Jesus is our Great Shepherd. All earthly shepherds (pastors) are people he has chosen to lead, care for, tend to, and feed his flock, but it is always his flock. The flock must learn to hear the voice of the Great Shepherd and follow it. Pastors have to encourage and help their sheep to learn to hear that voice and follow it in faith. The flock must also learn to hear the Great Shepherd through the voice of the local shepherd that God has anointed and appointed.
During times of change and conviction this is most difficult. The enemy yells loud and whispers quietly in the ear of both the sheep and the shepherd. It during these times that wolves in lamb’s clothing are most dangerous. It is on the path from one pasture to the next – while the sheep are spread out – that they are the most vulnerable. Fear on such a path is not a lack of faith, it is just life. People must learn to walk in the valley of the shadow of death in faith, but they will never learn that while being fat and happy on a nice sunny green field.
So here are some thoughts and tips for shepherds while they lead down the rocky paths of life and faith.
1. Make sure the path is God’s direction and not yours. Once you know that, don’t change direction.
2. Sheep need the presence of the shepherd on such paths. Get in the midst of your flock. If you are untouchable and unreachable you leave them alone and vulnerable to attack. Speak in love, but always speak truth. Don’t tell them lies about the path ahead to keep them going. Just be there.
3. Remember your people are ultimately following the Great Shepherd not you. So you must follow the Great Shepherd and quit trying to convince people that you are. If they want to follow the Great Shepherd and you are following the Great Shepherd they will follow you. If they choose to not follow the Great Shepherd and therefore not follow you, that is really between them and the Great Shepherd.
4. Some of the sheep on your field are not in your flock. Unfortunately in American Christianity there is a growing number of flockless sheep. These are sheep that roam from field to field but never truly join a flock. They stay with a shepherd as long as the shepherd does what they want, then they leave and find another field. There commitment is to the field not to the flock. You have to let them leave. These sheep will not even take the time to hear and listen to why you are going to a new field or down this path. They will never make flock decisions – they are too selfish. These sheep simply rob the flock of the nourishment it needs from its field and shepherd anyway. Do not leave your flock to chase down such sheep. Their path is more dangerous than the one you are already on.
5. People voicing fear is a good thing. When your people get to the point that they speak things that seem to you as irrational or far-out “what-ifs” and “what abouts” they are simply speaking their fears. When a sheep “baas” in fear it is letting the shepherd know where it is. That sheep is simply saying I am right here, it is not saying it is leaving, it is asking are you still here. That “baa” is the greatest compliment a sheep can give its shepherd. That person is saying “I am afraid but I am still following you.” That is the greatest honor a sheep can give its shepherd. I follow you in spite of fear.
6. Don’t listen to the enemy. If you lose your way on the trail the flock is doomed. The enemy will try to cause you to be discouraged, dismayed, and disillusioned. You must not and can not listen. You know where the new pasture is and you know the trail – or at least you know the Great Shepherd that blazed it. Follow him!
7. Go get your sheep that lose their step. Some sheep will legitimately get distracted by a side trail or obstacle. Leave the flock for a moment and go get them. Remember they are precious to the Great Shepherd and they should be precious to you. These sheep often lose their way because they have their head up or down and are thinking and looking. One day they will probably be lead sheep because they cared enough to check out the trail while on the journey. Don’t discount that. They will learn along the way, too.
8. Remember some sheep are smart and bold. Unlike a normal shepherd, pastors lead some people that are quite capable of fighting in their own right. Maybe they are less sheep and are under-shepherds or sheep dogs. Let them fight with you and for you. You need them. This is not a one man battle.
So all this to say these things. Go with the Great Shepherd no matter where he says go. Lead his people. Love his people. Get in harm’s way for them. Fight the battles. Take on the wolves. Fight the enemy. The battle is not against flesh and blood so put away yourself and put on the full armor of God. Go to the shadows and dark places on the trail and fight like your life depends on it –because theirs does. Fight in your fears. Fight through your tears. Fight on your knees. Fight with the Word of God. Stay on the offensive. The fight is worth it because the vision (the new field) is worth it because the flock is worth it because the Great Shepherd is worth it.
Fight…Fight…Fight! Sheep will always follow a shepherd like that because although he is not the Great Shepherd he looks a lot like him.