I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
A man once told John Wesley, “The Bible knows nothing of solitary religion. Therefore a man must find companions or make them. This is an important aspect of New Testament Christianity. It is not a faith that can be lived out in solitude…This may fit some religions, but not Christianity.”1
Oh, how times have changed.
For many, solitary religion is the preferred norm of the day. Virtual church is favored over corporate gatherings, digital platforms take precedence over actual pulpits, and Facebook friends are welcomed more than discipling relationships.
This is the Siren’s song of spiritual isolationism: You Don’t Need Other Believers is the title, and You can live the Christian life all by yourself is the refrain. It’s the song we sing to justify our empty church seat, the tune we hum when we are tired and drained, and the anthem we blast when we see believers fail us, hurt us, and cause us pain. 2
The Siren is Wrong!
God has designed the Christian life to be lived together, not alone. Proverbs 18:1 declares: “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire.” Spiritual isolation is proud selfishness. And it is far more dangerous than you might think. It leaves you helpless when you fall (Galatians 6:2), foolish when you think (Proverbs 18:1-2), and powerless when you evangelize (John 13:34-35)—teetering you on the precipice of spiritual ruin (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Why? Because spiritual isolationism is Christless living. It rejects the shepherding task Jesus was sent to perform (Matthew 15:24)—a role given to each of His followers to fulfill.
Not only do we need spiritual shepherds in our lives, but we need to shepherd fellow believers in theirs: offering them our care and love, while also feeding and protecting them, and even bandaging their wounds when they are hurt.3 Each is a shepherd’s work. But more importantly, each is a “one another” command Christ has given His people. Like the transfer of a baton in a race, Jesus has passed us His shepherding staff.
Jesus, the Promised Shepherd
Throughout the Old Testament, Israel was often referred to as a flock in need of a shepherd. And yet every shepherd God sent His people failed in one way or another. Think of Moses: he was a disobedient shepherd. Think of David: he was an abusive shepherd.4 And this was Israel’s pattern—until Jesus, “the good shepherd” (John 10:11), arrived on the scene.
In Matthew 15:24, Jesus claimed to be God’s promised shepherd when he said, “I was sent…to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He was the teaching shepherd sent to feed His sheep in the pastures of God’s truth, the obedient shepherd sent to lead “His flock in the strength of the Lord” (Micah 5:4), and the dying shepherd sent to die so that His sheep would live.5
Jesus, the Perfect Shepherd
Though His sheep often bit Him and wandered away, Jesus refused to isolate Himself from His people. Why? Because this was His divine mission. He was the perfect shepherd for His very imperfect flock.
Jesus cared for His sheep. Christ fulfilled Isaiah 40:11, “Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, in His arms He will gather the lambs and carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes.” Is this not what we see Jesus doing throughout His ministry? His shepherd’s heart was stirred when He saw the spiritual angst of His people (Matthew 9:36). Through His miracles, He bandaged His sheep’s physical wounds, and through His teaching, He healed His sheep’s spiritual needs.
Jesus loved His sheep. In John 10:14-15, we hear Christ’s love for His own: “I am the good shepherd, and I know My own…even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father.” To know His sheep was to love His sheep—and amazingly, Jesus compared His love for His people to the eternal love He enjoyed with His Father. No greater love could be described. And yet, this was Jesus’ love for His always weak, continually failing, never quite-getting-it flock—a shepherd’s love that even laid down His life for His sheep (John 10:11).
Jesus guarded His sheep. The most frightening concern for a shepherd was a wolf or jackal creeping into the pen to devour his flock. Sheep are helpless creatures with no claws, fangs, or speed for defense. This was why a faithful shepherd would never leave their flock unattended. They stood guard with rod, staff, and sling—precisely what Jesus did throughout His ministry.
Jesus raised His rod when He warned of the Pharisees’ damning gospel. He swung His staff when He pronounced judgment upon the Sanhedrin—not once, but twice. He let loose His sling by calling the religious leaders “false prophets” (Matthew 7:15), trees that would be “cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 7:19), and “serpents [who]…will not escape the sentence of hell” (Matthew 23:33). Jesus was no gentle shepherd when wolves were nearby.
Jesus fed His sheep. As opposed to goats who hunt for feeding grounds, sheep starve if not led to food.6 One of the primary roles of a shepherd was to lead his flock to lush, open pastures and quiet, cold brooks. And indeed, this is what Jesus did every time He taught: “When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:34). Jesus knew His lost flock needed nourishment—and so He brought them to the green pastures of His gospel.
Jesus rescued His sheep. Sheep wander. Charles Jefferson explains,
They lose their way through stupidity and also through heedlessness and folly. A sheep will keep his nose to the ground following the strip of greenest grass, little by little separating himself from his companions, until at last, his companions completely out of sight, the poor isolated animal does not know where he is. When once he realizes his lost condition, he is furious to find his fellows. He cannot live alone; he was made for society. When by himself, he is timorous and easily panic-stricken. Every sight alarms him, every sound makes him afraid. He rushes hither and thither seeking his way, but his search is generally fruitless. A lost sheep does not get home.7
Ancient shepherds never expect wandering sheep to return, which is why a shepherd would immediately search for a sheep once he realized it was lost.
Is this not a beautiful picture of Christ’s mission “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10)? It is a picture of our great Shepherd pursuing us when we fail Him—like He did with His Apostles, when He said in Mark 14:27-28, “You will all fall away…But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” Jesus was employing shepherding language—the imagery of a shepherd walking ahead of his flock. Though His Apostles would forsake Him, He promised to find them, bandage their wounds, and carry them back to the safety of His fold.
Jesus, the Model Shepherd
Jesus was the shepherd His people needed. He was the perfect shepherd His Father had promised. And He is the shepherd we have been called to emulate.
LIVING THE UNDISTRACTED LIFE
When Peter wrote, “shepherd the flock of God among you…those allotted to your charge” (1 Peter 5:2–3), he had the shepherding work of Christ in mind. And even though Peter wrote primarily for church elders, the relevance of his command extends beyond those on the church payroll.8
Christ has surrounded each of us with believers (sheep) who need to be cared for, fed, and bandaged. Wolves still prowl. Sheep still wander. Shepherds are still needed. The Siren’s song of spiritual isolationism still needs to be silenced.
Find Your Flock
Shepherding is discipleship—and discipleship is essential for every believer. To drive this point further, it is the one command Jesus left every believer: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19).
Think of those the Lord has brought into your life—your fellow church members, coworkers, family, friends, and classmates. And ask yourself, Who can I care for, feed, and guard? Who can I love and rescue? Who can I shepherd through discipleship?
Shepherd Through Discipleship
But how is this shepherding work accomplished? What does faithful discipleship look like? What does a Christ-like shepherd do?
Consider the following principles.
First, make a wise investment. Devote yourself to those who show a desire to grow in Christ. You cannot shepherd everyone. Time and energy are not unlimited. Find those who eagerly desire faithfulness and pour yourself into them. Do as 2 Timothy 2:2 instructs: “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
Second, develop a personal relationship. Some have confined “discipleship” to classrooms, whiteboards, and early weekday mornings—which certainly have their place. But mere impartation of knowledge falls short of true shepherding. Shepherding involves knowing the sheep—their story, likes and dislikes, and even their favorite ice cream flavor.
This means that discipleship is more than a teacher-to-student relationship. It must be a friendship.
Spend time with your disciple just as Christ spent time with His. Get to know their family. Share meals with them. See them with their “hair down” and allow them to see you, not just as a shepherd leading them, but also as a fellow sheep under Christ’s shepherding care.
Third, aim for spiritual growth. Though friendship is vital, discipleship is more than friendship. Discipleship is friendship aimed at spiritual maturity. A shepherd longs to nourish his sheep with God’s Word and see them grow into the fullness of Christ. Be upfront about this goal. Be sure your disciple knows what he is getting himself into. And then make the Scriptures the focus of your time.9 Lead your sheep to the quiet waters of the Word and allow them (and you) to drink from the streams of God’s truth.10
Fourth, apply God’s Word in practical ways. A true understanding of the Word requires personal obedience to God’s Word (Psalm 119:34). Model this. Open your discipleship times explaining how the Word has changed your thoughts and actions. Express the convictions you felt, the joys you experienced, and even the questions you had while reading the Scriptures. But do not stop there—ask your disciple how he will walk according to God’s Word. And do not be satisfied with superficial answers. Awkward silence is often good. Deep thinking requires time.
Fifth, model humility. As the shepherd, you set the tone for your discipling relationship. Jesus’ words are true, “everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). Feel the weight of this principle and ask the Lord for humility. And then let humility permeate your time together (James 4:6).
Sixth, send other shepherds. Faithful discipleship is inherently a multiplying relationship. Urge your disciple to silence the Siren’s song of isolationism and accept his shepherding call. Assure him that you will support him as he disciples his own “flock.” And then joyfully watch the exponential growth of Christ’s people.
Seek Sheep in Spiritual Danger
Straying sheep must be found and carried home with compassion and care. This is the picture Jesus paints in Matthew 18 as He describes the church discipline process. He begins with a parable about a lost sheep and then transitions to His instruction on church discipline (Matthew 18:12-18).
The parallels are clear. The sheep who wanders is the brother who sins. The shepherd who searches is the believer who pursues his sinning brother. And just as the shepherd rejoices when a sheep is found, the church celebrates when a believer repents.
Do not allow fellow believers to wander the perilous cliffs and deep ravines of sinful living—“It is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish” (Matthew 18:14). Remember that lost sheep are unable to find their way back. Sheep need to be rescued and returned to their flock. They need us to take Christ’s shepherding staff, gather a search party for their straying soul, and lead them back into a life of repentance.
The undistracted Christian embraces the shepherding heart of Jesus. He silences the Siren’s song of isolationism by striving to be a “shepherd after [God’s] own heart” (Jeremiah 3:15). He feeds, guards, and loves Christ’s precious sheep. Why? Because “as the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (John 20:21).
 This is part 5 of a blog series entitled, Undistracted (click here for parts 1, 2, 3, and 4).
 Leon Morris, Reflections on the Gospel of John (Hendrikson Publishers, Peabody, 2000), 597.
 Ephesians 4:15, 32; Galatians 6:1
 Numbers 20:12; 2 Samuel 12:1-10
 Psalm 44:22; 100:3; Psalm 23:4; Ezekiel 37:24; Micah 5:4; Zechariah 13:7; John 10:11.
 James A. Patch, “Shepherd,” in ISBE, ed. James Orr (1915; repr., Grand Rapids: Hendrikson Publishers, 1996), 2763.
 Charles Jefferson, The Minister as Shepherd (Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1998), 54
 Charles Spurgeon agrees: “Let the watching be done by all the members: by the officers of the church first, and then by every individual….Guide them and cheer them on. Help their weakness, bear with their ignorance and impetuosity, and correct their mistakes. I charge you, my beloved sisters, be nursing mothers in the church, and you, my brethren, be fathers to these young people, that they may be enabled by your help through God’s Spirit to hold their way. It is an evil thing to receive members, and never care for them afterwards. Among so many some must escape our supervision, but if all the members of the church were watchful this could not be; each would have some one to care for him, each would have a friend to whom to tell his troubles and cares. Watch over the church, then, I pray you.” As quoted in Geoffrey Change, Spurgeon the Pastor (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2022), 132.
 See: Undistracted by Christian-Consumerism and David Helm, One to One (Sydney: Matthias Media, 2011).
 Ephesians 4:11-13; Colossians 1:28.