The other day I was catching up with my Bible reading plan after having fallen behind in the Old Testament a bit (that never happens to you, right?). The realization that I had missed a good portion of Zachariah made me decide to just set aside some time to sit down and read it all at once.
That hour was a real gift to me. What I noticed through a comprehensive review of that book wouldn’t have been gained had I engaged my usual (and beneficial) pattern of reading two or three chapters of the Old Testament every day.
And here’s what I discovered: God has a lot to say about pastoring in the book of Zachariah. There I encountered certain qualities that God is looking for from those who are called to shepherd His people; let’s unpack those things the Lord stirred in my heart concerning through this minor Old Testament prophet.
First: God is looking for shepherds who will be prophetic (1:1 & 7).
The context to this book is a person (Zachariah) who is fully surrendered to the Lord and who speaks God’s words of encouragement, strengthening and warning to those who will be doing God’s work.
This is exactly what we as pastors are called to do.
Yes, we should be careful not to overplay the “God card”, telling people so often that God-said-such-and-such that they—and we—have a difficult time discerning between the voice of the Lord and the voice of our own desires.
But we shouldn’t be afraid of clearly hearing the Lord, submitting that word to others, and then boldly leading that way. In fact, I believe we must lead with a strong sense and grasp of God’s word to us and to our churches in order to be the kinds of shepherds that God wants for His people.
If you are a pastor, and you’re not leading your church with an operative word from the Lord, I want to encourage you to spend time in His presence until you unambiguously hear Him speaking to you, repeat that word to your congregation and start boldly leading that way.
Second: God is looking for shepherds who will be pure (3:1-7)
In chapter 3 we see the high priest (Joshua) standing in filthy clothes before both the angel of the Lord and Satan. The enemy is trying to accuse him, but the Angel of the Lord won’t let him: This man, this high priest over God’s people, is a “burning stick snatched from the fire”!
Do you ever feel like that; like a small dry piece of wood about to be overwhelmed by a blazing fire? Sometimes, in the hard-press of life and ministry, our lives get singed, and we notice that our clothing is not pure and white like the righteousness of Christ, but that they are filthy from the grit and grime of the world that we encounter every single day.
Sometimes our soiled clothing is of our own making—we fall into heart attitudes and life actions that become fodder for the accuser to point his finger and say, “this person is not fit for ministry”. Other times, our clothing is contaminated simply because we walk in a world mired with sin. Either way, God provides a pathway to purity.
The Lord has Joshua’s filthy clothing taken off, and fine garments are put on him. Then he gives this instruction, “If you will walk in obedience to me and keep my requirements, then you will govern my house and have charge of my courts…”
And then the Lord mentions the symbolism at work here; Joshua as the high priest has clean clothing given to him as a sign of what’s to come: God will one day “remove the sin of this land in a single day”.
When Jesus hung on the cross—that was the day! Our sins were atoned for and we were all provided with clean clothing. As pastors and leaders, we are not exempt from the Grace of God, but are in need of it every day, as well. In fact, I think its good news for spiritual leaders that God chose the high priest as a symbol of the grace that was received here!
So if you find you’re too close to the fire, and that the corresponding smoke is messing you up, I want to encourage you to do the following two things:
1. Remember that in a single day, Jesus provided for your complete cleansing and he will rescue you from whatever fire might be threatening your life and sullying your heart. Repent once again and allow His blood to cover your sin.
2. Chose to utilize the resource of the Holy Spirit’s power as you walk in obedience to the Lord and keep His requirements: Because one of the results of a leader practically walking in the positional righteousness that we have already been given is an increased authority to govern God’s house (vs. 7).
Third: God is looking for shepherds with a pastoral heart (11:6).
In chapter 11 the Lord is talking about bad shepherds, and in the midst of this He utters a concise definition of a foolish shepherd. By unpacking this verse, we can invert the qualities of the unfaithful shepherd and find out what kind of faithful leader God has in mind to serve His people.
First, let’s look at the verse: “I am going to raise up a shepherd over the land who will not care for the lost, or seek the young, or heal the injured, or feed the healthy, but will eat the meat off of the choice sheep…” (11:6)
Now, let’s reverse the qualities:
1. Care for the lost: This reminds me of Jesus’ own parable of the good shepherd. God’s heart is clearly expressed when those who are lost get found (see, for instance, Luke 15). As pastors, we don’t get to ignore those who are not in the sheepfold, but must ensure that we are pursuing the lost with all the resources at our disposal, just like God did, and still does!
2. Seek the young: A bad shepherd doesn’t care about the young; he or she is only interested in what can “pay off” right now. However, a faithful shepherd who expresses the heart of God will always care about engaging the next generation and truly seeking how to pass the gospel into the future (see, for instance, Psalm 78, 102, 22, & 145).
3. Heal the injured: Good pastors don’t just “cut their losses” when people are hurt, but they make sure care is provided for those who have been injured by life’s journey. Healing for body, soul, spirit, and emotions is part of the good news we preach; our churches must ensure that we practice what we preach and so confirm the gospel with our actions.
4. Feed the healthy: A primary assignment for an obedient pastor is to feed the flock, which includes leading them to food and teaching them how to feed themselves. Our preaching and discipleship ministry is key to the condition of the church God has called us to serve.
5. Live as a servant: When we find that foolish shepherds eat the meat off of the choice sheep, we realize that this is a selfish act. Some pastors are more interested in taking care of their own wants and needs than taking care of the flock over which they have been given stewardship. May that never be said of us! Let us be leaders and servants who put our flocks first without ever scheming about how leading them might provide us with personal gain.
In short, God is looking for shepherds who will pastor His people well. And though the size of your church may determine how the specific pastoral systems work, every pastor must carry the heart of a shepherd that we see in these five qualities.
Fourth: God is looking for shepherds who will provide His people with purpose (10:2-7).
In chapter 10 we find the Lord telling His people how He feels about the shepherds that lead them. The verdict is sharp: “My anger burns against the shepherds, and I will punish the leaders.” (v. 3)
We might think that God might be angry with the shepherds because they were not caring for the sheep, and this is true. But while in chapter 11 we discovered God’s desire for his shepherds to pastorally care for His people, in chapter 10 the Lord is addressing something very different.
He’s furious because the leaders have not provided God’s people with purpose.
Listen to the Lord’s judgment: “…the people wander like sheep oppressed for lack of a shepherd. My anger burns against the shepherds, and I will punish the leaders; for the Lord almighty will care for His flock…and make them like a proud horse in battle… Together they will be like warriors in battle trampling their enemy into the mud of the streets. They will fight because the Lord is with them and they will put the enemy horsemen to shame. I will strengthen Judah and save the tribes of Joseph. I will restore them because I have compassion on them.”
So often we think of shepherds as those who provide comfort and care for the sheep, but here we see the passion of God that His people would be formed to be warriors. He is not just interested in sheep that have nice lives, but in sheep that will be made into “a proud horse in battle”, and who “fight because the Lord is with them” putting “the enemy horseman to shame”.
The restoration and redemption of God’s people is only complete when those people can engage their purpose to defeat the enemy! And God has some of his harshest criticism for pastors (shepherds) who are not caring for people by teaching them to fight together with a purpose.
In other words, the pastoral care that leaders provide should result in the Lord’s people being shaped for God’s purpose.
The people we serve must grasp that they have been redeemed not just to sit on the sidelines waiting for the glory of heaven, but that they are called to a passionate Kingdom pursuit of defeating the enemy, and expressing God’s rule and reign through their lives. As pastors our task is to equip God’s people to fight, and lead God’s people “like a proud horse” into this battle.
The people of the Lord have been saved for a purpose, and pastor, it’s your job to help them realize what that purpose is, and to be equipped to engage it. True pastoral leadership is only fulfilled when people are dialed into the purpose for which they were created and saved. Rise to that challenge, and challenge God’s people to rise!