Revival Begins with Shepherds-Not Sheep
Carlton L. Coon, Sr.
Revival starts at a local church—a local church under oversight of a pastor. In Baby Boomerang, Doug Murreen said, “Revival begins with shepherds, not sheep.” A church cannot sustain revival without the good work of a pastor/shepherd.
In Scripture, the ancient words used for shepherd have been translated as “pastor.” As I pastored, I needed to be reminded that the role is to shepherd a flock belonging to the Chief Shepherd. These were not my sheep—somebody else bought and paid a record high price for them. How important is all this? Shepherds expand the flock of God they have oversight of. The most vital principle in church growth is the pastor. If we can grow the pastor, we can grow the church.
If shepherds are key; it is even truer for the inauspicious, uncelebrated progress described as Revival in a Plain Brown Wrapper. Revival … it begins with a shepherd. For clarity to make sure “pastor” is in perspective, the term “shepherd/pastor” will be used to the point of annoyance. What are the tasks of a shepherd? It needs to be driven deep—this work is about sheep. If pastor/shepherds get too far from the sheep, the outcome is disaster. No sir, the word “pastor” has some social and religious prestige—but “shepherd” not so much—unless you are a sheep. I’m not sure the sheep say “thank you,” very often, but a thriving, growing flock (and Revival in a Plain Brown Wrapper) is dependent on a diligent shepherd.
Last year USA Today noted that American companies rearing sheep have to import shepherds from Peru. Some excerpts from the article:
* About 1,500 shepherds will spend Christmas in the Mountain West, working and living in conditions little different from those of first-century Judea.
* Each shepherd will be on foot and in the open, alone except for a few dogs and 2,200 sheep. They will sleep in cramped, battered trailers lit by kerosene lantern or candle, without electricity or running water.
* Shepherds are on call every hour of almost every day, so their pay works out to far less than the minimum wage. Of Christmas day one shepherd said, “It will be a normal day, I have to be with the sheep.”
* Shepherds put up with loneliness, boredom and the occasional terror of a sudden blizzard or a pack of wolves.
It sounds like the USA Today writer was describing our pastorates in Vidalia (LA) and Springfield (MO). He doesn’t know it, but he was. Pastor/shepherd: same thing, same responsibilities, same work load … same stuff!
A Unique Job Description
Nevadan Robert Laxalt called being a shepherd, “the region’s most denigrated occupation.” After he did his research, the USA Today writer summed it up this way, “Sheep-herding in America has always been a job, too dirty, too cold and too lonely for anyone with options.”1
Think about that, pastor/shepherd. If I had replaced the name-plate identifying the “Pastor’s Office” with one saying “Shepherd’s Office,” how would it make me feel? We all know they mean the same thing, but the title “shepherd,” may more accurately capture the best actions of one who leads a local church. The job description and daily work of the men toiling on those western hills is the one the Almighty chose to describe those who oversee His people. There have been times when I needed some “Continuing Education Units” on shepherding; I’d forgotten some of what the job entailed.
Now… it seems like I’m trying to talk anybody out of being a pastor. That is not really the case. Revival depends on having shepherds—good shepherds who well tend the flock. I do believe that people who don’t want to do what shepherds do should stay out of this line of work. But if God has called you to be a pastor/ shepherd, then get in among the sheep.
It is for the cause with which you are engaged that God manifested Himself in flesh and journeyed the path to Calvary to establish a ministry of reconciliation. Pastor/shepherds are called to participate in that ministry of reconciliation.
The Main Thing Is the Sheep
It needs to be repetitively conveyed to me and to every arriving generation—in being a shepherd the main thing is the sheep. To borrow from USA Today, the ease of the shepherd and where he spends Christmas day is of no consideration compared to his care for the sheep.
A church’s website may get people to come; they only stay because a pastor/shepherd cares for the sheep. The choir may impress; eloquence and oratory sway; buildings, webcasts, marketing, and staff may capture attention … but are the sheep being cared for?
I’m grateful for men like Titus White, T.C. Bonnette and E.W. Caughron: consummate pastors who shepherded me through various junctures of life. Not only did they shepherd the church, they grew the flock of God. My Grandfather birthed a church or two and was a better pastor than I’ll ever be. His repeated observation to me, “Now Carlton Lane…son, don’t ever forget the church…the people in the church are the main thing.”
My goal is to actually validate regarding the behavior of a shepherd. There is no “hall of fame” for shepherd/pastors. A shepherd’s single evaluation comes from his care of the sheep. The sheep are the main thing—the quality of a shepherd is determined by the well-being of the flock he leads. Folks, it is all about the sheep. From ancient times leaders were evaluated on their ability to “pasture” the people under their charge.
Let me borrow from the chapter on love and rephrase it for thought.
* As a pastor/shepherd if I speak with the tongue of angels, and HIS flock goes malnourished because they do not understand my oratory…the title on my door means nothing.
* As a pastor/shepherd if as I explain deep mysteries, common wolves get near enough to easily devour HIS lambs…does my name on the church letterhead mean anything?
* As a pastor/shepherd if I have faith that turns mountains into molehills, but let HIS sheep wander to pastures of loco-weed…does my mountain-moving story mean anything?
* As a pastor/shepherd if I give great money to North American and Global Missions, while I treat as annoying interruptions the bleeding scars the world, flesh, and devil leave on HIS beloved sheep…am I not only a hired hand and no real pastor/shepherd?
The Sympathetic Shepherd
Charles Spurgeon said we can be doctrinally dogmatic but lack sympathy. He compared such men to a Scottish highlander who saw a fellow sinking in a swamp. The traveler cried, “I am sinking! Can you tell me how to get out?” To which, the Scottish highlander calmly replied, “I think it is likely you never will,” and walked away.
An acquaintance, who struggled with depression, verging on being suicidal, expressed that after having attempted to help for some time, the preacher said, “Well, why don’t you just go ahead and do it then?” When the phone rings at 2 A.M. and you hear the panicked voice of the mother whose fifteen year-old is three hours over curfew, or the midnight call from the young lamb—a new convert whose husband literally hates everything about her new commitment to Christ, there can be those who walk away muttering, “I think you will never make it.”
I can be so annoyed with the struggle of His sheep I lose sight of the purpose of shepherding. If untrained in the physical work of being a shepherd, I am placed among the birthing ewes in the early spring, what do I do? I’d be at a loss as to how to serve them. Being a pastor/shepherd is similarly perplexing for those who have not learned to care for the souls of men.
The concept of being the under-shepherd is well-recognized; but what is my reaction when He assigns me sheep I don’t like or who don’t much like me? Pastor/shepherding the repeatedly wandering and the “edge of the pasture, close to the woods” folks can make even the most patient preacher want to have a “sheep killing” day. It is hard to shepherd when you are mad at the sheep. However, as I grow in my love for Him, I grow in my love for what He loves. And that means a love for His sheep, to whom I have been entrusted.
Traditionally, a shepherd did not work for the sheep. He tended sheep for his father or master. He took great pride in presenting the flock to the one to whom he gave account. After all it was his calling and responsibility. His greatest achievement was being able to report “I have lost none you have given to me.”
Taking Stock of the Flock
As we think about the behavior, and the best practices of those who are a pastor/shepherd over the next bit, let us begin by taking an honest look at our flocks…and at ourselves as under-shepherds of the Great Shepherd. Think about it:
1. Is the flock God has entrusted to me healthy in regard to spiritual food, prayer, worship, and relationships?
2. Am I leading the flock in the direction and to the destination the Chief Shepherd has instructed?
3. Is every lamb accounted for? Do I need to go looking for that one wandering sheep I haven’t seen lately at service?
4. Are there any injured sheep in need of special care?
5. Is my care to the flock reflective of the love and action the Chief Shepherd has for them?
This article “Revival Begins with Shepherds-Not Sheep” by Carlton L. Coon, Sr. was excerpted from: Director’s Communiqué magazine. Jan.-Feb. 2012. It may be used for study & research purposes only.