1 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
This morning will be our third week in this passage. On the first week my aim was to help you understand and respond to these verses as John’s first readers would have understood and sought to apply them. The second week, last week, we considered what Jesus meant by the abundant life He came to bring (v.10).
This week, we’re going to look at this passage from another angle still. We’re going to consider its implications for leadership within the local church today. The main question I mean to answer is: What does this passage teach us about how God intends Grace Church to be led. While it might not be immediately obvious that this exchange between Jesus and the Jews is intended to answer that question, I hope to help you see that it is and that it is good news indeed.
(Let me say one more thing before I pray. Much of this sermon is shaped by Timothy Witmer’s book, “The Shepherd Leader.” I’ve taught on that book many times in many contexts. Insodoing, I’ve made all kinds of notes and changes to my notes. It was from them (not the book itself) that I turned for help in this sermon. I say that mainly because at this point I’m not sure how much is mine and how much is Witmer’s. I haven’t knowingly quoted anything from his book, but I’m confident that many of the ideas and at least some of the structure is his.)
CHURCH LEADERSHIP HAS ALWAYS BEEN SHEPHERD LEADERSHIP
There’s a lot of disagreement and confusion today about what constitutes good leadership. You’d have to have your head buried pretty deeply in the sand not to hear the constant buzz about political and economic leadership. Everyone seems to be full of confidence in their assessment of what’s wrong with a leader, but there doesn’t seem to be any clear, agreed upon standard for what makes a good leader.
Is it any different in the Church? If I were to ask you to describe your understanding of God’s design for church leadership, what would you say? What constitutes good or bad leadership within a church? What does God mean leaders to do (or not do)? What’s the goal of church leadership and how do we know these things? How confident are you in your answers to those questions and how consistent do you think they’d be throughout the people in this room right now?
If we are to begin to understand John 10, its description of Jesus’ leadership of His people, its implications for leadership within the Church today, and how all of that ties into the rest of the biblical passages on church leadership, then we need to go back to Genesis. Beginning there, we’ll do a quick flyover of the rest of the Bible as well in order to get our heads around the backdrop for Jesus’ statements in our passage and beyond.
God As Shepherd Leader
The first thing to see in our journey back is that God’s leadership of His people has always been described as shepherd-leadership.
For instance, in Genesis 48(:15), in blessing his son, Joseph, Jacob calls on the name of the Lord and insodoing refers to Him as, “the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day.” In this, we see that Jacob understood God’s leadership to have always been shepherd-like.
Likewise, in Psalm 23 we read the familiar words, “The LORD is my shepherd…” Because this is most often read in times of suffering (and it certainly has implications for suffering saints), it can be easy to miss the heart of the passage: God leads and comforts His people like the very best shepherd does his sheep.
Psalm 80 begins, “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock!”
Isaiah 40:10-11 says, “Behold, the Lord GOD … 11 will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.”
As I’ve tried to help you see many times over the years, the things and relationships God created and established are not random. Why did God design sheep as He did (needy, vulnerable, and prone to wander)? He did so to teach us a bit about ourselves and in order to make room for the role of a shepherd in our minds. And why did He do that? He did so, in large measure, to give us clear and visible categories for His own nature and leadership of His people.
Understanding Jesus’ description of His leadership in John 10 and its implications for us today begins with the fact that He was continuing something God had established from the beginning—good leadership is shepherd leadership.
Israel’s Leaders as Shepherds
If that’s all we had, it would help us better understand what Jesus meant, but it wouldn’t help us much in the way of understanding what it means for leadership within the Church today. But, God’s Word doesn’t merely describe God’s leadership as shepherd leadership. It also describes God’s appointed leaders as shepherd leaders as well.
In Psalm 77:20 (also Isaiah 63:11) we read, “You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.” God shepherded His people through the shepherd leadership of men like Moses and Aaron.
Likewise, in Psalm 78:70-72 (also 2 Samuel 5:2) we read, “He chose David his servant and took him from the sheepfolds; 71 from following the nursing ewes he brought him to shepherd Jacob his people, Israel his inheritance. 72 With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand.” David too is called a shepherd of the people of God.
2 Samuel 7:7 says, “In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel…”. Here, the leadership of Israel’s judges is referred to as shepherding.
And in the most sweeping terms yet, in Ezekiel 34:2-5, God chastised the collective leaders of Israel for their failure to shepherd God’s people as God did and commanded. “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. 4 The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts.”
Grace, do not miss the fact that in His infinite wisdom, God determined to provide a good deal of His shepherding care to His people through human shepherd leaders. In addition, don’t miss the fact that God chose to shepherd His people through His people knowing that His appointed shepherd leaders were sinners. Moses disobeyed God and was prevented from entering the promised land. David committed adultery and lost a son because of it. And the sin and fate of many of the rest of Israel’s leaders is summed up well in the Ezekiel 34 passage.
The Promise and Coming of the Good Shepherd
Again, if that were all we had, we’d be helped indeed in our understanding and application of John 10. But again, that’s not all we have. Not only did God provide direct shepherding care to His sheep, and not only did God provide indirect shepherding care through fallen human shepherds, but God also promised to provide a different kind of shepherd, One who would perfectly shepherd His people.
In the midst of rebuking Israel’s leaders for their treacherous shepherding (even as Jesus did in our passage for this morning), in Ezekiel 34:22-23 we read of God’s promise that “I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. 23 And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.” Jeremiah 23(:5-6) promises something very similar.
The key for us to see here, in case it isn’t already obvious, is that Ezekiel prophesied well after King David had reigned and died. That means, of course, that Ezekiel wasn’t prophesying about how much better David’s shepherding would be when he did come in the future. Instead, Ezekiel was looking back on David’s good shepherding of God’s people, to heights of prosperity they’d never known before or since, and promising hat God would send an even greater shepherd than David from the line of David to perfectly care for His sheep—to rescue them and lead them as no human shepherd had been able to do.
Now things are starting to become a bit clearer. Grace, do you see it?! In John 10:11 (“I am the good shepherd”), Jesus was claiming to be the fulfillment of Ezekiel 34:22-24. Jesus was the perfect shepherd from David’s line that God promised to send.
All by itself that has significant implications for the Church today. Jesus did indeed lay his life down to “rescue [God’s] flock,” so we can be saved. And He did indeed live and lead perfectly according to God’s perfect plan. Jesus came as the good shepherd and He promised to lead us from heaven until He returns. What more do we need? What more would we want? And yet, once again, there’s more.
The Apostles As Shepherds
Just as God’s shepherding care didn’t end with Himself in the OT times, neither does it end with Jesus in NT times. Jesus commissioned His Apostles to shepherd others as He had shepherded them. It is for that reason that we read Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:6 charging the Twelve to “Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Likewise, at the end of John’s Gospel we find the foundation for what was to come. John 21:15-17 “…Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 […and again,] “Tend my sheep.” 17 …[and again,] “Feed my sheep.”
The heart of what it meant for Jesus’ apostles to carry out the mission Jesus gave them was to call Jesus’ sheep and shepherd them as they came; to be good shepherds of Jesus’ flock. Jesus did not merely shepherd the early Church from heaven, He continued to do so through human shepherds on earth.
Elders As Shepherds
But Grace, one more time, God’s shepherding of His people, with His people, didn’t end there either. The disciples and apostles were not the last shepherds among God’s people. God has given the Church, from the time of the end of the apostolic age, through today, and until Christ returns, the office of elder to carry on His shepherding care for His people.
In Acts 20:28 Paul commanded certain Ephesian elders (20:17) to, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”
Likewise, in 1 Peter 5:1-2, Peter commanded, “So I exhort the elders among you… 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you…
And in Hebrews 13:17 we see this again, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.” God’s undershepherds are charged to keep watch over the souls of God’s people as good shepherds.
From God Himself directly, to God through various sinful, inadequate humans, to Jesus, the promised Good Shepherd, to Jesus’ disciples and apostles, to the office of elder within the Church today, God has always cared for His people as a shepherd and provided a significant measure of that care through human shepherds.
SHEPHERD LEADERSHIP IN JOHN 10 AND TODAY
All that sets us up a lot better to consider what Jesus’ teaching in John 10 meant on a practical level; both for His shepherding and ours. As Witmer points out in the book I referenced at the beginning, the primary shepherding functions that God performs for His people and has called His leaders to perform for His people on His behalf, are knowing, leading, feeding, and protecting. The rest of the Bible tells us a lot more about each of those areas of shepherding, but John 10 gives us a good start.
Shepherds Know their Sheep
For a shepherd to tend his sheep, he needs to know which sheep are his and his sheep need to know he is their shepherd. We see this plainly in vs.3-4, “To [the shepherd] the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name…[and] the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.”
In v.14 we find the same thing, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.”
And again in v.16 we read, “And I [Jesus] have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.”
On a practical level, then, as elders, it is our job to keep a careful watch on our membership. We are charged to do our best to bring before you only those who give a credible profession of faith for membership and to seek to remove those who no longer do so from membership.
And on a more personal level, it means knowing each of you as well as possible. It means knowing who you are living life alongside of you well enough to know your joys and struggles in the Lord. It means understanding your life and family and job and friends and gifts and ministry enough to pray for you in specific and heart-felt ways. And it means allowing you to know us in those ways as well.
This is why everyone of you who are members or have been at Grace for a while are put in a shepherd group which is overseen by an elder who is especially charged to know you well. It’s impossible to shepherd well if we don’t know who the genuine sheep of God are and what you are going through in life and ministry.
Shepherds Lead their Sheep
Second, we see in this passage that a good shepherd, the Good Shepherd, not only knows who His sheep are, but also leads them to where they need to be for fullness of life. Look again at vs.3-4.
“3 …. The sheep hear [their shepherd’s] voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” And not only do they know His voice, but they listen to His voice when He calls and leads (v.16).
Jesus tells and shows us where to go for the most satisfying meals, for the best drink, and for the safest places to rest. He loves us and goes before us everywhere the Father calls. His words are perfect and sufficient and His example is complete.
In a similar way, godly elders are charged to lead by example in godliness and ministry. Godly leaders, like a good shepherd, have God’s authority to call God’s people to God’s will for God’s glory and your good. It is right for us to set a vision for Grace Church as God’s Word charges and God’s Spirit burdens. There is a unique way that our shepherding work is meant to set the direction, God’s direction, for Grace Church.
This is why we work hard to be clear on issues like eldership, deaconship, membership, discipleship, ministry to kids, missions, women’s ministry, men’s ministry, baptism, and worship (those are just some of the areas we’ve wrestled through over the past years).
Again, we really are charged by God to lead, with real authority from God, but we are to do so for your good and God’s glory, not our own selfish gain. The 1 Peter passage I read from earlier finishes like this:
1 Peter 5:1-3 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.
Shepherds Feed their Sheep
The next thing we see in John 10 in the way of functioning as a good shepherd is that He feeds the sheep. He makes sure they are nourished and well fed.
9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.
Jesus feeds His people with the best food. His people will never lack anything we truly need. He feeds His people with more even than bread. He feeds His people with His Word and even with His own flesh and blood as we saw in chapter 6; that is, He gives all of Himself to us to be satisfied in forever!
Again, as elders under Jesus we too are charged to feed you all as shepherds. The primary way we do that is through teaching and preaching. And the primary thing we teach and preach on is the Word of God. Feeding you anything else may satisfy on some level, momentarily, but God’s word alone satisfies fully and forever. This is why we are so careful to in choosing songs, curriculum, books, and resources. This is why the main type of preaching you hear at Grace is expositional—book by book and verse by verse through the Bible. And this is why we insist on counseling you through your decisions and hardships from God’s Word, and encourage you to do the same for one another. Other resources may have some value, but only insofar as they are consistent with the Word of God.
Shepherds Protect their Sheep
Finally, perhaps surprisingly, the aspect of Jesus’ shepherding that gets the most attention in John 10 is His protection of His sheep. He begins by warning of the dangers of false shepherds, those who would only pretend to know, lead, feed, and protect for the good of the sheep.
1 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber.
5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”
8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.
10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.
In contrast, however, Jesus truly protects His sheep from wolves, robbers, strangers, thieves, and anything else that would come to kill and destroy.
9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved …
10 I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
15 …and I lay down my life for the sheep.
17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.
At the cost of His own life, Jesus protected His sheep. He did so ultimately by teaching us truth, protecting us from lies, and then dying to pay for our sins, protecting us from sin’s death.
In the same way, as elders, we are charged to protect. On the highest level we protect you all from false doctrine and division. We protect from false converts or malicious sheep gaining a foothold in membership or leadership.
And on a more personal level, we work hard to protect you from your own sin and folly. We mean to walk alongside you closely enough to know when you stray, lovingly enough that you want us there, wisely enough that we have something to offer, and consistently enough to walk with you all the way to restoration. Our protection is always first in prayer and then in loving words of correction and calling you back onto God’s path.
We know that we don’t do all of these things perfectly, but so did God when He called us. On our best days, we echo Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11:1 where he called his readers to follow him as he followed Christ. On most days it is our joy to point you to Jesus and walk with you toward Him, come what may. And when we act in ways that are less than good-shepherdly, we mean to be quick to model humility, love for the wounds of a friend, and swift repentance.
IMPLICATIONS OF SHEPHERD LEADERSHIP FOR CHURCH MEMBERS
Having considered what all of this means for leadership within the church, and particularly the kind of leadership elders are called to, I’d like to close with a few simple words on what all of that means for all of you. In other words, we’re right to ask, given what makes for a good shepherd leader, what are the implications for the sheep. There are many implications, but I want to focus on one (which is actually four) in particular.
And here it is: Wherever you find a command for someone toward you, you have also found a command for you. If someone is commanded to love you, you are implicitly commanded to accept love from that person. If someone is commanded to confess their sins to you, you are implicitly commanded to prayerfully listen and point them to the gospel. And if elders are commanded to know, lead, feed, and protect you, you are commanded to be known, be led, be fed, and be protected.
Sheep Need to Be Known
Grace, on the most basic level, prioritize becoming a member and functioning as one. Be consistent and active in your participation. DGs, more even than giving you new information, are intended to help you be known. On a deeper level still, be honest. Don’t keep your joys or struggles or decisions to yourself. Don’t walk in secret sin. Don’t be slow to share your needs. Make your prayer requests known. Be quick to invite us into your hobbies, work, families, and lives. Help us to know you so we can best shepherd you, for God’s glory and your good.
Sheep Need to Be Lead
Everyone is a leader in some sense. And we need your input to be the best leaders we can be. At the same time, as we’ve seen, God has charged elders with a particular kind of leadership, which means that you are charged with a particular kind of followership. Practically, be in prayer for us to lead in God’s ways and for God’s purposes and for yourself to gladly come under that leadership. Ask good questions, share good insight, and then be good followers. Be eager to be led by us and make it easy for us to lead, not because we are perfect, but because it is God’s design. Ask God to give you a disposition of eagerness to follow us was we follow Jesus.
Sheep Need to Be Fed
Listen carefully as one of us exposits God’s Word each week. That means being here each week and working to grow to be an expositional listener. Prepare well to listen as carefully as possible and apply as quickly as possible whenever the Word of God is preached. Likewise, make it a priority to take in the teaching we offer here. We’re careful to give you the best cuts of meat and so you would do well to avail yourselves of it when it’s offered. Come to Berea and continue pressing in on sound doctrine throughout the week. Make G2g a priority to better learn how to love and lead your family. Study on your own and humbly consider what you find in light of what we share. Be eager to have a bent toward trusting God and therein trusting us to give you good meals. I’m so thankful that our church is so marked by this.
Sheep Need to Be Protected
Finally, sheep are vulnerable and need protection. Make it easy for us to protect you. Be eager to share with us the books and music and theological resources you’re taking in. Let us help you learn to discern between good and bad doctrine. It’s our joy to help you understand what you’re dealing with and how to best make use of it. Consider carefully the documents we put out to clarify certain doctrines and practices for Grace Church. Be grateful for the care we put into selecting songs and books and resources. We are enthusiastically committed to guarding the purity and unity of Grace Church. Work hard alongside us to help us do that well.
Again, Grace Church, this is God’s design for all our good. God has shepherded His people from the beginning and often through His people. Jesus modeled shepherd leadership perfectly and according to His sovereign grace and wisdom, commissioned apostles and then elders to shepherd His flock in kind. He did so not because He needed our help or because we have anything good in us that He didn’t give to us. He did so because He loves us, means to teach us humility, and is immeasurably kind to invite us into His saving and sanctifying work. None of us have led or followed perfectly which is why He laid down His life for us. And it is also why He sent His Spirit to empower us for all that He requires of us. Let us thank God, therefore, for being the Good Shepherd, for providing human shepherds as one means of caring well for us, and for granting us the privilege of being known, led, fed, and protected in all the ways we need.