Sheep and Shepherds

By: Jim O'Brien 

Hi Friend,

Biblical metaphors often come from agricultural settings that require a little help to apply to the current IT culture that surrounds us. The strength of visualization that appealed to a shepherd watching sheep in the pasture doesn't carry quite the same impact on a person glued to a computer screen.

When Ezekiel scolds latter day shepherds for not going after the lost sheep, it's hard to grasp the associated sense of leading a flock of sheep through unfenced pastures to find fertile grazing grounds and springs of pure water. The shepherd leaves the comfortable surroundings to find those scattered people wandering in religious confusion.

Most people alive today haven't lived through range wars when farmers, who had no benefit of barbed wire fences, resented cattle and sheep wandering through their food crop. Nor do we fully appreciate the bravery of a teenage boy taking a lamb out of the mouth of a bear or a mountain lion. There was no gun. It was bare handed, one on one combat with a wild beast. The man God chose to be King over Israel developed leadership skills by tending sheep. How better to learn how to protect defenseless citizens than by spending the night in the woods with only a flock of sheep for company? You alone are the lamb's defense from frightening aggressors. Sometimes a silly lamb wanders off into the wilderness and it won't find its way back unless you go find it. It's up to you to count them, feed them and protect them. If David would do it for sheep, God was convinced he would do it for a nation. Whether being a shepherd or king, selfish ambition was not in his thought process.

That's why a good shepherd develops the skill of guiding sheep rather than beating them. In his book "They Smell Like Sheep" Dr. Lynn Anderson describes an experience on a tour bus in Palestine. The guide eloquently described how the shepherd develops a relationship with his sheep. The good shepherd does not drive sheep but leads them and never abuses them. In the middle of this description the group was distracted by a scene outside the bus window of a man chasing a flock of sheep, throwing rocks at them, beating them with a stick and urging his dog to attack them.

The guide stopped the bus, got off and accosted the man for treating the sheep in such a cavalier way in the middle of the description of the good shepherd. The sheep-chaser stopped and blurted out, "Man you've got me all wrong. I'm not a shepherd. I'm a butcher!"

What's the difference between a leader who is a shepherd and one that is a butcher? Dr. Anderson lists four differences:

The shepherd doesn't run from the predator. Jesus gave the example in John 10 of the hired hand that sees the wolf coming and runs away abandoning the sheep. The modern application of a butcher is a hireling that takes the job to climb the organizational ladder but will not stand against uncomfortable criticism to protect the congregation. Or as Dr. Anderson describes it, he does the "organizationally expedient thing in order to personally dodge the wolves and save his own reputational skin, and in so doing, leave the flock vulnerable".

The shepherd leader isn't a cowboy. He doesn't drive the herd with whips and spurs.

The shepherd leader isn't a sheriff depending on his badge to force the herd. He depends on his relationship. The sheep aren't expected to go someplace the shepherd has not been. Jesus suffered before we did and he "leads us in the paths of righteousness."

Shepherds aren't disconnected CEOs that rule from isolated offices in ivory towers. Churches are about relationships and shepherds spend time with the flock.

Distorted leadership models have done much harm to the church over the centuries. The good news is that good shepherds still exist. They follow the model established by Jesus Christ who laid down his life to do the will of the Father.

Until next time,

Jim O'Brien

Pastor, Church of God Cincinnati

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