Y’all this is a LONG open letter to my church and any other churches out there who need to hear it. It’s not about society and sheep, but rather about the church body being the flock. Our preacher/pastor/clergy is the sheep dog & we are the sheep. We need to understand the responsibilities of each role and learn, as a church – as THE CHURCH – how to act in those roles and move ourselves and our congregations forward in this ever-changing world.
The metaphor – the sheep dog & sheep
I’m going to use and refer to a metaphor I heard recently about the congregation being the sheep and the pastor being the shepherd… but I don’t agree with that exactly… rather I believe he’s the sheep dog. We all look to our shepherd, THE SHEPHERD – Christ Jesus, for the well-being of our souls. Both the sheep dog and sheep look to him to provide us green pastures and water.
The sheep dog is kind of like the right hand to the shepherd though. He is responsible for helping guide the sheep the direction the shepherd asks. He can herd and chase and bark, but if the sheep dog does not work well with a particular flock the flock still has a mind of its own and can wander any way it chooses. If members of a flock leave and go their own way, the sheep dog can go after them and try to round them back up, but ultimately only the shepherd can carry a sheep back to the herd, and only if and when that sheep is ready to be carried.
The sheep dog can try to protect the flock from wolves and predators, but he is but one individual. The sheep must help protect their weak. They must help protect the vulnerable. They must stand strong, together, united as one body. THAT! That is how the flock protects itself from enemies.
The sheep dog cannot bring new sheep to the flock. That is not his job. Sheep make new sheep, communicate with sheep, and otherwise grow a flock. The sheep dog simply helps care for the flock. The shepherd can add to the flock as he finds sheep who are willing to join the flock. The flock must also be willing to accept new sheep – no matter if they are sick or weak or different or black sheep. We as a flock must be willing to protect each other, all of the sheep, together.
The new struggle – big changes are coming
Because my church could not stand together as a flock and support our sheep dog. Because we expect the sheep dog to do all of the work protecting us, guiding us, leading us, chasing the lost, and growing the flock, we are now left without a sheep dog. Our pastor has resigned. We must now begin the laborious process of finding a new pastor. One who has to be willing to step into the mess that our congregation has made. One that will not be appealing to most. One that will likely scare off some. We need to find a sheep dog who can help inspire and help re-unite the flock as best as he can. If not encourage some of the flock to grow enough that we can protect the whole flock, even when some don’t want protecting or feel we need it.
Our church congregation is wounded. We are weak. Our flock is quickly losing sheep to other, more appealing herds. We are not doing what we can to make our flock safe and welcoming. We have major tension that is almost palpable to guests, even during church services. This is NOT how we want to be known as a church, let alone Christians. Is it? I know that’s not who I believe I am. I want to be a church where the people to whom we minister can attend church services and not feel judged or unwelcome because of their clothing or social status or how they live. Jesus forgave us of our sins – we must be willing to welcome others so they KNOW he forgives them too.
Grace is how we came to be Christians
If we cannot have grace for those in our own flock, our flock will never grow. It will continue to shrink until we are no longer a flock, but a bunch of individual sheep wandering around until we find new flocks… and hopefully that one accepts us more than we accepted others. God gives us grace. Through the death of his son Jesus we have that grace. I cannot imagine the pain God felt to know that the only way he could save us all was not with another flood, but by allowing his son to be born of humans and live among us and our petty judgement until we killed him in one of the most brutal ways imaginable. Have you ever read up on the physiology of death by cross? It’s horrifying. I know I would be forever changed if I watched one of my boys go through that. With that most painful death, the blood shed for us, gives us life eternal if we only believe in Jesus and who he is. That’s it. We believe and we ask him to guide our lives and we get grace. A grace like I have never known from a single person on Earth. A grace that while I aspire to it, I fail at giving even to my own children. So, who am I to judge another if I fail to give my own children grace in all they do? Who am I to judge the shortcomings of those called to lead me and my family on the narrow path? I don’t believe I have that right. I don’t believe any of us sheep have that right. Our sheep dog was brought to us by our shepherd, yes we might have voted on him, but ultimately he was God-given to our church. How can we decide that because we don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye that we are allowed to rebut him? Speak openly against him or get to make him feel like he failed us when we are clearly the failures?
Grace is how we grow the flock
The resignation has been announced. Our sheep dog is leaving us. Now we must go with grace out into the world to search for a new sheep dog. I pray that we find one full of patience and love. Full of the grace we need to grow and cultivate within ourselves. I pray that we sew more seeds of grace and love in our pasture so when we find our new sheep dog, he can care for us where we are. He should not need to guide us across valleys and mountains to be able to nurture us and keep us safe and united. I pray that we find a sheep dog who will help us create a vision for our flock. A vision that is not lead by one person, but emotionally drives most of us. One that brings tears to our eyes. A vision that allows our church to be a beacon of hope and light in our community – just as our logo implies. I refuse to hide my light any longer. Please, join me. Let’s come together, as one flock, and shine a light so brightly any sheep dog would feel honored to be our guardian and guide.