Home Worship Planning Music Resources “Gentle Shepherd”

“Gentle Shepherd”

TITLE:"Gentle Shepherd"
AUTHOR: Gloria Gaither (b. March 4, 1942)
COMPOSER: William J. Gaither (b. March 28, 1936)
SOURCE: Worship & Song, no. 3096
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 23:1-3; Ezekiel 11:1-6; John 10:14
TOPIC: Holy Communion; food/feeding; freedom; guidance; invitation; need; repentance; shepherd


Gloria Sickal grew up in Michigan, the daughter of a pastor. She graduated from high school in Battle Creek and briefly worked for Kellogg. She was a triple major (English, French, Sociology) at Anderson University in Anderson, Indiana. After she graduated, she took a position teaching high school French in Anderson. There she met Bill Gaither, who was teaching English. They married in 1962 and began writing songs together. Within a few years Gloria, Bill, and Bill's brother Danny joined together and toured as the Bill Gaither Trio. In recent years, Gloria has been active in the Gaither Homecoming series of concerts and recordings. In 1991 she earned a Master of Arts in Literature at Ball State University. In 2002 she received an honorary doctorate from Indiana Wesleyan University. She has received four Dove Awards and one Grammy and was elected into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1996.

Bill Gaither started the first Bill Gaither Trio with his sister Mary Ann and his brother Danny in 1956 while a student at Anderson College. After graduating in 1959 he taught high school English in Anderson, where he met and married Gloria, also on the faculty. He worked at dual teaching and music careers until 1967 when he quit teaching to work fulltime in the Christian music industry. His first hit song was "He Touched Me" in 1964. (See Hymn Study: "He Touched Me.") Other songs, some with lyrics by Gloria and music by Bill, others with lyrics and music written collaboratively followed: "The Longer I Serve Him," "Because He Lives," "The King Is Coming," "Something Beautiful," "He Touched Me," "It Is Finished," "There's Something About That Name," "Let's Just Praise The Lord," "I've Just Seen Jesus," and "Gentle Shepherd." Gaither has formed companies and partnerships over the years for music publishing, recording, artist booking, television broadcasting, and retailing. Among his many awards are: ASCAP Best Gospel Song (1974, 1980); 21 Gold albums, 22 Platinum albums, and 2 multiplatinum albums; 30 Dove and 5 Grammy awards; Gospel Music Hall of Fame inductee (1982); and with Gloria, the "Christian Songwriter of the Century" award from the American Society of Composers and Publishers (ASCAP) in 2000.

Since the 1967 decision to pursue full-time music careers, the Gaithers have published more than 700 songs, recorded 40 albums, produced 100 videos, and founded the large Gaither Music Company.


Of all the biblical images for Jesus, that of a shepherd to the flock is one of the most endearing and enduring. There are numerous attributes of a shepherd: leader, provider, guardian, protector, healer, defender, and others. Gloria Gaither's opening two words set the image for this song with the modifier "gentle." Gentle Shepherd implies a set of characteristics included in the verbs of the text: lead, find our way, feed, give strength, enable. With simple phrases, the text describes one aspect of the relationship between the Shepherd and the sheep – between Jesus and the church.

As poetry, the text is in an irregular meter with an interesting rhyming structure. There are four phrases that rhyme in repetitions of two words: way, day, day, way. The first, second and fourth phrases contain internal rhymes: lead us, feed us, lead us.


The simplicity of textual structure is matched by a simplicity of musical structure. The melody is organized around the primary notes of F and A. With the exception of eight notes, the melody is contained within an interval of a fourth. Of the four phrases of this hymn, the first, second and fourth are identical musically, with the third providing some contrast.

Harmonically, the style of "Gentle Shepherd" is very much a pop style, with the use of seventh and ninth chords, secondary dominants, and lyrical voice leading and melodic resolutions.

Rhythmically, the melody is well-suited to the text, with the most important words as well as internal and terminal rhymes given emphasis with longer note values.

In all their recordings and performances of this song on albums, videos and the Homecoming broadcasts, the Gaithers use a quiet, slow, prayerful style of singing and accompanying. (See the Heritage Singers' YouTube video of this song.) There are no great crescendos or volumes much above a mezzo-piano. Choirs as well as congregations will enjoy singing this in full four-part a cappella harmony. It work well as a song for Holy Communion, prayer, invitation, weddings, baptisms, and funeral services.

Guitar-friendly chords:

Capo 3: || D | D | D | E7 | E7 | Em | A7 | D G | D |

| D | D | E7 | E7 | Em | A7 | D G | D |

| F#m7 | D7 | G | G | E7 | E7 | Em | A7 |

| D | D | E7 | E7 | Em | A7 | D G | D ||


See more Hymn Studies.

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