Mark and I went for a walk in the hills last week, and like most of Northumberland, there was an abundance of sheep. We were following a guidebook that took us through many pastures, and as it happened, had to go through an enclosure where four sheep—two mamas, two babies—had somehow found themselves, separated from the other sheep in the field.
Now, wherever we have wandered, the sheep always respond the same. When they see us, they freeze for a moment like the proverbial deer in headlights. Then they start bleating in a panic and stumble away from us, even though most of the time there’s a fence that separates us. After trekking maybe 20 yards, they stop and look at us suspiciously again, and based on our location evaluate whether or not they have moved far enough to safety. That’s what always happens (well, almost always—ask Mark about the time a feisty, little lamb head butted his bike wheel).
So imagine the anxiety we raised with these four sheep that couldn’t get far enough away from us as we hiked through the enclosure they were trapped in. Of course, being the brilliant creatures that they are, they ran the direction I was clearly heading and didn’t quite know what to do with themselves when there was nowhere else to go. I think I heard a collective bleat of relief once I exited the enclosure.
And now for the clichéd (but necessary comparison since I am a pastor) sheep metaphor analysis. As biblical images go, the shepherd is one of the most prevalent. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…” (Psalm 23), “I am the good shepherd…” (John 10:11) The church has often transferred that imagery to the pastor, who shepherds over his or her flock, the congregation. Rev. Craig Barnes has suggested that a better metaphor for the pastor is “sheepdog,” which I really like since it reserves the role of shepherd for God alone. Sheepdog makes more theological sense to me; they have a role to play, but they are not ultimately who is in charge.
Anyway, I did a quick search on sheep dogs and discovered that, like pastors, there are a variety of breeds and they have different styles of herding. I found it amusing to imagine these dogs as pastors with their distinctive characteristics. Perhaps you have experienced some of these styles of pastoring in your own churches!
Australian Cattle Dog – typically nip at the heels of animals to get them to go
Border Collie (“headers”) – get in front of the animals and use a strong eye to stare down the animals and stop their movement
Australian Kelpie (“heelers”) – get in back of the animals to keep driving them forward
New Zealand Huntaway – uses its deep, loud bark to muster mobs of sheep
German Shepherd – act as a “living” fence, guiding the sheep to graze and preventing them from eating certain crops or wandering into roads
* These dogs have been selectively bred for their herding instincts, with an effort at minimizing their natural inclinations towards predatory behavior. You don’t want them eating the sheep!
I’ll let the members of Pres House make their own judgments about what kind of sheepdog I am!