What does a "shepherd" look like?

When I got up this morning, I began browsing my Flickr groups to see what others had posted over the last week or so, and I found this image (below) taken recently by a friend of mine. Jan and her husband love to go “trekking” or hill climbing all over Wales, which usually results in some stunning images; however, the caption on this one shook a few cobwebs loose from my “shepherd” paradigm.

Image © Janice Lane

The modern shepherd on his all-terrain motorcycle

I looked at this photograph and began thinking about how to describe this modern shepherd compared to my stereotypical perceptions. In terms of responsibilities, I doubt that the shepherd’s job description has changed much over the centuries: to look after the flock by leading them to good pasture, making sure they have a clean source of water, providing remedies for their sicknesses and ailments, and a place to roam without being in danger from predators. However, my image of a shepherd was completely blown apart by Jan’s photograph. Back in July, I posted a blog entry about sheep and shepherds, inspired by another blogger; but it never occurred to me that a shepherd might wear a full leather body suit and view his flock astride a bright blue Yamaha.

Spring Foursome

Seeing off-road motorcyclists around town is a common sight, but their presence has never once prompted the thought of “shepherd” in my mind. To me, I imagined them driving an old Range Rover or a small battered Jeep to visit their flocks on the hillsides. Obviously, I didn’t expect long flowing robes and a crooked staff like the shepherds in Bible storybooks or annual Christmas plays, but now my paradigm is completely shattered. I can no longer look at a motorcyclists protective clothing and think “he’s a bit over the top to get dressed up like that to pick up a loaf of bread and a dozen eggs.” Now it’s likely to be, “I wonder if he’s a shepherd?” Sure, there are many bikers that simply love “the look” and the thrill of riding these beautiful hills of South Wales for sport, but they might also be engaged in the more serious pursuit of tending a flock of sheep. You never know!

Being a follower of Jesus, my thoughts then turned toward the parallels related to pastoral ministry and looking after God’s people scattered across the world. And I wonder how many “modern shepherds” the church has failed to recognize because they don’t fit our rigid paradigms: i.e., they may not wear a suit and tie, they don’t need a pulpit to stand behind, they are increasingly mobile, they earn their living in the marketplace, they minister across a wider spectrum of believers, and they often have no theological degrees or titles or credentials.

And I think about the people we DO call “pastor” who have such a narrowly defined role that it makes me wonder if they truly qualify as God’s shepherds: their “ministry” primarily consists of preparing lengthy, detailed speeches to be delivered two or three times a week, like clockwork, to their “flock” (who, by the way, have to come to them to be fed). I’m thinking of a number of men in particular, though there are probably many more, who spend most, if not all, their time cloistered in a room filled with books, preparing sermons and writing books. They spend virtually no time with their flocks: they get others to do that sort of thing. They do not visit church members or visitors in their homes, workplaces, or hospital rooms. They do not offer pastoral counseling, marriage counseling, or perform weddings and funerals. If you telephone their office, they would probably treat it as an interruption of their time, and if you do manage to corner them after a Sunday morning meeting, they’re continually looking at their watches or staring across the room, as if they’re really quite uncomfortable and “out of their element” without a set of notes in front of them telling them what to say. They may be quite prominent as conference speakers and as published authors, and everyone introduces them as the “pastor” (meaning “shepherd”) of a local church.

Emeril @ Wikipedia

And I’m thinking, “No, they’re not pastors!” A more apt mental picture (for me) would be more along the lines of someone who cooks your food at a hospital cafeteria; or a carvery chef at a buffet-style restaurant; or even a professional chef who gets paid serious money, like Jeff Smith (The Frugal Gourmet) or Wolfgang Puck or Gordon Ramsey (Hell’s Kitchen) or Emeril Lagasse. Whether it’s creating tasteless gruel or exquisite culinary delicacies, these chefs get paid to prepare food.

But you know what? Even if I spend a fortune as a weekly customer in one of Emeril’s restaurants and convince all my friends to do the same thing, it doesn’t mean he loves me or cares about me or rings me on my home phone if I miss a week. No, it’s all about creating unusual food combinations that rocket his celebrity status to the top of the charts. It’s not really about making friends and building life-long relationships, unless you happen to be his financial advisor. And he’s not going to visit me in the hospital or encourage me when life sucks: it’s just not his job.

But the pastor…that’s a different story isn’t it? Or is it? Is he really a shepherd, expected to spend lots of time with the sheep, or is it just his job to shovel food into the trough, expecting the scattered sheep to find their way to it? Does he know the sheep by name, like Jesus does? Does he care for them when they’re hurting or frightened or sick? Or is it someone else’s responsibility? Would he sacrifice himself to protect them from savage wolves, or is it their job to defend themselves based on a speech they vaguely remember hearing three years ago?

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10 thoughts on “What does a "shepherd" look like?

  1. Two things…

    1.) This page just started causing Safari to crash… it seems fine w/ Firefox though.

    2.) Jesse Jackson once said, “There is nothing more painful to me…than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery, then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved.”

    I wish that when I found out someone was a pastor, I thought, “Wow! I am really struggling with and/or curious about X. This person deals with real people and their lives all the time,” and then ask, “Say, what’s your take on X? What’s have you said to people in the past who came to you with X, and what happened?”

    When there’s a personal matter that I am discussing with someone in a coffee shop or something, I often (sadly) find myself relieved when I discover that the person I am talking to is *not* a Christian.

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  3. Good article. To my disappointment I have come to realize how far we have fallen from the pinnacle of pastoral (shepherd’s) love. Paul’s expressions of this pastoral love towards his many flocks are so poignant but are tragically lacking in the traditional modern church. Verses like Phil 4:1 “Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown…” and 2 Corinthians 2:4 “For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you”. I have come to understand that the term pastor refers only to ministry. It is not a title and it only applies to someone as a description of their grace giftedness of love as it is lived out among the believers. Like the other “gifts” of Ephesians, a pastor is a gift given to the church for it’s edification. Instead of living among and loving the sheep, today “pastors” impart vision, preach, lead programs and rule the church government aloof and detached from the flock of God. This is a sad distortion of what the apostles taught and modeled to the early church. Lord, bring us back to a love motivated understanding of ministry.

  4. Bill, my friend, I couldn’t agree more! I am 32 years old and have been in the ministry for just over 2 years. I wasn’t looking for the inistry when God opened the door (feel free to ask). I minister in a church of about 100 active members. I do know everyone of them by name. Often times I find myself out of the office all week calling and visiting with members. I love to do this but there are some members in the church who seem to feel as though if your not in your office your not working. I am the son of a minister and was “trained” by him. I have several friends who went 4-8 years of seminary and never learned simple bedside manner. I find myself fealing innadequate and desiring the education but already spend hours “at night” writing sermons.

    The reason I say all this is that I agree and disagree. There has to be availability to people and I also have noticed that some “spend most, if not all, their time cloistered in a room filled with books, preparing sermons and writing books. They spend virtually no time with their flocks: they get others to do that sort of thing. They do not visit church members or visitors in their homes, workplaces, or hospital rooms. They do not offer pastoral counseling, marriage counseling, or perform weddings and funerals.” should rethink what there calling is. But we do need Elders and Deacons who can fulfill ACTS 6:2-4

    So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

    One more thing I think alot of the problem is you won’t start being a pastor until you’ve been somewhere for more than 2 years and most churches change ministers every 2 or three years.

    Thanks for letting me rant.
    GOD BLESS

  5. I have attended a church for years, that had a pastor who was as you’ve described a true pastor. He came into God’s ministry a carpentar, a builder, a business man and no theological education. His ministry started in a Sunday school class and God eventually “pushed” him into starting a church. Shortly after the church began he was diagnosed with cancer. In 2005 he went home to be with the Lord. The church was only 2 years old. His ministry spanned 25 years.

    As the pastor of our church, he couldn’t wait to get to church Sunday morn., he and his wife, who was equally passionate about loving God’s flock, spoke to everyone there with a love that was undeniably from God. He/they didn’t miss a Sunday. Even when cancer treatment and surgerys began, the Lord gave him what he needed to preach God’s word to us on Sunday. He was available beyond understanding. Anyone could call him anytime about anything and in so doing felt like our pastor had nothing else to do in life, but talk to them. As a speaker put it at our pastor’s memorial service, “He was my best friend, and your best friend and your best friend”. He made everyone feel like his best friend. God’s love permiated his body. In fact I was just thinking about him this week…he had a passionate love for God’s word and people. That’s it!
    Love the Lord with everything you’ve got and “the second is like it” love your neighbor as yourself.
    God bless you.

  6. In 1 Timothy 3 it gives the Qualification of elders and deacons, who are supposed to be the true “pastors” of the church, not the preacher. Calling a preacher a pastor is incorrect, and the preacher is not supposed to be leading the church, the elders are.

  7. Pingback: Modern-day Shepherds | Brent Logan

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