Strange Shepherding Styles

As I consult with churches and leaders, I have observed something very strange. In many places, the shepherds of God's people are trying to shepherd the flock in new and different ways. My mother grew up in New Mexico in a sheepherder family. My granddaddy was a sheepherder (early 20th century jargon for shepherd). Shepherding is not rocket science. The best way to shepherd is by shepherding--taking care of the strays, protecting the flock, taking responsibility for feeding and watering, and avoiding the tendency to overeat. Spending time with the flock, leading (not driving), walking among the flock--these are the activities of the shepherd.

Shepherds ought also to recognize that 90% of what can go wrong with a sheep goes wrong with its head. We even have a distinct vocabulary to reflect this in terms such as muttonhead or pull the wool over his eyes.

This article identifies four contemporary leadership techniques being employed in many of our churches. These leadership styles appear very strange when considered against the background of shepherding.

Shepherding By Announcements.

With only a passing awareness of the nature of shepherding, it seems strange that any would conclude that sheep could be led by announcements, yet I know of congregations where the shepherds continually arise and make announcements concerning what they want the sheep to do, hoping that a few of the sheep will actually follow this unusual method of shepherding. Plans are announced with the expectation that everyone will follow. Gone is the personal touch, the compassionate hand on the shoulder urging greater involvement, expressions of belief in others, encouragement, and equipping. The longer I study the methods of the shepherd, the stranger this approach seems.

Shepherding by Commands.

I also hear of churches where shepherding is done by public requests (demands) for compliance. I hear of elders standing before their flocks urging compliance, greater attendance (you ought to be here) or great involvement based on guilt (we don't have anyone to do this!). I can hardly imagine my mother as a teenager standing before her flock making announcements or commanding. You can teach a dog to obey, you can train other animals--but when it comes to sheep, forget it! I think it no accident that God decided to use the metaphor of sheep for his people. It familiar in former days; perhaps we need to become more familiar with the metaphor. It says a lot about the church.

Shepherding by Decision-Making.

Then there are numerous churches where well-meaning leaders try to shepherd by decision. Generally we have made decision making exclusively the work of a shepherd. Certainly leaders must lead, but think further. Once the decision is made, guess who is going to implement it! Not the sheep--the shepherd! Sheep may be willing followers when they are shepherded, but sheep don't have much initiative. Decision making shepherding still requires the individual touch.

Shepherding by Proxy.

Finally, I remind that shepherding by proxy has never been very effective. Jesus even spoke to this fallacy (John 10). The proxy shepherd (the keeper of the cote) is a hireling, and seldom has the well-being of the sheep foremost in mind. Shepherding is dirty work. Shepherds have to go where the sheep go, to find them, recover them, rescue them, restore them, protect them, guide them, and nurture them. Effective shepherding never depended upon loud announcements, requests for compliance, commands, or making decisions hoping the sheep will catch on. (They won't! Remember, they're sheep!)

May God give us his church in this age shepherds who will shepherd the flock in the most logical way--by shepherding!

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