In John 10:12–13 Jesus is quoted as saying the following about the difference between a hired hand and a shepherd:
“The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” (NIV)
What is the primary difference between a hireling and a shepherd according to Jesus? The primary difference is their motivation for tending the sheep. The hireling does it for his own benefit and the shepherd does it for the benefit of the sheep.
When tending the sheep no longer benefits the hireling, he is nowhere to be found and leaves the sheep scattered and unprotected.
In contrast, the shepherd stands in when things get tough and does what his can to protect and care for the sheep.
I have known of “pastors” who have worked the church job market the way that some seek to climb the “corporate ladder.” A true shepherd doesn’t start with a small congregation and then seek to find an opportunity at a larger church so that he can be more comfortable or improve his lifestyle.
Sure, God can call men to change and grow in their responsibilities, but it must be God directed and God focused for this to be a true calling. If God is behind the change, it will be good for both the former church and the new church. If the change is prompted by the desires of a hireling, the former church will feel as though it has been left in the lurch.
Speaking as a sheep, I want a pastor who has a sense of calling, who ministers because he cannot do anything else without violating who he is, and who is in ministry for the long haul, no matter how difficult it gets.
How can you identify the hirelings? It is not always easy since the hirelings are often very good at appearing spiritual and self effacing.
I think that Ephesians 4:11-12 provides some insight to help distinguish between hirelings and shepherds. These verses tell us that the goal of church leadership should be the “equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”
If a pastor is seeking to control the congregation, if he is the center of all the activity, if he maintains his place in the spot light, you might find that he is a hireling and not a shepherd.
On the other hand, a shepherd will be seeking to develop the gifts in his congregation, he will be feeding them from Scripture, he will focus on equipping the congregation to fulfill the mission of the church. He will then turn them loose to do the work of ministry. His focus is on the sheep and their development, not on his own position as leader.
In the end, it comes down to motivation. If you are a sheep, ask yourself is your pastor is working for the benefit of the congregation. If the answer is no, then move on and find a true shepherd. Staying under the leadership of a hireling will not be to your benefit.
If you are a pastor, ask yourself the same question. If you are pastoring primarily because you need a job, save all of us a lot of grief and go get a job outside the church. You’ll probably make more money and the collateral spiritual damage will be greatly reduced.
Being Human Beings
All of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. 1 Peter 3:8
When asked to define his role in a community that was sometimes uncooperative with law enforcement, a sheriff didn’t flash his badge or respond with the rank of his office. Rather he offered, “We are human beings who work with human beings in crisis.”
His humility—his stated equality with his fellow human beings—reminds me of Peter’s words when writing to first-century Christians suffering under Roman persecution. Peter directs: “All of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble” (1 Peter 3:8). Perhaps Peter was saying that the best response to humans in crisis is to be human, to be aware that we are all the same. After all, isn’t that what God Himself did when He sent His Son—became human in order to help us? (Phil. 2:7).
Gazing only at the core of our fallen hearts, it’s tempting to disdain our human status. But what if we consider our humanness to be part of our offering in our world? Jesus teaches us how to live fully human, as servants recognizing we are all the same. “Human” is how God made us, created in His image and redeemed by His unconditional love.
Today we’re sure to encounter folks in various struggles. Imagine the difference we might make when we respond humbly—as fellow humans who work together with other humans in crisis.
Father, help us to be humble as we respond to one another, human being to human being.
Humility is the result of knowing God and knowing yourself.
Have you noticed that when people receive a great honor for their accomplishments they often acknowledge their humble roots? Even legendary athletes admit that they were just an everyday kid from somewhere—just like us.
Peter sees how important it is for those who know they are God’s representatives to remember who they were. In recognizing their high honor (1 Peter 2:9), Peter urges followers of Christ to remember that once they had no sense of belonging to God; once they had not received mercy (2:10). Later in the same letter he reminds those who are leaders among the Lord’s people to recognize their own accountability to God and not to lord it over those entrusted to their care (5:3).
At best we are all common folks from somewhere who have been called to love others as God has loved us.
For further study see the Discovery Series booklet The Mind of Christ at discoveryseries.org/q0209.