Imitating the Good Shepherd

What does it mean to pursue the sheep God has given us? “I am the gate’” says Jesus. He is our gate, our point of entry to a new life with God.

Many students, in fact, desire the love, acceptance and truth that your fellowship has to offer. In John 10:9-10 Jesus continues his sheep story, but with a new twist. In this section, Jesus the Good Shepherd says, “I am the gate [for the sheep]; whoever enters through me will be saved.” The scene has changed from the outskirts of a Palestinian village,
where the sheep pens had gates, to the countryside, where they often didn’t. Shepherds in rural areas would lie across the entrance at night as human gate to keep sheep in and predators out. Like sheep, our fellow students often
fear walking into an unknown situation. They need to feel safe. Jesus goes on to describe the life of a sheep in his flock: “He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come
that [the sheep] may have life, and have it to the full.” To a Jew, to “come in and go out” as you please implied that you enjoyed security, abundance and peace.

This phrase takes on particular significance when discussing sheep; they easily get sick when threatened by predators or a lack of nourishment. People also need God’s peace and provision to thrive. Think of those around you
whose lives are characterized by chaos, fear, anger or insecurity. They need a shepherd to lead them into pasture.

Good shepherds pursue people who are scared to get involved. They are “gates” – initiating relationships and acting like hosts (rather than guests or members) at large- and small group meetings.

It is hard you may need to pursue new students – especially if they’ve never visited a Christian group before. They may feel nervous, alone and out of place. So call them. Drop by. Draw them to yourself and bring them in through the gate where they can come in and go out in peace. Though our initial interaction with people is critical, we don’t
stop being “gates” for people after the first meeting — or even the fourth. We small-group leaders and other leaders must continue to pursue new folks until they are secure enough in their relationships with us and God to be gates for someone else.

In John 10:12-13, Jesus paints a picture of how sheep suffer when their shepherd does not take a deep interest in them: “The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the
sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” The hired hand in Jesus’ story is indistinguishable from the good shepherd until the wolves attack. Then he’s the first one to run away. The hired hand only watches the sheep because he gets paid to do so. At the first sign of danger, he’s out to save his own skin.

Good shepherds persevere when their flock is under attack because they care about the sheep themselves. When the following problems threaten your group, will you run or will you stick it out?

• Unresolved conflict. An untreated sickness among a few sheep will eventually affect the whole flock. Similarly, unresolved conflict among a few members of your fellowship may eventually destroy your group.
• Lack of commitment. You can’t produce commitment in your group by talking about the lack of it. If people begin to lose their sense of commitment, examine your small group’s vision. Commitment is tied to vision. People who have a vision for their small group or chapter will also be committed to it.
• Difficult sheep. The longer you spend with your small-group members or others in your chapter, the more aware you will become not only of their outward idiosyncrasies, but also deep-rooted needs. There will be someone in your group who can’t stop talking. Another will come every week sit at the back of the room and seldom talk to anyone.
Some will party, get drunk and maybe even sleep around.

As you get to know some of the sheep who bring difficulties into the group, remember – they’re not the wolves. They’re sheep who need special attention and protection. These are people whom God will use to make a good
shepherd out of you. Anyone can care for people who are like them and reciprocate that care. But only good shepherds will take the time to bind up sheep when they’re hurting.

If you feel burdened about a difficult sheep in your flock, ask  yourself: Do I find this person  hard to deal with because of a mere personality clash, or because they’re in some way sinning against God and our group? If it’s the former, ask God to give you a love for the person that transcends your differences. If it’s the latter, confront the situation prayerfully and immediately.

Gently find out if they’re even aware that they’re sinning. Ask about the circumstances surrounding their behavior. Have they already tried to overcome this sin? How? Throughout, take the posture of their advocate – not their enemy. Pray together and ask God to bring clarity and to reveal ways to change. You may want to bring your campus staff
worker in on the situation, or even a professional counselor if the circumstances warrant it. Earlier we talked about pursuing new people. You may also need to pursue those already in your small group or chapter who start to stray from their faith, your group or both because of sin or messed up priorities. Jesus told the Jewish leaders this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? . . . There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:4, 7).

Laying down our lives: In John 10:14- 21 Jesus winds up His parable by emphasizing the ultimate price of being a good shepherd: “I lay down my life for the sheep. I lay it down of my own accord” (verses 15, 17, 18).

What will you have to lay down to shepherd your flock? Time, other relationships, weekend road trips, self-centeredness – things that get in the way of giving your sheep the care they need. With all the other things to do in and out of class, on and off the campus, it’s easy to neglect the people under your care. Don’t sit back after the initial rush of New Student Outreach. Have meals with people. Take folks home. Invite them to go to a weekend conference with you. When they get hurt, show your care by being there. Rejoice with them when they’re celebrating. Get to know them well enough that they know and trust your voice as you provide leadership. Saved by Love: As you listen to each section of Jesus’ parable about sheep and shepherds in John 10, one overarching truth emerges:

the good shepherd has a deep, throbbing love for his sheep. That’s the kind of love Jesus the Good Shepherd has for us; and that’s the kind of life-changing love that he desires us to have for others.

Cultivating all the outward characteristics of an effective leader amounts to nothing if you do not love the sheep that God has entrusted to you. As the apostle Peter wrote, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, . . . not because you must, but because you are willing as God wants you to be” (1 Peter 5:2).

Dennis Anderson


No Comments

Post A Comment