Worship Planning Theme: The Good Shepherd

Throughout the Bible, there are many analogies of sheep and their shepherds:

Moses was a shepherd for the Israelites, leading them through the wilderness for 40 years.
David was a shepherd before he became King of Israel.
Jesus described himself as "the Good Shepherd” in John 10, one who “lays down his life for his sheep."

We hear about sheep and shepherds in the Parable of the Lost Sheep, where the shepherd went after the one sheep who had strayed from the fold and did not stop looking until he found it. We read about God as our shepherd in Psalm 23 and throughout the book of Psalms:

"But he brought his people out like a flock; he led them like sheep through the wilderness." (Psalm 78:52)

"Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care." (Psalm 95:6-7)

"Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture." (Psalm 100:3)

In John 21:15-17, Jesus asked Peter if he loved him and told him, "feed my lambs” and “take care of my sheep."

But despite the idyllic scenes of rolling green pastures; lazy, grazing sheep; and long, carefree afternoons on the hillside, the work of a shepherd is not easy:

"In much popular imagination . . . shepherding is a fairly worry-free life; shepherds are smiling and sweet, and all the sheep are cute, puffy clouds.

In reality, shepherds are tough-bodied and equally tough-minded people working a clear plan, coordinating the overall movement of a group of easily distracted herd animals, and ready to intervene at a moment’s notice to bring individuals going astray or into danger back into safety. Far from worry-free, the life and work of a shepherd is one of nearly constant vigilance.” - UMC Discipleship

This is the kind of shepherd Jesus was during his life on earth. A “Good Shepherd,” guiding us, protecting us, gently leading us, and ultimately, laying down his life for us.

These stories throughout the Old and New Testaments remind us that God is our caregiver, our guide, our guardian. As we plan worship around these stories throughout the year, we invite people to experience this care, this tenderness, this sense of safety. 


In the Revised Common Lectionary, there are two Sundays this spring that include Psalm 23 as one of the four readings: March 26 (the 4th Sunday of Lent) and May 7 (the 4th Sunday of Easter). 

The 4th Sunday of Easter (May 7 this year) is commonly known as “Good Shepherd Sunday” because it includes both the Psalm 23 and John 10 readings.

Here are a few helpful resources and ideas for your worship planning:

Readings

Here are some creative ideas for presenting the "Good Shepherd" texts in worship:

Read a modern translation of Psalm 23. Make it responsive between the worship leader and congregation, or invite several people from the congregation (in advance) to read different verses. 

Include a sung psalter response. Read Psalm 23 together as a congregation and use “The Good Shepherd” by Richard Proulx (in the United Methodist Hymnal, #754) or a more modern refrain, like the chorus of “Shepherd Me, O God” (Marty Haugen) throughout.

Incorporate multimedia. Record children and youth reading Psalm 23 (or John 10:1-11) and create a slideshow or video to accompany it.

Music

How can we bring the words of these scriptures to life through music? Here are a few hymns, songs, and anthems to consider:

Hymns

Savior, Like a Shepherd, Lead Us
Where He Leads Me
He Leadeth Me
The King of Love My Shepherd Is
My Shepherd Will Supply My Need
I Am Thine, O Lord
How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds
God Leads Us Along
All the Way My Savior Leads Me
Gentle Shepherd
Softy and Tenderly, Jesus Is Calling
Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing (especially verses 2 and 3)
God Be With You ’Til We Meet Again (especially verses 1 and 3)

Anthems

Brother James’ Air (Jacob)
Shepherd Me, O God (arr. Hayes) - opt. congregation
You Are Mine (Haas) - opt. congregation
The Lord Is My Shepherd (Pote)
Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us (arr. Larson)
My Shepherd Will Supply My Need (arr. Culloton)
Yes, My Jesus Loves Me (McDonald)
Lamb of God (arr. F. Melius Christiansen)

Songs

I Will Follow (Tomlin)
Good Shepherd of My Soul (Getty)
O, How He Loves You and Me (Kaiser)
Lord, I Need You (Tomlin)
The Lord Is My Shepherd (Card)
Jesus, Draw Me Ever Nearer (Getty)
Lamb of God (Paris)
The Lord’s My Shepherd (Townend)
You Never Let Go (Redman)
All the Way My Savior Leads Me (Tomlin)

Worship Resources

In any service of worship, there are a variety of liturgical elements - calls to worship, prayers, affirmations of faith, responsive readings, benedictions, etc. Here are a variety of worship resources based on the “Good Shepherd” theme.

Calls to Worship

Listen for the Voice of the Good Shepherd
Three meaningful Calls to Worship for Good Shepherd Sunday (Year A)
Four creative, responsive Calls to Worship for Good Shepherd Sunday (Year A)
A responsive Call to Worship based on John 10:11-18

Prayers

A Prayer for Good Shepherd Sunday by John van de Laar
Prayers, Words of Assurance, and a Benediction for Good Shepherd Sunday (Year A)
A prayer or gathering meditation for Good Shepherd Sunday (Year B)
Two prayers for Good Shepherd Sunday (Year B)

Worship Elements

Worship elements and liturgy for Year B and Year C
A dramatic reading/skit (written for four people) with Jesus as the Good Shepherd
A dramatic choral (group) reading/processional to begin the service (Year B)


Whatever services you have coming up, I hope this post inspires you to delve into the powerful imagery of Jesus as the Good Shepherd in your worship planning.

Questions? Ideas? I’d love to hear them. Please leave a comment below!

Read more:
The Good Shepherd and the Flock of God
Worship Planning Theme: Water
Fifty (More!) Favorite Anthems for the Small Church Choir
An Inside Look at My Worship Planning Process