Saturday, November 24, 2012

Goat-herds and shepherds

There is one major difference between a goat-herd and a shepherd, other than the fact that one herds goats and the other herds sheep. (For the purpose of NOT making this post difficult to read by putting a lot of references in to "his or her" - I'll just say "his" - you can assume I also mean "her" if that's what floats your boat.)

It's the manner in which each gets his charges to go where they need to be.  

A young goat-herd motivates his charges to move.
The goat-herd positions himself somewhere to the rear of the group and uses his stick to whack the goats on the side or the backside to drive them in the direction he wants them to go. His means of motivating his goats is external. Basically, he tells them with his stick, "You're not where you should be. Go there. Do that. Stop doing this." 

The shepherd, on the other hand, goes ahead of his flock. He calls to them and moves forward. The sheep trust him and follow willingly. He carries a stick, but it has a crook in the top to rescue the sheep who's caught in a thorn-bush, to hook around its neck or under a leg to pull it to safety. The other end - the rod end - is to ward off enemies; its use is for punishment. Rarely if ever does the shepherd use the rod on his sheep. His way of making the sheep go where he wants is by going there himself first, and they will want to follow; he doesn't have to whack them. They learn to trust the staff as an extension of his loving care for them, and be grateful that the shepherd is there to protect them from the predators with his rod.

In the church, a problem arises when shepherds, entrusted with the care of their flock, act like goat-herds. A sheep treated like a goat will end up acting like a goat: rebellious, inattentive, mistrusting, and stubborn. 

It is indeed frustrating to see people floundering around in their own free will and heading into danger zones. It is frustrating to see empty prayer rooms and altars full of bless-me Christians, overworked people in ministries with nobody to give them any respite, folks with seemingly nothing better to do than criticize those who ARE working their tails off, and interpersonal conflicts that nobody seems to want to resolve, each thinking that it's the other's responsibility to make the first move. The natural tendency is to want to yell at them, shake them, do something to make them behave themselves so that the desired result is produced. The problem is that for the most part, that kind of approach is met with even more of the same. People will become more stubborn, more needy, more selfish. It's the push-push-back reaction. 

It takes something of the divine to launch out in front instead, and show the way, to trust the results to God. For, as if I had to spell it out, it is not the shepherd's job to "make" his flock do anything. Effecting change in someone is not anyone's job but One - the One who is even now interceding on our behalf and who groans within each of us to transform us into better people from the inside out. Leading is a labor of love. And it's also an exercise in trust - trusting God and also trusting the people who are being led. Intimidation, sarcasm, and shame are weapons ... and not ever to be used on the flock. 

Lean on the staff

May I go a step further here and say a personal word about the notion that many leaders have regarding leadership? I am not merely speaking to pastors here. I am also talking to anyone in a position of leadership, from a church ministry to a parent to a coach.

One of the most powerful statements I ever heard from a pastor was this, "Don't be afraid to lead with a limp." He talked about Jacob - the time when he wrestled with someone a lot stronger than he was (who turned out to be what most Bible scholars call a "pre-incarnation manifestation of Jesus") and would not let go until He blessed him. This powerful being touched him in his hip (and blessed him when he would not let go even then, changing his name to IsraĆ«l), and ever afterward, Jacob walked with a limp. It was a reminder to him that once God touches your life, you are never the same again. But it is also a reminder to us that vulnerability doesn't make you a weaker person; it makes you a stronger one because people see your desire to follow the Master even when it is hard, even when you can't do it as well as someone else might. 

That vulnerability keeps you humble, keeps you depending on God instead of relying on your own strength.  It prevents you from being arrogant and judgmental. 

Paul knew about this too ... most intimately!! He called his "thorn in the flesh" a "messenger of Satan to buffet me." Yet we learn from the book of Job that nothing happens without God's okay. So, when Paul asked that this hindrance be removed, God said NO. It was a sure bet that Paul's thorn in the flesh (whatever it was) hampered his efforts, limited his ability to do what he thought he "should" be doing. (See my series on "shoulds and oughtas" for an in-depth discussion of that whole topic, search for it on Get Unwrapped!) But God wasn't interested in how MUCH Paul did FOR Him but in how much HE could do in PAUL. Bingo. Here is the crux of the matter. God is only interested in conforming us into the image of His Son Jesus (Romans 8:29) and if the truth were told, THAT is the "good" that He causes all things to work together for (vs. 28). 

It's okay if the sheep see you limping, leaning on the staff once in a while. It helps them identify with you. Gone are the days when ministers, parents, and leaders needed to project the image of invulnerability, of "having it all together." That kind of image smacks of authoritarianism ... and makes the rest of us feel as though there's something wrong with us when we get tired, or bored, or frustrated with ourselves, when in fact, those feelings are perfectly normal and human. Or it might make us feel resentful that you seem to expect us to be carbon copies of you, when that's not necessarily what God has called us to be. Perhaps.

I would venture to say that the limp, the vulnerability, the weakness of which you are so ashamed, makes you a better leader. It gives you compassion. It helps you remember that the process of self-improvement ... or sanctification if you want to call it that ... is just that - a process. It isn't a destination and it is no human's responsibility to produce that in anyone else's life. It is an outflow of a relationship with God that bursts out of its little box and takes over more and more of an individual's life. It spills out over all other relationships: with self, with others. It is not your responsibility to make that happen. Quite frankly, it is God's.  He's been doing it for a very long time. He's probably qualified. ;)

So perhaps it's better to follow the Good Shepherd, pay attention to your own spiritual growth, and just live your life. He'll take care of the rest. And along the way, some people might see you following Him, and they might do the same, in a way that is unique to them. 

So much the better.

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