Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
I think I used to always read this passage through the lens of evangelism. And to be sure, there are implications for that in these verses. However, it occurred to me that what led our Lord to make a plea for “workers” was the noticeable need for shepherds over the harassed and helpless flock of God. The text says that the flock was in such poor condition, that it was as though it didn’t even have a shepherd at all.
And so Jesus makes the point that the need is great, but that the workers – those who would be shepherds – are few. He then declares to his hearers that they (we) should ask the Lord to send such workers into these very fields that are in such desperate condition.
God’s flock is in need of faithful shepherds today as well. There are many families without a faithful shepherd in the home. Churches often have greater needs than the one “professional shepherd” on staff can respond to. The wayward, helpless flock of God is in dire need of faithful shepherds who will lead and guide her, nurture and feed her, defend and guard her, admonish and instruct her – love her to the point of pouring his life into her – even to the point of losing his life for her.
The need is clear. So why aren’t there countless shepherds standing in line to care for God’s flock?
One reason can be found in these words of Gideon,
“How can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family” (Judges 6:15).
Whether false humility (cowardice) or real, many flee responsibility before God because they do not feel that they are “up to it.” But since when has God been counting on unaided man to do his bidding? His answer now is the same as it was to Gideon, “I will be with you” (Judges 6:16).
This reminds us of Paul’s words to the church at Corinth regarding God’s use of the weak and foolish things of this world to confound and humble the “strong and wise.” God uses us, but he isn’t “dependent” on us. There’s an important distinction here. And that’s one reason the shepherds are few.
Perhaps another reason is the sacrificial nature that is required to be a shepherd. It’s not a romantic or glamorous post in God’s Kingdom. For those seeking their own end, however, it has often been used as a vehicle for their own name’s sake.
To such Peter says,
1 Peter 5:2-3 – Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers–not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve;  not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.
For those who would use their position of shepherd as a stepping-stone to their own power, fame, and wealth, Peter’s words must come as quite a shock. He reminds us that shepherds have been entrusted, by God, to care for his tender lambs. And their watch over them must come from the heart – from a genuine willingness to serve them. It isn’t a means to personal fortune. It ought not be drudgery. If certainly should not be a means by which power and control are sought after. It is sacrificial – my life for yours – your life for theirs.
To be an example to the flock is to be always “on duty.” It is to always be intentional in your thoughts, words and deeds. It is thinking, speaking, and doing rightly – Christianly – and then caring for the flock accordingly. This isn’t easy. It is a dying to self. But unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it cannot produce many seeds (John 12:24-26).
And that’s what we’re shooting for – many seeds – fruit that is good, lasting, and abundant (John 15). Our Lord has told us that the need is great. We needn’t look any further than our own family, church, friends – all of our spheres of influence. The harvest is plentiful, but the shepherds are few. Won’t you be a shepherd for God?