When people ask me what I do for a living I say I am a pastor. I may even add my specific calling, I am a transitional pastor. If they ask, I explain that I work with churches that are between pastors. I walk with them through the process of mourning a much loved pastor who has moved on to their next position or I help them heal from the pain caused by a hurtful pastor who has been removed. Although the metaphor is somewhat lost in our North American 21st century culture, I am a shepherd. My deepest desire is to facilitate a return to health for all those in the church, or to continue with the metaphor, the flock.
A lost metaphor means a lost understanding.
With no working understanding it is easy to use the lingo with no concept of its meaning or at least no understanding of the true requirements that being a shepherd entail. Pastors like to throw around the word but many do not grasp the sacrifice. Being in charge is appealing but only when the sheep are healthy and in no danger. Wandering in green pastures with a line of obedient animals following behind you seems like the dream job as long as none get out of line. The problem is, the sheep aren’t always healthy, aren’t always safe and don’t always stay in line.
A lost understanding leaves room to create a new understanding.
With no working understanding it is easy to use the lingo and create your own concept of its meaning or at least redefine the true requirements that being a shepherd entails.
Many pastors suggest that the staff (crook) is also a punishing rod. They will agree that the hooked end is for pulling the sheep back on course but they insist that the other end is for beating back the ones that bite or continually disobey. There is no historical evidence that a good shepherd would use this tactic as the potential damage to the sheep would lower their value. There is no biblical evidence of the shepherd metaphor ever suggesting this type of violence as a tool of the one who shepherds.
Many pastors say that shepherds broke the legs of the sheep who wandered off and even go as far as to suggest that the sheep in Luke 15:4-6 (NIV) was carried back on the shepherd’s shoulders because of this practice. Simply put, it is dangerous to break the leg of an animal. The resulting damage could actually cause death and the injury would not allow the sheep to escape a predator with the herd. There is no historical evidence that a good shepherd would use this tactic as the potential damage to the sheep would lower their value. There is no biblical evidence of the shepherd metaphor ever suggesting this type of violence as a tool of the one who shepherds.
Sermons & books by pastors are the only places where shepherd on sheep violence is mentioned.
Commentaries and historical records of sermons contain the idea of shepherds harming the sheep but there is no evidence of this practice. My web search on the topic leads me to believe that there is no record of shepherds breaking legs before the book titled “What Jesus Said” written by Robert Boyd Munger in 1955. The story he told made a point but most likely it was based on a myth or legend. Even if it was the practice of shepherds in Jesus’ time the biblical metaphor never included this practice. If we are going to add to the metaphor of the shepherd it would be reasonable to conclude that because shepherds ate from their flock, the pastor can eat members of the congregation as needed!
Pastors, if you are going to call yourself a shepherd then take care of the sheep.
The word pastor is an English word derived from the Latin word for herdsmen or shepherd. It is common to include the office of Elder as a shepherd of the church. If you are either of these no matter how bad the sheep bite or how far they stray, violence as a way to control the flock, literally or metaphorically, cannot be defended. I know it is hard. Anyone who has been in leadership, pastoral or otherwise, knows there are people who you want to get out your crook and smack or break their legs. Still you must consider the words of Jesus:
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” John 10:11-13 (NIV)
When people ask me what I do for a living I say I am a pastor.
Like all pastors who live out their calling, my deepest desire is to protect and ensure that those who attend the church are healthy in their Christian walk. Beating and injuring the sheep does not accomplish this. When the sheep bite back or run amuck I have to choose if I will act like a hired hand and not care about the sheep or if I will be like the Good Shepherd and sacrifice.
Note: if you are a sheep remember your pastor and church leaders do not have the perfection of the only one fit to be called the Good Shepherd. Please give up the biting and running amuck; we all have our breaking point.