In John 10, Jesus contrasted two diametrically opposed religious leaders–the Good Shepherd and the hirelings. He was, of course, referring to Himself under the figure of the Good Shepherd and the Pharisees, Scribes, and Chief Priests under the figure of the hirelings. Using figurative speech, Jesus explained that the Good Shepherd calls His own by name (v. 3), goes before them (v. 4), gives abundant life to His own (v. 10), lays down His life for them (v. 11), knows His own (v. 14), and unifies His own in one fold (v. 16). By way of contrast, a hireling simply works for money (v. 12), does not have a loving relationship with the sheep (v. 12), does not protect the sheep from imminent danger (v. 12), and ultimately allows the sheep to be scattered (v. 12). Jesus was drawing off of the language of Ezekiel where God had brought a scathing indictment against the religious leaders in the prophet’s day. He said of them,
“Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them” (Ez. 34:3–6).
Evil shepherds and hirelings feed themselves; they don’t care about the spiritually weak, sick, or injured; they don’t seek the lost and wandering; they deal harshly with the sheep. When they see the evil one coming, they leave the sheep to fend for themselves. The end result is that the sheep are scattered. While there are more than enough evil shepherds serving in congregations across the face of the earth, I wonder whether or not we have given adequate consideration to the way in which this figure of speech aptly applies to the multitude of opportunistic digital hirelings in our day.
A digital hireling is an individual who has set himself up online with self-promoting interest. Like the evil shepherds of Ezekiel’s day, the digital hireling feeds himself, doesn’t truly care about the sick, weak, or injured, doesn’t seek the lost and wandering, and deals harshly with the sheep. The digital hireling opportunistically sets up himself up for self-aggrandizement and financial gain. Most digital hirelings have never spent one day of their lives shepherding the flock of Jesus. They haven’t spent weeks in and weeks out preparing to feed the sheep with the pure preaching of the word of God and the gospel; they haven’t answered the phone at all hours of the night when the sheep are hurting; they haven’t hospitably opened their home days without number to members of the fold; they haven’t sat by the bedside of those who are sick and dying; they haven’t poured themselves out in pursuit of the spiritually wandering with tears and prayers; they haven’t sought to settle disputes between bickering sheep; and they haven’t labored to bring unity and love among the members of the fold. In short, they have only set themselves up to be heard and recognized.
As someone who has long encouraged wise and diligent stewardship of the internet for the propagation of the truth of the gospel, I have ever increasing concern about those to whom Christ’s sheep listen online. Little lamb, the digital hireling will never care for your soul. He will not lead you to the Good Shepherd through the faithful preaching of the good news of the gospel of peace. In Pharisaic zeal, he will be loud-mouthed, harsh and heavy-handed–only feigning gentleness if you give him the attention he craves. He will never lay down his life for the sheep. He will not stand by you when the evil one comes in to kill and destroy. He will never pursue you when you are wandering into the spiritual wilderness of sin. Digital hirelings ultimately scatter the fold.
What every one of Jesus’ lambs needs is good and loving undershepherds in the local church. The Apostle Peter explained the marks of such shepherds when he exhorted the elders to “shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2–4). Additionally, the writer of Hebrews noted, “they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you” (Heb. 13:17). No digital hireling will carry these marks. So dear believer, beware of the loudest voices online telling Christians what is wrong with the church when they have almost certainly never spent a single day of their lives pouring themselves out as God-ordained shepherds of His people. Jesus’ sheep need faithful shepherds, not opportunistic digital hirelings.