“Jesus talked about shepherds because there was one over there in a pasture he could point to. But to bring in that imagery today and say, "Pastor, you're the shepherd of the flock," no. I've never seen a flock. I've never spent five minutes with a shepherd. It was culturally relevant in the time of Jesus, but it's not culturally relevant any more.
“Nothing works in our culture with that model except this sense of the gentle, pastoral care. Obviously that is a face of church ministry, but that's not leadership.
“It's the first-century word. If Jesus were here today, would he talk about shepherds? No. He would point to something that we all know, and we'd say, "Oh yeah, I know what that is." Jesus told Peter, the fisherman, to "feed my sheep," but he didn't say to the rest of them, "Go ye therefore into all the world and be shepherds and feed my sheep." By the time of the Book of Acts, the shepherd model is gone. It's about establishing elders and deacons and their qualifications. Shepherding doesn't seem to be the emphasis. Even when it was, it was cultural, an illustration of something.”
The Nation of Israel is named after one man: Jacob (later dubbed Israel), the grandson of Abraham. After leaving his family, Jacob was a penniless drifter who fell in love with a farmer’s daughter. To win her hand in marriage, he tended sheep for her father for a total of 14 years, and remained in his employ for some time after they were married.
During that time, his wages were paid in lambs so that by the time he left his father-in-law he had a massive flock of sheep. By the standards of the time, he was quite wealthy.
Jacob/Israel passed his shepherding legacy on to his twelve sons (the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel), so that, by the time they migrated to Egypt, they were given a separate land across the river from the Egyptians for the sole reason that they were shepherds, and Egyptians considered Shepherds an abomination.
Moses - the great law-giver - spent decades as a shepherd before he emancipated Israel. Moreover, the laws and holidays that Moses established were steeped in shepherd culture, involving elaborate laws regarding herds and flocks as well as making sheep the primary sacrifice to Yahweh for their sins; most especially for the celebration of Passover.
King David was the second king of Israel, displacing a disobedient Saul. God promised him a legacy that would include a permanent monarchy and the eventual coming of the Messiah through his descent.
Among other things, David is known as the great Psalmist, composing more Psalms than any other one author. His most familiar Psalm is, of course, the 23rd Psalm, which speaks of God as a Shepherd. This psalm was, no doubt, informed by his many years shepherding as a child and young adult.
The primary reason atheist philosopher Nietzsche gave for hating the Judeo-Christian religions was that, he said, they came from a slave culture (referring to the Mosaic Law coming directly on the heels of Israel’s emancipation from slavery). With apologies to Nietzsche, Israel was, in fact, a shepherd culture in every sense of the word. Their patriarch was a shepherd. Their lawgiver was a shepherd. Their great king was a shepherd. Their history, their laws, their songs of praise to God, and their prophecies were steeped in shepherding culture and metaphor.
When Jesus was born, it was the shepherds to whom the angels first appeared, announcing the coming of their Messiah. While Christ himself was never a literal shepherd, his teachings were liberally peppered with shepherding language and metaphors, consistently framing himself as a shepherd and his followers as his flock. When he passed the commission of caring for his Church on to Peter, he implored him to “feed my sheep.”
Contrary to Andy Stanley’s assertion that Jesus simply picked shepherding as an example that was relevant to the time period, the Christian Bible is written by and carried on the shoulders of shepherds. Shepherding is essential to the biblical story, and in the poetry of Christological fulfillment, Jesus is the good shepherd, the spotless lamb, and the perfect priest whose self-sacrifice was accepted once and for all by God.