What is a Shepherd?

In the Bible, God’s people have always had leaders. There have been people who guided and help spiritual growth occur. At times, it was the patriarch of a family, a judge over the nation of Israel, a leader like Moses or Joshua, or the priests and high priests. In the law, the priests are given the specific task of teaching the law to the people and making sure everything is administered correctly in the temple.

These leaders were called shepherds, among other things, in the Old Testament. God expected them to lead the people spiritually, and selflessly help them grow into what God desired them to be. It didn’t matter if the nation was doing the right things as a whole if, as a whole, they didn’t understand why they were doing it. God was never interested in mere outward obedience; God was always interested in the hearts of his people and so provided leaders to develop the hearts of Israel.

What is a New Testament Shepherd?

In the New Testament, there are a variety of roles that God has provided to help churches grow spiritually. For example, deacons (or ministers) are servants of the physical needs of a congregation. God knows that hungry bellies often keep minds from focusing on spiritual things, so he gave deacons to help make sure everyone has their physical needs met.

One of the roles that God provided for local churches in the New Testament is that of shepherd. This role has a variety of descriptions, such as elder, bishop, pastor, overseer or shepherd. All of these different words are used in the New Testament to describe the same role: that of a servant leader who helps feed the local flock spiritually.

It is the shepherds’ job to lead other saints in service of Jesus Christ. They will do this in a variety of ways, but the most important and most prominent way is by teaching what the Bible says. Through showing other people what God says in the Scriptures, the shepherds of a local congregation help them grow spiritually, and lead the way to Christ who will take us home to our Father in heaven.

Why are They Leaders and Not Commanders?

Jesus was very carefully in explaining leadership to his disciples. He said, “Whoever would be first among must become the servant of all.” When was the last time you heard of a servant barking order and forcing people to do their will? Or what about when Jesus said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20.25b-28)? Jesus clearly said that leaders in the New Testament were not to be commanders; they do not bark orders and expect obedience.

Our culture is the Gentile culture that Jesus talked about in Matthew 20. When we look at the way our society and culture works, the leaders command the followers who are then expected to fall in line obediently. If we model leadership in our churches after this, then we are wrong. Elders, shepherds, bishops, overseers, pastors and shepherds are not to lead God’s people in that way.

Shepherds are not commanders, but leaders in the real sense of the word. They blaze a trail of faithfulness toward God and others, able to see their faith and the outcome of their way of life, are willing to follow them. They lead people into service by first serving themselves. They lead people into lives of faithfulness by first living faithfully themselves. Remember what Jesus said when he called his disciples: “Come. Follow me.” Jesus wasn’t going to ask his disciples to go anywhere or do anything that he wasn’t already doing himself first. That is what leaders do; they lead.

More Information

The Bible has a lot to say about leadership. If you would like some more information on the Biblical concept of shepherds, please use the information below:

  1. What are the terms for shepherds in the New Testament?
  2. What makes a New Testament leader?
  3. Doesn’t Hebrews 13 say you have to obey the leaders?

Note: There articles are coming soon and will be added as they are completed – along with others in the future!

The Shepherds at West Oaks

Dan Dillard

Dan Dillard


John Hand

John Hand