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?”
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 where 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 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.
In Need of a Shepherd
People are most like sheep in their yearning for a shepherd that will care for them. There is something deep inside that longs for someone we can trust who will walk ahead of us– leading us in safety and caring about what happens to us. We were created for a Shepherd. The shepherd model is found already in the Old Testament where we find God referred to as a Shepherd long before people dared to call Him Father. The fact that Psalm 23 is such a well known and favored passage of Scripture shows us how much people today still crave a shepherd.
Today’s generation may not care for church politics, creeds, traditions, or ceremonies, but they still respond to a shepherd who reaches out to them with a heart of love. Rebellious young people who want nothing to do with rules, will still respond to love and acts of kindness of a gentle shepherd.
Jesus called Himself “the Good Shepherd” and set an example of what shepherding is to look like. He was willing to leave a life of glory to live a humble life of servanthood among His sheep. His shepherding brought forth healthy mature sheep who then became under-shepherds to other sheep. And those shepherds did the same.
God is still the Great Shepherd that walks ahead of His sheep. Under-shepherds are still to lead the sheep as they follow Him. However, throughout the Old Testament, we read of under-shepherds who failed in their role of shepherding. There are numerous references in which the prophets chastise shepherds who are not leading their flocks right or are allowing them to scatter with no attempt to search for them. (Jer. 50: Ezek.34)
I have seen good Anabaptist under-shepherds who loved and led their flocks well. I have also witnessed shepherds who do not seem to understand what being a shepherd means. In moving away from the New Testament model seen first in Jesus, and then in His disciples, they become more like rulers and dictators than shepherds. When shepherds think their job is more about making laws and discipline and forcing obedience, they become tyrants instead, wanting sovereignty over their kingdoms.
The goal of shepherding is to have healthy, full grown sheep to present to the Great Shepherd someday. Many of our leaders look at their sound flocks and confidently look forward to presenting them. And we do have a lot of healthy churches.
But what about all those sheep that we have lost?
One of the greatest failures of Anabaptist shepherd leaders today is in overlooking the aspect of being a shepherd who is not only a leader, but also a rescuer. Sheep wander from the herd and get lost easily. They make many foolish decisions and get separated from the flock. But they cannot survive alone. They need a rescuer.
We like to show off our healthy flocks, our obedient sheep, our many sweet lambs within the fold. People take note of how our sheep are well groomed, well-behaved, and we have very few visible trouble makers. We have a great culture and we like to boast that we have healthier flocks than most other denominations.
But why do we?
Have we culled out the weak and sickly? Do we turn our backs on the ones who wander off? Do we chase off the ones who question rules or rebel? Do we have more of a “survival of the fittest” mind set than we realize in our efforts to gain a utopian society/culture?
We are not following the Great Shepherd’s example of being a Rescuer and Great Physician for the sheep. Jesus said He was sent to the “lost sheep“,(Matt. 15:24) and when He sent out His disciples, He told them to go to the “lost sheep” (Matt. 10:6). When the Pharisees questioned Him for being with publicans and sinners, He said, “They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. I came not for the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32) He spoke of a shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep in his flock to search for one that wandered off. He spoke of a woman sweeping and searching her entire house in her efforts to find what was lost. There can be no doubt that His purpose, His heart, was to lost, straying, disobedient, sickly sheep.
How can we disregard His example? How can we think it is more important to keep our healthy, well-groomed flocks than it is to go after our straying sheep?
Faithfully preaching and feeding the faithful, obedient sheep in our flock is not enough. We must care about the unhealthy or straying sheep, and go to extreme measures for them. We must learn how to treat a sick conscience, care for hurting bleeding hearts, apply balm to wounds, and speak healing words to grief stricken people.
We cannot take a personal affront at sheep who make rebellious choices, we can’t harbor resentment at their foolish choices, we can’t be nettled at their backsliding and lagging behind the rest. We can’t allow thoughts of relief when they have left the herd and are no longer our problem.
When Jesus looked at the multitudes, He was “moved with compassion on them, because they fainted and were scattered abroad , as sheep having no shepherd.” (Matt. 9:36)
Do we even care about the sheep that are scattered and no longer have a shepherd? Where is our compassion for those who once were part of a flock but because of their own wanderings no longer have a shepherd? Do we say within ourselves, “They are the ones who chose to leave. They know the door is open and they can come back anytime they choose to. It’s their own fault for making these choices. Let them find out how hard it is.”
Why have we closed our hearts to those who do not agree with us on every point? Where is our compassion? Why aren’t our hearts wounded at the loss of even one sheep? Why aren’t we weeping over them as Jesus wept? Why are we so complacent when Jesus was willing to lay down His life for that very one that we have decided is not worth our efforts?
Jesus sought out those wasted lives. He sent the “bench-warmers”, (the inactive ones) to work in the vineyards, He befriended the rebellious, disobedient ones (the publicans and sinners) by sitting and building relationships with them. He broke down the walls built around those in His midst with slightly differing viewpoints (the Samaritans) by not keeping the traditions of His people. His kindness to one Samaritan woman captured the heart of an entire nation!
Why are we content to groom our healthy herd when reaching even one lost individual is what Jesus would rather we do? Do we not care that scattered, hungry, needy sheep will follow false shepherds or have their very life snuffed out by wolves?
We don’t need platform speakers who wax eloquent. We don’t need more heavy-handed leaders with bigger rule books and doctrinal statements. We need shepherds who love sheep. We need shepherds who talk with, commune with, sacrifice themselves for, and win the hearts of their sheep. We need shepherds with a gentle approach, a sympathetic touch, full of the Holy Spirit who persuade tenderly with the Word of God. We need shepherds who are willing to carry the young or broken when it is needed, shepherds that are willing to sacrifice themselves for the needs of their flock.
A shepherd who regards himself as being in a separate class than those in his flock has forgotten that he, too, is a sheep. If a shepherd is cynical or dislikes his sheep, he is not spending enough time with them. It is in spending time with his sheep that he will see what they are facing and face it with them. He will understand what their suffering is because he suffers with them. He will care about their plight because close contact stirs the heart.
A shepherd needs to be with his sheep so much that he smells like them. He must know his sheep and what their needs are so his sermons can be timely and relevant. He must have many conversations with them so he can speak their language when he preaches. He must be so attached to them that when danger comes, he won’t even think of himself but only the safety of his sheep.
A shepherd like this holds the hearts of his sheep. Sheep that are motivated by a shepherd they love, will follow willingly. They will be devoted to him because they know they are loved. Even a rebel who tears a rule book to shreds will respond to acts of kindness and love shown by a shepherd who has time for him.
Shepherds will be asked to give account for the sheep God has given them. (Heb. 13:17) He didn’t overlook the shepherds’ lack of care for the lost sheep of Israel and He will not overlook it today. Someday every shepherd will stand before God and hear the words asked to Peter. Did you feed my lambs? Did you tend my sheep? Did you feed my sheep?
4 The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. 6 My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.
7 “Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 8 As I live, declares the Lord God, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 10 Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them. Ezekiel 34:4-10