sheep receive compassionate care when he told the apostle Peter: ‘Feed my lambs, shepherd my little sheep, feed my little sheep.’ (John 10:11; 21:15-17) Christian overseers have been solemnly charged with ‘the shepherding of the congregation of God.’ (Acts 20:28) And their work as spiritual shepherds calls for the qualities of a good literal shepherd—bravery, diligence, resourcefulness, and, mainly, heartfelt concern for the well-being of the flock.
In the days of God’s prophet Ezekiel, the majority of the shepherds appointed to care for the needs of Jehovah’s people in Israel failed to fulfill their duties. God’s flock suffered terribly, with most abandoning true worship. (Ezekiel 34:1-10) Today, the clergy of Christendom portray themselves as shepherds of the so-called Christian congregation, but its spiritually sick state proves that the clergy are like the wicked impostors who neglected and abused the people when Jesus was on the earth. Christendom’s religious leaders are like “the hired man” who “does not care for the sheep.” (John 10:12, 13) In no way are they willing, able, or qualified to shepherd the flock of God.
Shepherds That Truly Care
Jesus set the perfect example for all who would shepherd Jehovah’s flock. In every way he was loving, kind, compassionate, and helpful to his disciples. He took the initiative to search out those in need. Though Jesus was busy and was often tired, he always took time to listen to their problems and to give them encouragement. His willingness to surrender his soul in their behalf was the ultimate expression of love.—John 15:13.
Today, all appointed congregation elders, as well as ministerial servants, share this responsibility toward the flock. Hence, even potential material advantages in another country do not induce the vast majority of these responsible men to move and thus leave congregations without adequate help and supervision. Living in “critical times hard to deal with,” the flock is in need of encouragement and guidance. (2 Timothy 3:1-5) There is an ever-present danger that some will fall prey to Satan, who is “like a roaring lion, seeking to devour someone.” (1 Peter 5:8) Now more than ever before, it is vital that Christian shepherds “admonish the disorderly, speak consolingly to the depressed souls, support the weak.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14) Constant vigilance is essential if they are to prevent unsteady ones from falling away from the flock.—1 Timothy 4:1.
How can the shepherd determine when a sheep needs help? Some of the more obvious signs are a failure to attend Christian meetings, irregular participation in the field ministry, and a tendency to avoid close association with others. Weaknesses can also be detected by carefully noting the attitude of the sheep and the tenor of their conversations. They may be inclined to be critical of others, perhaps indicating feelings of resentment. Their conversations may dwell excessively on materialistic pursuits rather than on spiritual goals. A general lack of enthusiasm, optimism, and joy may mean that their faith has become weak. A dejected countenance could be a sign that they are being pressured by opposing relatives or worldly friends. Noting these signs, the shepherd can work toward determining what kind of help is needed.
When visiting to help a fellow believer, Christian shepherds need to keep in mind their primary objective. It is not just a social call with conversation about trivialities. The apostle Paul’s goal in visiting his brothers was to ‘impart some spiritual gift to them in order for them to be made firm and that there might be an interchange of encouragement.’ (Romans 1:11, 12) To accomplish this, advance preparation is needed.
First, analyze the individual, and try to determine what his spiritual condition is. With that established, give some thought to what kind of direction, encouragement, or counsel will be most beneficial. God’s Word, the Bible, should be the primary source of information because it “exerts power.” (Hebrews 4:12) The Watchtower and Awake! magazines can be checked for articles that deal with the specific needs of sheep confronted with special problems. Exhilarating and refreshing experiences can be found in the Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The goal is to impart something spiritual that will be ‘good for the person’s upbuilding.’—Romans 15:2.
Shepherding That Is Upbuilding
A shepherd of a flock of literal sheep knows that they depend on him for protection and care. The most common perils come from straying, illness, weariness, injury, and predators. In like manner the spiritual shepherd must recognize and deal with similar perils that threaten the well-being of the flock. Following are some typical problems and a few suggestions on what might be said to impart spiritually upbuilding information.
(1) Like unwary sheep, some Christians stray from the flock of God because they are enticed by seemingly innocent and pleasurable attractions. They may be distracted and may even drift away because of pursuing goals associated with materialism, recreation, or entertainment. (Hebrews 2:1) Such individuals could be reminded of the urgency of the times, of the need to keep close to Jehovah’s organization, and of the importance of putting Kingdom interests first in life. (Matthew 6:25-33; Luke 21:34-36; 1 Timothy 6:8-10) Helpful counsel is found in the article “Keep Your Balance—How?” in The Watchtower of May 15, 1984, pages 8-11.
(2) A shepherd needs to provide treatment for sheep that succumb to illness. Similarly, spiritual shepherds must help Christians who become spiritually sick because of negative factors in their lives. (James 5:14, 15) They may be unemployed, may have a serious health problem, or may be experiencing difficulties in their family life. Such persons may have little appetite for spiritual food or association with God’s people. This in turn results in isolation and discouragement. They need to be assured that Jehovah cares for them and will sustain them through hard times. (Psalm 55:22; Matthew 18:12-14; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18; 1 Peter 1:6, 7; 5:6, 7) It may also be helpful to review the article “Look Straight Ahead as a Christian,” found in The Watchtower of June 1, 1980, pages 12-15.
(3) The shepherd has to be on the lookout for sheep that get weary. Some have endured faithfully in Jehovah’s service over a period of years. They have struggled through many tests and trials. Now they show signs of becoming weary in well-doing and may even express doubts about the need for intensive preaching activity. It is necessary to revive their spirit, renewing their appreciation for the joys and blessings that come from wholehearted service to God in imitation of Jesus Christ. (Galatians 6:9, 10; Hebrews 12:1-3) Perhaps they can be helped to see that Jehovah appreciates their loyal service and can strengthen them for future activities to his praise. (Isaiah 40:29, 30; Hebrews 6:10-12) It may be beneficial to share thoughts from the article “Do Not Give Up in Doing What Is Fine,” appearing in The Watchtower of July 15, 1988, pages 9-14.
(4) Like sheep that get injured, some Christians have been hurt by what they perceive to be offensive conduct. Yet, if we are forgiving toward others, our heavenly Father will grant us needed forgiveness. (Colossians 3:12-14; 1 Peter 4:8) Some brothers or sisters may have received counsel or discipline that they felt was unjust. However, all of us can benefit from spiritual counsel and discipline, and it is comforting to know that Jehovah disciplines those for whom he has love. (Hebrews 12:4-11) Because they have not been given privileges of service for which they feel qualified, others have allowed resentment to create a rift between them and the congregation. But if we were to draw away from Jehovah’s organization, there would be no place else to go for salvation and true joy. (Compare John 6:66-69.) Helpful information along these lines can be found in the article “Maintaining Our Christian Oneness,” found in The Watchtower of August 15, 1988, pages 28-30.
(5) Sheep must be protected from predators. In a comparable way, some may be opposed and intimidated by unbelieving relatives or workmates. Their integrity may come under attack when pressures are exerted to make them curtail their service to God or stop having a share in the Christian ministry. They are strengthened, however, when they are helped to realize that opposition is to be expected and is actually one of the proofs that we are genuine disciples of Jesus Christ. (Matthew 5:11, 12; 10:32-39; 24:9; 2 Timothy 3:12) It may be beneficial to point out that if they are faithful, Jehovah will never leave them and will reward their endurance. (2 Corinthians 4:7-9; James 1:2-4, 12; 1 Peter 5:8-10) The article entitled “Enduring Joyfully Despite Persecution” in The Watchtower of April 15, 1982, pages 21-7, provides additional encouragement.
Shepherds—Fulfill Your Responsibilities
The needs of the flock of God are many, and proper watchcare is a demanding job. Christian shepherds must therefore be compassionate, genuinely concerned, and interested in being helpful. Patience and discernment are important. While some individuals need counsel and admonition, others benefit most from encouragement. A few personal visits may suffice in some instances, whereas in others a regular Bible study may be needed. In every case the primary goal is to impart spiritually upbuilding guidance or loving counsel that will motivate the individual to initiate good study habits, become or continue regular in attending congregation meetings, and enjoy active participation in the Christian ministry. These are principal ways to assist fellow believers and help them to open the way for a free flow of Jehovah’s holy spirit.
Shepherds who provide that kind of support perform a most valuable service in behalf of the flock of God. (See The Watchtower of November 15, 1985, pages 23-7.) What spiritual shepherds do is very much appreciated by the flock. After receiving such help, one family head stated: ‘After we had been in the truth for 22 years, we were drawn into the world by materialism. We often wanted to attend meetings, but it just seemed that we couldn’t make it. We didn’t really fit into Satan’s system, so we were completely disconnected, isolated. This left us frustrated and depressed. We needed words of encouragement. When an elder visited us, we gladly accepted the provision of a Bible study in our home. Now all of us are back in Jehovah’s secure organization. I cannot express the happiness I feel!’
There is cause for much rejoicing when our straying or discouraged brothers and sisters are spiritually revived and reactivated. (Luke 15:4-7) Jehovah’s purpose toward his people is realized when they are united “like a flock in the pen.” (Micah 2:12) In this secure haven, they ‘find refreshment for their souls’ with the help of the Fine Shepherd, Jesus Christ. (Matthew 11:28-30) The united worldwide flock receives guidance, comfort, and protection along with an abundance of spiritual food.
Today, through this shepherding activity, Jehovah is having a loving work done that harmonizes with his ancient promise: “I will search for my sheep and care for them. . . . I will deliver them out of all the places to which they have been scattered . . . In a good pasturage I shall feed them . . . The lost one I will search for, . . . and the broken one I shall bandage and the ailing one I shall strengthen.” (Ezekiel 34:11-16) What comfort there is in knowing that Jehovah is our Shepherd!—Psalm 23:1-4.
Because of divine provisions for shepherding the flock of God, as Jehovah’s servants we can share the sentiments of David, who said: “In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for you yourself alone, O Jehovah, make me dwell in security.” (Psalm 4:8) Yes, Jehovah’s people feel secure in his loving care and are grateful that Christian elders compassionately shepherd the little sheep.
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Potter’s Complete Bible Encyclopedia