The Wool We Wear (Part 3)
In the final installment of our series on shepherding from John 10, I offer corrective measures to shift from narcissistic shepherding to good shepherding. If you aren’t sure what is meant by the term narcissistic shepherding, see last month’s installment of the series. If you know all too well what is meant by the phrase and desire to improve, let us consider these ideas.
First, as previously mentioned, good shepherds-in-training are both sheep and shepherd simultaneously. So a rudimentary way to avoid over-zealousness in our shepherding is to practice being good sheep. It is hard to get stuck in a hole like Winnie the Pooh mid-rescue mission if ears are attuned to the Savior warning us we’re the wrong size for the endeavor. Good sheep abide with the Shepherd enough in prayer and contemplation to know his voice above the crowd of sages. Attentive sheep make good shepherds.
Second, narcissistic shepherds (with the best intentions) leap over sheep pins into dangerous waters before the Shepherd raises the signal with his staff. Impetuous Peter knew to wait for Jesus to say “Come,” before he got out of the boat. His leap of faith had a gold-embossed, clearly labeled invitation attached. Good shepherds do likewise. Even Jesus, at the end of this section in John 10 says, “This command I received from my Father.” Good shepherds, like Jesus, go where they are sent, when sent, as they are sent.
“But no one knows her like I do. I’m the only one who can bring her back to Christ.”
“My training makes me the most qualified person to disciple this new convert.”
“He called me because I’m a problem solver, so I’m on it. You don’t need to get involved.”
With love in our hearts we leap to save. As a result, high tides fill our lungs until Jesus reaches out his hand and says, “I told you this way was flooded and to take the mountain pass for this rescue, but you didn’t listen.” Or worse, “I told you I had someone else for this job, but you insisted.”
The most humble thing for a good shepherd to do by way of avoiding narcissism is to heal. There was a time I was determined to shepherd my spouse back to Jesus. I wrote letters brimming with Bible verses. I gave him books like The Case for Christ. I begged from across the abyss and used guilt with shameless measure to lure him home. In retrospect, all of these shepherding tools were akin to origami staffs and watered down oil.
If I had listened, instead of being so quick to save my way in my time, I would have heard the Good Shepherd say, “Beloved, heal. I see him. I love him too. But I’ve got a different shepherd for this job.”
It’s the third (and most annoying) way to end narcissistic shepherding: the willingness to not shepherd. At least not that sheep at that time. We want to be the one who gets the glory for feeding that sheep the new and improved diet of theological food. We want to be the one who is credited with the rescue from the wolves’ clutches. But sometimes God needs someone else to do it. It wasn’t me God used to bring my husband back into the fold. In fact, God intervened with that rescue directly through a series of dreams and foxhole moments. And later he used Christians (strangers to me) to disciple him. I didn’t have the right voice for that rescue, but my pride wouldn’t let me see it. After all, how could saving sheep ever be the wrong choice?
It turns out, often. There’s always a shepherd for the sheep. It simply isn’t always me.
In summary, every Christian (upon maturity) is invited to shepherd. We shepherd our children, youth groups, discipleship classes, and neighbors. It is an honor and a blessed adventure. But Jesus explains in John 10 that there is more than one type of shepherd. Some of us are recklessly swinging staffs, unintentionally whacking our fellow sheep in the head. Some of us, if we’re honest, are in it for the promotion. Others of us are so in love with shepherding we’ve forgotten there’s a Good Shepherd running the entire operation. The only path to becoming a good shepherd is through the sheep pen, with staff and rod humbly submitted at the feet of the giver of abundant life.