It is unfortunate, in my opinion, that American church culture has substituted the word “pastor” for “shepherd.” The job description of “pastors” is extra-biblical in large part. They are hired to function as CEOs, and they are expected to earn their keep. Those who pay them expect a Return On their Investment (ROI). The big question, of course, is what should that return look like?
Because we have superimposed a business template over the church of God, we tend to focus more on the tangible externalities of congregational life. Like budgets and programs. We are willing to “invest” in people, but usually only to the extent that they will “pan out”, which translates into productive participation in the church’s projects.
It is true that, in the world, people raise sheep as a way of making a living. They need and expect to get a return for their labor. That is, perhaps, where the metaphor breaks down when we speak of Jesus as our Great Shepherd. He does not love us, accept us, forgive us, nurture us, because he expects to get some work out of us. For too many evangelicals, the mantra is “saved to serve.”
God does not need us in order to accomplish the desires of his heart. If we were silent, the very rocks would cry out. He allows us to co-labor with him because, in the process, we are formed into the image of our Shepherd. And the more like him we are, the more we can enjoy fellowship with him – and THAT is really what’s on God’s heart.
The return that the Father looks for from the investment of the Son’s work is our fellowship.