Maybe the most difficult aspect of vocational ministry to understand is the apparent paradox of sheep shepherding sheep. After all, aren’t we all just sheep following the one good shepherd, Jesus? But even a quick overview of scripture shows the reason why, and God’s devotion to, sending shepherd sheep to tend the flock. His precious people.
We see God sending Moses to the captive Israelites and God identifying him saying “because my people are like sheep without a shepherd.” Though Moses himself was weak and considered himself a failure to his nation, he was called and sent by God to shepherd God’s people. Why didn’t God just shepherd them out of captivity himself? The answer is shown in Exodus at the foot of Mt Sinai where God expresses his own personal leadership over his people to which they reply with trembling “Let’s never do that again.” Not everyone in the camp had been called to the labour of meeting with God.
This pattern is repeated over millennia with shepherd kings, prophets and other leaders.
But things are a little different when Jesus arrives. The promised messiah. The only true mediator between God and man. The good shepherd. What use is there for shepherds now that Jesus, the good shepherd has come to permanently replace all substitutes?
Just before Jesus ascended to heaven to send God’s Spirit down to the disciples to empower the church for mission, he asked his disciple Peter to tend his sheep 3 times. This request is explained well in Ephesians 4:11–13 where Paul gives the Ephesian church a vision of their goal here on earth (to reach unity in the body of Christ and grow in spiritual maturity to reflect the image of Christ on earth), and the means God provides to work toward it (the apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers to equip the saints for the works of ministry).
To best understand why Christ has called some from in the church to do his work of shepherding we ought to remember that the church is more than just sheep. We are also the body of Christ, living as a representation of our shepherd king here on earth. But not all are called to represent him in the same way. In fact, it is through the diversity of gifts given to the church that we are able to serve and submit to each other that enables us to best represent him as our lives are formed around a lifestyle of love and service. And while some are called to Christ’s ministry of this and that, in their homes, workplaces, communities and cultures — some are called to his ministry of shepherding.