The Wool We Wear: A Series on Shepherding Well
We in the Churches of Christ have a complicated relationship with the word shepherd. There is a lot of discussion about what the ecclesial role of shepherd should look like, the relationship shepherds have with the pulpit minister, the gender of the shepherds, if shepherds must be elderly, etc. Those conversations are good and needed, but they are not the focus of this series.
This series highlights something much more fundamental about shepherds: each of us is one. That is, any Christian, of any measure of maturity, is called to model Christ as shepherd in the same way we model Christ as light or Christ as wisdom. To assign “shepherding” to a small handful of church members lets the rest of the congregation off the discipleship hook and may be a contributing factor to the lack of maturity and holiness plaguing churches.
In reality, Christian parents are shepherding children around dinner tables, small group leaders are shepherding in their living rooms, and mentors are shepherding in coffee shops. Though the official “shepherds” may be hesitant to call them shepherds, our youth ministers are shepherding teenagers. Odds are, you’re a shepherd. So, the question is not “am I a shepherd?” but “am I a good one?” And John 10, more than 1 Timothy or Titus, proves crucial to teaching us how to be good shepherds.
John 10 is typically used to instruct us on how to be good sheep, but as disciples it’s just as informative for shepherding. In fact, therein lies the secret. More than anything, to shepherd well is to remember that we are both sheep and shepherd simultaneously. It sounds obvious, but shepherding really goes off the rails when we lose this tension. Shepherds who forget they’re sheep have essentially forgotten that they are, and always will be, mere good shepherds in training under the perfection of the Good Shepherd. Humility vanishes. Meanwhile, sheep who forget that they are also called to be good shepherds lack bravery and lose mission.
Therefore, good shepherding is found in the tension of “brave humility.” To get in front of the sheep—whether they are the men’s discipleship class, the worship committee, or your children—is brave. John 10:4-5 says that Jesus, our Good Shepherd, goes on ahead of the sheep and leads them. Good shepherds speak truth into confusion, usher in justice, and walk through the wilderness in search of food. Brave shepherds push aside the inner voice that says, “You’re an imposter. You’re not good enough to stand here.” They lead. Brave shepherds aren’t lazy or unmotivated.
However, good shepherds are also humble. At the end of a long day using staffs and rods to count and guide (tools the 23rd Psalm says bring comfort in the hand of God, by the way), a good shepherd in training looks up and sees his or her place in the universe: small, created, and fully dependent upon the Good Shepherd. Humility infuses every drop of oil. Humility speaks wisdom born of silence. Humility desires Christ’s name exalted, not her own. Humility surrenders to God’s will and trusts the Good Shepherd to move the boulders he can’t.
Until next time, read John 10. What characteristics do you see in the Good Shepherd? Which of these descriptors challenge you and invite change as you disciple those God has put before you? Next time we’ll examine the specific dangers of being too sheep-ish, and we’ll conclude this series with the pitfalls of being an overzealous shepherd.