Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Of sheep and cattle . . .

I’ve been reflecting lately on what it means to be a pastor.  The word pastor means “shepherd,” so first and foremost, a pastor is a shepherd.  According to dictionary.com a shepherd is “a person who herds, tends, and guards sheep.”  That seems simple enough.    

The Bible says:  
The Lord is my shepherd.
    I lack nothing.
He lets me rest in grassy meadows;
    he leads me to restful waters;
he keeps me alive.
He guides me in proper paths
    for the sake of his good name.
Even when I walk through the darkest valley,
    I fear no danger because you are with me.
Your rod and your staff—
    they protect me.


Jesus tells us that a really good shepherd will leave his flock of ninety-nine sheep to go off in search of one who has become lost.  I always hope he’s leaving them inside a pen or enclosure, or at least with a well trained dog to keep them safe while he’s gone, although it is a fact that each flock has a lead sheep they are accustomed to following.

I’ve been reflecting on this because I heard someone wonder recently, “What if that pastor we’re thinking about calling is too liberal for us?”  They’re a bit nervous, and I understand that.  What if they get a shepherd who wants to take them in some weird, unknown direction?  What if the new shepherd is going to force them to go someplace they really do not want to go?  

I’ve had sheep.  I know that there is no way in the known universe I’m going to get a bunch of sheep to head off in a direction that they know isn’t the right way, and I don’t care how great my dog is.  They might be convinced to take a slight detour in their usual routine of pasture to field and back again, especially if there is something especially tasty within smelling range.  But if they don’t want to be someplace, there is nothing that shepherd can do to change their mind.  And don’t ever let anyone tell you that sheep are stupid, because that’s simply not true.  At least, not in my experience of sheep.

Case in point.  Baby and Flower were used to being in the same field together.  One day my father thought it would be better to have Baby grazing on one side of the pond and Flower on the other.  So he attached each one to a tire by a chain around their necks and set the tires where he wanted them to stay.  They could easily move around - the tire was only intended to slow them down a bit.  A little while after he set them out we looked over toward the pond and discovered that Baby was swimming across the pond, dragging her tire behind her!  We did’t even know sheep could swim!  She refused to be separated from her friend.  She was going to go where she wanted, no matter what the shepherd wanted.  My father never tried to separate them again, and we all learned an important lesson about sheep and shepherds.

A shepherd is not like a cowboy driving cattle to market.  The cowboy’s primary objective is to get the cattle to the market by the road he chooses.  He wants to get them there as quickly and safely as possible.  And he wants them to be as heavy and strong as they can possibly be so as many as possible survive the trip.  He will look out for them, make sure they are fed, protect them from predators.  But his primary goal is to get as many of them to their destination as he reasonably can, as quickly and as profitably as possible.

The shepherd is in no hurry.  The sheep will get where they are going at their own pace.  All the shepherd is concerned with is making certain they are nourished and refreshed with good food and water, so that they will all be as healthy as possible all the time.  If one is ailing, he’ll spend extra time with that one.  If one is lost, he’ll worry and search until that one is returned.  He will always guard them from danger and share their every circumstance, enjoying the sun and enduring the storm right along with them. He will give them what they need, what they are accustomed to, and only slowly will he introduce them to a new field or take them in a new direction.  

A pastor is a shepherd, not a cattle driver.  A pastor is in no rush to bring the congregation to a particular destination.  Rather, a pastor is there to guide them along the path that Jesus has already set out for us all to follow.  A pastor has one concern only - to see that the flock thrives and grows, nourished by the Word and Living Water.