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Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. -- Psalm 23: 4 (ESV)
It should be of no wonder to professing Christians that our God is a God of design. From the intricacies of His creation alone we see the Master Designer at work in every area of our lives and this world. I always feel a tinge of sadness for true atheists who view a sunset or a waterfall as just some random event with no thoughts of design behind them. God does not leave anything undesigned or subject to the whims of chance. The problem is that we often do. God has given us a glimpse into His eternal design through His revealed will found only in the Bible. The Word of God reveals for us the design God has for His church. Remember the church is His bride and one day He will return for her. When I say church I mean the remnant of believers of course scattered throughout the man-made steepled edifices across this world. Within this church design, God has set up various roles to ensure that His sheep learn His voice and live by His ways.
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherdsand teachers,to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. -- Ephesians 4: 11-16 (ESV)
Note that word shepherd is where we have got our present word for pastor from. Popular purpose driven pastor Andy Stanley once infamously advocated that we should no longer use the term shepherd because it is no longer "culturally relevant." This is one of the end results of abandoning the design God has in favor of man-made philosophies taken from the Purpose Driven Church movement. Under purpose driven, pastors are no longer considered shepherds. They are considered CEO vision casters. This is because the church under purpose driven is now marketed to the goats instead of the sheep. A shepherd does not shepherd goats beloved. He deals in sheep. Mega-church heretic Stevin Furtick once famously said that if you already know Jesus Christ then Elevation Church is not for you. While that may sound pious on some faux-evangelistic level, it is wildly unbiblical. The sheep need to be led into the unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God. The sheep need to be fed so that we might mature into manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Sheep need to be protected from the winds of false doctrine that would lead us astray, from human cunning, and from the craftiness of deceitful schemes. There are reasons why God uses this shepherding analogy to describe His design. Let us reason together beloved and examine the true role of a shepherd with what the purpose driven movement has wrought in these, the last days.
Our key verse today comes from the Psalmist. Perhaps the most famous and popular Psalm in the Bible, Psalm 23 lays out the inherent goodness of the Great Shepherd, the Lord. The role of the pastor is that of an under-shepherd. As Paul once said, follow me as I follow Christ. Within this short psalm we see the analogy play out for how the pastor is supposed to tend to the flock entrusted to him by the Lord. He restores my soul. He leads me in safe places. He reinforces the righteousness of the one we serve only for His own name's sake. Temporal protection from enemies and an eternal promise of abiding in Christ. Right in the middle of this Psalm we see the key verse spell out in shepherding terms what the pastor is supposed to use in carrying out his duties. As long as he wields this rod and staff, the sheep shall fear no evil. Even if we pass through the valley of the shadow of death itself! Let us deal with these tools separately.
First is the staff. A shepherd's staff is used primarily to lead the sheep. To make sure that the sheep do not wander off, as sheep are prone to do. In this analogy, the pastor's staff is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the Gospel alone that has the power of God unto the salvation of man. It is the Gospel that feeds the sheep so that they might grow in the unity of the faith and be mature to the stature of the fullness of Christ. Not smoke machines and disco lighting. Not slick public speakers and crafty wisdom. We see this analogy play out throughout Scripture:
Shepherd your people with your staff, the flock of your inheritance, who dwell alone in a forest in the midst of a garden land; let them graze in Bashan and Gilead as in the days of old. As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt, I will show them marvelous things. -- Micah 7: 14-15 (ESV)
A pastor shepherds his sheep with his staff. What we see today however are staff-less shepherds. Pastors who think their job is to entertain their congregants. To find some relevance to their carnality that the church can relate to. The Gospel? Yeah we might get to the someday. Rick Warren, the designer of the purpose driven heresy once wrote an article to pastors to give them tips to increase the likelihood that visitors to their Easter services would come back. Within it we see this staff-less perspective being taught to pastors as a scheme for church growth:
"Let them know about your next sermon series. Always either begin a sermon series on Easter or the next week -- and make sure it's a series that meets the felt needs of an unchurched person. Yes, they need the Gospel and a relationship with Christ. You and I both know that's their foundational need, but most people will come to your church because they have a need for friendship, want a better marriage, want to be a better parent, want to feel they're living a life of significance or there may be some other need. When you do a series like that, let Easter visitors know in your letter. It'll give them a reason to come back to your church." -- Rick Warren 2014
The ignorance to the power of the Gospel is staggering here from "America's pastor." So Warren admits that the Gospel is a foundational need but essentially advises to not preach it so people have a reason to come back! Sure they need Jesus but let's start with making them feel more significant? Our personal significance runs contrary to the Gospel. We are not significant -- Jesus is. Beloved please do not forget that half a gospel is not the Gospel. You can speak profoundly about love all day long but if you do not come to the cross, neither will anyone else. Love rejoices in truth.
Staff-less shepherds are seen throughout the purpose driven landscape. There is an allusion always made to Christ but His full counsel is not presented because it is deemed seeker-unfriendly. Joel Osteen routinely says that he believes people already know all the things they do wrong so he just tries to encourage them. That is why Joel is a staff-less shepherd. People might "know" about what they do wrong but they do not understand it in light of God's holiness and His design for humanity. Staff-less shepherds preach about God wanting everyone to be rich of that sin doesn't matter anymore. We just saw recently the release of an unbelievably heretical movie called The Shack. This movie is anathema to the Gospel. It teaches that everyone goes to heaven and that there is no consequence for sin. Yet Christians everywhere ate it up with a spoon and defended it to the hilt. Why? Staff-less shepherds lead them. I am reminded of the lament of Jesus when gazing upon His people as being like sheep without a shepherd. Without a staff, the sheep do not know which way they are supposed to go. They wander off and are carried about by every wind of doctrine, human cunning and the craftiness of deceitful schemes. The shepherd also carries a rod however and the rod serves a very different purpose.
But David said to Saul, "Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. -- 1Samuel 17: 34-35 (ESV)
David, who is a type of Christ, was a shepherd and king. Here we see him early on in the Valley of Elah explaining why he knows he can defeat Goliath. Because as a shepherd he pursued those that would attack his flock and delivered the lambs out of the very mouths of the animals that would seek to devour them. He struck them with his rod. We know that the attackers of the sheep today are false teachers. When Paul leaves the Ephesian elders he warns them that wolves shall arise:
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God,which he obtained with his own blood.I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. -- Acts 20: 28-30 (ESV)
Fierce wolves shall come in and not spare the flock with their twisted doctrines of prosperity, greasy grace and dominionism. They shall draw disciples after themselves. False doctrines of sloppy agape love, purpose driven relevance and false signs and lying wonders to even lead the elect astray. What is a shepherd to do?
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. -- John 10: 11-13 (ESV)