who will lead you with knowledge and understanding."
Jeremiah 3:15 NIV
A good shepherd will possess certain qualities. In scripture the term "shepherd" is a descriptive analogy of a spiritual leader with his people to that of a shepherd with his sheep. The sheep need the shepherd and are dependent on his or her protection and guidance. In this passage of scripture we see that a spiritual shepherd will possess knowledge and have understanding. These shepherds are spiritual leaders who pursue God in Heaven. It is their desire to know God, to follow His godly ways, and to lead wisely; men and women who God describes as "after His own heart."
Jeremiah 3:15 is underlined in my Bible because it speaks to me. I find it rich in meaning. It tells me several things about the right kind of spiritual leadership. The verse is a promise set within a passage, written to God's chosen people for a future date when Jerusalem will be called, The Throne of the Lord, and all nations will gather in Jerusalem to honor the name of the Lord. A time when their hearts will focus on the right things--that which is spiritual. No longer will they follow the stubbornness of their evil hearts. In those days the house of Judah will join the house of Israel, and together they will come from a northern land to the land I gave your (their) forefathers as an inheritance. (Jeremiah 3:17-18) I love the picture of the two kingdoms united together for their godly inheritance. A time of healing, victory, and fulfillment.
A few thoughts come to mind as I consider this verse:
"Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart,
who will lead you with knowledge and understanding." Jeremiah 3:15 NIV
First, the shepherd is given by God.
God orchestrates circumstances, and calls people to fulfill them. He has a plan. In His plan God brings to bear and to fulfillment those purposes of His. God prepares and gives us people to lead us in spiritual and practical ways. We must thank God for His provision of godly men and women who lead in His ways. Although the prophet Jeremiah was speaking to the Jewish nation, there are some principles that can be gleaned and applied as applicable to all people. It is obvious that God raises up shepherds to lead in His ways.
Second, these shepherds have a desire for God.
A true spiritual leader or even a political leader, if they have a desire for God, their lives will bear witness to the wisdom of God. This will be seen by the wake of their influence, the impact it has on people and places of their time. Desire can not be faked. Outward manifestations of spirituality can act as a facade, not the real thing, a path that leads to no-where and back. But, those who desire God will have a purpose that over-rides all else. This truth was brought home to me this last spring. At my college alma mater, the past president is losing a battle with cancer. He stepped down as president of the university because it was time. He served to the end without compromise or deterrence, his wife by his side. He wrote a letter, a good-bye to all of us. He said he wished he could have a few years more with his wife, but they had been in it together from the start, serving when they could have taken a retirement. This humble man led well and he finished strong, leaving a legacy behind him of a heart for God that impacted generations of young people in the ways of God with a Christian world view. In the conclusion, he passed on the mantle to the next president of the institution, encouraging him to stand firm in the Truth and to be passionate about the mission. It warmed my heart. He was a shepherd of this calling of which I speak. His mission was graced with wisdom and understanding. These are tough times in the Christian community of believers, and his words reminded us sheep to hold the line and to not be deterred by those unfriendly to things of God.
Third, these shepherds lead.
Leadership can take many forms. But, the heart of the leader will outwork in the body of the followers. A shepherd that leads can force obedience or force adherence to their demands or egocentric commands. But, a shepherd who leads with a heart for God will have his objective, his objective will include the will and influence of his own Father God upon his life and this will provide guidance for his decisions regarding the church. Around us we see pastor after pastor, priest after priest, who have abused their leadership as a minister. How did this happen? It doesn't take too much imagination to come up with some reasons. Most of all, their fall and failing has to be in relationship to their weak walk with God, their lack of dependence on God, and not getting to the heart of their own areas of bondage. When a shepherd takes his or her gaze off the cross of Jesus Christ, off the love of God, off the willing obedience to God's holy principles for righteous living, then they become susceptible to pride, power, and self-sufficient arrogance. I speak for myself. It can happen to anyone in ministry. The temptation, the infatuation with self, the pride will corrupt like a narcotic, destructive and addicting. It is to be guarded against.
A dependence on God must always be first, especially when success can change the person's focus. If the shepherd truly loves God, it is easier to maintain a spiritual base. This is because love wants to please the object of their love. For many years I led the women in my church in a Women's Ministry fellowship. I noticed that they followed me willingly. Whatever I would propose, they always liked. Wonderful ladies. I was younger than most of them and not confident in my leadership. But I noticed that if I grew in the Lord, they were more apt to grow as well. If I gossiped, they were more apt to gossip. They followed me. I wanted them to fall in love with the Lord as I had, so opportunities were given to grow deeper in our faith and to share this with one another. It was a blessing. (I will share some of this in my next book, A Gentle Grace.) Some shepherds fail to lead. And some churches fail to let the shepherd lead. Beware of this.
Fourth, these shepherds have a flock who follows them.
The congregants are the flock. The shepherd has a responsibility to the flock. First, he must love them. If love is missing, the church will stagnate. Love is critical, I can't state this enough. All the programs and functions will be empty if love is missing. And people will get hurt. Truth, by itself, is not enough. God calls shepherds. In this article, I am loosely using the term shepherd, and it is given as a principle not as an interpretation of the passage (in case you're wondering about the heart of my writing). Some of us have taken on leadership responsibilities in the Church. We have followers who are looking at our lives and helping themselves to what we have to offer. If the shepherd is following the Divine Shepherd, then the flock will be blessed. However, if the flock is "cold" to things of God, this shepherd who desires God and God's power within his assembly, will flounder. A house divided against itself will not stand. I have seen variations of this tragedy play itself out. It is most unfortunate. And the opposite, I've seen ministers who don't lead their sheep, they beat their sheep into submission. This is most unfortunate. So, what's missing here in this last scenario? On to the next one. . .
Fifth, these shepherds lead with knowledge and understanding.
Knowledge and understanding is a gift from God. Christ displayed wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. The closer the shepherd is in his relationship with God, the more there will be a hunger and thirst in his or her person for things of God. Also, the more there will be the life of Christ displayed in action and deed, for the life of Christ is active never silent or uninvolved. In fact, it cannot be silenced for it is a well-spring of living water that comes forth from deep inside. A sour person in the ministry has a dried up relationship with God. It is God who gives and it is we who receive. For twenty years God has blessed me through the ministry of my pastor. He gives us the Word of God, not just opinions or trendy patterns, and serves it up with love, with care and words to help us deal with our stuff. Over the years during difficult times and not, he will call and say these few words to me, "How're you doing?" and it is enough. He will comment a little and give me food for thought. And he listens well. I like that kind of shepherd, a shepherd who leads with knowledge and understanding.