By Ross Engel –
For the past six years, I have been competing in the Scottish Highland Games. I have grown to really love the sport. There is just something great about being able to put on a kilt, pick up heavy stuff, and throw it as far as possible. Of course, there is more to the sport than just strength; it does take a bit of technique to pick up a telephone pole-sized tree and flip it end over end. In between throwing heavy stuff, most of the veteran athletes congregate together, sitting in the shade (if there is any), cheering on the other guys, and passing around some of Scotland’s national beverage while waiting for our turn to throw again. Sometimes we’ll be close enough to watch the sheepdog demonstrations that seem to go with every Celtic festival. For the athlete, it is an exhaustingly long day of throwing, so it is very important to sit down when you can, cool off, rehydrate, and gather your strength before throwing again.
On my kilt — fittingly enough it is a clergy tartan — I have a few patches. The one that often garners the most attention is my “Sheepdog” patch. I received it from one of my deployed Navy Chaplain friends. Originally it had to do with a conversation he and I had about defending others and acting when necessary to protect others. He had shared with me a piece written by a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel by the name of Dave Grossman titled On Sheep, Wolves, and Sheepdogs. As much as I enjoyed the article, I really got to thinking about the connection between Sheepdogs and Pastors. I think that I have benefitted greatly from considering the Pastoral Office in terms of being a “sheepdog” to the flock entrusted to my care.
Typically the Pastoral Office is spoken of in terms of shepherding a flock or being an under-shepherd of Christ’s sheep. This is beautiful, Scriptural imagery, but sometimes, as sinful humanity so easily can do, the word “under” in “under-shepherd” can be forgotten. It is so easy for pastors and even lay-people to start thinking of the Pastor as the “boss,” the “head-honcho,” or THE Shepherd himself (as though he is doing everything or as though he is the congregation’s savior!). It can be far too easy to push Christ, the Chief-Shepherd, out of that position.
Even though Scripture continually utilizes the image of shepherd for the Pastoral Office, I’d like to offer “sheepdog” as another flock tending image worth considering.
In 1 Corinthians 4:1 Paul writes, “Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” The word used for “servants” in the original Greek can literally mean “under-rower.” It can be used to describe a physician’s assistant, who not only assists but also does some of the work. It can also be used to describe the individual who carries the weapons and shield of a superior military officer, who must be ready at a moment’s notice to deploy the tools of warfare. One of my theological dictionaries shares that this word would be used to describe someone who has some degree of authority but ultimately is at the disposal of a master
Enter the sheepdog!
A sheepdog works for the shepherd. A sheepdog cares for the flock while the master is away. A sheepdog sees to it that the sheep are protected and receiving the food that the Master has made available to them. A sheepdog will run himself into the ground to care for the sheep and keep them safe from the wolves. A sheepdog isn’t the Shepherd, but he discharges the tasks that the shepherd has given him to do. The sheepdog can become injured in the process of following the shepherd’s orders. He can be attacked by predators, become exhausted by the demanding pace, and even the sheep themselves have been known to trample a few sheepdogs from time to time.
But being a sheepdog isn’t so bad. Just like the sheep, a sheepdog is cared for by the shepherd. Just like the sheep, he is fed and nourished with the same food and drink that the shepherd provides. Just like the sheep, the sheepdog’s injuries are bound up and cared for by the shepherd. And when the shepherd himself comes, the sheepdog is gathered, along with the entire flock, to the master’s side.
God loves His flock. He loves His sheep. He cares for them; He provides for their needs of body and soul. He continues to see to it that they are fed and nourished with His gifts. And the Shepherd continues to send His sheepdogs out to care for His flock and carry out His commands.
In this exhausting and rewarding task, it is imperative that pastors, as “sheepdogs,” listen to the voice of their Shepherd as they do the tasks that the Shepherd has called them to perform by caring for His flock. Sheepdogs are no good to anyone when they aren’t doing the actual tasks they’re supposed to be doing! Sheepdogs need to be in the Word, not just for sermon and Bible study prep, so that they also would be fed and nourished by the Shepherd. At the end of the day, the sheepdogs are to find their rest in Christ, just like the flock does. Sheepdogs need the Shepherd’s gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation just as much as the sheep do!
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30
After the season of Lent, a rewarding Holy Week, and a joyous Easter (Christ is Risen!), I’m dog tired, so this sheepdog is going to curl up next to the Shepherd for a bit. It’s time to be in His Word so that I might be fed and spend some time on the receiving end of His wonderful gifts. The flock will still be cared for. I’ll still be delivering the Shepherd’s gifts, but until Sunday, I’ll be sleeping like a dog (metaphorically speaking of course!).