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.
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.
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.
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 pastorâ€¦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?