Of Shepherds and Sheep

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“And there were shepherds…keeping watch over their flock…” (Luke 2:8, NIV). 

Shepherds and sheep. Leaders and followers. The Good Shepherd himself spent time being both. Do we teach our leaders how to be good followers? What about our congregations?

A couple of years ago I was introduced to the idea that everyone should, at any given time, be a ‘shepherd from the back and a sheep from the front’. Meaning, that those who are naturally more shepherd-y or sheep-y should be intentionally seeking out experiences that place them in the role of the other. I liked the way that sounded and tucked it away for further unpacking…later.

Life happened and the unpacking didn’t, although I confess to throwing the phrase out at a few seemingly appropriate moments to look wiser on the matter. And then God reminded me about that back-burnered idea through these paraphrased words of a friend:

“We hear so many sermons on how to be a good leader…But we’re NOT all leaders by nature. And it would be disaster if we all tried to play that role! When are we gonna hear some sermons about how to be an amazing follower…”

To be clear, the speaker was not meaning that she hadn’t heard a sermon on being a good follower of Jesus. No, she was referring to a lack of teaching on how to be a good follower of the leaders with which God has blessed us. Yes, we are taught about living in loving community and all that entails, which should help us to be godly followers. But she makes a valid point that an unbalanced portion of our attention has been focussed on equipping effective leaders, and not on raising up cadres of effective followers. 

I did an internet search for ‘follower development materials’ and discovered I know almost nothing about combustion engines (which incidentally contain a cam and cam follower as part of the timing gear that can get worn down rapidly in some cases- who knew?). But there was literally only one hit in several pages that even came close to addressing how to be a good follower (and really that was about being a good leader too). Scary, and enlightening, considering our churches’ missions are not best served by pews full of leaders who know how to lead, but rather by individuals, leaders or followers by nature, who have learned the art of being committed followers of the leaders God has appointed. 

We could discuss at length how we got here and defend the merits of the leadership development push (which I am not questioning). And there would be value in the ideas and perspectives shared. And perhaps even some insight into how to effectively move forward would be the result. Good. Anyone interested in doing so, please invite me to your chat. 

Right now, however, God is calling this ‘shepherd by nature’ to spend some time with Him in sheep-mode. It began last spring and this fall my moments of greatest peace and hope are when I am able exhale into the arms of my Shepherd, not as a weary shepherd, but as one of His lambs. 

Advent is upon us, a time of expectation for the tiny babe who gave up the ultimate leadership position and experienced the life of a follower. He set the perfect example- obediently, selflessly following His Leader and visionary, invitational leadership, simultaneously. 

What can we learn about godly following from the Lamb of God? I’d love to add your thoughts to mine.

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