Church Butchers

820572-abattoir-workers

Sheep are there to be shorn and slaughtered

About a decade ago the denomination I was involved with brought in a US church consultant who was seemingly having some success with revitalising a struggling US denomination similar, on the surface at least, in culture to ours. In reflection, the reasons the powers that be decided to use his services were pretty clear.  We too were struggling a little, the culture was drifting further away from us, and growth in most churches had plateaued, and declined in many others. Church planting was a distant pipe dream.  So the thought was, why not bring in an outside expert with no experience of Australian secular culture and little understanding of the struggle Australian pastors have in small churches, and get him to show us the way forward? (tut, tut, such cynicism – Sanctimonious Ed).

I won’t go into all the details, but the long and short of it was that the answer (panacea)  was a radical rethink about the role of the pastor, his relationship to the elders/board, and in turn their relationship to the congregation.  I get the feeling that many slightly burnt out, jaded pastors who’d had too many tough run-ins with recalcitrant congregations were sitting there all ears, notepad and pen poised.  The model suggested was very strongly board-driven, and the role of the board members was to protect the pastor from the whims of the congregation.  The ideal position was to get a pastor and a board who were completely aligned in thinking, and once this ideal place was reached, from there on in, any pastoral role would have to be approved by the board, and any board member vacancy would have to be strongly endorsed by the pastor and the rest of the board (I think I am seeing where this is going – Ed). The congregation would be, it appeared, allowed to rubber stamp the vision/finances/appointments, but not to veto them, and anyway, if the board had done its homework the major deals would be signed, sealed and slick-PowerPoint-delivered long before the life-distracted/tired from kids being sick/overworked mums and dads who made up the bulk of the congregation had time to pore over the fine print.

Leaving all of that aside – and given my general disinterest/inability in the finer points of church governance issues anyway – the warning light to me was a statement about the congregation by this consultant.  In fact, I wrote it down, so dismaying did I find it. Here is what he said:

What are sheep for?  They are there to be shorn and slaughtered.

Now by “sheep” I think he meant “congregation/church members/Christians”. And by “shorn and slaughtered” I think he meant “shorn and slaughtered”. I can’t remember anyone challenging that notion publicly (though the sound of pens on paper was evident), and I didn’t challenge him either (callow youth that I was), but someone should have!

 I hope that comment sends a chill down your spine.  If you know your Bible and your Biblical Theology it should.  Be a Berean.  Search the Scriptures to see if, whenever sheep are mentioned the role of the shepherd is simply to shear and slaughter them.  Imagine Psalm 23 reading “The Lord is my Shepherd..he leads me to the abattoir gate”, or, when Jesus commissions Peter to a shepherding role after his resurrection he says “shear and slaughter ’em for me will you mate?”  It’s instructive that the precondition for Peter to “feed my sheep”, is Jesus’ satisfaction that Peter loves Jesus.  Those who love Jesus look after the sheep the way Jesus the chief shepherd wants them to.

Let’s face it, you just can’t go to the Bible to see God’s sheep primarily being shorn and slaughtered.  They are there to be led, protected, fed, taught, gathered into the fold etc.  In other words they are to be cherished for who they are, not for what they can do for you.  Listen to these damning words from God in Ezekiel to Israel’s leaders:

  The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep?You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.

What is the problem of the shepherds?  They have become self-seeking, self-serving and , I reckon, oblivious to their behaviour without God’s revealing word to them.  Perhaps the most important observation in this passage, apart from all the things that should be done for the sheep rather than the things being done to the sheep, is the fact that the sheep are God’s! “My sheep” it says in verse six.  Would any pastor feel all that comfortable on the last day when Jesus asks “What have you done with MY sheep?” to respond simply with “Slaughtered and shorn them, my Master.”

The great irony of course is that Jesus, the chief shepherd, is also the sheep that IS slaughtered and IS the sheep silent before its shearers. Jesus is the Lamb, shorn of dignity, shorn of reputation, shorn of clothing even, who in silent submission is then slaughtered to demonstrate that he is indeed the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11).  And what is the role of the pastor in a church?  To lay down his life for the sheep who are entrusted to him, through prayer, wrestling with the Word, dealing with his own sin, discipling, exhorting, and yes, leading the sheep to where they can be fed. Beware shepherds, any attitude creeping in that despises the sheep, uses them for your own agenda, or allows the wolf of false teaching/physical predator to creep in and scatter and destroy the sheep.

One day, as Peter says many years after his commissioning (1Peter 5:4), the chief Shepherd will appear, and under-shepherds will be called to give account. It would a terrifying thing indeed if the first thing Jesus says to his under-shepherds is “Hi, I’m back. Hey, how come I can smell barbecue?” Woe-betide any shepherd on that day who has sheep blood on his hands.

7 Comments

  1. Good stuff Steve. I somehow feel that that consultant has influenced an entire denomination and has much to answer for in terms of the governance models being offered up by churches across it! I may have missed it but I don’t seem to see a biblical model being sought in our churches. Leadership is seemingly afraid to lead and serve people from a biblical world-view. I feel that we are drifting away – slowly and steadily, a bit like a swimmer in a slight rip … sooner or later we’ll look up and the shore will be a long way off, and we’ll continue to flounder in our own strength.
    And the people will continue to suffer from a severe lack of love

  2. I think there will also be a lot to answer for for having locked up the sheep in an industrial sized lot to fatten them up, instead of leading them out into safe pastures for them to feed themselves. When it says feed my sheep, it does not mean hand feeding, in other words it does not mean a sermon should be the focal point of feeding – how did that happen?

    1. Hi Jo
      I think you are onto something. I still do think that the sermon is integral, but feeding is about learning how to feed oneself, and good Bible teaching (including the sermon) will allow the sheep to do that and not be totally dependent on the feeder. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit promised in the OT too.

      1. I look forward to debating the point about sermon’s being integral 🙂 I know teaching has a part to play, just as you do with children. You do not carry on teaching children all their life though, you hopefully give them the skills to move off and make their own way in life and in the future only being there for some advice or someone to talk to and to just share the joys and the sorrows in what they are doing. Teaching needs to be appropriate to the stage of development and not something that is perpetually needed, at least not from the same person. I think most pastors would feel deeply uncomfortable with their flock going off and learning new ideas from others to “feed” the stage in life they are at, and yet for a healthy community that needs to happen. People going out to learn new skills and bringing them back into the community and sharing them with the others. They could even be as much about practical skills as “spiritual skills” and maybe something to think about when it comes to integrating into different communities – what are their needs that addressing, and looking beyond the evangelists eyes.

  3. yes, having worked in the denomination, your observations matched what I’ve seen around the place.. I didn’t know about the consultant who came over.

    yes – and they will know we are his children by our love

  4. and i’m stunned by that comment – sheep are to be shorn and slaughtered. sometimes people are too polite to visiting speakers, to not have challenged it. or, perhaps it just takes a while to digest, and process a counter response for most people.

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