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Embracing Our ‘Sheepness’

July 8, 2024


Psalm 23 is probably the most famous passage in the Bible. You have probably heard it at some point in your life. "The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want..." David wrote this Psalm. He reflected on how God leads His people (himself included) like a shepherd leads his sheep through many toils, trials, and snares. One of God's names is “Jehovah Rohi,” meaning “The Lord my Shepherd.” David had an epiphany that as both a pastor and the leader of a nation, he is a leader led by the Leader who leads like a shepherd.

The Apostle Peter uses the shepherd metaphor in his writings to pastors and shepherds in the church. 

"Here's my concern: that you care for God's flock with all the diligence of a shepherd. Not because you must but because you want to please God. Not calculating what you can get out of it but acting eagerly. Not bossily telling others what to do but tenderly showing them the way. When God, the best Shepherd of all, comes out into the open with His rule, He'll see that you've done it right and commend you lavishly."

Did you notice the shepherd's dilemma in this verse? The pastor is a sheep and a shepherd, too! The pastor has a dual role, a dual citizenship. Being a pastor since 1980, I've learned something. As a shepherd, I tend to look at everyone as a sheep and forget I'm a sheep, too! I struggle with my 'sheepness.' 

I'm supposed to lead others into still waters, protect, prepare, rest or move, know the answers, lead people through the good and bad times in their lives, find the table in the wilderness, and all that other shepherd stuff. But there's a difference between sheep and cattle. You drive cattle, but you need to lead sheep. 

The fact is that I'm one of those sheep too! I need The Shepherd, too! I need all the stuff sheep need because I'm a sheep and a shepherd. Sometimes I forget my 'sheepness.' That has effects that affect the rest of the flock.

Here's an example of a shepherd who forgot his 'sheepness' and was reminded of it by a sheep. The minister stormed into the vestry and flung his sermon notes on the table. "Today," he shouted to the church officer, "I have preached to a congregation of jackasses." The church officer nodded, "So that was why you kept calling them beloved brethren."

Why do so many pastors have a hard time in ministry and even fall, often to the delight of others inside and outside the church? They forget their 'sheepness.' They start driving sheep rather than leading sheep. When that happens, sheep start biting each other. Then sheep quit following the leader, and believe me, they need a leader. They are sheep. 

So, if sheep need rest, to lie down beside still waters, have their souls restored, be led on paths of righteousness, and be guided through valleys of shadows of death, then pastors need that, too. Why? They are sheep, too, and sheep need leading.  

I tell the sheep to pray for, honor, and follow their shepherds, for they watch over your souls. And let them be sheep, too! To the shepherds, I say: Dude, embrace your 'sheepness.' It would be best if you had a shepherd, also. 

Here’s the line-by-line meaning of Psalm 23. “The Lord is my shepherd.” That’s a relationship. I shall not want. That’s supply. He makes me lie down in green pastures. That’s rest. He leads me beside quiet waters. That’s refreshment. He restores my soul. That’s healing. He guides me in the path of righteousness. That’s guidance. For His name’s sake. That’s purpose.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. That’s testing. I will fear no evil. That’s protection. For you are with me. That’s faithfulness. Your rod and your staff comfort me. That’s discipline. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. That’s hope. You anoint my head with oil. That’s consecration. My cup overflows. That’s abundance. Surely, goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life. That’s blessing. 

So, what’s our takeaway? To the sheep out there and their shepherds who are sheep too, if you get tired, learn to rest, not to quit. And, if you believe everything you read, start with your Bible. 


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Ed Delph is a leader in church-community connections.
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