The Shepherds are Few

Matthew 9:35-38 – Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. [36] When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. [37] Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. [38] Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

The Need

I used to read this passage exclusively through the lens of evangelism. And to be sure, there are important implications for evangelism in these verses. However, it occurred to me that what led our Lord to make a plea for “workers” was the noticeable need for faithful shepherds over the harassed and helpless flock of God. The text says the flock was in such poor condition, that it was as though it didn’t have a shepherd at all.

Therefore, Jesus made the point that the need is great, and the workers – those who would be faithful shepherds – are few. He then declared to his hearers that they (we) should ask the Lord to send such workers into these very fields that are in such desperate condition.

In Search of Shepherds

God’s flock needs faithful shepherds today as well. There are many families without a faithful shepherd in the home. Churches have greater needs than the one “professional shepherd” on staff can respond to. The wayward, helpless flock of God is in dire need of faithful shepherds who will lead and guide her, nurture and feed her, defend and guard her, admonish and instruct her – love her to the point of pouring his life into her – even to the point of losing his.

Here’s the question: If the need is so clear, why aren’t there shepherds standing in line to care for God’s flock?

Reason One for Missing Shepherds

One reason can be found in these words of Gideon, 

How can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family” (Judges 6:15).

Whether false humility (cowardice) or real, many flee responsibility before God because they do not feel they are “up to it.” But since when has God been counting on unaided men and women to do his bidding? His answer to us is the same as it was to Gideon, “I will be with you” (Judges 6:16).

This reminds us of Paul’s words to the church at Corinth regarding God’s use of the weak and foolish things of this world to confound and humble the “strong and wise.” God uses us, but he isn’t dependent upon us. That’s an important distinction. And misunderstanding it is one reason the shepherds are few.

Reason Two for Missing Shepherds

Another reason is the sacrificial nature that is required to be a shepherd. It’s not a romantic or glamorous post in God’s Kingdom. For those seeking their own end, however, it has often been used as a vehicle for their own name’s sake.

To such a view of shepherding, Peter says, 

1 Peter 5:2-3 – Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers–not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; [3] not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.

For those who would use their position of shepherd as a stepping-stone to their own power, fame, and wealth, Peter’s words must come as quite a shock. He reminds us that shepherds have been entrusted, by God, to care for his tender lambs. And their watch over them must come from the heart – from a genuine willingness to serve them. It shouldn’t be a means to personal fortune. It ought not be drudgery. It certainly must not be a means by which power and control are sought after. It is sacrificial – my life for yours – your life for theirs.

To be an example to the flock is to be always “on duty.” It is to be intentional in your thoughts, words and deeds. It is thinking, speaking, and doing rightly – Christianly – and then caring for the flock accordingly. This isn’t easy. It is a dying to self. But unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it cannot produce many seeds (John 12:24-26).

For the Sake of Others

And that’s what we’re shooting for – many seeds – fruit that is good, lasting, and abundant (John 15). Our Lord told us the need is great. We needn’t look any further than our own family, church, friends – all our spheres of influence. The harvest is plentiful, but the shepherds are few.

Brothers, the reality is this: whether or not you pastor a church or teach a Bible study, you are a shepherd – to those in your personal mission field. The question is: What kind of shepherd are you?

Walking Points

  • What are some other reasons you believe there so few men who step up as shepherds in their homes and churches, etc.?
  • What do you enjoy most about shepherding your family and church?
  • What is most difficult for you in shepherding your family and church?
  • What can you start doing to better understand your responsibility as a shepherd and become better equipped to be one?
  • Make sure to talk with some brothers about this. Brainstorm with one another and make sure to pray for one another.

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