Thoughts on leadership and caring from a real shepherd, part 1
Imitating the Good Shepherd, Part 3: Loving and Sacrificing
In the previous parts (part 1, part 2), we’ve talked about pursuing and protecting our sheep, the people God has given us to care for. We want to emulate the Good Shepherd, all the while realizing that only Jesus is the true shepherd and that we as leaders are also sheep under his care. In this part we’ll talk about both the joy and the high cost of caring for the people around us.
Laying down our lives.
In John 10:14-21 Jesus winds up his parable by emphasizing the ultimate price of being a good shepherd: “I lay down my life for the sheep. I lay it down of my own accord” (verses 15, 17, 18). In a very old classic, The Land and the Book, Dr. W. M. Thomson writes: “When the thief and robber come … the faithful shepherd has often to put his life in his hand to defend the flock. I have known more than one case where [a shepherd] had literally to lay it down in the contest. A poor fellow, … instead of fleeing, actually fought three Bedouin robbers until he was hacked to pieces … and died among the sheep he was defending.”
What will you have to lay down to shepherd your flock? Time, other relationships, weekend road trips, self-centeredness — things that get in the way of giving your sheep the care they need. With all the other things to do in and out of class, on and off the campus, it’s easy to neglect the people under your care. Don’t sit back after the initial rush of New Student Outreach. Have meals with people. Go to movies together. Take folks home to meet your parents. Invite them to go to a weekend conference with you. When they get hurt, show your care by being there. Rejoice with them when they’re celebrating. Get to know them well enough that they know and trust your voice as you provide leadership.
Saved by Love
As you listen to each section of Jesus’ parable about sheep and shepherds in John 10, one overarching truth emerges: the good shepherd has a deep, throbbing love for his sheep. That’s the kind of love Jesus the Good Shepherd has for us; and that’s the kind of life-changing love that he desires us to have for others.
When I was a shepherd, I was entrusted with the task of playing midwife to 1,000 pregnant sheep. I worked hard to get the birthing room prepared. When the sheep went out to pasture, I kept a close watch for ewes who looked ready to give birth. One cold fall day I decided to check on the flock every 30 minutes; a newborn lamb would soon die of exposure in the chill wind.
About midaftemoon I got busy doing something in the barn and suddenly realized that it had been an hour since I last checked the flock. I ran out of the barn and spotted a ewe with not one but two little white lambs laying in the grass next to her, cold, lifeless and still.
I jumped into our pickup and raced down the pasture. As soon as I got there I picked up the closest lamb. It was stiff and hard and dead. Then, as my heart sank I heard a faint cry: “Buh-h-h-h.” My eyes raced to the other lamb. He looked just as dead — but he wasn’t. I laid him under the heater in the front seat and sped back to the barn. His life depended on getting warm. Fast.
I thought my carpet-lined heated box in the barn would bring him around. But he just lay, unmoving, in the bottom of it. Minutes ticked by. Still no response.
I picked him up again, put him under the heater in my pickup and tore to my grandma’s house. “Fill the sink with warm water!” I called out as I burst through the door. She did, and we watched the lamb lay in warm water up to his ears. We saw nothing except a few feeble movements of his back legs. I began to feel desperate.
I hurried him back to the hot, carpet-lined box in the barn. Maybe some warm milk will do the trick, I thought. But after I eased the black nipple of the bottle between his clenched teeth, I began to hear chattering breathing — a sure sign that some liquid had gone down his lungs. Great shepherd I am, I thought. First I try to kill him with neglect, and now I pour milk down his lungs!
Totally exasperated, I sat down in the straw and took the lifeless ball of wool in my arms. For a while I just stared up into the cobweb roof boards. Then I prayed. God, I know this is just one tiny lamb. I know that there are millions of other lambs on this planet. I know that there will be many more in my flock But I don’t want this one to die. He’s … he’s special. Would you save him?
The lamb just lay in my arms, eyes shut, still.
I laid him back down in his pen and went to check on the rest of the flock. When I returned, I could sense something was different. What? A small feeling of hope steadily rose inside me. I rounded the comer and gasped. There he was, standing on all fours. My lamb was almost dead, but now he lives. This lamb was loved back to life.
Cultivating all the outward characteristics of an effective leader amounts to nothing if you do not love the sheep that God has entrusted to you. As the apostle Peter wrote, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, … not because you must, but because you are willing as God wants you to be” (1 Peter 5:2).
You are reading part 3 of a series on imitating the Good Shepherd. Click on a link below to explore more:
Imitating the Good Shepherd, Part 3: Loving and Sacrificing (You are here.)