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Why Are Pastors Called Shepherds?

On the Straight Truth Podcast this week, Dr. Josh Philpot and Dr. Richard Caldwell continue their discussion on the role of a pastor. Previously podcasts covered what a pastor does in his teaching and preaching role and how it is that a man is gifted and evaluated for the position of elder/pastor. This week their discussion will focus on the role of the pastor as shepherd. Dr. Caldwell has written a book titled Pastoral Preaching. In the book, he hones in on the role of the pastor as a shepherd, and he intently focuses on what the task of shepherding entails. Dr. Philpot asks Dr. Caldwell to talk about this a bit and to help us understand why a pastor is a shepherd and what it communicates to the Church. Dr. Philpot has additional questions he asks throughout the dialogue. His last question for Dr. Caldwell pertains to losing touch with what a shepherd really is since many have never had experience with or seen the visual analogy of shepherding. Is this important? If so, how has it affected the Church and the Lord’s people?

Dr. Caldwell shares the first reason this term is used is that Jesus, our Lord and Savior, is the Great Shepherd of the sheep. In the New Testament, the word we translate as pastor is the word for shepherd. Thus, when we speak of pastors as shepherds, it expresses biblical terminology. The terms elder, overseer, shepherd, and pastor are interchangeable terms for the men who lead the Church in the New Testament. Second, regarding the book he wrote, Dr. Caldwell shares that as he went through the Old and New Testaments taking note of the biblical instances where God refers to those preaching His word or leading His people using that analogy. The Scriptures speak of these men like shepherds to a flock. In the New Testament specifically, the Church is compared to a flock, and the leaders are compared to shepherds.

This term/title is significant because it conveys several things. It conveys the humility of the office; shepherds were not highly thought of, not highly exalted. It speaks of the Lord Jesus, the Great Shepherd who bought His people with His own blood; they belong to him. Pastors humbly serve the Him who owns the flock; they are under-shepherds of Jesus the Chief Shepherd. Yet, pastors are also sheep at the same time. They serve Christ and His people. In the conversation Jesus has with Peter after His resurrection, He tells Peter three times to take care of His sheep, using the words feed, shepherd, and feed. Dr. Caldwell says that this speaks of the pastor's role and responsibility to feed and guide the people of God. It also speaks of the need for courage as shepherds had to defend flocks from wolves. It speaks of love for the people of God. Shepherds put their lives on the line in the need to watch over and defend the flock. A pastor is to love God’s people, not go about serving them in some superficial way. Pastors' hearts are to be knit together with them. Pastors are brothers and sisters in Christ with them, so we must bear this in mind as we care for them. All these things are wrapped up in the idea of shepherding.

However, says Dr. Caldwell, we must not think of this role by using only one of the analogies that the New Testament gives. Pastors are not just shepherds. They are also called elders. In this word, there is the idea of spiritual maturity; this is the ongoing development of wisdom and maturity over time. Pastors are also overseers, men who are household managers of what belongs to God. There is an oversight management aspect to what pastors do as they facilitate ministry. He says all three terms used by the New Testament refer to the one man, to the one office. All three must be understood as belonging to the office to have a well-rounded, holistic view of what pastors are called to do.

Dr. Philpot speaks of the Scriptures using the language of false shepherds also, being shepherds who lead the sheep/people astray. He asks if shepherds can sometimes be considered wolves, and if so, in what manner would this be so?

Dr. Caldwell says that shepherds can be false in the realm of doctrine, teaching things as true that are not true. They can be false shepherds in the sense of their ambitions and motivations. False shepherds are pictured in the Word of God as preying upon people. There are attitudes present in these men that ought not to be. Absent from them are love, gentleness, and patience, so instead of leading the flock they dominate them. God’s under-shepherds are specifically warned about this in 1 Peter 5. Pastors are not to drive the sheep, they are to lead them, and they do this by modeling the things they are asking them to do. Pastors, as shepherds, are to feed the sheep by teaching and preaching. It is not just to satisfy a need in the moment, but it is for satisfying a need having the future in mind. Dr. Caldwell explains how Ephesians 4 speaks of this. The passage speaks of the gifted men that God has given to build up the body of Christ. They are given to the Church to help it grow and mature, to help us all attain to the unity of faith that belongs to the mature man, found in the knowledge of Christ. It goes on specifically to say this is so that the Church will not be tossed here and there by every wind of doctrine. So then, when pastors teach, it isn’t just for that day and moment, it’s not just for tomorrow, it is for years ahead. And as the church grows up under the teaching of God from its elders, in all aspects of church life, what happens is maturity, and maturity is stability. So pastors, as shepherds, feed the sheep, but they also protect, guard, equip, prepare, fortify and preserve. God uses His Word in all these ways as faithful elders teach the truth. Therefore, the way pastor-shepherds handle the Word of God ought to reflect their understanding of their roles as under-shepherds. They must all stand under the Scriptures, not on them. They are to strive to be faithful to Him, the one Chief Shepherd who owns all the sheep.

Dr. Caldwell tells us that during the writing of the Old and New Testament, people probably would have more easily identified with the analogy of shepherds and shepherding because they saw it every day. Yet, the average person today would probably have some concept of it. He doesn’t think that people have so much lost touch with the role or function of shepherding as it is that they've lost touch with humility. He says that we live in a culture that exalts people in ways unfitting for men of ministry, being more influenced by a celebrity culture than the Scriptures. He shares that even if he had no idea what shepherding was, but yet, imbibed all the attitudes taught in the New Testament about what it means to follow Christ – humility, patience, hard work, right motives, and ambitions – that he would be a good shepherd while not knowing anything about shepherding. He further says that it may be that we are losing touch with what it means to serve Christ. Slavery says Dr. Caldwell is another New Testament comparison of the people belonging to God. Pastors, as well as all sheep, are slaves of the Lord Jesus Christ. In light of what he has shared, he asks the following questions for pastors to consider: Do we see ourselves as under-rowers? Do we see ourselves as men who are privileged to belong to the One we now serve? Do we really believe that the greatest among us will be the servant of all? Do we see the Lord Jesus washing the feet of His disciples, and say that is what I am called to do? He believes that this is where the disconnect is. It isn’t so much that we’ve lost touch with the shepherding analogy as we’ve lost touch with the Scriptures and what it means to belong to Christ and be His servant.

About The Straight Truth Podcast

The Straight Truth Podcast: Christian Opinions in an Increasingly Secular World. Join Dr. Richard Caldwell, Dr. Josh Philpot, and their guests as they discuss news events, current affairs, and cultural issues from a Biblical point of view. Find the truth at www.straighttruth.net

The Straight Truth Podcast is a weekly opinion show hosted by Dr. Richard Caldwell and Dr. Josh Philpot. Straight Truth is available as an audio podcast on iTunes or as a video podcast through YouTube or Vimeo.  The duration of the podcast is approximately 10 minutes. We release new episodes every Thursday.

The topics discussed in the Straight Truth Podcast are current events, matters that challenge traditional Christian values, and questions submitted by audience members. Dr. Caldwell, Dr. Philpot, and their guests seek to answer these questions with Biblical truths and from a Christian conservative point of view. The Holy Bible is the inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word of God; it alone is and will be the basis and authority of
answering any and all questions.

The Straight Truth Podcast is the perfect podcast for those seeking to strengthen their faith, to be informed on how to broach difficult topics with a Christian point of view, to share their faith with unbelieving friends, to challenge the status quo of their own beliefs by viewing them under the lens of the Scriptures, to interpret current news events from a Biblical point of view, and more.

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Season 20 Credits

Produced by
Juan Carlos Claveria

Executive Producers
Joshua Philpot
David Anders

Hosted by
Joshua Philpot

Social Media Descriptions by
Michele Watson

Graphic Design
David Navejas



Special Thanks to
El Centro Network

Music by

Motion Graphics
Szymon Masiak

Set Decorator
Molly Atchison

Walking In Grace Produces The Straight Truth Podcast - The Best Christian Podcast On The Web

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