While serving as an under-shepherd for many years now, it still can become frustrating when the sheep in God’s pasture don’t willingly follow. Within these exasperating moments I long to strike the rock rather than speak to it. Anybody know what I mean?
Over the years I’m learning to pause more rather than striking, or even speaking. My alternate approach seems to give God His space to do what He does best in me, and within the hearts of His sheep. From this, God is teaching me that if the sheep He has called me to lead are not following me, maybe it’s the under-shepherd, rather than the sheep, with the problem?
This was a very hard truth for me to embrace. Yet, acknowledging this has supernaturally transformed me as a man, as a leader, and as an assigned caretaker of God’s people.
I would like to give you some markers to help you evaluate why God’s sheep may not want to follow your leadership. These practical truths aid in maintaining healthy vitals signs within the life of a leader and in the life of the church they are called to serve.
Let’s start with this familiar text:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.
10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. 11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, 15even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.”
John 10:1-5 & 10-15
Here are a few questions to ask yourself that will help you maintain healthy vital signs as you seek to lead God’s sheep well, no matter your leadership role:
1. DO YOU KNOW THEM BY NAME?
Now, let’s be honest… well, let me start with complete transparency. I do NOT know every name of every member or sheep in the pasture that I serve. Is it really possible? Especially as a church grows numerically, it is virtually impossible. I will further admit, as God continues to add to our flock, I simply cannot keep up with the inventory of names of the many wonderful people He is sending.
But not knowing everyone’s name doesn’t give me the excuse not to seek intimate knowledge of those I lead. Here’s the caution. We can know someone’s name and still not know them intimately. As under-shepherds we have a responsibility to get to know the people we lead. We must even intentionally create space for them to get to know us, and for us to get to know them beyond our worship service gatherings.
A healthy leader and a healthy church will always provide the intentional access points to get to know one another which permits making disciples part of the culture.
To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. (v3)
2. WHOSE VOICE DO THEY HEAR?
I’ve learned over the years that if the sheep are not following me, it’s for a good reason. Yes, they could be rebelling. Who doesn’t? But am I the reason for their resistance to follow? So, the follow up question I must always ask myself is this: whose voice do they hear?
You see, if they hear your agenda, your goals, your plans, and your vision – they simply will not follow! So, how can you be sure that the sheep are hearing the Good Shepherd’s voice? This is what has helped me: We must make certain that everything we say and do remains tethered to the Great Commission which cannot be fulfilled absent of a continually clear presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
A healthy leader and a healthy church safeguards that the commission of Christ and the message Christ is the centerpiece of our message and ministry methods. The purposes and proclamations of Christ go before us, therefore He is always heard by His sheep – rather than the manipulative voice of the stranger.
When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers. (v4-5)
3. HAVE I BECOME A HIRED HAND?
A hired hand doesn’t take ownership. A hired hand abandons the sheep and runs away. A hired hand cares nothing for the sheep. It is very easy to develop a hired hand heart, especially when the sheep don’t want to follow.
Our once passionate calling somehow becomes a profession. If we’re fortunate to get paid to lead God’s sheep, this can become even more of an issue in our hearts. Overtime a hired hand starts going through the motions not willing to take ownership of our own behaviors but rather shifts the blame upon the sheep – who are only following our lead.
Once this occurs, our hired hand hearts begin disconnecting from the sheep causing us to easily abandon the sheep – in many cases literally running away from our God intended responsibilities. And after this disconnect, we seamlessly stop caring for the sheep completely. This is the unfortunate cycle of the hired hand. The heart we must all avoid before we so easily slip away into its dark abyss. Yet, a healthy leader and a healthy church is established and motivated by a genuine love for each other. Love that causes one not to run away during trying times but rather inspires a willingness to run towards the flock.
The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So, when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. (v12-13)
To ensure the vitality of our leadership and the church we serve, we as leaders can never forget that we, too, are but sheep within the flock. This healthy perspective helps us to remain close to the Good Shepherd, and as we remain at His hip, it seems to keep us in step with Him. Walking in step with Christ makes intimacy with those we lead virtually impossible to avoid, thus disciple-making becomes our way of life.
Allowing Christ to shepherd us gives Him permission to completely influence us, and we inherently and enthusiastically desire to fulfill His commission. Following the lead of Christ our Shepherd, models for us genuine love through His finished work which is payment enough. Therefore, no matter how difficult caring for His sheep gets, it’s always an undeniable privilege to serve the sheep of His flock!