Thursday, March 6, 2014

On Shepherding

Photo Credit: Reza Vaziri (Creative Commons)
I was having coffee with a good friend recently, and sharing about the frequent complexities that come with a life in ministry. We closed our time with prayer, and as he prayed for me, he spoke words of vision and imagination, picturing a shepherd wading through deep and murky waters ahead of the flock behind him. It stirred something in my soul that evening, and the image has stuck with me.

The longer I am a pastor, the more I appreciate the position's origins. Pastor means "shepherd." God gave some to be pastors for the church, to equip the people for service and ministry so the body of Christ would be built up and have unity (Ephesians 4:11-13). Shepherds take care of the sheep, the people God has entrusted to their spiritual care. While the metaphor of people being "sheep" isn't particularly kind, the image is nonetheless fitting. Sheep are slow to move, skittish, easily given to wandering into danger and going along with the crowd. We all act like sheep at times. It's why we need a Good Shepherd.

The Good Shepherd calls others to be fellow pastors over the flock of His church, little shepherds who walk in the ways of the best Shepherd.

Here are four ways being a pastor in ministry is akin to the role of a shepherd:

Shepherds guide. Shepherds lead the way into good pastures. When the flock doesn't seem to want to move from their comfortable position into more fertile ground--"We've always been here! We don't want to change! What's wrong with the way things are?"--the shepherd patiently and loving guides the flock to where they don't want to go, but where they need to go. They have good intuition, and are willing to make the tough decisions that others won't. Good shepherds--and leaders--guide people into pastures and postures where they wouldn't otherwise go.

Shepherds protect. A good shepherd goes ahead of the flock, wading through deep and dark waters, through overgrown brush, and checks open fields to make sure it's safe enough to cross without attack. If conflict or danger approaches, most sheep are skittish and react impulsively, often causing more harm. The shepherd is the one who courageously confronts the conflict and protects the sheep, both from the danger and from themselves.

Shepherds are present. Good shepherds are with the sheep. They aren't running far ahead or avoiding the flock, though they are leading and guiding the flock where they need to go. Shepherds are present; they know the sheep, and are known by the sheep.

Shepherds sacrifice. In their protecting and guiding, shepherds are prone to injury. Being a shepherd is a fairly thankless and tiring vocation. The sheep need care and love and guidance and protection, regardless of how the shepherd may feel in a given moment. The good shepherd leaves the ninety-nine other sheep to crawl down craggy cliff walls to bring back the stray sheep who has fallen.

Being a shepherd is a tough vocation. It is often exhausting and heartbreaking and uncomfortable and frustrating. It's also a beautiful and worthy calling, partnering in the gospel with the Good Shepherd as He guides the flock into life-giving pastures and quiet waters, restoring our collective souls.

Who are the shepherds in your own life? Send them a word of thanks and encouragement today!

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