Around 4:30 AM on Tuesday, June 7th, police were alerted to some 1,300 sheep that were just wandering the streets of Huesca, Spain. Apparently, they snuck right past the shepherd, who was sleeping, and wandered off on their own. Once the police found the sleeping shepherd, they were able to round all of them up and get them back to where they needed to be. If you’re the shepherd and you get woken up for this, this is what you call some “baaaaaaaad news.” (Ok, bad joke but I couldn’t resist)
This whole story, and the accompanying video got me thinking about some spiritual parallels. The Washington Post even said that this “resembles a New Testament fable.” So, what can we learn from a sleeping shepherd and 1,300 wandering sheep as it relates to leadership and ministry? Well, here are five things I’m reminded of from this random sheep herding story.
1. Vision is vital! — Proverbs 29:18 (NASB) says, Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, But happy is he who keeps the law.
Other versions say, “Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint” or “When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild.” Perhaps the most famous use of this verse is from the King James Version, which says: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Regardless of how you slice it or what translation you prefer, it is clear that vision is vital.
Here’s what I’ve learned about leadership, especially leadership in the Church. People don’t follow only a good heart, they follow a God sized vision. Now don’t get me wrong, a “good heart” is essential in leading a God sized vision but just having a good heart won’t cut it. Well intentioned people can still fall asleep at the wheel…or at the staff if you will! Isn’t that what this shepherd did? I don’t know all the circumstances surrounding the story, but this shepherd might have had a great heart, he just fell asleep as the leader. He was not giving direction at a time when the sheep needed it most. A good heart is essential but vision is vital!
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2. Leadership can be lonely, but it doesn’t have to be. — I used to be one of the people who said, “Leadership is lonely” or “It’s lonely at the top.” But if you are lonely in leadership or feel lonely at the top, you only have yourself to blame.
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Yes, there are times that as “the leader” of an organization or team you are left on an island to make a decision, or to be held accountable for one, but loneliness and leadership do not have to go hand in hand. Now I don’t know anything about shepherding, but it sure seems to me that this shepherd would have benefited from a “helping hand.” Surely there was someone in his life he could have been apprenticing to lead the flock. Was there no comrade in arms, assistant shepherd or sheep herding team he could have relied on so he could catch a few winks in the middle of the night?
If you are a solo pastor, this can be harder to do, but it’s something that I am so thankful for at Element Church. I am surrounded by a phenomenal team of staff, volunteers and friends here at Element that don’t let me lead alone! It’s not that they don’t trust me to lead, they just love me too much to lead alone! I am blessed with so many people who are helping me “watch the flock” as we navigate this world and all the darkness that it brings. Leadership can be lonely, but it doesn’t have to be.
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3. Know the state of your flocks but don’t forget to care for them as well!
Proverbs 27:23 says, Know the state of your flocks, and put your heart into caring for your herds,…
I’ll give the shepherd in the story some credit. At least when he was awakened from his slumber he jumped to action and took care of the flock. It’s one thing to know the state of your flock, it’s quite another to care about their condition. I’m a little concerned about how we might often react to the state of our flocks. Just knowing how our people are doing doesn’t do us any good unless we lead them to take their next steps in Jesus! I know I’ve been guilty of this before, but it reminds me of what God said to the leaders of Israel through the prophet Ezekiel.
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Ezekiel 34:1-6 Then this message came to me from the Lord: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign Lord: What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them.
Dang! For all of us who lead, whether inside or outside the church, it is our responsibility to not only KNOW the state of our flocks, but to CARE for them as well! I don’t want to ever hear those words from God about how I’m leading the people HE entrusted me with.
4. It only takes a few to lead the whole flock away! — Again, I’m not aware of all the details to this story, but it makes me wonder how it all went down. I shared this news story with a friend of mine from Element named Todd, and this is what he said: “How did this perpetuate? We know the shepherd fell asleep, but I would bet that not all 1,300 sheep decided at the same time to wander. I surmise it started with a handful (a manageable size) that went left unchecked. Which led to one following another and another until you have the blind leading the blind in this mass exodus of wandering. As far as the sheep at the back of the flock, they have no idea they’re wandering. From their perspective they’re just following the tribe or nation if you will. (Copying the customs of this world) Leadership is the key. The crux. Without God visioned leadership we are all susceptible to wander. The sheep that go unchecked will inadvertently lead the flock to doom. The rest of us become a nation of the unknown and unaware, and Jesus will be the only one to break that cycle in us.”
5. Our Shepherd never sleeps! This might be the most important one for us to remember. Jesus is called the Great Shepherd of the sheep (that’s us). Here is what I want us to remember on this one… No matter what you are going through. No matter what you are facing today. No matter the weight you carry. No matter the good. No matter the bad. You might be ready to get up or you might be ready to give up. I don’t know how you’re feeling today, but regardless of anything this life throws at you, your Shepherd NEVER sleeps!
Psalm 121:1-5 says, I look up to the mountains — does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth! He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber. Indeed, he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps. The Lord himself watches over you!