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Monday, March 08, 2010

Sheep vs. Shepherd

It was an ironic encounter. I was sitting there in my swim trunks at the health club, watching the children come down the water slide. He had been standing in front of me for a while. Then he turned around and we realized we knew each other. We greeted each other, exchanged the usual pleasantries, and drifted to something we both had in common.

We used to attend the same church, for quite a number of years actually. He and his wife and left that church though. He asked me if his wife had ever told me why they left that church. She hadn't, so he proceeded to explain. It seems the youth pastor had been let go, and a meeting with the senior pastor was held for the parents (of the youth). During that meeting, apparently the senior pastor explained that "he was not there for you."

My acquaintance explained that he and his wife both felt the pastor's remark was inappropriate. They probed it with the pastor, and were assured that the pastor of the church was not there for their purpose. My friend said, "This was a surprise, because we'd always figured he was the shepherd and we were his sheep!" When they determined that the pastor was indeed not their shepherd, they decided it was time to go. They wanted to find a church where a shepherd was in charge.

So it was an example of the sheep leaving one church ... in search of a shepherd. I began to wonder how many pastors know this about their flock. I've written before about the importance of the sheep knowing that the shepherd cares for them. It seems an even more basic truth is being revealed to me here. It is that the sheep actually want a shepherd. In fact, they'll go in search of a shepherd if they don't have one.

It's made me think back to dozens of conversations that I've had with people over the years about why they've left a church. A common theme has always been that they "aren't getting fed." At least that's how they explain it. Whenever I've tried to probe that and discern what it means, I find them talking about how they can't connect, don't feel like they belong, etc. They may say that the "message doesn't resonate" with them. Adding it all up, I wonder if what they meant to say was that they needed a shepherd.

Another, apparently related phenomenon I've observed concerns how far people will travel to church. I've been amazed to find at different churches people who are routinely driving long distances to attend that church and its programs. I've met people, for example, who will drive more than 30 or 45 minutes to church ... passing several other suitable churches along the way. At the time, this was confusing to me. I couldn't imagine why someone would do that!

But now I wonder if perhaps the truth might be that sheep are willing to wander far and wide in search of a shepherd. Could it be that sheep will even make sacrifices to get themselves a shepherd? (I suspect so!)

How many pastors in ministry today see themselves a shepherds? How many need to see themselves that way --- but don't? And finally, how many sheep are there wandering around in search of a shepherd?

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