The Shepherd’s Tools
Sheep aren’t nearly as dumb as we’ve made them out to be in stories and political comparisons. But they are a herd animal, to a fault. And they are utterly defenseless.
They were, and to some extent still are in some areas of the world, relied on for food and clothing.
Because of their importance back then, they are referenced heavily in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, and we still often refer to Jesus the the Good Shepherd, and pastors as shepherds of their flocks. But we are so far removed from that world of sheep and shepherds that the imagery and references are lost, and we generally put forth the work of a pastor as a weak/poor/flawed ‘caring for the flock‘.
The sheep had enemies. Sometimes it was their own behavior, often it was natural predators. How did the shepherd protect the sheep?
Let’s look at the tools of the shepherd. There are four primary tools shepherds used then.
- His presence. Sheep are one of the ultimate herd animals. As in the picture above, in many circumstances, they can be led from the front. There are times, though, where that isn’t enough, this the other tools…
- His staff. The long, thin stick, sometimes with a crook or bend at the end, was multipurpose. It served the shepherd as a walking stick, to check the path/footing of an area, to guide the sheep, and in the case of the crook, to hook around the neck of the straying sheep. It was also a medium-range primarily defensive weapon that could be used at fend off predators.
- His rod. The rod was basically a club, often with a heavier knob on one end. Similar to an Irish shillelagh, but without the accent. It was a close-range weapon.
- His sling. There is the story of David facing Goliath, of course. But slings weren’t as one-dimensional as that. They could be a deadly long-range weapon against predators, but could also be used to drop a rock on the other side of a straying sheep to scare them back toward the flock.
The question, though, is how do the references to shepherds compare to our current state of the church, and pastors in particular.
I don’t think the comparison serves pastors in general very well, unfortunately. The shepherd’s job was protecting the sheep, not simply caring for them…a vague, subjective, emotional job description wouldn’t have cut it, and his tools certainly didn’t reflect that kind of ambiguity. He protected the sheep personally, and he was equipped to protect them short-, medium-, and long-range.
We need fewer professional pastors, and far more shepherds of the flock.
Sheep aren’t nearly as dumb as we’ve made them out to be in stories and political comparisons. But they are a herd animal, to a fault. And they are utterly defenseless. They were, and to some extent still are in some areas of the world, relied on for food and clothing. Because of their importance…