The Lord has called pastors to lead with a heart like his. Just as our Heavenly Father is indeed the ultimate Shepherd of His flock, so churches are in desperate need of under-shepherds who capture and flesh out this same vision of shepherd leadership. For this reason, it is critical to understand the Scripture’s clear instruction that congregations are to be led by qualified, faithful visionary shepherds; Pastors called by God to shepherd the souls of His people as they lead a congregation with humble and hopeful visionary leadership into the future the Lord has for them.
The idea of a pastor as shepherd originates not with man, but with God himself. Throughout the Scriptures, the Lord calls on leaders, and specifically pastors, to care for and shepherd the flock that is under their care. God’s people, his sheep, are in desperate need of visionary shepherds who will know them, lead them, protect them, and feed them. However, it is important to first understand that these men are actually first and foremost under-shepherds who lead the sheep under the authority of the Good Shepherd, God himself. Visionary shepherds must allow the Good Shepherd to lead them as they lead others.
The Scripture is saturated with images of God as the Good Shepherd.
Isaiah writes, "He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young" (Is. 40:11).
The Psalmist cries out, "Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock" (Ps. 80:1). The Psalmist rejoices in the faithfulness of God to his people, "Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; for He is our God and we are the people of His pasture, the flock under His care" (Ps. 95:6-7).
Perhaps the most vivid description of God as the Good Shepherd is found in Psalm 23. Psalm 23 lays out beautifully what the Bible says about God, the Good Shepherd, and how he leads his under-shepherds. In this Psalm the Good Shepherd leads his appointed leaders first of all by providing for their needs.
Psalm 23, verse 1 reads, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.” In this verse the Good Shepherd gives everything necessary to his under-shepherds. The Good Shepherd has abundant resources, which he will give in order to help lead his people well. The Lord’s resources are not limited to his under-shepherds and their care of the sheep. In fact, everything needed to lead the flock, God will provide. As a result, shepherds can lead with confidence because God will give what is needed to do the job.
In verses 2 and 3 of Psalm 23 the Lord provides the rest, peace, and spiritual guidance needed to shepherd his people, “He makes me, leads me, restores me, guides me.” First note that the Good Shepherd provides the rest needed for leaders of the flock. When tired, spiritually weary, and ready to quit, visionary shepherds can receive rest from the Good Shepherd. The second thing of note is that peace is granted from the Good Shepherd. In the midst of hectic times of leading, the Good Shepherd will provide peace; his perfect peace that surpasses all understanding. Thirdly, the Good Shepherd will guide His under-shepherds in paths of righteousness. In other words, the Good Shepherd offers spiritual restoration – no need for striving - and to be restored and led each day by his grace, mercy, strength, and power.
Along with providing rest, peace, and spiritual guidance, the Good Shepherd also provides spiritual safety and comfort. Verse 4 reads, “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.” The Good Shepherd provides spiritual safety and comfort. When physical enemies assail, God will ultimately vindicate (1 Sam. 25). When spiritual enemies pursue, God will protect (Eph. 6:10-18). Visionary shepherds can and must turn to the Good Shepherd in absolute faith and trust, praying for physical and spiritual protection!
Finally, in verses 5 and 6 of Psalm 23, see how the Good Shepherd will one day vindicate. Verses 5 and 6 read, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” The Good Shepherd cares for and heals the wounds. He provides joy and true satisfaction in serving him. This Psalm is a reminder that as under-shepherds, work is eternal and there is an eternity ahead living in the presence of the Good Shepherd.
Ultimately, in order to rightly understand the role and responsibility of pastors as visionary shepherds, it is crucial to first understand their primary role as under-shepherds of the Good Shepherd. This is the Good Shepherd’s work. He is the Chief Shepherd and the call is to follow him first and lead others only under his authority (1 Pet. 5:4). We must allow the Chief Shepherd to lead us before leading others. As a result, the ministry of the visionary shepherd is one to approach humbly, carried out with holy fear and trembling before the Lord. For this is not an office designed for men who desire to rule and reign over the flock, but rather for those who desire to serve and sacrifice their very lives for the sheep Christ died to save.
 Daniel Freng, “Shepherd Leadership,” (lecture series, Africa, 2009).