The Rev. Paul Howden: “The Good Shepherd”
I’ve been thinking a lot about the role our clergy are called to play in our lives–and as 1 Peter 5:1-4 makes it very clear, they are called to be our shepherds: 1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Thus I found the sermon The Good Shepherd, preached in 2001 by the Rev. Paul Howden of St. Luke’s REC in California, to be especially good. This portion, in fact, strikes me as presenting a Biblical model for the relationship between clergy and laity–and in turn strengthening the relationship each has with the Good Shepherd:
This Second Sunday after Easter the Church calls us to consider the relationship of the shepherd to his flock. The shepherd and sheep image is a rich one, full of important truths. We will survey just a few. Our Gospel text from John 10 has something to say about pastoral ministry in the Church, as well as Christ’s position over the Church. The minister is often called “pastor”. Before the Reformation the title “pastor” was rarely used. The Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli changed that. His book, The Shepherd , had much to do with the emergence of the modern usage of the word “pastor” in Protestant circles. There is nothing wrong with that title. It is a good one. Presbyters are ordained and bishops are consecrated to be overseers in the Church. As overseers, their function and duty is to shepherd the church of God (Acts 20:28).
Now how should they do this? What pastoral style should the ministers use? Pastors should look to the shepherding model as Jesus did. In John 10:3 the Lord says, “and [the shepherd] calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him,” In some cultures the shepherds drive the flocks ahead of them. They use whips and threats and fear to get the sheep to go where they want them to go, and do what they want them to do.
This, however, is not the model Jesus endorses. Rather, in Palestine the shepherd walked ahead of his sheep. He called them, and they followed. They trusted him to lead them to good pastures and friendly waters. They were attracted by his example and guidance, they were not driven by fear and force. The flock of Christ has too often been hurt by tyrants. There are few things more ugly and hypocritical than ecclesiastical tyranny. In 2 Corinthians 11:19 the apostle Paul rebukes the Corinthians for putting up with such leadership. He says, “For you put up with fools gladly. For you put up with it if one brings you into bondage, if one devours you, if one takes from you, if one exalts himself, if one strikes you in the face.” This kind of clergy control completely contradicts the shepherd model. It is a style of leadership that belongs in the cults, not in the flock of Christ.
Much more could be said about pastoral ministry, but let us move on to Christ Himself. Jesus announces, “I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. I know my sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father, and I lay down My life for the sheep” (John 10:11, 14-15).
When He says He knows His sheep and they know Him, it means that there exists a sweet communion and fellowship between each true believer and the Savior. This bond is so intimate, so sacred and strong that it can only be compared to the eternal and mysterious unity of God the Father with God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The bond between the Persons of the Trinity, and the bond between the believer and Christ is similar. There develops between the Good Shepherd and the sheep a oneness of life, a unity of spirit, and a harmony of desire.
May we work together, in our diverse callings, towards the unity of spirit that betokens our serving the same Lord.