7 May 2022

Apest: Shepherds

Bible study by Major Vikki Burr

Major Vikki Burr considers what we can learn from the Shepherd’s Psalm.

This Bible study series explores Apest, the fivefold ministry of Ephesians 4 (Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds, Teachers). For more information, visit theforgottenways.org

Key texts

This week, as part of our continuing series on Apest ministry, we consider the function of the shepherd (pastor).

I wonder what your picture of a shepherd is?

Perhaps it includes an idyllic, pastoral scene with the sun shining and sheep huddled at the feet of a calm and composed shepherd. These sheep are loved and provided for and all is well with the world.

But what happens when the storm clouds come, or when the sheep fall out with each other, or when the voice inside the sheep’s head is louder than the shepherd’s voice?

Stock image of someone reading the Bible

Psalm 23:1

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

Read the Psalm

The shepherd I see in Scripture is one who is tough, rugged, tenacious and resilient. He wants to journey with his sheep on dark, stormy days, as well as in sunny times, and through arguments and misunderstandings. More than anything, he wants his sheep to reach their potential, to be fulfilled and to be content.

Many people find inspiration from Psalm 23. It describes all we need for our wellbeing and takes the reader on a rollercoaster journey to a place we were created to be – into the presence of God. And, we are promised the presence of the Shepherd every step of the way.

Pause and reflect

  • As you reflect on your life, where do you identify that God has been at work?
  • What did your ‘green meadows’ look like and what did your ‘dark valleys’ look like?
  • What was God doing in these times?

When life’s path leads us to still waters and green pastures – things that refresh and restore our soul – it is easy to believe that the Shepherd is indeed good and wants the very best for us. With trust in the Shepherd, in his knowledge and experience, we step out confidently on to the right paths.

When we are then thrown a curve ball, we get the shock of our lives. We enter the dark valleys and find ourselves in the shadow of experiences such as illness, suffering, bereavement and redundancy.

Thinking it can’t possibly be the right path, we want to get off it. We try to turn back or change direction only to find ourselves seemingly hemmed in by the Shepherd’s rod and staff. Is this really what comfort looks like?

Yet there is comfort.

Commentators suggest that David wrote this psalm to reflect the time he was running for his life from Saul. Desperate and alone, David sought refuge among his enemies. He sheltered in Gath, the hometown of Goliath, whom he had killed years before (see 1 Samuel 21:10). Even in the presence of his enemies, God prepared a table for him.

I do not believe that God creates times of difficulty and hardship to mould and develop us. I do believe, however, that he uses them to demonstrate his power and to show us what we are capable of.

God, our Shepherd, guides us through such times, holding on to us when we can’t hold on to him, giving us the strength to carry on walking. As we do so, we find our faith is stronger and our soul more resilient.

As we journey with the Shepherd, as we trust him and allow him to guide us on paths unknown, he leads us to experience community and togetherness that we could never have imagined and could not have created by ourselves.

This is a community where no one is missed. If one person wanders off they are noticed, looked for and found (see Luke 15:3–7). No one is excluded. Even our enemies see God’s love at work and are welcomed, restored and forgiven. It is a community that reflects Heaven on Earth.

Pause and reflect

  • What does this mean for us in the communities in which we worship and serve?
  • Do we know people’s stories? Are people noticed, seen and sought?

The Shepherd leads us to a place where we find what it truly means to be a God-created human. It is where we discover the real meaning of Jesus’ promise: ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full’ (John 10:10).

The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep – there is nothing calm and idyllic about that.

  • Do we allow the ‘shepherds’ among us to seek the best for us, even when that means being challenged?

This Bible study was originally published in Salvationist magazine on 19 March 2022.

Let's pray

Gentle Jesus, our kind-hearted and caring Good Shepherd, help us we pray to follow you faithfully. Strengthen us daily with your everlasting love and guide us along our life’s journey.


Bible study by

Major Vikki Burr

Major Vikki Burr

Head of Operations, Well-Being Department, THQ

Discover the rest of the series

All devotions

Captain Callum McKenna highlights what it means to be ‘sent’ with God’s message.

Major Matt Butler highlights those who bring correction and challenge to God’s people.

Bethany Munn asks whether we walk the walk as well as talk the talk.

Major Ian Mountford encourages us to identify those called and gifted by God to teach.

Related tags