Little Bo Peep Wasn’t a Pastor
Carlton L. Coon, Sr.
A shepherd/pastor is an essential catalyst for “revival in a plain brown wrapper,” and being effective is not measured simply by one’s ability to preach. The shepherd’s work is ultimately about the sheep. One’s public persona among other shepherd/pastors is not the measure of a ministry. Let an observant person wander among a local flock for only a day or two and, without asking any questions or seeking out malcontents, that person will have a good idea about the revival that will come to that church. All he has to do is examine the sheep.
Ezekiel 34 records God’s complaints about those who shepherded Israel. It describes shepherds who were self-interested; primarily concerned with how the sheep could benefit them. God’s resolve to change things is clear:
“Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out. As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. And I will bring them out from the people, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land, and feed them upon the mountains of Israel by the rivers, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them in a good pasture, and upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be: there shall they lie in a good fold, and in a fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel. I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord GOD. I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick” (Ezekiel 34:11-16).
These six verses contain the pastor/shepherd’s job description. Notice the verbs I’ve italicized. Those words show that being a pastor/shepherd is work, hard work. I don’t know who if any of us deserves the indictment God delivered against Israel’s leaders, but since having revival is dependent on the effective pastor/shepherd, let’s take some time to think it through. Four pastor/shepherd behaviors leap out in this passage. The pastor/shepherd is to:
* Seek the wanderer.
* Lead the flock.
* Feed the sheep.
* Heal the hurting.
Effective Pastor/Shepherds Seek the Wandering
To those who are new to pastoral ministry: sheep wander! Wandering is part of the nature of sheep. Good sheep, old sheep, young sheep, healthy sheep, weak sheep, rams, ewes and lambs —sheep wander! What does the shepherd do in response? He seeks the wandering!
Wow! Does God know the nature of people! Wandering sheep are simply being sheep. A morsel of grass over there and then another, and then another. A step further from the flock and then another, until that sheep is in a place he never intended to be. The result of the wandering is risk and damage. Thorns, weeds, or predators are avoidable if the sheep just stay in the safe place, but they frequently do not. They frequently will not. Remember this nursery rhyme?
Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep,
And can’t tell where to find them;
Leave them alone, And they’ll come home,
Bringing their tails behind them.
Little Bo Peep wasn’t a pastor or she’d have known better. “Leave them alone, and they’ll come home” doesn’t work! A cat, a dog, even the odd farm animal will return to its old home if given liberty to do so (the ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib), but sheep do not seem to know how to get back home.
Am I a “Little Bo Peep” pastor/shepherd?
Sheep are easily drawn to a thing just a bit further away. All pastors have wandering sheep. Some drift away and are easily restored to the safe place; others go to dense dark forests to be savaged by beasts. Wandering sheep are a tragic, unfortunate, and sad reality of every pastor/shepherd’s ministry. By the way, when sheep wander they do not become goats or wolves. They remain sheep who are lost and need a shepherd.
Jesus talked of one sheep that wandered so far that he was not with the flock at evening time. In Luke 15:4 Jesus described a shepherd’s normal response, “What man of you…doth not go after that which is lost?” What man of you? What pastor/shepherd among us does not go after that which is lost? What happens to those who wander from the flock? Did I notice they were missing? Had they slipped through the cracks and wandered a long way before I noticed? In spite of not liking to admit it, did I ever think, “Good riddance?” That response would lead to the question, “Whose flock is this?”
Put it in your job description and on your calendar: “Effective pastors/shepherds seek wandering sheep!” It’s non-negotiable.
Am I a wise pastor/shepherd?
Andrew Bonar, a preacher of another era, told of sheep in the Highlands of Scotland who would often wander into rocks and get in places they couldn’t get out of. Bonar wrote: “The grass on those mountains is sweet; the sheep like it [and] will jump down ten or twelve feet and then can’t jump back up. The shepherd will hear the wandering sheep bleating, but will wait until the sheep is so faint it cannot stand, and then the shepherd will tie a rope around himself, and go over the edge to pull that sheep up.”
When he saw this Bonar asked a shepherd, “Why don’t you go into the steep place when the sheep first gets there?” The shepherd’s answer is instructive: “Ah, the sheep are so foolish they would jump right over the edge and be killed if I did.”1
Be wise with your time and effort; some sheep are not ready to be found! Often people cannot be saved until they have reached the end of themselves. A wise pastor/shepherd is sensitive to the time to move into the life of one who has wandered far afield. It is important that the lost sheep know I’m available to help. I can do that by simply saying: “When you need me I’m here,” or by sending an occasional card or email.
How Does the Pastor/Shepherd Seek the Wandering?
1. Know who is wandering
One of Kenneth Haney’s great lessons to me about the effectiveness of the revival in Stockton, CA was, “We never let anybody slip away from us. By Tuesday, I wanted our staff to know where any of the Sunday absentees were.” How do you accomplish that? Simple. In an unobtrusive way have someone take attendance and give you a report of those who were absent. Pay particular attention to those who have been absent more than two weeks in succession. Make it a point to reach out to those who are not faithful to the house of God. If you don’t pay attention, people will get away from you and the busy care of the ninety and nine will keep you from searching for the one.
2. Visit the wandering
For those who wander, visits from the shepherd/pastor are very important. I’d not recommend approaching people without warning, but there are many opportunities to visit and positively express concern without intruding. Coffee shop visits, phone visits, instant messaging, Facebooking, e-mails, direct messages on Twitter, and lunch meetings during work breaks are opportunities for a pastor/shepherd to reach out. Pastor/shepherd, how many wandering sheep have you “visited” in the past month?
3. Consistently seek the wandering
Any backslider goes on the prospect list. One pastor contacts 20 prospects each week. Those 20 contacts are broken down into five personal hand-written cards, five phone calls, five personal letters, and five personal e-mails. Rotate the contacts so you’re contacting different people each week. Theoretically these can all be taken care of in one day, and you can establish a grid of contacts to make it more consistent. As God directs, reach out to people who have been wandering a long time or to those you sense are at the end of their own strength.
4. Do not sever ties with anyone
Wandering sheep are not the shepherd’s enemy. They can be an enemy to the flock if they have a sin they choose to maintain and yet still attempt to be part of the ministry or leadership of the church. A little leaven of immorality or unrighteousness will affect the entire group, but such severed relationships will be the exception rather than the rule. Don’t burn bridges. People may not want a shepherd today, but time and circumstance will often change things. The Good Shepherd reached for you. Follow His lead and reach for them!
Refuse to be Bo Peep!
You can’t pastor/shepherd without a flock, but with that flock will come wanderers. It is a sure thing. However, following God’s example of a good shepherd found in Ezekiel 34 will help you keep that wandering “one” from becoming irrelevant because of your care for “the ninety and nine.”
1. Sheep wander. That’s what they do, but God has challenged the pastor/shepherd to notice and to act.
2. Sheep need to know their shepherd is available. Even though they may choose to reject help, the wanderer must never be without a reaching pastor/shepherd. The Good Shepherd is a consistent and reaching Shepherd, and He is my example!
3. Continue reaching for the wandering sheep. They are worth saving. God is not willing that any should perish so neither am I!
4. Never give up! No matter how far out the sheep has wandered, the pastor/shepherd never stops reaching. Only death can take a wandering sheep permanently. Knowing when and how I should reach is vital and requires God’s direction, but there will never be a question of “if.”
This article “Little Bo Peep Wasn’t a Pastor” by Carlton L. Coon, Sr. was excerpted from: Director’s Communiqué magazine, March-April 2012. It may be used for study & research purposes only.