It was the privilege of Greater Rhode Island Baptist Temple to host this week a meeting of the New England Baptist Fellowship. Three preachers were on the platform – men with different ministries, different styles, and from different camps of the fundamentalist movement. Each, however, was a unique blessing to me. The refreshing thing about the fellowship was that there was good camaraderie among the preachers. No one was trying to “one-up” his fellow minister with inflated statistics, doctrinal insight, or alma mater comparison. It was just a group of Christian pastors enjoying preaching, fellowship, and food (and probably in that order).
I left the day remembering how different I felt when I left a national meeting several years ago where a nationally-known minister got in my face, invaded my personal space, and began to chastise me over something for which he did not have all the facts. When this “man of God” left me, I could not help but remember the verse that the wrath of man never works the righteousness of God (James 1:20), and I could not help but feel sorry for this man’s congregation if this is the way he characteristically responds to church problems. In short, he was a brutish shepherd.
When we examine the Good Shepherd, we are reminded of some basic characteristics of pastoring. First, good shepherds know their sheep by name (John 10:3). Sheep are not statistics; they are people. Each attender on Sunday morning, each convert plunged beneath baptismal waters, each member of our assembly is a life with a unique set of virtues, struggles, and needs. We must never be so consumed with the institution that we fail to see the individual. He has a name, and he is not expendable.
Second, good shepherds lead from out front; they do not beat from behind. Our sheep ought to be familiar with our voice; we ought not be foreign to them (John 10:4). Sheep don’t follow strangers. In other words, we ought not show up on occasion to castigate. There ought to be an atmosphere of familiarity that breeds an atmosphere conducive to constructive leadership.
Third, good shepherds are doors to opportunities, not barriers (John 10:7, 9). Isn’t it amazing how much freedom God gives us? God lets us go in and out and find pasture. God is not a micro-manager. God gives us opportunities to fail, but in so doing, gives us opportunities to succeed. God recognizes that if we cannot hurt Him, we cannot help Him.
God allows us, as a good shepherd, to have fun (John 10:10). God is not interested in taking the life out of the sheep. To the contrary, God wants us to have abundant living in the fullest sense possible. Ministry should be conducted in a joyful environment, rather than in a fearful atmosphere. Many of our new converts have left cults and false religions for this very reason. True faith possesses life that religions do not have.
Fifth, good shepherds are more concerned with sheep preservation than self-preservation (John 10:11-12). Good shepherds give their lives for the sheep, while hirelings allow sheep to be slaughtered in order that they might be personally protected. In short, good shepherds never throw their sheep under the bus.
As I contrasted the wonderful spirit of the New England Baptist Fellowship with the demeanor of the national pastor who invaded my personal space, I received a call from Pensacola informing me of the homecoming of my dear friend, Dr. Don Smith. If ever there was a good shepherd, Dr. Smith was it. Time would fail me to recall all the times that Don Smith exemplified the five characteristics of a good shepherd articulated above. Don was not known in many circles of fundamentalism, but I have a sneaking suspicion that he is greatly known in heaven, for he modeled consistently the traits of a good shepherd. I will miss him. I hope that my life will be able to mirror his. Don Smith was more than just a good man – he was a good shepherd.