What we have to remember above all else is that when we, the people of God, are in our folds, the communities that He's built for us that are defined by the people that we share them with, no matter who is tending the field or what their tactics may be (pastors, playlists, or programs), Jesus Christ is the real Shepherd.
Forever and for always. End of story. Period.
It's a bit of a challenge because we have come to use this word - shepherd - for any number of the men and women who lead our earthly congregations. Our pastors are shepherds, our elders are shepherds, our deacons are shepherds. Sometimes, we extend this to include senior members, small group leaders, members of the praise band, even the guy who mows the church yard. They're all shepherds.
Us? We are a blessed sheep indeed, for we have a thousand shepherds. Just look at the all the "shepherds" God has given us!
And that's how easily it starts. Because it's really easy for those who we call our shepherds to take great interest in their flocks; that's how God wired them, and any of the good leaders among the church would do this. But the more interest they take, the more ownership they take, and the more responsibility they take until it's not long at all before they begin to call this flock their flock.
When they start calling this flock their flock, then we, the people (the sheeple?) start to adopt that kind of language for ourselves. We start to identify ourselves as being in their flock, which means two dramatic things for our flockdom: it's no longer our flock, the fold that God has ordained for us as a community of His people, and it's no longer His flock, for we have forgotten that the Lord Himself is our Shepherd.
It's why we cannot echo enough the first words of David's Psalm 23. It's why we must plaster them all over our folds and keep them close to our hearts and paint them on our sanctuary doors and our church signs and our bulletins, lest we forget - as is so easy to do -
The Lord is my shepherd.
The Lord, and the Lord alone.
The Lord is a good shepherd, for He alone knows perfectly how to keep me in my fold in His field, how to make sure I remain a part of my community for the sake of His people, how to surround me with my peeps under His guardianship.
He alone knows perfectly how to lead me beside still waters, for sheep get a little skittish if the waters move too fast. He knows how to lie me down in green pastures when I'm tempted to always look for something greener on the other side. He knows how to use the rod and the staff for my comfort and discipline. He alone knows how to restore my soul.
And He is the one who leaves the 99 to come after me when I wander away, when I get cut off somehow, when I'm lost and scared and in danger of losing even more.
Yes, though there are many hired hands in my fold, many servants to help tend the sheep and keep watch over them, it is the Lord who is my shepherd.
Him and Him alone.