What do you think of when you read the words ‘bad shepherds’? Perhaps you imagine a man with a crook lying asleep in the shade while the sheep wander off. Or you might think of a man with a dog, hitting the sheep with a long stick to make them go in the right direction.
Bad shepherds are mentioned in Jeremiah 50 beginning at verse 6. Yahweh, the mighty Lord of Israel is speaking to the prophet Jeremiah and he says,
My people have been lost sheep; their shepherds have led them astray and caused them to roam on the mountains. They wandered over mountain and hill and forgot their own resting place. Whoever found them devoured them; their enemies said, ‘We are not guilty, for they sinned against Yahweh, their verdant pasture, Yahweh, the hope of their ancestors’.
(Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
The people had been in captivity in Babylon when Jeremiah heard this message, and out of that terrible situation they would cry tearfully to Yahweh; and these verses were part of his response. Israel had begun very much in Yahweh’s presence, they were his chosen people. But they had done so much wrong that he had expelled them from the land and sent them into captivity. When Paul wrote in Colossians 1:27, ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’ (and it’s a plural ‘you’), he was repurposing a Jewish prayer. The Jews of his day were praying for the Shekinah glory of the Presence of Yahweh to return to the Holy place in the Jerusalem Temple. This was ‘the hope of glory’ that Paul refers to. But the glory would no longer rest in the Holy place in the Temple, from now on it would rest in the ekklesia, the church.
The church began really well and will end well, she is the wife, the Bride of the Lamb (Revelation 21:1-4). She is chosen, not just as individuals but as a body, all of us together. Do you think the church has also been sent into captivity? What is our ‘Babylon’? Just think, what began as a joyful, exuberant, free, living expression of new life in Christ has so often become solemn, restrained, enslaved to ritual and tradition and seemingly dry and dead. We have become fractured into many denominations so are no longer ‘one body’.
The solution for the church today is the same as the solution for Israel in Jeremiah’s day. We must ‘go in tears to seek’ Jesus our Lord and King (Jeremiah 50:4). We must ask the way back and turn our faces towards it; we must come and renew the bond we have to him and not forget (verse 5).
We have been lost sheep, our shepherds have led us astray, our shepherds caused us to roam on the mountains, to wander, to forget our own resting place (verse 6). It’s time to turn back to Jesus alone, to follow him, to hear his voice and do his bidding. There is a reason that he said, ‘I am the good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. I know my sheep and my sheep know me’ (John 10:11, 14).
But please don’t hear what I am not saying. I am not saying there is no place in church for leaders, just that there is no place for bad shepherds. And I’m not saying that that we should fill in the structural cracks of denominationalism in our own strength, instead we should all make sure we’re connected with the Head so that through him we will all be part of one network. He has a plan for the church that will work, I don’t and neither do you. He said, ‘I will build my church’; and he will!