Have you ever been puzzled by something you read in the Bible? I am sure we all have had a moment when we read something and it gave us a reason to ask, “What did I just read?”
If you remember, Amos was a shepherd by vocation. Amos declared, “I was not a prophet or the son of a prophet; rather, I was a herdsman, and I took care of sycamore figs. But the Lord took me from following the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’” (Amos 7:14). Amos let the reader know that he had been minding his own business when the Lord called him to prophesy to the nation.
As I read through the book of Amos, I found myself focusing attention on Amos 3:12. In it you get a glimpse into the life of a shepherd. I remember reading that verse and continuing onward in my devotional reading, and then my brain said, “Wait a minute…what did that verse say? Take another look.” That’s when I had to go back and re-read it. I did that numerous times. Here is what Amos 3:12 says (remember that God is using Amos’s background as a shepherd as he delivered a prophesy to the nation of Israel about an impending time of distress):
The Lord says: “As the shepherd snatches two legs or a piece of an ear from the lion’s mouth, so the Israelites who live in Samaria will be rescued with only the corner of a bed or the cushion of a couch.”
I had no problem with the prophesy itself – God delivered numerous declarations about the future of His people throughout the Old Testament. What perplexed me was the glimpse into the life of a shepherd that is found in this verse. Read the first half of the prophesy again and you’ll likely see what caused me to be confused: I asked myself, “Why would a shepherd fight against an apex predator like a lion, just to rescue pieces of a dead sheep from it?” If I was the shepherd, I think I might have run in the opposite direction and let the lion have its lunch. The sheep was lost. Why risk my life for something that was already dead?
I consulted numerous commentaries, and I even asked some pastor-friends about this verse, but none had any answers to my question, “Why would a shepherd do this?” After thinking and praying about this, I believe the Lord granted me insight into this verse.
The reason the shepherd would risk his life and wrestle pieces of a sheep away from a lion is because the shepherd was a steward – a temporary manager of his master’s property. If the shepherd went out with 50 sheep, he had to come back with 50 sheep, or he had to have a really good reason why he lost one of his master’s sheep. The sheep were not the property of the shepherd. Carrying pieces of a sheep back to the owner/master would prove that the sheep had indeed been lost to a predator, and that the shepherd wasn’t taking His master’s sheep and making them his own. Every sheep belonged to the master.
Let’s apply this to group life today. Those of us who shepherd a group of people as a teacher-leader are in a similar position as Amos. We are shepherds, and we look after the Lord’s people, His sheep. God is the Owner, not us. The people we lead are His people, His sheep. With that in mind, here are three things group leaders should never say:
- “This is my group.” Actually, the group belongs to the Lord, not to you. Those of us who teach and shepherd a group should always remember that even though our name is on the door, or our name is listed in a brochure or on the church website, the group isn’t really “our” group. When a pastor or staff member asks us to move our group to a new room or to a new meeting time, remember that it’s not truly “our group.”
- “Those are my people.” Similar to #1 above, we must never say that we “own” the people. Good group leaders always hold onto the people with a loose grip. We do so because we acknowledge they belong to the Lord – individuals are precious to the Lord and they are always His people. Some group leaders have too strong a feeling of ownership, which leads them to say hurtful and unbiblical things such as, “Don’t you split my group!” or “Don’t come into my classroom and take away any of my people.” I have served three churches over the course of my ministry, and I have had group leaders say these things to me at every church.
- “This is my classroom.” Because all group leaders are temporary leaders (we won’t lead our groups forever. Someone else will come behind us and carry on when we are done), group leaders should never say, “This is my classroom.” The room and the people in it belong to the Lord and to His church. Group leaders temporarily use the Lord’s resources to care for His sheep. It’s not “your room,” it’s simply the room your group meets in. The room and all that is in it belong to the Lord.
- “This is my ministry.” The teaching ministry you have is one that is granted to you by the Lord. The Lord has the ministry to His people, and He accomplishes that through you, His shepherd-leader. You temporarily teach and shepherd God’s people. While you do minister, it is not your ministry. God is the owner. The people are His sheep. It is His ministry to His people through you.
If you are a group leader, may I encourage you to think rightly of your role as a leader of people? You have such influence over the people of God. They look to you to care for them, and they look for you to feed them God’s Word. He has granted you a temporary assignment – “Feed my sheep.” As Jesus told Peter those words, He reminded Peter that the sheep belong to the Lord, and we are simply stewards for a Master who loves them more than we ever could. Let’s lose the phrases “my sheep, my group, my classroom, and my ministry.”
When you have a right view of ownership, you’ll care for your people more deeply, see them as belonging to the Lord, happily release them to serve, be more flexible about when and where you meet, and you’ll have a proper understanding of who the true Owner really is.