When going for a walk with a Sheep Dog you can see its natural behaviour. When we walk in a group of people, the dog is always running up and down from the front to the back of the group, making sure all the people are together and none are left behind. The Sheep Dog is a natural gatherer.
This is what shepherding is about. A shepherd makes sure all the people are together. He makes sure he takes all the people with him. So a shepherd is people orientated, not project orientated.
Jesus was like this. He visited people and ate and drank with them. His whole ministry was people orientated. He was constantly interrupted by people while on his way to places, but he never saw these people as interruptions. These interruptions – these people – were the reason he woke up each morning. The issues and situations people brought to him were never seen by Jesus as interruptions to what he was doing. These people were what Jesus was doing. The people and the problems were his project. Many of his teachings, which we treasure so much today, came out of these interruptions.
This shepherding, this taking people with us, is God’s main purpose for us all. We are called as shepherds. Gathering others is the work of shepherds. Jesus said the Pharisees scattered because they didn’t care for those who straggled behind. Jesus said his purpose was to gather, and those who gather work with him. He spoke of leaving the 99 well people and going back to look for the 1 who was left behind. He spoke of looking for the person, like a lost and highly valued coin. This transfers the value we place on possessions to place the value on people instead. By going through Samaria Jesus showed that we value all people, not just those who are like us. “I have sheep from other folds too.” He isn’t nationalist.
This shepherding life is the life that heals nations. It heals our family groups, our church groups, and our communities. It isn’t investment in infrastructure that our nations need right now. It is investment in each other, in those left behind, in those we have considered enemies. Infrastructure is only good when it truly helps these. When a nation of people lives like this all things are healed. It just takes some people to start living it out, to show it is possible and to reveal this is God’s way. Then large numbers of people follow and soon we find out nation has adopted very different ethics and starts to show care to others. Quarrels start to heal and long term bitterness begins to fade into the past. As an Egyptian believer said recently, “When we care for others we don’t need fences.”
One tradition we are used to hearing about concerning the shepherd is that he protects the sheep from the wolf. When the wolf comes the shepherd smites the wolf and saves the sheep. This view often supports a violent shepherd idea. Instead of gathering all people, some are depicted as enemies and driven away. The violent shepherd idea can even support punitive actions against others, economic domination over nations or even many wars.
How have we got this view of our shepherd calling so wrong? We have got it wrong because we misunderstand what the enemy is. When we see that “we don’t war against flesh and blood” then the way we protect the sheep is different. The wolf is not aggressive people, but the aggressive spirit or culture of a fallen world. The shepherd keeps this wolf from taking over in our hearts. He keeps our hearts pure from the world and its self-centred actions. The shepherd says to the sheep, “the wolf is coming but he has nothing in us.” Jesus sees the wolf coming and calls us to follow him and serve instead, to overcome the wolf by taking up our cross, as Jesus overcame him. And the sheep hear his voice.