Recently, my daily Bible reading led me through Numbers 27. In this chapter, a great leadership transition is taking place for the people of God. Moses prepares to pass the leadership baton to Joshua, but Moses knew how vital it was that his successor be a God-appointed man. Number 27:15-17 sets forth Moses’ prayer:
Moses spoke to the Lord, saying,
“Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh,
appoint a man over the congregation
who shall go out before them
and come in before them,
who shall lead them out and bring them in,
that the congregation of the Lord
may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.”
Reading this text this week reminded me of a note I received once from a woman appealing to me to become the pastor of her church. She was on the pastor search committee and sensed that the Lord might be leading me to take the position of Senior Pastor for her community of faith. Indeed, the Lord led me to serve that church for ten years. Her note was an impetus that pushed me to really consider how the Lord was leading me and my family.
I have always cherished this passage ever since. It is not only very personal to me, but it also reminds all pastors/elders that we are ultimately appointed by God to shepherd and lead his congregation. The text says: “Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation…” Having a sense of God’s divine calling will galvanize us to persevere through times of difficulty and challenge. Both Moses and Joshua experienced them and so will we. We must take time in God’s presence while seeking him in believing so that we possess a real sense of God’s calling on our lives.
Secondly, this text reminds us that the congregation that we serve is not ours but the Lord’s. How easy it is to describe a church as if it belongs to its senior pastor. How many times have you heard someone say, “I go to so and so’s church.” We need to remember that the people that we love and shepherd belong to the Lord. This ought to call forth our utmost diligence and attention.
Thirdly, this text gives us our fundamental job description: To lead and shepherd the Lord’s flock. How prone pastoral leaders are in our own driven nature to compulsively drive God’s flock rather than lead them. We can have an inflated sense of self-importance and our own agendas. This can lead us to become proud and have an inflated sense of our own abilities. One of my own chief failings over the past thirty years of ministry has been to overestimate what I can accomplish in the short run and underestimate what God could accomplish in the long run if I just held on to the plow and trust him to do the work rather than attempting to do God’s work for him.
What does this type of shepherd leadership look like specifically? Moses says that this type of shepherd leads the people to pasture. Pastors/elders must remember that we too are sheep who need to frequently feast on the riches of God’s Word and Gospel. God’s people need to have our attention and care while we are together, and they need to know that they have our prayers when we are apart. This means that pastors must exercise diligence in their preparation for preaching and teaching, but also cultivate a love for those we shepherd and serve. Through times of prayer and reflection, we can ensure that we are leading them where Christ, the chief shepherd, is leading.
I am convinced that the fundamental pasture where the sheep of Christ’s fold are to feed is: THE GOSPEL. The gospel is not only the most important message in all of history. It is the only essential message in all of history. Yet we allow thousands of professing Christians to live their entire lives without clearly understanding it and experiencing the joy of living by it. Therefore, we must work to ensure that we clearly communicate the gospel and all its implications from every text of Scripture.
The second component of the pastor’s/elder’s job description is that we are to “bring them in…” to guard God’s flock. We must be on our guard—both for ourselves and our congregation. The Holy Spirit has put us in charge of these specific people to guard and protect them. God himself thought they were worth dying for. If Christ’s sheep were worth God dying for, then they are worth the investment of our lives. John Stott, in his talk “The Reflections of an Octogenarian” states his motivation for loving and care for ornery and difficult to love sheep in his flock in London: “If this person was worth the investment of Jesus’ blood on the cross, they are certainly worth the investment of my life” (see Acts 20:28).
One of the more challenging aspects of pastoral leadership is guarding the sheep from your emotions. Sometimes when sheep are wounded, they bite their shepherd. People want a leader, and then they critique where and how he leads them. We must not allow this to lead us into sin. Think about Moses for a moment. God expressly told him to speak to the rock, and God would bring forth from the rock water to refresh and satisfy His grumbling and thirsty people. Moses got frustrated with God’s people and allowed their sin to lead him into sin and frustration and to forfeit the privilege of entering the Promised Land. How tempting it is to grow frustrated with the people that God has called us to lead. Let us remember how patient and forbearing our Lord has been with us and extend to our people the same. This is humanly impossible. Therefore, we need the Spirit in full measure for our work.
Why are we to do this vital work of leading and shepherding the Lord’s congregation? For Moses, it was a troubling and distressing scenario if the Lord’s flock were without a shepherd. Without a shepherd, the sheep are vulnerable to the vicious attacks of wolves. Wolves come in many different shapes and sizes. They generally are leaders promoting doctrinal and/or moral compromise of one shape or another.
This short devotional reminds me again to pray for those whom I shepherd and lead so that the Lord would protect them from any wolflike tendency in my heart and leadership. I would encourage you to do the same.