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Is Your Pastor a Shepherd or a Hireling?

Updated: Dec 17, 2023

Jesus said,

“I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (Jn 10:11-15)

When you read Jesus' description of himself as a Shepherd, the Shepherd, in Jn 10, you see the absolute, vital, and definitional characteristic to protect His sheep. His sheep were in the fold of false shepherds or unqualified hirelings, 100% susceptible to the intentions of wolves and thieves and robbers. He leads them out, by the act of salvation. He gives His life for His sheep, so that they can be saved. He will leave the ninety nine only to go and find another lost sheep (Lk 15). On the other hand, the hireling flees. I have experienced this mentality, having been in the company of a pastor whose first instinct in conflict was to flee. Flee the ministry, flee the community, 'I can't handle it anymore.' He had his excuses. That is a hireling. His only instinct is self-preservation (Rom 16:18). The true hireling serves not God but “[his] belly." (Phil 3:18; Rom 16:18).

An under-shepherd should have an interest in the shepherding of the true, the best, the model Shepherd, Jesus. Sure, He leads His sheep to pasture. However, most characteristic of the Shepherding of Jesus in the classic shepherd passage of John 10 is His protection by leading in the truth, in sound doctrine. He separates His sheep unto safety away from the possibility of harm. Before they can be taken or injured or killed, He brings them out of their vulnerability to a place of safety. If the threat arises, He stands up to it, even giving His life.

Unfortunately, the shepherds of most churches today recruit wolves because they are in fact wolves themselves, presenting as sheep and shepherds. Jesus' sheep know His voice, which is His Word. They know His voice and always follow Him. Jesus said that: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:” (Jn 10:27). His voice is the test, the directive through the door and out of danger. His voice is all about getting into safety. Todays shepherding offers an allure that broadens the appeal to more than the protective voice. It's not just hirelings asleep at the opening to the fold. It's a multi-beastial invitation. The walls are lowered for easier access either way. In many cases, the walls have been completely removed.

The hireling is soft, a sort of metro-shepherd, who vanishes at the possibility of protecting. He's got great excuses though. Not only is he soft, he's also sentimental. He doesn't take criticism well. You can’t confront his doctrine or preaching or practices. You can be negative but not to him or about him or any of his associations. He only wants positive, which is akin to his philosophy of protection. It’s not really about protecting the sheep but about protecting his job or pride or reputation. This also reflects the attitude of the hireling, the Diotrephes in reference here. His idea of protection was to use men of the flesh in the church, the strong arm of man. They would physically protect him and do his bidding, as if one was a threat, something in fact that isn't uncommon among man-centred institutions, but what about the Great Shepherd? Where’s trust in the Chief Shepherd? People that do this, don’t actually trust in the Great Shepherd but in the strong arm of their flesh.

Jer 17:5-6 speaks to this:

“Thus saith the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD. For he shall be like the heath in the desert, and shall not see when good cometh; but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land and not inhabited.”

The shepherd that is faithful to God, on the other hand is represented by the next two verses:

“Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.” (Jer 17:7-8).

The true shepherd would want only his sheep in the fold and would want to have an established fold, knowing who is in and who is not (i.e., clear and distinct, regenerate membership). He's not about adding anything and everything that breathes, as long as it possesses anywhere between two to four hooves or paws or appendages. And they are only his sheep. His fold isn't designed for whatever furry thing happens to come along. He wants only his sheep. He also understands that the fold is local and there are no universal invisible pastures of sheep. He also wouldn’t exert his authority over a sheep that doesn’t belong to his fold, so he wouldn’t claim that everyone and anyone that comes to feed in the pasture of his “sheep-fold” for a day belongs to him now, under his authority.

In this age, it just isn't popular to be a true protective shepherd. A true shepherd doesn't mind a challenge to his safety practices, some quality control and criticism. Most false shepherds, hirelings, who consider themselves to be true shepherd's don't want to be questioned. I wonder about any man, who calls himself a shepherd, who has that position, and he can't handle a direct conversation or challenge or critique from someone who does care about him, who actually loves him. How could anyone expect that shepherd to deal with actual threats, when he can't handle evaluation from someone not on attack, who just replays the voice of the Chief Shepherd?

Such individuals ought to give heed to Eccl. 7:5,

“It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools.”

And Pr 27:6,

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.”

Because acting shepherds won't endure any sort of appraisal, the quality of shepherding goes down. The protection of sheep depreciates. Flocks weaken. The next generation either shrinks, dies off, or finds itself in the fold of a false shepherd. Thats what we see today on every hand. Churches led by false shepherds, and most of the sheep aren’t sheep at all but goats. Sadly majority don’t seem to know the difference.

The true shepherd on the other hand embraces and teaches sound doctrine (1 Tim 1:3; Ti 2:1), he loves the truth and will thus guard the church from all false doctrine and never ignore it, while the hireling is asleep at the gate. He is able to feed the church with the truth (Ac 20:28; Ti 2:1; Eph 4:11-14), not an admixture of error and truth like hirelings do. He doesn’t mind being tested or proved or critiqued or admonished, so false doctrine and perversion of Scripture doesn’t go on unabated, but hirelings despise it. He watches and warns (Ac 20:29-31) because he protects the flock of God and diligently takes heed to all the flock which the Ghost hath made him overseer of (Ac 20:28, 31), so he is involved in the lives of the sheep, while the hireling cares more over his belly (Rom 16:18) and about sentimental things and does not protect the fold from influential error and false teacher’s.

He doesn’t shun to declare all the counsel of God (Ac 20:27) by proper exposition of Scripture; he doesn’t skip important doctrine or things in Scripture, and does also deal with controversial subjects, unlike that of the hireling who goes through verses and chapters with partiality, not dealing adequately with the subject of the text and definitely never warns besides some outlandish error or obvious cult, something where everyone would agree, there is consensus. He will be a humble man who understands the church is not his own (Ac 20:28) but hirelings have a false humility and take ownership of the assembly. Like Diotrephes (3 Jn 1:9-11). He cares about the flock (Ac 20:28, 31) while the hireling hides the sins of his highest rollers (including the evil sins of wife and child abuse, and evil rage and totalitarian diabolical control) and has no issue with destroying parts of the flock he doesn’t like or agree with or those that are exposing the sins and errors he is not dealing with but tolerating and even propagating and teaching, casting them out and acting precisely as, again, one Diotrephes.

The hireling doesn’t receive what I say, not because it isn’t the truth, but because it is. Jesus refers to this in Jn 8:47, “He that is of God heareth God's words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.” When someone “resists the truth” (2 Tim 3:8) and won’t acknowledge their error, this is what they’re doing.

The true shepherd is not a hireling (Ac 20:28-35), he serves the Lord Jesus Christ and not man (Gal 1:10), he seeks God's approval and not man's (Gal 1:10), while the hireling serves man over God because he serves his belly, deceiving man with flattery and false humility by good words and fair speeches, an actual “enemy of the cross of Christ” (Rom 16:18; Phil 3:18), like Diotrephes, again, was (3 Jn 1:9-11), a hireling exemplar.

Just because the name of God and of Jesus are both used in hireling-run churches today, maybe even using the King James Bible, doesn't mean that these are the true God and Jesus of the Bible. The hireling isn't going to say, "My belly is my God, you're right, Paul (Rom 16:18; Phil 3:18).” No, he is going to say that the true God and the true Jesus really are truly his God, but the truth of the matter is, his belly is his God and we know that by certain behaviour and teachings. Not because he says he isn’t.

“For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.” (Rom 16:18).

True faith in God is not some arbitrary check in a box. Many false religions put the checks in the right boxes, but are certainly not genuine faith.

Is 56:10-11 is a great description of the hireling, which fits with what Rom 16:17-18 and Phil 3:18-19 are teaching:

“His watchmen are blind: they are all ignorant, they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber. Yea, they are greedy dogs which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain, from his quarter.”

Is your pastor a true shepherd or a hireling? I hope you have the discernment to tell the difference, to discern the difference between “the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.” (1 Jn 4:6).

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