The Who, What, Where, and There of Shepherding
Carlton L. Coon, Sr.
Sustained revival is not likely to happen without an effective pastor.
Recently, one of the good men who has served in Native American evangelism said, “We went through an era of evangelizing reservations using tent revivals and many people were converted. Then the evangelist left and we had no qualified pastor to develop the people.” He shook his head sadly and lamented, “We have little to show for the efforts.”
Pastor, your effectiveness as a shepherd really does matter because that effectiveness determines how much the initial effort profits eternally!
Pastors/shepherds not only seek wandering sheep they also lead. Let’s go back to Ezekiel’s word to shepherds: Bring [my sheep] out from the people, and gather them from the countries, and … bring them to their own land… there shall they lie in a good fold, and… bring again that which was driven away (Ezekiel 34:11-16).
This business of “flock leading” is amazing in its possibilities and can be overwhelming in its perils. As I walked into church one week a little girl pointed and told her mother, “Mom, there’s Jesus.” Obviously the girl had not talked with my wife or sons, but her misunderstanding v. of my particular role does draw attention to this pastor/shepherd responsibility.
People are not seeking eloquent orators or talented administrators. They are seeking authentic, committed, caring pastors who will sacrifice their own comfort to care for their flocks. A pastor/shepherd who will care for them much like the Good Shepherd does. Such pastors/shepherds are those to whom people will entrust their souls. Even when they don’t like your decisions or your guidance, if they know you have always had their best interest at heart, they will trust you.
It is easy to fall into the trap of being a cowboy instead of a shepherd. A cowboy rides a horse sitting far above the messy livestock. He cracks the whip and drives the stock along, while a shepherd is on foot among the flock saying, “Follow me.”
How you move the flock matters!
Two men observed a man driving a herd of sheep. One said to the other, “I didn’t know shepherds drove sheep with a whip.”
To this the other replied, “Shepherds don’t, but that isn’t a shepherd, that’s the town’s butcher.”
Butchers drive; shepherds lead. Shepherds walk the terrain the flock traverses. They remain close at hand to comfort easily-unnerved sheep while providing them an example of the path to travel.
How a pastor/shepherd leads people determines many things. When Jesus appeared on the scene, the contrast between His leadership and that of the rabbis was marked. There was compassion in Jesus’ voice and gentleness in His touch which proved He was with people in their struggle.
A 1912 book on pastoral life records, “The chief trouble is that in too many locales the pastor has lost contact with life. He is out of touch with the souls of men in their present perplexities and needs, and hence cannot influence them. What the world most wants today is shepherding.” A century later it can still be said, “What the world most lacks today is shepherding!” Jesus, the Good Shepherd, provides a dynamic model we can use to fill that void.
A book or two has been written about leadership — religious, political, military, and corporate. In its simplest form, leadership is getting people from “here” to “there.” This brings up several questions:
* Where is there?
* Who are we guiding?
* Where is the flock right now?
* What prevents us from getting people from “here” to “there”?
Know where “there” is.
Pastors/shepherds lead with a clear destination. The goal: get each of the sheep safe to heaven’s fold. Your leading of people has eternal consequence. Staying that course in the midst of life’s meandering path is challenging. An effective pastor/shepherd keeps his finger to the wind, adjusts his technique, but never takes his eyes off the standard by which his divinely prescribed ministry will be measured.
Determining “there” can at times be complicated. The target destination for a month from now can be more difficult to define than the long term objective. Psalm 23 gives some hint of how to perform uncomplicated successful shepherding. It is written from the sheep’s perspective. The sheep are interested in simple things — still water and green grass — in essence, peace and plenty!
* Regularly allow the discussion of eternity to intrude on time. Preach about eternity and the world to come at least one time each year. If people come to your church but don’t make it to God’s heaven have you succeeded?
* Don’t throw rocks in still waters. Sheep like it peaceful.
* Lead them to where they feed. This is simple really, so don’t complicate it — prayer meetings, personal devotion, mid-week Bible studies, personal Bible reading and meditation on the Word of God are the places our people are fed. It is your responsibility to lead them to those things. They generally won’t find it for themselves.
Know your, sheep so those sheep will know you!
A flock is highly individualized. The pace at which one flock moves is quite different from the pace of another. The approach to leading a flock of young lambs is much different than leading a flock of mature ewes and rams. (Church planters, don’t feel any pressure to lead your baby church like someone else leads a church that is 50 years old. Know your flock and, without being intimidated, know you are responsible to shepherd them!)
Shepherding cannot be done at a sterile distance with computerized messages and impersonal form letters. By definition there cannot be an absentee shepherd. There can be no mechanized pastoral ministry; pastoring/shepherding is personal.
Two flocks of sheep shared the same pen one night. The next morning, one of the shepherds opened the pen, and cried out for the sheep to follow him. All of his sheep left the pen and followed him.
Another man watching this was fascinated so he borrowed the other shepherd’s cloak and staff and cried out to the sheep in the same way, but none of the sheep paid the slightest heed to him. Why? Because the sheep did not recognize the voice of the second shepherd! Jesus said the sheep hear His voice and follow Him (John 10:27).
In nature, the principle of “imprinting” links a newborn to parent or caregiver. Pastors/shepherds need to be sure they are imprinted on the minds/hearts/souls of the sheep. Each flock is different, but the sheep know the voice of their shepherd. A shepherding imprint comes from compassionate care for the sheep in quiet settings that outsiders may not notice.
* Imprint. Imprinting is simple but requires sacrifice — attending a third grader’s school play or going to pray for “Aunt Lucy” whom you’ve never met. Shepherding isn’t rocket science. Simple thing matter.
* Respect the past. A fellow was asked to pastor a mature church. The early days at the new pastorate were spent reading minutes of business meetings and sitting down with elders to learn about the birth and life of the church. The hours of learning and listening established mutual trust.
* Value the heritage, If you pastor saints who hunt, buy a gun! Or at least learn to appreciate the activity. Never speak with disdain of anything a person in your church values. You may not eat “fish and brewis” (a Newfoundland specialty), but if you move to Newfoundland plan to give it a try.
* Recognize achievement. If somebody in the flock does something noteworthy, comment on it. Even better, sit down and hand-write a note expressing how much you appreciate/enjoy/respect what he/ she did.
* Embrace the simple. Never underestimate the sweet little things that create a memorable imprint. One pastor/shepherd who leads a few hundred people calls each saint on his/her birthday and sings the first stanza of “Happy Birthday.” (He isn’t much of a singer!) Usually it is sung to a message system which means it receives several replays to family members that day. He submits his singing “Happy Birthday” created more contented sheep than any sermon he’s ever preached.
Know the terrain and time.
God forbid that those I shepherd see me as a high-handed religious executive whose main point of connection is expressed on a public stage! The pastor/shepherd is not some wisdom dispensing guru residing on some distant mountain; he is not a sage on a stage but a guide by the side. Pastors/shepherds walk the same terrain as the sheep.
Pastors/shepherds are students of the map. The topography of life cannot be ignored. Hills, valleys, and craggy narrow paths are the landscape over which the soul travels. There are green pastures in which to linger and valleys of death in spite of one’s intense desire to escape. A leader takes what life brings his flock and does the work of a shepherd through it all.
A pastor/shepherd is a master of the elements so when a vicious storm arises suddenly in the high places he is alert to the unexpected.
The pace of travel is determined by life’s realities. In summer the highland grass attracts, but when inevitable winter comes the sheep need a sheltered place where fodder is readily available. A then there are the times when the ewes are heavy with the unborn. The excitement and hard work of lambing season brings about little ones who cannot travel as fast the rams. Lead with understanding of the season in which the flock presently lives.
Know the obstacles.
Know the dangers to the flock. Dangers such as the destroying wolf or infectious diseases can create havoc among the flock. The threat of “grievous wolves” is the peril from without; men “speaking perverse things” and men “from among your own selves” who work “to draw away the disciples” is the disease within. The correction to both perils is found in the work of the pastor/shepherd whose business it is to watch and feed. Good shepherds see the wolf before the flock does.
The pastor/shepherd who never cries “Who is sufficient for these things?” does not fully understand his calling. An effective pastor/shepherd needs to be clear that one of the ways sheep are encouraged to good works is through the example of the shepherd’s life and his faithful preaching of the Word of God. Paul told Timothy to be an example of good works (I Timothy 4).3 As shepherds we will either be their example or their excuse. Long before people go to school on our words, they go to school on our behavior and are motivated to follow the leadership of our lifestyle.
The pastor’s/shepherd’s responsibilities are clear.
You must know the sheep you are leading, know where your sheep are right now, know where they are headed, and be vigilant in spotting danger. Be to them what Christ has always been to you: a good shepherd.
The above article, “The Who, What, Where and There of Shepherding” was written by Carlton L. Coon, Sr. The article was excerpted from the North American Missions magazine. May – June 2012.
The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.