23 June 2006

You filthy sheep-herd

by Frank Turk

I was having a discussion with my pastor, and I related it to my wife (who is the greatest blogger who never typed 1K of bandwidth). The discussion was about church leadership, and whether the metaphor of the shepherd was useful in a society like America where 95% of the people have never seen one sheep, let alone a flock, let alone a person who was herding sheep.

Now, before any of you start the “perspicuity of scripture” organ up and set your monkey to dancing, this was not a discussion questioning the sufficiency of Scripture. Tad’s an inerrancy & sufficiency guy, and in case you haven’t noticed, so am I. The question was whether you could just open up this metaphor and have it stand up on its own in today’s society without a pretty significant amount of back-fill.

So, for example, is there a 21st century American equivalent to the shepherd which we could say, “look: most of you have never seen a shepherd, so rather than try to unpack what a shepherd does, let’s think about [Profession X] which is just like being a Shepherd.” My opinion is that there is no equivalent, and we have to unpack the metaphor Scripture has for us. But we took away the challenge to think about the matter and report back.

So, I took the matter to the Holy Spirit, which in my house is manifest most often in my wife. She slept on it, and she came up with two great conclusions.


Men would probably like it if the Shepherd metaphor translated into “staff sergeant” or “General” or “CEO”. It would make Macho sense to them. But they would be wrong: a Shepherd is much more like a Kindergarten teacher than like a Sergeant or a CEO. Of course, you can’t sell a lot of books to men in business if your thesis is, “Jesus really is a lot more like a good Kindergarten teacher than a superhero or a king when it comes to dealing with us stupid sinners.”


The biggest separation, however, between the good shepherd metaphor and the CEO is that the Shepherd lives with his sheep in every way. That is, the shepherd has to get dirty and do distasteful and even degrading things to make sure he takes proper care of his sheep. I don’t know a lot of CEOs who are ready to degrade themselves, for example, by working in the same conditions as the hourly single parent who has to work on the line. “But cent,” you might say, “the CEO does a pretty radically different kind of work than the hourly employee,” and I’d agree with you. Christ does a pretty radically different work than I do, but you know something: though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

If you are looking for the model of leadership demonstrated in Christ, look there at the dirty sheep-herd who lives with his sheep, and sleeps with his sheep, and has to personally stand between his sheep and the wolves.

Good luck with that this weekend.

Oh. while I’m here,



Mike Y said...


If you are looking for the model of leadership demonstrated in Christ, look there at the dirty sheep-herd who lives with his sheep, and sleeps with his sheep, and has to personally stand between his sheep and the wolves.

Sadly, many pastors still don't see the flock as belonging to Christ and have no problem with sleeping with certain sheep too.

Is it possible the distinction in the bible of calling the pastor an overseeer vs. a shepherd is not merely coincidental? In other words, does shepherding necessarily make one a shepherd? Isn't it really a function of a steward?

Just a thought?

FX Turk said...

I think the problem you have in that question, Mike, is that "pastor" really does literally mean "shepherd" -- that's its etymology. And it is important to remember that the kind of shepherding involved here is good shepherding and not merely any action any shepherd might take as inspired by his sinful heart.

1Pet 5 also makes it clear that the overseer should shepherd the flock until the Great Shpeherd appears in glory.

I don't think it is problematic to see the role of pastor as shepherd at all -- the prblem is with whether one is a good shepherd or, frankly, a lousy one.

My prayer is that your pastor is a good shepherd.

Anonymous said...

Nicely done Sir Turk so much so I am sending it to a friend of mine.

Christopher said...

This is why we leave the text as it is and ask the shepherds to explain it to us. We have never seen and shepherd, or many of the other metaphors in the Bible, so the good shepherd leads us into the pastures of understanding.

The reason we can not substitute any given profession for that of a shepherd is because a shepherd carries out certain functions of untold numbers of professions.

A shepherd:

As physician - binding up the broken legs

As guide - leading to green pastures and away from cliffs

As father - protecting the flock from wolves

As father - providing water, food, shelter

As barber - shearing the sheep

As comforter - give peace in death valley

As rescuer - persuing lost sheep

As midwife - assisting in difficult births

As mother - bathing the dirty


Mike Y said...

I agree with the function of a pastor is to shepherd. Such an action can also be expected of steward. And since the sheep are Christ's and not necessarily the pastor's I was trying to make a distinction. I did not consider, however, the etymology of the word.

Trust me, I'm not trying to do away with the function as laid out in the bible. I just notice that when we claim things (and that goes for people too) as our own, and not as Christ's, we tend to get distorted. I'm speaking, of course, very generically concerning men; not you and me specifically.

Thanks for pointing back to the etymology.


The Searcher said...

What about herding cats as a potential analogy?

I'm serious. Okay, mostly serious. :)

Solameanie said...

I hope this isn't too much of a bunny trail, but it jogged my memory of an argument I was having with one of the Emergents over the authority, inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture. He tried to throw at me the idea that natives of Irian Jaya wouldn't know what "whiter than snow" meant because there was no snow. Therefore, Scripture fails to communicate. I really found that irritating, because either he was really stupid or he thought that I was really stupid. They might have never seen snow, but I am sure they see white eyeballs or other things colored white, and I am sure they understand what washing or cleaning means.

Sometimes I think people niggle too much and make major mountains out of things that ought not to be that hard to understand.

Frank, I am waiting for someone to challenge your use of the word "shepherd" as inappropriate because it conjures up images of the shepherding movement made famous by the late Derek Prince and Bob Mumford. :)

I've been arguing with postmoderns too long, haven't I?

Momo said...

Mike, it might interest you to know that in Spanish there are not two separate words for the shepherd of a church and the shepherd of a flock of sheep. They are one and the same word. Know what it is? "pastor" (pronounced roughly "pause-tore")

Frank, sorry to post right over the top of you. That sound you hear in the background is not Dan high-fiving me. When I started working on my post, yours wasn't up yet and I didn't notice you had posted until I had already put mine on top of it. Kind of eery how I announce my resignation from shepherding ministry right on top of this post, isn't it?

FX Turk said...

Jerry --

I sympathize with what you;re saying, and I want to be clear that I don't think the ideal of the good shepherd is all one-sided.

If, on the one hand, the shepherd is doing good shepherding, he's not being a sheep: he is leading and disciplining and guiding the sheep. And sheep who want their shepherd to be another sheep are, of course, stupid the way sheep are stupid. And I can tell you after visiting a friend's sheep farm, sheeps is stoopid.

On the other hand, the shepherd must be a good shepherd and be in and among his sheep. Does he have to be an alcoholic if he has an alcoholic sheep? Of course not -- but he must get that sheep to see his sin, and he can't do that from his desk in to office behind the receptionist. On the phone.

Is that fair?

Mike Y said...

But do you know what it is in Swahili? Now that would be impressive. And you can't look it up.

FX Turk said...

James --

I should have e-mailed dibs on the friday post. My bad.

Momo said...

I'll make a deal with you, Mike. If I find out what the word(s) is in Swahili, I'll post it to the front page right over the top of Frank's next post.


FX Turk said...


I'd cut Andy Stanley some slack. I have had a conversation with him on this topic (with others, on-line), and I don't think his views are as rancorous as some people (including me) may have made them out to be.

Everyody can't be perfect, including me. Including you.

FX Turk said...

I happen to know that the Swahili are excellent herdsmen, and they'd get it in a snap.

Mike Y said...

James, you got a deal.

Frank, probably right. But they don't have CNN to deal with, or Oprah, or the View. :0)

Patagonia Mike said...

Hey frank I did not know you were so...farm-wise! I have the privilege of living and ministering where the sheep/shepherd language goes over pretty well. I guess that is because sheep out number people about 10 to 1. Over the years I have had to do some study in many different areas to try to understand the Biblical message and application. For instance,until I moved to a wine producing area I did not have any idea the significance of the vine and the branches. The Word is so much richer than my feeble mind can embrace. Hey sheeps ain't stoopid they are just a little slow.

4given said...

I have links on the right sidebar of my blog under the title, "Women I Respect" ; "Men I respect" (My husband being the top pic); and "other links"... all of the above categories of links have about 10+ links within them; and then I have a category called "in a class by itself" because half the time I think the person that runs that blog is partially insane and a tad frightening... there is only one link there. (hmmmm.... who could that be?)

Anyway... this was a really good, thought-provoking post.

Scott Hill said...

Frank great post.

Also where is that monkey post you did a while back. I need to go read it again and see if I have gained enough intelligence to understand it.

Andrew Lindsey said...

centuri0n said:
Now, before any of you start the “perspicuity of scripture” organ up and set your monkey to dancing, this was not a discussion questioning the sufficiency of Scripture.

-Maybe I'm paranoid, but I can't help but feel that this comment was directed at me. :)

donsands said...

Good thoughts. I Like the word pastor and shepherd as well. Elders/pastros are enamples to the church, and we are to protect the church, or flock, from wolves in sheeps clothing.
Hebrews 13:7,17,& 24 and, Luke 22:26 and, Acts 14:12; 15:22 would also be a good word study as to the role of shepherds.
I see the leaders role in the Church today as not understood by the Church very well. I know in my own church there is a lot of misunderstanding what the role of elders is, and what an elder lead church is.

FX Turk said...

Tad -- I said:

The discussion was about church leadership, and whether the metaphor of the shepherd was useful in a society like America where 95% of the people have never seen one sheep, let alone a flock, let alone a person who was herding sheep.

I didn't say you said this. And I thought dragging Andy Stanley into is again was excessive. This was a blog post about what my wife said, not about what you said.

And not that your insights aren't completely riveting, btw. But you have a blog, she doesn't, and I haven't posted at TeamPyro all week.

You're just mad that my Sunday School lessons are drawing as many adults as Worship.


FX Turk said...


Re-read all the comments in this thread and realize that I wasn't saying you were "dragging Andy Stanley" into this: I said yoiu should cut him some slack.

Be at peace, if you please.

Jim Bublitz said...

But don't cut Andy Stanley too much slack. He's a big part of the problem today, and not a part of the answer. I realize our favorite eyebrow twitching blogger was talking about the one isolated leadership conversation. But there is so much more that we can't forget about. Things that come to mind include "discover your worship style", Pimp My Church Van, "is he live or is he memorex", Andy and Bono together, and our garden variety pragmatism. Young CGM pastors seem to hang on his every word, and blog about wanting to grow up to be a 'CEO' just like Andy.

Sorry for pirating the thread with this rant. I now return you to your regularly scheduled discussion.