So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 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. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. – John 10:7-15
In John 10, Jesus gives us one of the most vivid illustrations of His church. The church is His sheep, and He is their Shepherd. In those days, shepherds would build a U-shaped enclosure with a small opening at one end. At the end of the day the shepherd would lead his sheep into this sheepfold. As they entered the fold he would count them. This is how the Good Shepherd of Matthew 18 knew he was missing a sheep; he would watch over them and count them as they entered the fold. Once the shepherd knew that every sheep was in the fold he would lay across the opening, in effect becoming the door of the sheepfold. The only way into the sheepfold was through the shepherd.
Jesus teaches us that He is that door. He knows His sheep, He counts His sheep, and He will not rest until all of His sheep are safely within His fold. The only way into the fold is through Jesus. Anyone who would try to enter the fold by any other means has ill intentions. They are seeking to avoid the shepherd and steal or harm the sheep. Jesus lays across the opening to the fold in order to protect the sheep from those who would harm them. He will die for the life of His sheep.
Obviously, the primary application of this passage is Jesus’ atoning death for His sheep. The only way to be a part of the people of God is through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus will not rest until all of His sheep have been gathered into the fold. However, there is another application to this passage that has been often ignored. There are those who seek to harm the sheep, and it is the shepherd’s job to die to protect them. Those who do not protect the sheep are not true shepherds, they are merely hired hands, people who only do it for the money. It is this secondary application that I want to focus on.
Jesus Christ has left the care of His sheep on this earth in the hands of under shepherds. In Scripture these men are referred to as shepherds, pastors, elders, bishops, overseers, and a few other names. These names are not titles; they are descriptions of the job Christ has called these men to do. They are to follow the True Shepherd in His love, care, oversight, and protection of His flock. Christ entrusts them with a limited number of His sheep. As stewards, they have no right to do anything other than care for the sheep as He has commanded (Luke 17:10). At the end of the day they will give an account to Christ Himself for each sheep He has entrust into their care (Hebrews 13:17.)
In John 10, Jesus mentions the other character, the hired hand or hireling. This person is someone who sees the sheep as nothing more than a job. He is there to make money. He does not care for the sheep. He will abandon the sheep in order to prevent harm to himself. He feels no personal responsibility for the sheep; any care he has is not enough care to make any meaningful sacrifice for the protection of the sheep.
Although it is not readily apparent, what we have just read is the answer to why the average church in America is dying. Hired hands have taken the title of “pastor” and failed to care for the sheep. They have refused to keep track of the sheep and left many out in the cold. They have refused to fight the wolves and let wolves into the fold. They do not care what happens to the sheep. They flee when harm may come to them. What is left is scattered sheep, folds filled with wolves, and a few good shepherds trying desperately to faithfully find and protect God’s precious sheep.
In order to help us see this it is necessary to move beyond the illustration and focus far more on the realities and particulars. When was the last time you attended a church with an accurate membership? What I mean by this is a church where the pastor or elders actually could give an accurate account of where all the members were, both physically and spiritually. Most churches have a membership roll that is two to three times their attendance. Many have members that are merely names on a page. Literally no one knows if they are dead or alive. On many church rolls there are names without phone numbers or addresses. May I remind you that these are Christ’s sheep? How can we sleep when Jesus stops everything to find ONE, yet your average church is missing SEVERAL HUNDRED!!!! How did we get here? Simple. Hired hands do not care about the sheep.
What we need is pastors, not people with the title, but men with the character. A true pastor will seek to find every member on the church’s roll. My Dad did this for a church he pastored. He sought out close to 800 members until he found all of them but one. He found him one day while praying in the church’s cemetery. He was dead and buried, yet no one had known or cared enough about his soul to even know. I would not want to be the hired hand who has to answer for that!
We have become so accustomed to hired hands that we find true pastors as off-putting or odd. I remember trying to find all 330 sheep at Antioch when I first came. People looked at me like I was crazy! However, we had names on our roll where literally no one knew if they were dead or alive. I do not blame the sheep; I blame the hirelings who lost them! Some had not attended our church for sixty years! Imagine being a sheep wandering in the cold for sixty years and no one goes looking for you! I am amazed at the calloused attitude so many people have, but then I remember they will not answer to God for His lost sheep, I will. It is a terrifying thing to lose a sheep. Can you imagine if you lost someone’s child? Losing one of God’s sheep is far worse.
This is why good pastors pursue the lost sheep. I am not just speaking of calling when someone misses church. I am speaking of pursuing the one who has fallen into sin and calling them to repentance. I am amazed at how many “Christians” view this as unloving or even evil. However, I am going to stand before God and give an account for your soul. I must do so with a clean conscience that I told you the truth, I prayed for you, and I pursued you until you rejected me. At that point, my conscience is clear. Until then, I am nothing more than a hired hand who does not care for the sheep if I do not seek the lost sheep. If your pastor does not pursue the church member who falls into sin I regret to inform you that you do not have a pastor. You have a hired hand.
But perhaps that makes sense? Maybe this is why many pastors feel like the congregation treats us like the hired hand? Maybe that is all they have ever known. Maybe they have always just paid someone to make their religious services nice, their facilities nice, and to be their friend. They never saw the need for someone to care for their souls. They never knew they needed it! Hirelings would not teach them that or they would no longer have a job.
Another mark of the hired hand is that they run from the wolves. I know that God calls pastors to leave churches, but are you going to tell me with a straight face that the average tenure of a pastor is two to three years because of the call of God? It is not always because of God’s call. It is because many of the “pastors” are hirelings. They run when trouble comes. They will not fight for the truth. They will not fight the wolves. It costs too much, and they would rather use the sheep for a stepping stone to move on to another church.
This creates a compounding problem. Wolves come, and the hireling flees. Now the new pastor comes to a flock filled with wolves and precious few sheep. Even if he is not a hireling, the wolves may have devoured enough sheep to have complete control over the church. Many good pastors have been eaten alive because of the cowardice of hired hands. This contributes to short pastor tenure. A good pastor comes to a fold filled with “sheep.” He finds they are wolves and they devour him and his family within eighteen months. He limps away to find sheep to care for, if he stays in the ministry at all.
True pastors fight. They fight the wolves. They run them out of the church. They excommunicate them. They warn the church about them. This will cost the pastor. It costs him his reputation in the community. It costs him his reputation among his peers (who are a mix of pastors and hirelings.) He will be shunned at the grocery store, attacked in public, smeared online, and a host of other things. In fact, being a pastor who fights the wolves may cost your pastor standing within his denomination. While a pastor who fights off 200 wolves in defense of the sheep should be celebrated he more often than not is viewed as someone whose church attendance declined by 200. However, the good shepherds get bit so the sheep can sleep in peace. They are not in it for career advancement. They would gladly lose their “careers” instead of losing one of Christ’s precious sheep. They literally lay themselves across the entrance to the sheep fold to keep wolves out with their own bodies.
Good pastors stay until God calls them elsewhere. They stay in horrible churches. They stay for the One Who died for the sheep. They fight for His people. They work tirelessly and many times without help. They stay in churches with ten sheep because they are God’s sheep, and Jesus has entrusted them to their care. They do so because they love the sheep and more importantly they do so because they love the Shepherd. They do not do it for the pay. This is why some of the best pastors on the planet are bivocational. This is why they are poor. They could make a lot more money elsewhere, but they cannot leave the sheep. God has entrusted to them the care of His sheep, and they will die protecting them.
Do you have a good pastor? Treat him well! They are rare in our world today. He has wounds you will never see; encourage him. He is fighting battles you do not know about; pray for him. Pay him well. You pay your doctor well because he cares for your body. You pay your lawyer well because he protects you and your assets. Your soul is more important than them all. Remember, if the hired hand can find more money at the church down the road, so can the true shepherd. Like a literal shepherd, your elders are fighting wolves while you sleep peacefully. You may not be able to pay him more but lighten his load. Be grateful for his rebukes. Help him seek the sheep that go astray.
As the body of Christ, help your pastor hear the voice of His Shepherd. Every one around your pastor tells him his faults; he knows them without being told. He does not visit enough. His last sermon was horrible. The list goes on and on. Your pastor is not perfect; no one knows this better than him. He grieves his failures and sins. The voices of the critics are many, including the voices in his own head! However, the only Voice that matters is saying, “Well done!” Help your pastor hear that voice. This week you will sleep peacefully not knowing that your pastors fought wolves all night long. Sunday morning you will grumble if the sermon is not on point; instead say, “Well done!” because your church is filled with peace. Your pastor is limping from innumerable wounds. Point Him to Christ for healing. He has failed; in fact, this article may grieve him more than encourage him. Point him to Christ for forgiveness. Your pastor needs a Pastor too; remind Him of the Shepherd Who gave His life for him. He needs Christ more than he knows. You are the Body of Christ! Be the voice of Christ he so desperately needs to hear.
Perhaps the greatest thing you can do for your pastor is follow Christ. That is what we live for. That is our greatest joy! Nothing makes a good pastor as happy as you repenting and trusting in Christ. Nothing compares to sheep who walk with Christ! That is the greatest reward we will receive this side of heaven. “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 John 1:4.)