1. The shepherd is patient with his sheep
The shepherds and crofters in my congregation would sometimes encourage me to get some sheep. Even my wife, who is from the Scottish Highlands, suggested it at times. However, as a city-boy, I knew that I simply did not have the patience required.
In the Scottish Highlands there are many single track roads; they allow only one car at a time. Every hundred yards or so you can find little passing places where two cars can squeeze by. Many’s a time I ended up on one of these single track roads behind a bunch of sheep, slowly moseying along. Initially I would hoot my horn, rev my engine, shout out the window – all to no avail. I learned to simply wait until they decided to saunter off the road and back into their fields again. Nothing would rush them.
When you are about to blow a gasket or a fuse with someone in your congregation, remind yourself, “They are only sheep…and so am I.” What’s the point of hooting your horn and revving up your engine. Be patient.
2. The shepherd knows his sheep
I have to be honest, despite years of looking at sheep, they still all look the same to me. Yet, I could walk through a field with a shepherd and he would know the names and even the characters of each one. He would know their ewe, their ram, and their lambs. He knew the scrapes they had been in and the number of times he had to rescue them.
While the pastor should study and know the nature of sheep in general, he should study and know his own sheep in particular. The first priority in going to a new congregation should be to get to know everyone’s names – from oldest to youngest – as quickly as possible. Then work at knowing their characters, personalities, gifts, struggles, etc.
3. The shepherd values his sheep
I’ve often been amazed at the misty and dreamy expressions that come across shepherds' faces as they talk about their sheep or point them out. They seem to say, “They may be only sheep, but they are my sheep.” They care for them and think about them constantly. One shepherd who moved to the city for a while told me that he once woke up in the night with a dream about one of his sheep. He phoned his mother to check up on it, and sure enough, the sheep was in need of medical attention. Explain that!
The pastor should value each and every sheep as highly as possible – whatever their physical, spiritual or financial health! Statistics mean little to the pastor. 99 may be doing well, but if one is missing, he will move heaven and earth to find it. When I first moved to the Scottish Highlands, in the course of pastoral visitation, I used to innocently ask, “So how many sheep do you have?” I could never figure out why the answers were so vague until my Scottish Highland wife told me, “David! That’s like asking how much money do you have in the bank!” I stopped asking. So why do we always ask pastors, “How many are in your congregation?” Like the shepherd, the pastor values each sheep as of infinite worth. So whether he has 10 or 1000, the value is the same – infinite!
4. The shepherd loves his sheep
The shepherd does not just value his sheep as if they were units of economic production (in fact most Scottish shepherds I know made a financial loss on most of their sheep). He loves them; and not just as a collective, but as individuals. He does not just have loving feelings but takes loving actions.
The pastor will find it easy to love some of his sheep. But there are others… Pray over the particularly unloveable ones. Ask God to help you find something to love in them, or to help you love them even if there is nothing loveable about them - after all that’s what the Great and Good Shepherd does daily for you!
5. The shepherd observes his sheep
No matter what day I looked out at the sheep they all looked the same and all did the same. However a shepherd can detect the smallest difference. He can sense problems long before they fully develop. He sees a sheep in an unusual spot in the field. He sees a change in its posture or eating habits. And he takes action.
The good pastor will develop these powers of acute and careful observation as well. He will develop an instinct for problems in his sheep’s lives. He senses a different expression on the face, a different posture in worship, a change in vocal tone, and he may not be able to put his finger upon it, but he sense something is wrong. And often a few wise questions reveal well-founded fears.
6. The shepherd feeds his sheep
Hungry sheep are unhappy sheep…and noisy sheep. The shepherd knows the best fields to take his sheep at different times of the year. He knows when they need particular kinds of grass. He knows when water is needed to refresh and reinvigorate his flock.
The Apostle Peter had a passion for feeding the flock of God, and we know where he got that from (John 21:15-22; 1 Pet. 5:2). When I started out in the ministry, one senior minister told me, “If you keep their bellies full, you won’t hear any bleating.” It takes a wise Shepherd to know what kind and amounts of food each sheep needs. May God help us to feed the right kinds of food, in the right amounts, at the right times. And may he help us not to starve or over-feed our sheep, nor give them indigestion!
7. The shepherd leads his sheep
In Western cultures, the shepherd follows behind the sheep, and directs the sheep with dogs. But in the East it was the custom for shepherds to go before the sheep, to break up the way, to clear paths of danger, to take the safest path. He leads them beside the still waters, in straight paths, through the darkest valley.
Too many Western pastors have embraced the Western model of Shepherding when it comes to leadership. They follow the sheep rather than lead them. The pastor should be out in front of his sheep in his theological knowledge, in his spiritual experience, in his awareness of danger, in his plotting of the course, etc.
8. The shepherd speaks well of his sheep
In Scotland I eventually learned not to criticize or mock sheep in front of their shepherd; it was a rather sensitive topic! And I also learned to listen to wonderful long descriptions about individual sheep, as the shepherd brought out the strengths of each member of his flock.
The pastor should make it a policy to speak well of his congregation as a whole and of its individual members. If someone criticizes one of his sheep, he leaps to his/her defense and brings out the good. When he travels to other places and is asked about his sheep, he replies with words of affection and appreciation. And not just because words of criticism will almost always get back to the sheep.
9. The shepherd pursues his sheep
When a sheep is missing or straying, the shepherd does not say, “O well, I’ve got 99 left.” No, he seeks until he finds it (Lk. 15:3ff). No matter how far away, no matter how foolish the sheep has been, no matter how frequent his straying, the shepherd goes after it.
When a person is missing from public worship, the pastor inquires after him or her. When a person is missing a few weeks in a row, the pastor is getting ready to leave the 99 and go after the straying soul. When the pastor hears that a member has been involved in a heated public argument, or has started dating a non-Christian, or has been saying inappropriate things on Facebook, etc, his cloak is on, his staff is on his hand, and he’s on his way to recover the stray. My brother-in-law once so spent himself hunting for three lost sheep (the woolly kind) that he just about died with exhaustion! He would not give up, and neither should the pastor.
10. The shepherd rests his sheep
In Scotland, just before the winter started, the shepherds would go out into the moors and mountains to gather their flocks that had been enjoying the summer pastures. Sometimes it would take a few days to drive them to their winter shelter. But he never chased them or pushed them beyond their limits. He knew when they needed a rest and a breather.
There are times in congregational life when the pastor must pressure the sheep to move on. Maybe, there is a building program to be undertaken, or an outreach campaign that needs all hands on deck. However, the wise shepherd knows when he has driven the sheep far enough and long enough. He knows there are seasons of rest and refreshment needed as well.
11. The shepherd perseveres with his sheep
There are days when the shepherd feels exhausted, discouraged, frustrated and unappreciated. He is tempted to give up. “Why do I get up every day and give myself to such ungrateful creatures?” However, the good shepherd patiently perseveres.
This is not to say that the spiritual shepherd never leaves a flock and moves on to take care of another. It is simply to say that he does not do so when the first problems appear. And when he does sense the Great Shepherd's call to move on, he may leave the sheep, but the sheep never leave his heart.
O that the Lord would make us and give us such shepherds today, according to His promise: "Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding" (Jer. 3:15).