Shepherds Should Smell Like Sheep
I heard a comment on the TV the other night that I really liked: "Shepherds should smell like sheep". It struck a nerve with me, so I decided I should sit down and write out my thoughts.
The meaning, I think, is obvious, but I, as a sheep who hopes to maybe one day be a shepherd and who has sat under several different shepherds, would like to expound a little bit on that thought.
A rabbi, a pastor, an elder.. they are technically all shepherds. And what does a shepherd do? He cares for his sheep. But he doesn't do it from a distance. He mingles with them constantly. So much so that he even begins to smell like one of them. A shepherd does not isolate himself and become apathetic about the well-being of the sheep. The shepherd is there to serve the sheep.
Yeshua gave us several parables relating the relationship between a shepherd and his sheep. He said that a good shepherd will leave 99 of his sheep behind to go and find one lost sheep. How does the shepherd know that one is missing? He is always aware of where his sheep are and of their spiritual well-being. How is the shepherd even going to know this if he does not make an effort to mingle with his sheep? And not just mingle, mind you, but to actually get dirty in the process. The shepherd cares for his sheep. He is panged to see even one led astray, and will do everything in his power to bring that sheep back into the fold.
A good shepherd should not "Lord it over his sheep". He does not try to force them into submission by using abusive methods, such as continuously striking them with his staff (or, rather, using harsh language constantly with them, either in sermons or in common interactions). A good shepherd disciplines when necessary, but his sole effort should not be to discipline but rather to get to know his sheep better. This establishes trust, and will cause the sheep to be less prone to wander (and try to find another shepherd).
If the shepherd instead decides to set up a fence between himself and the rest of the flock (i.e., between the pulpit and the congregants), then there will be serious issues further on down the road. The sheep will begin to lose trust. They will begin to mumble, and to complain. The entire spiritual well-being of the flock will be in danger. Sheep need a shepherd. They don't need a spiritual dictator.
Yeshua, of course, is the Good Shepherd (John 10:14). Shepherds are to follow His perfect example. Which means to serve the sheep. He admonished Peter several times to "feed My sheep", and that admonishment is for every shepherd out there. To serve means just that; to be self-less, to give up some of your earthly desires for the well-being of the sheep.
I have had the privilege of knowing many shepherds during my 18-year walk with the Lord. I have observed that the shepherds who spend real, valuable time with their sheep are the ones who are the happiest also in their private lives, and their flocks are quite happy themselves. The shepherds who instead isolate themselves and take off after services, never fellowshipping with the sheep during other times of the week and even before/after the service for that matter, have serious personal issues. I question why those people are shepherds in the first place. And I've heard sheep of those congregations mumble and complain behind the shepherd's back.
Yeshua told us to wash each other's feet. Everyone, not just shepherds, should humble themselves in such a manner as to serve others. The Good Shepherd set the example for the rest of the shepherds, who in turn should set the example for the rest of the sheep. A healthy flock is a flock where the sheep know the shepherd, and there is a lot of trust and transparency between both parties. A shepherd is not a god: he is a sheep of the Good Shepherd Himself.
In the corporate world, the CEO is at the top of the pyramid; below him, the board of directors, then the executives, the managers, supervisors, on down to the regular employees. In God's Kingdom, the pyramid/triangle is completely inverted: the Good Shepherd is at the bottom, sustaining and serving the entire flock or body. He is the Rock and our Foundation. Above Him (in the triangle model only, of course, as Messah is the head and ruler of all) are the apostles, then the prophets, bishops, shepherds, teachers, etc., up to the common layman. In the world's triangle model, the CEO is pretty much inaccessible to the majority of the company. In the Kingdom's triangle model, the Good Shepherd is available to ALL, and likewise those who follow in leadership should also make themselves available to all of their sheep.
But on a side note, companies where the CEO makes himself available to more people, the common co-worker, tend to be quite successful and have a lower turnover rate. The company I work for has a CEO that is very transparent with the employees. I once stood in the elevator with him on the way up to my floor in Dallas. He was very pleasant, had a big smile on his face, and said hello to everyone in the elevator. The company has meetings where employees can interact directly with the CEO. And the turnover rate for this company is extremely low. A reason why I have been there 10 years, and many of my coworkers for an even longer time.
I use that example to illustrate my point: how much more so should a shepherd of a congregation make himself available to all of his flock! And be transparent. If he does, he will be the better for it, and so will the sheep, and there will be a low turnover rate. The sheep won't feel sidelined and prone to take off and look for a more compassionate and accessible shepherd.
My main point and back to the original thought: a shepherd who does not smell like sheep, is really not a shepherd at all. At least not in the biblical sense.
Those are just some thoughts from a sheep. I throw them out there for other sheep, and shepherds, and potential shepherds, to munch on.
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