The metaphor of shepherd is often used to provide a biblical understanding of the function of a pastor and their role in pastoral care. This essay looks at how the biblical image of the shepherd provides foundational understanding of pastoral care looking particularly at the implications on the role of God as the divine shepherd, the roles and requirements of human shepherd’s and the character of the shepherd.
What is a Shepherd?
The Australian Oxford Dictionary’s defines “Shepherd” as one of two things. The first is a man who tends to sheep and the second is a person who guides or directs people.1Abel was the first Shepherd to be mentioned in the Bible2 and biblically speaking, it has become a popular image to denote the work of a Pastor or someone in Pastoral Care. The shepherd motif is perhaps the most closely associated with ‘Pastor’ in the modern Christian mind. This may be because ‘Pastor’ is the Latin translation of the Greek ‘poimen’ for ‘shepherd.'
Kinnison, in his writings, suggests that the Shepherd metaphor has three main usages in the Old Testament.3 The first being a traditional Shepherd, who had a life full of challenges. They had a clear-cut responsibility to find pasture and water in a land that was arid, protect the sheep, and search for any that were lost.4 The second is the one denoting human leadership. These were the Earthly religious and political rulers appointed to care for the people of Israel The last use of the Shepherd metaphor is to denote God as Israel’s Shepherd. The notion that God was the Shepherd of his people and there to shepherd them all their life, was deeply embedded in Israel.5
The role of God as the Divine Shepherd
Tidball states in his work, that even though it was rare for people in the Old Testament to speak of God as ‘the Shepherd”, the evidence that they saw God as their Shepherd is found everywhere.6 It was used to show God as the divine Shepherd who would never fail his people. It described the relationship between God and Israel and that “he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand”.7 God appointed human leaders to help him Shepherd his people and keep His law. This was a title well suited for David, however other leaders were not so worthy. Kinnison notes, that by Ezekiel and Zechariah’s time, the title “Shepherd” was associated with disregard for God’s rule.8 They were considered senseless, neglectful and deceitful.9 Ezekiel 34 denounces the acts of the false Shepherds and God’s response to this. He paints the picture of what God wanted for his people, what they needed and his response to the shepherds who has neglected their responsibility. They had exploited the people, neglected their duties and allowed for them to become scattered.10 God announces that he will fulfill the role and search, rescue, feed, seek and strengthen the flock.11 These were the qualities that God has expected from his appointed Shepherds. Finally, the promise of a new Shepherd.12 Klein refers to this in his writings, as a promise to raise up an earthly Shepherd to rule with him and be the agent that God would use to lead, guide and govern his people.13 The image of God as the Divine Shepherd gives us a foundation for Pastoral care. God never states that he will hand over care for his people. Instead, He declares that he will search for his sheep and look after them.14 We don’t have to do it alone. God is the ultimate pastoral carer who has promised to care for his people. The added promise of a new Shepherd is not to take away from the role of God but instead be enabled to “stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord.”15 Tidball also points out that Ezekiel shows us just what God expects of Shepherds in pastoral roles and the obligations to evangelism, restoration, teaching, encouraging and feeding that are needed under his guidance.16
The role and requirement of human shepherds.
God made a promise to his people...
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