Vol 11, Num 8 :: 2012.04.13 — 2012.04.26
As we were driving through a rural area during a holiday break, my three-year-old suddenly called out to me. “Mommy, look at all the green grass! It’s like the good shepherd story from Godly Play!”
I knew it had been at least eight weeks since she’d heard that lesson, and I had wondered how much she was absorbing from the stories at all. So I asked her to tell me about the parable of the good shepherd.
“Well, there are some sheep, and a good shepherd. And he leads them to the green grass to eat and to the good water to drink and he leads them through the dangerous places. When a wolf comes, he protects them! Other shepherds don’t take care of their sheep like the good shepherd does.”
Delighted by how much she had understood and remembered, I asked, “Do you know any good shepherds?”
“You and daddy, of course!” she immediately replied.
I have heard countless sermons and read entire books explaining the significance behind referring to God as a shepherd. But a simple story helped my toddler to understand the concept of shepherding in a meaningful way, and apply it in a different context. There are many layers to the image of a shepherd, but a great simplicity as well.
Shepherds lead, shepherds guide, shepherds protect. As a member of the church, I have submitted myself to many shepherds over the years, some better than others. It can be hard to be a follower, to be a sheep of the flock. We follow shepherds that are imperfect, but striving to be like Jesus.
A good pastor is not like the hired hand, who neglects the sheep and gives up on them in times of trouble. I have known a few pastors who bore too close a resemblance to the hired hand, and who seem to put their own safety, comfort and image first. Those aren’t the sort of shepherds I am willing to follow.
There are certain skills and gifts that make some people better leaders than others from an objective standpoint. But pastoral leadership is more than personality. Good shepherds care about their sheep, and their work is rooted in love.
The best pastors I know are flawed people who make mistakes and have brokenness in their relationships, like everyone else in the fallen world. But because they love well, because their congregations know they care, they are willing to forgive and to follow.
That same child, just before kindergarten, bounded up to me after church and said, “I know Pastor Tom is a good pastor!”
“Why do you think that?” I asked her.
“Because he really cares people.”
“You’re right,” I told her. “He really does.”