March 8, 2014

Leadersheep Pt2: Who Owns The Sheep?

My wife Jill put a slight scratch in our car recently.  It’s ok. It’s barely visible, it’s polishing out a little and, most importantly, it’s our car. We own it so we own the scratch.

Now if my wife or, perish the thought, I had put a slight scratch in someone else’s car no amount of “It’s ok/barely visible/polishing out a little” would really cut it would it? We would feel bad about it. Why? Because we don’t own it, it’s not our car, and we are handing the car – and the scratch – onto someone else to deal with.

In Part 1 of Leadersheep we explored how the leaders of the church communities that Peter is writing to are called both shepherds and sheep.  They don’t get to stand aloof from the flock because they are part of it, and are subject to the same calling the rest of the flock is.

But here’s a second point Peter makes:  The flock does not belong to you!  5:1 – Shepherd the flock of GOD.” This is not your group of people to do what you like with, not your congregation to fulfil your dreams by, not your sheep to decide how best to use them.  It is God’s flock, and it has always been God’s flock, as Ezekiel 34 reminds us so forcefully. Indeed Peter goes on to say that “the chief Shepherd” will appear at some stage.  And when he does what will be the role of the shepherds? To hand over the sheep to him intact.

What happens when this goes wrong?  Well, read Ezekiel 34 as I said.  It’s a sorry sight seeing the sheep being abused by shepherds as if they owned them.

And here’s the rub: That tendency to treat the sheep as if you own them hasn’t gone away.  I well remember sitting in a pastor’s conference hearing an international church growth guru say “What are sheep for? What is the role of the shepherd?  To lead the sheep to a place where they can be sheared and slaughtered.”  Everyone taking notes furiously: “Shorn eh?” “Slaughtered eh?”. Perhaps they had the faces of a few sheep in mind when they heard those words too.  If all it did was betray a risible understanding of the shepherd/sheep analogy in the Scriptures that is one thing (Psalm 23 anyone? John 10 and 21 anyone?) that would have been enough, but as I observed it over the following years it bore the bitter fruit of that understanding of sheep.  Sheep got shorn and slaughtered on the altar of church growth – whatever that means.  That comment left a palpable sense in the air that the shepherds/pastors assumed that they owned the sheep.

But before we good Reformed church planting types get all hurrumphy  about those “lighter” evangelical types and their church growth models, let’s ask ourselves the question.  How often do we view the flock as a means to an end, our end, also?  I mean it is possible to mouth all of the right words theologically about the sheep, but treat them roughly, burn them out, drive them to distraction in an attempt to get things rolling.  So what if there is a bit of collateral damage?  Don’t the bigger ends justify the means?  If a few sheep end up being barbecued, isn’t that ok?

Of course it’s not, because they are not our sheep. And don’t think it can’t happen to you, because I have seen it happen in a place with nary a theological hair out of place.     The issue is not what you believe about how a sheep gets saved and when and where that was decided in eternity, but whether you are convinced that the flock belongs to God and you are there to look after them.

1 Peter 5:3 challenges the shepherds to not be domineering over the sheep, “being examples to the flock.”  I take it that means the shepherds have to be prepared to take the first hit for the flock, be the first to demonstrate transparency, humility and an ability to say sorry.  Without a humble, open heart, shepherds will always run the risk of treating the sheep roughly.  Shearing and slaughtering?  Kinda makes a mockery of Jesus’s thrice-said statement to Peter about feeding and tending his flock.

In conclusion, what’s at the foundation of this aberration?  1Peter5:4 makes it clear: “And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” Simply put, shepherds run the risk of settling for a fading crown of glory, a chance to make an impact now, an opportunity to make a name for yourself, a possibility of a book, or a conference gig or a tour.  Such useless baubles will be thrown into the fire when the chief Shepherd appears in His glory.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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