In Dr. Lynn Anderson’s book, They Smell Like Sheep, he tells of a church member who cornered him after a lesson in which he repeatedly referred to the elders as “shepherds.” His suggestion was basically this: since we sophisticated Americans don’t usually have sheep and don’t work as shepherds, no one connects with that idea. So find a better way to communicate the spiritual leadership idea.
Admittedly, the shepherd metaphor does sound strange in the cyber-world of our daily experience. We don’t normally see these picturesque, rural characters rolling down the expressways or eating at our local McDonald’s. But, after carefully considering my friend’s suggestion and searching in vain for a contemporary metaphor that would better connect the biblical notion with our times, I finally had to explain, ‘I can’t find any figure equivalent to the shepherd idea in our modern, urban world. Besides, if I drop the shepherd and flock idea, I would have to tear about five hundred pages out of my Bible, plus leave the modern church with a distorted–if not neutered–view of spiritual leadership.’ God keeps pointing shepherds to the pasture to struggle with sheep (pp. 11-12).
The ultimate example of a shepherd is God Himself; in the New Testament Jesus is identified as the Good Shepherd who cares for His sheep (John 10). Anderson is correct to use the biblical image of elders as shepherds (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2,3).
Without doubt one of the most well-known, if not THE most well-known scriptural texts using the shepherd metaphor is Psalm 23.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me (vv.1-4, KJV).
For today’s post we share a photo of a sheep who has been led to the still waters (quiet waters, NASB; refreshing water, NET).
Sheep lying down near green pasture beside refreshing water. Eastern Turkey. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.
What a beautiful metaphor of God’s care for His people!
Click on image for higher resolution.