In John 10, Jesus describes the ideal shepherd. He knows his sheep and his sheep know him. They follow him because they recognize his voice.
Recently, I had a conversation with a friend about this passage. She grew up on a farm where her family raised livestock, including sheep. She explained that, over time, sheep come to associate the sound of the shepherd’s voice (or even whistle) with certain benefits.
Contrary to popular opinion, sheep aren’t dumb. They know who feeds them, protects them, and cares for their needs. Sheep can distinguish their keeper’s voice from others.
But what about newborn lambs? How do they learn to recognize the shepherd’s voice? My friend confirmed my suspicions. From birth, lambs are conditioned to follow the flock.
Sheep get a bad rap for their flock mentality, but God created them with an instinct to stick together as a means of survival. That instinct allows the lambs to flourish. Even sheep that are introduced to a new flock will follow the other sheep until they too recognize the shepherd.
I think that’s a great picture of discipleship. As disciple-makers, we help others learn to recognize the voice of our Savior. The body of Christ is like that flock of sheep. We bring along non-believers and new believers, walk beside them, lead them, teach them, and always point them to Jesus.
When a person becomes a new believer they often follow the examples of those who have impacted their lives the most: a pastor, small group leader, or the person who led them to Christ. Over time, if they are growing spiritually, they will directly seek God’s counsel through His word. The primary voice they seek is that of the shepherd.
I gave my life to Christ when I was 10. I heard the gospel at home and at church. And I had mature believers in my life who took the time to help me recognize my need for a Savior and showed me what it means to follow Jesus.
Scripture tells us faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through Christ’s message (Romans 10:17). I thank God for the men and women who spoke the gospel and taught me God’s truths from an early age. They were obedient to Christ’s commands to go and make disciples. And with their lives and their words, they pointed me to the Good Shepherd.
Maybe you have a similar redemption story. At some point in your life, God sent someone with the life-changing message of the gospel and you began to follow Christ. If the gospel is to continue to spread to every person, each one of us must carry that message to others. We must walk alongside them, disciple them, and advocate an on-mission lifestyle so they will become disciple makers themselves.
When I think about my own spiritual journey, I imagine the course of a marathon race. I see myself running down the middle of a street flanked by thousands cheering me on and others running alongside. In the crowd, I see the faces of church leaders, Bible study teachers, co-workers, friends, and family members who have served as guides, encouragers, and lifelines on my journey.
No one matures as a disciple on their own. Examples are needed. Encouragment is needed. But, along the path of disciple-making there should always be the encouragement to listen for the shepherd’s voice.