WHILE a teen-ager growing up in the Carpathian Mountains, I was hired for a summer to be a shepherd's apprentice. My responsibility was to help shepherd a flock of about six hundred sheep.
During that summer I learned many valuable and life-lasting lessons.
First of all, I think I know some of the reasons why Jesus compares His followers to sheep. Sheep are good and useful creatures, but not very intelligent. Most of them are good followers but only now and then does one find a leader. This is the reason why sheep need a shepherd. The leaders must be won by the tender care of the shepherd or they may divide his flock into little groups that can get lost in the fog or fall prey to the many dangers of the mountains.
The second thing I learned is that wherever there are sheep, there are wolves. And those wolves will fall upon the flock and destroy it. Therefore, one of the main qualifications of a good shepherd is concern—great concern for his flock. He is responsible to the owner for every one of the sheep committed to his care. He is never off duty. He sleeps where the sheep sleep and if the owner is to have good wool and good milk (in many parts of Europe after the lambs are weaned, sheep are milked and the milk is used for cheese) he must lead them to good pastures and beside clear water.
For a number of years now, God has called me to be a shepherd of souls. I believe that for this purpose I have been "chosen" and "ordained" to bring forth fruit and that my "fruit should remain" (John 15:16). This has been my goal; it is my life's desire.
I am confident that my fellow pastors feel the same way about this matter. Unfortunately, statistics from all over the field reveal that not all our fruit remains.
But someone will say, Adam's church had its Cain; Moses' church had its Korah, Da than, and Abiram; Joshua's church had an Achan; Jesus' church had a Judas; and about the apostolic church we know that it had an Ananias, Sapphira, and Demas. However, if statistics referred to are correct, we are outdoing them all. During one quarter we have disfellowshiped 1,152 persons in North America.
Apostasy Condemns Us
Certainly this is a staggering loss, a loss that should greatly concern all who are called to be shepherds of God's sheep. As someone stated not too long ago, "Our loss of membership by apostasy condemns us."
What can we do? What can I do to stop or at least slow down this outgoing loss? I feel that this is a challenge to our ministry.
I am sure that I do not have all the answers. Can it be that we are deficient spiritual shepherds having less concern for God's sheep than a shepherd has for the flock committed to his care? Are we winning the potential leaders in the church with tender care, harnessing their energies and talents to further God's work on earth? We are told that it is in working for others that we will keep our own souls alive. Are we feeding the sheep of God's pasture every week with spiritual food that will make them strong, happy, and willing to follow? Are our sermons always filled with the gospel of God's forgiveness and justification through Christ? In Ezekiel, chapter 34, verse 2, God is indicting certain shepherds who "do feed themselves," and then He asks the question, "Should not the shepherds feed the flocks?"
How about our prayer meetings? Are they seasons of spiritual feasting or do we just fill the time with whatever we can put together in a hurry. It is possible that some may have good reasons for not coming to prayer meeting. Some years ago, Peter Marshall, at that time chaplain of the United States Senate, offered a prayer one morning in which he said, "Our Father, we are beginning to understand at last that the things that are wrong with the world are the sum total of all things that are wrong with us as individuals." Let us apply this to ourselves. Our Sabbath schools and Young People's programs need to be scrutinized and re-examined. Often they seem to be merely entertaining the saints in the church. Are our Sabbath school teachers workers "that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth"? Surely we cannot lean upon the idea that people once saved in the Adventist Church are always saved.
My conviction is that the shepherd's wife is part of the team. Therefore the pastor and his wife should together visit the sheep regularly, making these short home visits seasons of spiritual refreshing. Then we should examine our churches as a whole. Countries, cities, and churches have their own personalities. Are our churches friendly or cold? Are they exclusive religious societies where only the initiated are welcomed and made to feel at home? I believe that our churches should be places where bad people are welcomed and helped to become good and the good people made better. God forbid that it should be said about them, "I looked on my right hand, and beheld, but there was no man that would know me: refuge failed me; no man cared for my soul" (Ps. 142:4).
Let us heed carefully God's admonition given to us in His Word, "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood" (Acts 20:28). And again, "Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away" (1 Peter 5:2-4).
Let us not miss it.