In many of today’s farms sheep have become little more than a commodity. They exist merely for the purpose of making a profit and while their health is cared for it is more to do with ensuring a good return than it is out of genuine concern for their welfare. Without stretching our metaphor too far, it is sadly true that we can make a comparison between the sheep of the modern farm or station and the sheep of God’s pasture. Whether these ‘sheep’ are in the congregation, workplaces or elsewhere in community they are often perceived as a means to an end rather than the end in itself.
What church pastor isn’t asked ‘how big is your church’ at gatherings of other pastors? Which businessman doesn’t evaluate his or her employees on the basis of their utility value to the company? Where is the football or sporting club that isn’t concerned with the number of its supporters, irrespective of their individual need or circumstance? In each of these examples the sheep have become numbers or commodities, they cease to have any value except in so far as they provide some sort of return. It is true that pastor’s measure themselves and their success on the basis of the number in their congregation, the bigger the flock – the more effective the shepherd. The sad fact is that while the number of sheep that come into the gate of the fold may grow it is often at the expense of those who have gone over the back fence. Many of these sheep have become lost and once more wander in the wilderness.
Recently I sat with a lady on an international flight, in the course of conversation she mentioned that she used to attend a church in the city in which she lived. Unfortunately she found the style and emphasis of the pastor difficult to accept and so she had left. Since she had gone no one had visited her and probably were not even aware that she was no longer there. She is not an isolated case. Everyday men and women are leaving congregations because they are not cared for, and many of these are no longer part of the fold. In Jeremiah’s day the shepherds were condemned because they had not tended to the sheep, instead they had caused them to scatter. In our program driven society it is difficult to remember that the fundamental task of the shepherd is to care for the sheep, our own driven ness in achieving the goals we have set for our congregations and ourselves has all too often driven the sheep away. This is true too in the workplace, our drive to succeed, to make more profit and achieve our goals sometimes causes us to see our employees as a means to an end, just another resource to be used in filling our business plan. Employees performance may deteriorate because of personal issues but because we are so preoccupied with the bottom line we fail to notice and do not stop and care for them.
God is raising up a new generation of shepherds. He will place them in congregations, businesses, community groups and politics. These shepherds will have compassion for those in their care. They will remove fear and give a sense of security and they will be genuinely concerned for the welfare of those that God has entrusted to them. The day is coming when God will raise up elected officials who will shepherd their nations, business leaders who will put the spiritual welfare of their employees above their profit margins, community representatives who will genuinely look after the needs of their community and pastors who will know the names and condition of their sheep and who will commit themselves so fully to their God given call that not one will be missing.
God has promised he will do this, and by his grace will you be one of these new breed of shepherds? Will you declare today that you will fully commit yourself to the sheep that he has entrusted to you and trust him to give you the grace, favour and strength you need?