“What the preacher is in the pulpit,” Lewis Bayly declared, “the same the Christian householder is in his house.”[1] The idea of fathers as the pastors of their homes is not one constructed artificially; it arises from the testimony of Scripture. The word “pastor” comes from the Latin word for “shepherd”–and every father is called to serve as a shepherd in his home.[2]

Sheep are mentioned in the Bible more than any other animal and shepherds appear in the text more than one hundred times.[3] Any examination of pastoral responsibilities must begin with the Lord who revealed himself as “the God who has been my shepherd all my life long” (Gen. 48:15; see also Ps. 23:1). When many contemporary evangelicals consider what it means to be a shepherd, their minds conjure pictures of an effeminate Jesus gazing longingly at a sheep as he strokes its wool. In the Ancient Near East, however, shepherds were rugged warriors who bore scars from protecting their sheep. To identify God as a shepherd suggests that he is the authoritative head of his people, the one who directs, disciplines, and defends his own. The psalmist Asaph celebrated God’s redemption of his people from Egypt by singing, “You led your people like a flock” (Ps. 77:20). This same event was described by the Israelites as a time when God went to war on their behalf (Exod. 15:3).

David made the case to Saul that he could defeat Goliath by appealing to his experiences as a shepherd:

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. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them. (1 Sam. 15:34-36a)

In the context of the Old Testament, the compassionate care offered by a good shepherd was costly and sacrificial. The mark of an unfaithful shepherd was that he served himself and did not sacrifice himself for his sheep (Jer. 23; Ezek. 34). Jesus fulfilled the ancient promises of a Shepherd-King (Matt. 2:6) and identified himself as “the good shepherd” who “lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).[4] In the end, it is Jesus who will defeat the enemies of God’s people, wiping away his flock’s every tear, precisely because he is “their shepherd” (Rev. 7:17).

When the triumphant Shepherd-King ascended to the Father, he extended his care to his people as “the chief Shepherd” by providing the gift of “under-shepherds”-elders or overseers who would direct, discipline, and defend local communities of believers (Eph. 4:11; 1 Tim. 3:1-7). The apostle Peter commended these church leaders to “shepherd the flock of God” (1 Pet. 5:1-2).

Peter warned elders about those who abandon the sheep rather than leading and protecting the sheep, just as Jesus before him had warned about those who were “a hired hand and not a shepherd” while establishing the fact that he was “the good shepherd” (John 10:12-14). Peter wrote that elders were to honor the good shepherd by “exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Pet 5:2b-3).

Likewise, the apostle Paul referred to the church at Ephesus as “the flock” and described how he counted his ministry among them as more dear than his own life (Acts 20:17-38).[5] His intent was that the Ephesian elders-and, by extension, that all pastors-would follow his example.[6] Pastors bear the weighty responsibility to reflect Jesus, the good shepherd, by leading, guiding, directing, teaching, disciplining, and defending the flock of God gathered in local churches.

But the application of the shepherding imagery does not end with the call for elders to reflect the ministry of the good shepherd in the local church. Scripture also draws parallels between the responsibility of Christian fathers to pastor their families and the responsibility called men to shepherd the local church.[7] Paul had this to say about anyone who might become an elder: “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Tim. 3:5).

[1] David E. Prince, Family Worship, Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood [on-line], accessed 12 March 2010, <http://www.cbmw.org>.

[2] For an extensive treatment of the biblical use of the shepherd language and imagery see, Timothy S. Laniak, Shepherds after My Own Heart: Pastoral Traditions and Leadership in the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2006).

[3] Tremper Longman III, Leland Ryken, and James C. Wilhoit, “Sheep, Shepherd,” Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 782.

[4] Leon Morris is correct to note the uniqueness of Jesus’ role as shepherd in that his death for the sheep did not mean disaster for them, but rather life through his resurrection. Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, New International Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), 454.

[5] Ben Witherington notes that the reference to “the flock” makes it clear that “The Ephesian elders are not being called to shepherd the church universal, but to oversee all of the flock of which the Spirit has made them leaders.” He also points out that Ezekiel 34 seems to lie in the background of the warnings of those who would harm the flock of God from within. See Ben Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 624.

[6] David G. Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009), 568.

[7] For an excellent lecture on the parallels between pastoring the local church and pastoring a family, see D.A. Carson, The Pastor as Father to His Family and Flock (Desiring God Conference for Pastors, 2008) [on-line], accessed 15 March 2010, <http://www.desiringgod.org>.


Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from the book Trained in the Fear of God (Kregel Academic, 2011). Used by permission.