by Robert Brow (www.brow.on.ca), Kingston, Ontario, October 2006
In the Old Testament there were prophets in charge of the spiritual needs of each town. Sometimes they failed to do their job as shepherds. "You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them" (Ezekiel 34:4).
Paul wrote to the Ephesian elders "Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers" (Acts 20:28). And Peter wrote "I exhort the elders among you to tend the flock of God that is in your charge" (1 Peter 5:1,2). In our day we might compare the pastors, priests, and ministers who are ordained for this function.
But most of us are not ordained to be in charge of a congregation. We are more like the sheepdogs that are trained to help the shepherd in his work. When they work with a caring shepherd the results are astonishing. In Scotland and England huge crowds come out to watch the sheep dog trials. But if the shepherd neglects his work, takes to drink, or gets sick, the sheep dog is soon unable to work alone. He still gets fed, and he may try to keep the flock together for a while, but he cannot do the work alone.
Similarly there are men and women who function as sheep dogs in their congregation. When there is a good minister to a work with the results are very impressive. But what happens if the pastor is lazy, does not communicate, does not seem to care for the work of that community?
In that situation we remember that God cares about every grouping of his sheep throughout the world. We noted the passage in Ezekiel where the useless shepherds are described. In the very next verses we find the Lord steps in to take over the situation. "I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out . . . I will bind up the injured, and will strengthen the weak" (Ezekiel 34:11-16).
This suggests that the ideal is for every community to have a faithful pastor to lead the work. Working with him or her a human sheepdog will be effective and will enjoy caring for the flock. But when the appointed pastor is not functioning, we can look to the Lord and act directly for him.
What kind of person will be able to fill this role? First the sheepdog knows and marks off the sheep he is to work with. He notices when one of the flock is in trouble. Very gently he comes alongside, and helps he lost sheep back into the flock. He may need to bring the person to the good shepherd for healing. For special tasks a shepherd uses a whistle, hand signals, and words to communicate with his sheep dog.
Happy is the person who can both work with a good leader when things are going well in a congregation, and hear the Good Shepherd’s voice when things have gone wrong.