The Gift of Shepherding

iStock-938314438The Gift of Shepherding


What comes to mind when you think of shepherds? We know shepherds are responsible for a flock of sheep. We know David was a shepherd. We know that shepherds were among the first to hear the news of Christ’s birth.

In addition to their roles in Biblical history, shepherds and sheep are also used symbolically.

According to the Spiritual Gifts Test, “In the Biblical context, shepherds had several different responsibilities to their sheep and ultimately, to the owner of the sheep. They kept a lookout for predators and protected the sheep from attackers. They cared for wounded and sick sheep, nursing them back to health. They rescued them if they became lost or trapped. They spent enormous amounts of time with them guiding them to the places of nourishment and rest. The result was a trust and relationship that kept the sheep following the shepherd. The sheep were attuned to the shepherd’s voice to the point that even if they were temporarily mixed with another herd, at the call of the shepherd they would separate and follow him.”

As believers, we believe the Lord is our shepherd, and we are the sheep – guiding us, protecting us, and caring for us. However, there are believers who the Holy Spirit has gifted with the ability to shepherd while living here on earth.

Understanding the Gift of Shepherding

Paul mentions the spiritual gift of shepherding in the first letter to the Ephesians.

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ – Ephesians 4:11-12

The word “shepherds” appears in the ESV translation, but the word “pastors” appears in others. There’s a good reason why these words are used interchangeably.

Dr. Larry Gilbert explains, “The Greek word for pastor is poimen. In Ephesians 4:11, where Paul is listing spiritual gifts, this term is translated ‘pastor.’ The word poimen is translated pastor only one time in all of Scripture; however, it is used sixteen additional times. The remaining sixteen times are all translated ‘shepherd.’”

Therefore, the gift of pastoring and shepherding are often linked. However, there are many believers who are not pastors who have been given the gift of shepherding.

According to Gene Wilkes, “The gift of shepherding is manifested in persons who look out for the spiritual welfare of others.” While pastors certainly look after the spiritual welfare of others, there are others in the church who also feel this call.

What the Gift of Shepherding Looks Like

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. – 1 Peter 5:1-4

John MacArthur says, “The primary object of shepherding is feeding, that is, teaching, caring for,  leading and protecting God’s sheep (i.e., believers).”

Pastors tend to teach, care for, lead, and protect God’s sheep. But they aren’t the only ones. Take a minute to consider the Christians in your life who have influenced you.

Was there a small group leader that took you under his wing? Was there a biblical counselor who went the extra mile to make sure you felt loved and seen? Was there a women’s leader who taught lessons that you remember to this day for their impact on your life?

How the Gift of Shepherding Serves the Church

Spiritual Gifts Discovery explains, “With the rapid growth of the early church, it soon became apparent that help was needed to shepherd the people. One group needing extra attention was the widows. Some felt they were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. The disciples selected seven men to be responsible for this group of women. These seven were selected because they were ‘full of the Spirit and wisdom.’ They demonstrated the gift of shepherding by establishing long-term care for this select group. The seven men chosen were Stephen, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas of Antioch. (Acts 6:1-6)”

No one person can shepherd every member of the Body of Christ.

Even if you attend a small church, it’s too much to put the entirety of every church member’s spiritual well-being on the pastor. That’s why the Holy Spirit has given others the spiritual gift of shepherding.

Essentially, these individuals work as an extension of church pastors or leadership. They shepherd smaller groups of people.

Typically, when someone is serving using this gift, they use it alongside another spiritual gift, such as the gift of teaching. For example, the youth leader may have the gift of teaching and the gift of shepherding. He is responsible for teaching the students and caring for them. He is overseeing his part of the flock.

Ways to Tell If You Have the Gift of Shepherding

As mentioned, while most pastors have the gift of shepherding, you don’t have to be a pastor to have this gift. There is a need for others in the church to help shepherd the flock.

If you agree strongly with the following statements, you may have the gift of shepherding.

  • I enjoy spending time nurturing and caring for others.
  • I have compassion for wandering believers and want to protect them.
  • I like to provide guidance for the whole person - relationally, emotionally, spiritually, etc.
  • I can faithfully provide long-term support and concern for others.
  • I enjoy giving guidance and practical support to a small group of people.
  • I can gently restore wandering believers to their faith.
  • I enjoy patiently but firmly nurturing others in their development as believers.
  • I like to provide a safe and comfortable environment where people feel welcome, belong, are listened to, and cared for.