Words for Thought…The Ecology of Ministry: Beyond Shepherds and Shepherding

May 24th, 2018 | Category: Columns, Words for Thought
By Shirley Morgenthaler

Our understanding of shepherding as service to others is foundational for our understanding of ministry. Jesus Christ is referred to in both Old and New Testaments as shepherd—a model shepherd for us to emulate. He is the Good Shepherd, one who cares for the flock of God’s people. We, too, are exhorted to be shepherds of the flock. Jesus told the disciples, and especially Peter, to be shepherds of the flock—the Church—of God.

The analogy of shepherding may have been more helpful to the people of Jesus’ day than to us, however. They had real and everyday experiences with sheep and with shepherds. They knew in real, not abstract, ways that Jesus was telling them to be consumingly concerned with the welfare of those in their care.

They knew that He was telling them to lead gently and lovingly, never harshly. They knew that He was telling them to protect their “flocks” from danger, especially from dangers of which they were not aware. They knew that He was telling them to find wholesome and nourishing food, and to feed their flocks in safe and protected environments. They knew that they were to walk with their flocks, supporting them in their life journeys much as a shepherd stays with and walks with his sheep.

Let’s review for a moment some of the key passages of Scripture where our concepts of shepherds and shepherding are built. One of the major passages is Psalm 23. The entire psalm uses the shepherd metaphor of the Lord as the model for caring. This metaphor is made considerably stronger by the fact that Jesus refers to Himself in John 10 as the Good Shepherd. Isaiah, too refers to Christ as one who tends His flock like a shepherd, who carriers the lambs in His arms.

Both Peter and Paul, then, take the metaphor to the next step. They specifically exhort the other disciples and church leaders to model their ministries after that of the Good Shepherd. Paul encourages us to “be shepherds of the Church of God” (Acts 20:28). Peter more specifically entreats us to ‘’be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care” (1 Peter 5:2).

The picture in each of these passages is one of peace, care, compliance, safety, and concern. The concept includes quiet, time for reflection, with calm and competent leadership.

Shepherds protect. They are ecological preservationists. They resist and protect from change in the land­ scape, for change in the landscape could mean danger to the sheep. Shepherds look for calm… for peaceful meadows, for refreshing and quiet streams.

But this is not always possible! Life isn’t always peaceful. The human flock isn’t always as compliant as the wool­ bearing variety. Busy-ness replaces time for reflection. Keeping the sheep safe is sometimes a thankless, hopeless task!

There are problems and pitfalls in the shepherding mindset. There are situations and opportunities where shepherding is not the answer. Sometimes we challenge rat her than protect. Sometimes we run ahead rather than walk beside. Sometimes we prick and stir up rather than preserve and calm. Simply put, there are times when a different analogy might be useful. LEJ

Column Information

This column is an excerpt of a monograph Dr. Morgenthaler produced for the Lutheran Education Association in 1992. The full monograph can be found at http://www.lea.org/Portals/10/Monographs/BeyonShepMorgenthaler.pdf.