Radical Shepherding

The Radical Reformation began with men who boldly stood up for what they knew was Biblical truth. They were willing to speak fearlessly and even to die for what they believed. Somewhere through the generations since then, however, we have changed to become a people imprisoned by fear. We became the “quiet in the land” so that we would no longer need to fear losing our lives or our families. We began standing for values that were also motivated by fear. We fear losing our culture. We fear our children will lose their heritage of plainness. We fear outsiders may have a greater influence on us than we do on them. We fear teaching on the Holy Spirit; we fear hearing the voice of God because of what it could lead to.

Many of our rules are developed out of fear of what things may lead to. We fear that God’s standards as outlined in Scripture are not enough to keep our people, so we add fences around them to make sure we don’t break any commandments. We fear being questioned about some of those rules that we don’t really have a Biblical answer for, so too often our response is anger at those who question the rules.

Fear is rooted in not trusting God. Fear manifests itself in attempting to control whatever situation we feel insecure or powerless in. But the One who is actually in control wants us to stop trying to do what He never meant for us to do. Only He can take away our fear of “what might happen” if we don’t do everything in our power to keep our people where they need to be.

It is time for us to take a radical, fearless stand once again for Truth. We have access to Truth, and that Truth is enough. Nothing more, nothing less.

We will see the beginnings of real change occurring among our Anabaptist people when leaders begin stepping up to fearlessly lead the charge. I have heard leaders say, “I believe we are not aligned with Scripture in the way we refuse communion to other believers who worship with us, but it’s no use trying to change it. Our people are not ready for change like that.”

My response is “Why not?”

Fearful Sheep

When a shepherd leads his sheep to a regular spot to feed, and suddenly realizes that there are plants growing that are toxic to his sheep, he leads them to a different spot to feed– whether or not the sheep want to change their grazing spot. Sheep that trust their shepherd will follow even if it is outside of their normal routine. If a shepherd cannot lead his sheep away from their normal routine, he does not have their hearts or their trust.

This can happen when a shepherd does not spend enough time with his sheep. In Bible times, a shepherd’s duty was to lead his sheep to good places to graze and drink, and to fend off animals that came to attack the sheep. He was with his sheep constantly and was a familiar, trusted person to them. They kept close to him and followed willingly because they knew he loved them and would look out for their bests interests.

In the western world today, sheep are often kept in fenced-in pastures. The sheep are familiar with their shepherd, but the relationship is much different. They may only see their shepherd occasionally. The fences that are erected keep out dangers and keep them sheep fencedwhere they need to be. The shepherd’s main job is to make sure there is water and food available to them. The shepherd can have another job and there is no need to be with the sheep constantly. This arrangement works fine until something changes in the routine. When it comes time for sheering the sheep, or needing to herd them somewhere for any reason; these shepherds have a much more difficult task than shepherds of longer ago did.

It seems the we have traded in the Biblical model for shepherding our Anabaptist churches for a more westernized version. Our shepherds must earn a living since they can not make a living being a shepherd, so they have no other option but to build fences to keep their flocks where they need to be. They check in when they can and make sure food and water is available, but they can’t be available to their flocks all the time because they must be out earning their living. This arrangement works until anything out of the ordinary happens. How far can we really trust our leader when he wants to do something different than what we have been doing most of our lives?

I have recently been hearing about and observing an Anabaptist congregation that has made some incredible changes in the past ten years. This was once a small, struggling congregation from a more liberal conference and there was very little life left in the flock. A new leader took charge who wished to lead them to a more Biblical mind set. Without making a single outward rule about dress or head coverings, this congregation is now a flock that is a thriving, Spirit-filled, Biblical church that has grown and is continually adding to their flock. They are also reaching out and making a huge impact on their community.

The first thing Anabaptists always want to know is whether or not the head covering is practiced, so I will address that first. When the new pastor came in, there were only a few who practiced it, but most did not. Now ten years later, about eighty percent of them do.

However, people don’t all look alike. There are many different colors, shapes, and sizes of head coverings. There are many different people with many different styles of clothing. People from the community have begun attending and have gotten saved and have turned away from lives of sin and bondage. Lives are changing and the Holy Spirit is present and noticeably at work.

So what is the point I am trying to make?

Shepherding Without Fences

Here is a church that is doing what our typical Anabaptists churches say is impossible. We are told it’s impossible to keep a church where they need to be without extra rules. Without fences in place to keep the sheep where they belong, we know that the flock will all be scattered. And when you look at the American model of raising sheep, that is a valid point. Sheep that are used to being fenced in will scatter if they suddenly have their fences removed.

But what if we were to ask shepherds from Bible times if they needed fences to keep their sheep from scattering? They would probably tell you that most of the sheep stay right with sheep-and-shepherd their shepherd and follow him where ever he goes. The ones that wander off are noticed and brought back by a vigilant shepherd that stays tuned in to his sheep and knows them all by name.

So why do we shepherd with a fenced in model when the other is more likely what Jesus had in mind when He told Peter to tend and shepherd His sheep?

15 So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” 16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep”.(John 21:15-17 NASB)

This was also the only model Peter and Paul knew of when they spoke of elders shepherding the church.

Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. (Acts 20:28 NASB)

1.Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 2. shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness;   3. nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.(1Peter 5:1-3NASB).

Could it be that one of the reasons the “fenced in model” is the one we use is because we don’t pay our shepherd/pastors?

17 The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard [a]at preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” (1Tim. 5:17-18 NASB) 

13 Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share [a]from the altar? 14 So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel. (1 Cor. 9:13-14 NASB)

When our shepherd/pastors are forced to be only part-time shepherds because they must still work another job to earn their a living, they can’t be available to their sheep/congregation all the time. Therefore they must use fences just like real American shepherds do that can’t be with their sheep constantly. And in doing it this way, they can not spend the time needed to build the type of relationship with the individuals in their congregations that they would otherwise.

Fences are fine until change is needed or a shepherd must take his flock through unchartered territory. Will the flock have enough trust in their shepherd to follow?

So back to the previously mentioned church… This church has a full-time, paid pastor who is devoted to his sheep. He pours into them. He is a man filled with the Holy Ghost and power who feeds, prays, weeps, and rejoices with his flock. They know him well and he has their hearts. When he began to preach Scripture that went against what they had been practicing for a long time, they followed because they knew it was Truth (Titus 1:9) and they trusted that he had their best interests in mind.

He didn’t try to control people with Truth by making rules to force them to comply. Rather, he loved them truthfully by speaking and teaching Truth and allowing the Holy Spirit to convict. When people were contentious with him, he showed love, but did not change his stand for Truth. Those that aligned themselves with Scripture did it because it was Truth, and because they found freedom in living that truth. This is different than obeying because of a fence erected to force obedience. Is this not shepherding like Jesus did?

Think of Jesus speaking truth to Peter when Peter was stubborn– He didn’t try to force Peter to change. He spoke truth and allowed Peter to learn, even if that meant the hard way. When His disciples argued over who should be the greatest, Jesus didn’t try to force them to change. He spoke truth, set an example, and gave God room to work in their hearts. Jesus didn’t try to force Judas to change; He didn’t try to control Thomas’s doubt but dealt truthfully and patiently with him. This is the example of shepherding that under-shepherds need to imitate.

This is radical shepherding.


16 thoughts on “Radical Shepherding

  1. In a way, fear of hearing God’s voice is legitimate, because God very often asks us to do things that are uncomfortable. But as you said, it really comes down to the question of whether we will trust fear to take care of us or trust God to take care of us.

    I love the picture of the church you portrayed! The leadership issue is a bit complex, because the leaders are also controlled by the culture. Many times good leaders are pushed out. Praying God will raise shepherds who pattern their lives after the Good Shepherd!

    Liked by 1 person

    • And when we avoid hearing God’s voice because of fear, we are saying we have a better way. “Trusting in our fear to take care of us..” That is a very apt description.

      I agree with your observance that leaders are sometimes controlled by the culture as well. But God can work greatly in leaders who hear and follow God’s voice; and then take a bold stand for Truth without attempting to control. Sometimes it takes awhile to see fruit, but God can work freely in lives that are surrendered to His way.

      Thanks for commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Simon, thanks for the thought-provoking/worthwhile writing! I’d like to commend to you Paul Hiebert’s article on “centered-set” ecclesiology, along with his other articles (re-)published in Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues. That article in particular is highly germane to yours (the mathematical concept of a centered set is contrasted with a bounded set). It was an incidental reference in another book to Hiebert’s writing on this concept that convinced me I had to read him, and I haven’t regretted it. Powerful stuff on perceptions of reality (for me, clues to the worldview gap among generations), bridging cultures, and what defines a church and what defines a Christian. Hiebert writes for a fairly literate audience, but this book is worth the time to sit down, read, and digest it–I found this book immensely valuable, and significant in the development of my approach to life and the Church.


    • Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. The name Paul Hiebert is unfamiliar to me, but that sounds interesting. I’ll check it out. Thanks for the recommendation.


  3. I was wondering what the name of the Church is that you mentioned? I am in the process of writing a book and making a movie about the early Anabaptist to inspire modern day Anabaptists to rise up and be who God is calling them to be. I thought that this Church may be helpful in making my book and movie.


  4. Thanks for the insights. However I think there are a few other issues that are involved. One is that you have those who joined the church simply because they were told to or saw only the benefits. Second is that church leaders discouraged members from “searching the scriptures” or at least did not trust that God would work in the lives of the members. I dont think its so much whether or not a pastor is paid as it is “are the members there because they WANT to be or because they HAVE to be?” I have lost track of the number of people my age who joined because it was expected not because they had searched the scriptures and compared it with the church and said ” yes this is what I believe and this is the group of people who can support me in that belief”.


    • Thanks for commenting. You’ve touched on two other problems that are sometimes seen, people joining for the wrong reasons and leaders who prefer members who just comply with whatever is asked rather than searching the Scriptures as the Bereans did in Acts 17. These two problems are usually related.


  5. I have long thought that Mennonite church discipline is just like those low metal fences the Department of Transportation insists on putting along the roadways. Why do they do that? This is a free country. Why can’t we drive on the edge of the road or go down the bank if we feel like it?

    I am a member of a small Mennonite church. The rules are not unduly harsh or hard to keep, unless someone purposely slams into the guardrail. Our ministers are not salaried but they do care about their sheep. Our bishop can greet everyone, down to the smallest child, by name. He is responsible for only two small congregations and one of them will soon ordain their own bishop. Each congregation has two ministers and a deacon who share the load. It works very well. Beware of blanket statements. There is a great variety in Mennonite churches and I am blessed to be in one of the best.


    • There is certainly nothing wrong with guardrails. The Bible gives us some very specific ones. The problem is that we have decided that the location that God placed those guardrails at is not enough and we build new ones farther in. We then call things sin that God never called sin.

      I have seen Mennonite pastors also that loved their sheep and had their hearts. It’s not that is completely impossible. However, that doesn’t change that Paul tells us in two different Scriptures that shepherds should receive remuneration for the work they are doing. Just because we can make something work outside of a Biblical model doesn’t mean we are right. If we don’t follow what is outlined in Scripture or we just attempt to explain that away, how are we any different than those that explain away why we shouldn’t have women leading a church? I know of churches who say that works well, too.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Romaine,
      A typical response by conservatives when confronted with something wrong in their practices, is to pull out one example as proof that it is not wrong. As if one exception is enough validation. At the same time ignoring a whole host of evidence to the contrary. Just because something appears to work does not mean that we are following Christ.

      There is not space here to explain the serious errors and consequences of Anabaptist groups putting up fences (dress and conduct regulations/guidelines that God has not spelled out). There are many. I have a 500 page book that will be coming out, hopefully later this year, that explains it in detail with a lot of documentation. The book is titled “The Failure of the Great Amish and Conservative Mennonite Dress Experiment”.

      One of the consequences of putting up man made fences, church rules/guidelines that Jesus has not spelled out, is that we create a false gospel.

      Last evening, our family was singing the song “Victory in Jesus”. As we were singing, I thought that there should be a Mennonite version written to show the contrast between the two gospels – the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Mennonite gospel. This morning I awoke early and as I lay in bed God started giving me words for the Mennonite version. Here it is:

      Song – Victory In Being Mennonite (the false gospel)

      I heard and old, old story, how to dress right for Jesus,
      How to act right, how to live right, to save a saint like me,
      The Mennonites, they gave me important modesty regulations,
      Then I succeeded in their church and won the victory.
      O victory in being Mennonite, that’s what saves us forever,
      The dress code, the fear, that keeps us doing things right.
      The exclusive club it gives us, keeps out worldly influence,
      It plunged me to failure by disobeying Christ.

      The real song, the real Gospel – Victory in Jesus
      O victory in Jesus, my Savior forever,
      He sought me and bought me with His redeeming blood;
      He loved me ere I knew Him, and all my love is due Him,
      He plunged be to victory beneath the cleansing flood.


  6. Amen! It’s so encouraging to hear of a church like this. Would to God there would be Spirit-filled, trusting churches all over, listening to the Chief Shepherd.

    Liked by 1 person

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