Years ago, the great actor Richard Burton was given a grand reception in his childhood church.
As people said many complimentary things about his oratory and acting, Burton asked if anyone would like to request that he recite something special. His old pastor, then retired, asked if Burton would recite the Good Shepherd Psalm (Psalm 23), which he had taught Burton in Sunday School.
A strange look came over the actor’s face. He paused for a moment, and then said, “I will, but on one condition—that after I have recited it, you, my pastor and teacher, will do the same.”
“I am not an actor,” said the retired pastor, “but, if you wish, I shall do so.”
Impressively, the actor began the Psalm. His voice and intonation were perfect. He held his audience spellbound, and, as he finished, a great burst of applause broke from the audience.
As it died away, the old pastor rose from his wheelchair and began to recite the same Psalm. His voice was feeble and shivering. His tone wavered. But, when he finished, there was not a dry eye in the room.
The actor rose and his voice quivered as he said, ‘”Ladies and gentlemen, I reached your eyes and ears, but my old pastor has reached your hearts. The difference is just this: I know the Psalm, but he knows the Shepherd.”
Everybody Needs a Shepherd
The 23rd Psalm is the most well loved and best known chapter of the Bible. That’s because it has a way of speaking to the heart. The Psalm starts with a meditation with the subject in the third person about how God is like a shepherd who watches the sheep. He leads me to quiet waters; he refreshes my soul. But then it becomes very personal for David. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, you are with me.
David wrote, “The Lord is my shepherd” (Psalm 23:1, NIV). He was a king who had everything he ever wanted — he was called Israel’s shepherd as leader — but he still knew that he needed a shepherd. He needed someone to guide his decisions, pick him up when he stumbled, and help him overcome enemies.
Some people think they don’t need a shepherd for their souls. They think they can manage life on their own and navigate life’s troubles on their own strength.
But when Jesus began His ministry, He looked at the people and saw that they were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36, ESV). He said that He was a good shepherd — One who would lead the people to still waters and green pastures.
Shepherds of Jesus’ time were extremely devoted to their sheep. They spoke to the sheep throughout the day and even sang to the sheep to comfort them. Every sheep had a name. If you were a sheep in Jesus’ day, not only would you frequently hear the sound of the shepherd’s voice, but you would also hear him calling your name.
“I am the good shepherd,” Jesus said. “I know my sheep and my sheep know me — just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:14-15, NIV).
You need a shepherd. So do I. Why? Because we all need help. We all “like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way” (Isaiah 53:6, NIV). We need grace. We need a quiet voice to point us in the right direction. We need correction when we start to wander off. We need the strengthening that comes from One who watches over us.
So call on Him today if you need guidance or grace. Admit your need for a good shepherd and ask Him to steady your steps.
One way that the Good Shepherd shows care for us is by appointing “undershepherds.” These leaders in our midst follow Christ as we follow them.
Our church is blessed to have a multitude of good “undershepherds” who are following Christ. These are the chosen and appointed leaders who serve among our deacons, on our Church Council, as teachers within discipleship groups, and within various outreach ministries to people in need.
Good shepherds, like the Good Shepherd, watch over the sheep, protect against prey and sometimes have to fight the wolves. Good shepherds feed the sheep and guide them. They go ahead of them to safe pastures.
The best shepherds love the sheep and call them by name. But not all shepherds are good shepherds. Bad shepherds fail to do those things. They don’t protect the sheep or feed the sheep well. They make decisions that harm the sheep, and God said through the prophet Jeremiah, “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” (Jeremiah 23:1, NIV).
We begin a new church year in a few weeks (starting July 1 and running through June 30, 2024). Our Nominating Committee and Deacon selection committee have done an amazing job of recruiting new leaders — those who are following Jesus, seeking to live by the Spirit, and supporting our church in so many ways.
I, too, serve as an undershepherd. But I know that I work with many other leaders and that my role is to support and equip people to do the work. How can you and I support the work of our leaders?
First, do your part. If you are a leader and you’re not leading, find a way to serve. All of us are called to serve, and none of us are called to do it alone.
One pastor received a letter with this message: “Dear pastor, there are 566 people in our church. 100 are frail and elderly — that leaves 466 to do all the work. But 80 are young people in school or at college, and that leaves 386 to do all the work. But 150 of these are tired business people — that leaves 236 to do all the work. 150 of these are busy with children, which leaves 86 to do all the work. But 15 live too far away to come here regularly, and that leaves 71 to do all the work. And 69 say they’ve already done their bit for the church. That leaves you and me, and I’m exhausted. So good luck to you.”
1 Peter 5:2a (NIV) encourages the leaders of the church to “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care…” I’m grateful to serve alongside so many diligent and dedicated servants. We’re raising up new “undershepherds” each year to help our church function, for God’s glory.
Second, pray for your leaders. Pray that together we will keep our eyes on the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.
Prayers for the Shepherds
Pray that we will follow God’s Spirit to serve the least of these.
Pray that we will more diligently learn and practice how to disciple one another.
Pray that we will find our joy in worship and our peace in deep, abiding prayer.
Finally, please pray for our pastors to be effective in equipping the body of Christ for ministry, “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…” (Ephesians 4:12, NIV). Pray that we would “fan into flame the gift of God” (2 Timothy 1:7, NIV) that we have been given.