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Shepherds Hill Homestead » Livestock, Plain Lifestyle, Servants Of Christ, Sheep » Shepherding the Flock

Shepherding the Flock

paul2003aShepherding the Flock

   This article is a long time in the making. I’ve wanted to relate what we’ve learned with sheep for a long time, but the Spirit wasn’t finished. Now, I pray, He is. I am writing this for two groups; those who are interested in sheep, and the pastors who spiritually shepherd a flock.

   As the scripture gives many references comparing us to sheep, all of us in the “Good Shepherd’s” flock can benefit. I pray that you will learn from this and draw closer to the Lord as his sheep, and that pastors will greatly benefit from the analogy and draw closer to their flock.

   Angie first had the vision to get sheep. She desired a place where pastors could come and handle them and learn first hand what was missing in the church. I often hear people who’ve “read it in a book” give what they know about sheep from the pulpit. There are two common misunderstandings about them.

    First, you may have heard that shepherd’s often break the legs of a lamb that has continually gone astray. The idea is that as the lamb heals the shepherd will keep it by his side and handle and feed it so individually that the lamb will never stray again. A good shepherd would never do that. Angie and I cringe every time we hear that story and it’s just not true. If God wanted you to believe that, He would have written it in scripture with the other sheep analogies. There are better ways of protecting lambs from hurting themselves and wandering off.

   Secondly, we often hear those that say, sheep must be led and cannot be driven. This is another misconception. Actually, when you think about it, that’s what sheep dogs do! Sheep can be led by someone that they trust. But they can also be driven just like cattle. Ok, enough with my pet peeves!

 

Know the state of your flock (Prov 27:23)

     A good shepherd will always know what is going on with his sheep. He must be intimate with each of them and should know their weaknesses and their strengths. We have each sheep named and they know our voices. We take some of them to a show in the spring and there are thousands of people coming through. If I wander off and come back, they always respond when they hear me talking even though they’ve heard thousands of other voices during the day. This is because I’ve spent so much time with each of them. Some of them have chronic health problems like hooves or horns growing crooked. I have to be aware of that and take care of it when the time comes.

   The scripture above is very interesting regarding your flock. It could be taken as your family as a parent, your church as a pastor or even literally as a flock or herd of animals. You might find it interesting to know what the original Hebrew word means where the KJV translates “state”. It isn’t “condition”, as other translations give. It means “face”. We are told to know the face of our flock.

    While I’m talking about caring for your flock, let me talk about shearing. God gave sheep the wonderful property of growing wool instead of hair. Sheep depend on being sheared each year. Without this they would suffer terribly in the heat. I still shear with manual shears. Its slow and hard work, but I feel it’s better on the sheep. I equate the modern electric shears to modern “mega-church” ways. Everyone is trying to process things quicker and cheaper now. Somehow, I just can’t picture Jesus throwing down a sheep, buzzing through and reaching for another in assembly line fashion.

     I have learned that you need to know what’s underneath before you reach in and cut. I know the shape of their legs and how their bellies are situated and even their most private parts. Pastors, you need to know what is underneath before you cut. Too many times there is something deep in a person’s life that has to be handled first. Imagine if I started cutting and plunged in carelessly without knowing first what to expect. Sometimes I even place my hand over the skin and cut so that I will feel the shears and the sheep will not. Yes, we all need times of refreshing and regular revival but things should be in order.

    There is a macho-pride in me that I have to overcome regularly. It drives me to see how quickly I can shear a sheep. Let’s admit it, we men tend to be competitive. I hear people talking about record shearing times. Then I see a pastor speedily counsel a person and try to handle way too many people under him. Just imagine if I had a thousand sheep. Do you think that I’d be able to handle those at shearing time? I would have to get many men to help me. But isn’t that exactly what the mega-church is doing? Less time is spent with the people than a shepherd does with each sheep. And people are a lot more complicated!

   While I am shearing, I talk to the sheep. They are surprisingly calm during most of the process. It’s almost as if they know that it’s for their good. Of course, there are some areas that they and I don’t like to touch! These have to carefully be handled. There are several things that I’ve learned in trying to hold them while I do this. I am not ashamed to ask for help. I once tried to shear Reuben, our dominant Ram, by myself. It was like wrestling a linebacker. And linebackers don’t have sharp hoofs! No, get help if you need it. Men often won’t ask for help. It’s a pride thing of being able to do it yourself. Pastor, don’t feel bad if you need help. Ask.

   Even as careful and watchful as I try to be, I sometimes nick the sheep while I’m shearing. Their skin is so soft and supple that it is hard to tell the difference between their wool and the flesh. Knowing that this is a possibility I never begin shearing without making sure that I have an antibiotic spray within reach. As I shear, I am constantly checking for any nicks and the moment I spot one I stop right then and cover the wound with the protective medicine. They hardly ever even flinch when they are cut, so it is up to me to watch for any signs of damage. Because the longer they go without aid the worse damage will be done.

   Another interesting reaction that causes some people to be concerned is, when I’m shearing, the sheep sometimes shiver. It appears that their skin is jumping. What is happening is the cooler air is getting to their skin for the first time in a year. The skin is sensitive and so natural reflexes make them shiver.  It is not dangerous or a sign of trouble but a natural response to newly felt sensations.

  While I have them down, I trim their hooves and check them over closely. It’s my annual inspection, so to speak.  After I’m finished, I stand them up and talk to them for a little while. I feel around and make sure that there are no other places that need attention. This is part of the one on one time that I have with our sheep.  Once I have finished their shearing and my inspection of them they immediately begin to graze again; seemingly unhurt by the shearing process. They don’t run away from me but just start eating.

  You may not know this, but lanolin comes from sheep. It’s the oil in their wool. After shearing, Angie says that my hands and arms are left very soft. Shearers do tend to have incredibly soft hands.  Another interesting fact is that there are two times that sheep are absolutely snow white; when it’s born and right after the shearing. Any other time, they have the filth of the pasture and barn on them. But these two times are remarkable.

 

Personalities of Each

    The Word tells us that He has given each of us a special name. We name each of our sheep. Sometimes it’s hard for me to tell the difference until I can see their face. They each have a different personality. First, the rams (males) and ewes (females) have separate personalities and can be grouped in behavior.

   Rams are much easier to get close to, probably because they know they can lay you out if they want to. We had to transport Reuben when he was very young in the back of a van.  There was a mirror on the inside wall of the van.  When he saw himself he tried to ram the reflection.  The desire to be in charge and dominate almost destroyed him because what he was hitting was steel and in his ignorance he didn’t realize it.

  Rams do not naturally graze together.  They can usually be seen on the outer edges of the flock, separated from one another, and seemingly oblivious to what the others are doing.  However, when it is feed time and good feed is the menu they will push everyone else aside to get to the manger first. But once the feed appears to be gone they are out of there!!  We wonder if it is because when they are feeding, their heads are down and they are in a more vulnerable position.  If we ever see a ram walking with its head down we know there is something wrong.  It is always a sign that there is something not right internally or they have a wound somewhere.  We immediately begin the process of searching out the problem.  As most of God’s creatures, when there is something wrong, the sheep become very nervous and don’t want to be touched.  But our love and desire to help forces us to check and recheck even though we might get roughed up in the process.

   Ewes are much more suspicious and skittish. We feel this is the natural God-given instinct because they are the ones that have to protect the lambs.  And they are also the ones that will get attacked first by predators because they are not as fast as the rams in getting away.  They tend to stay closer together when grazing and they will stay longer at the manger at feed time searching for those last grains of feed under the older hay.

   Rachel our “mother of the flock” has been incredible at producing wool and lambs through the years.  But even though she has been handled so many years now, she still is the last one to the feed trough and she will not show that she is injured or sick until she is pretty bad.  She is a tough lady and every morning when we awake she is standing at the corner post with her newest lamb watching for her shepherd to come out of the door.

   But besides being male or female, they react differently to things based much on what they’ve experienced. If they have been chased or handled roughly, expect them to be untrusting. If they are petted and talked to daily, they will follow you around. Over time, even the meanest, most aggressive ram can be like a faithful dog.

   By the way, there is a reason that the males are called rams! During the time of the year that the ewes go in season for breeding, the rams get very protective. They will often charge if you go near their ladies! It’s best to be very cautious during those tense times. It actually sounds like some deacon meetings that I’ve heard pastors go through! But the Shepherd is in charge; so don’t forget who’s the boss. I have a shepherds crook and I’m not afraid to use it! The rams are usually separated out when they start butting heads. They can get pretty bloody if left to fight. One will be the obvious leader. Once dominance is established, they usually settle down. 

   Pastor, enjoy each type person that you’ve been given. They all have strengths and weaknesses. They all have an important place.  Without each, the flock wouldn’t be the same. And without rams and ewes there will be no lambs.

 

Provisions

  It’s the good shepherd that provides for his flock. Sheep will sometimes wander but it’s always for food. Did you hear that? Always for food. If I provide the nourishing food and pure water that they need, they won’t leave me. Now notice, I said nourishing food and pure water – old, moldy hay and feed and stagnant water will be rejected. Starving sheep may eat and drink it, but they will founder and die quickly. And you can forget about them producing new lambs and usable wool.

   How many times have people come into the church and later left because of problems? We usually say that they were oversensitive or some nonsense. Remember the story Jesus told of the shepherd that left the 99 and went after the one? Can you imagine what my neighbors would think if one of my sheep was down in their yard. They’d call me to get it. What if I told them that sheep has some problems and it’s better to just let it find it’s own shepherd? No, as shepherd, I will go get my sheep even if I have to search them out.

   Of course, we do have fences in place. They are there for two reasons. They keep the sheep within our pastures and they keep wild animals out that would harm the flock. I am diligent to maintain them or suffer loss.

  Once a gate was left open and the entire flock entered into our garden. I panicked! I called for the girls and we started chasing them around in circles. They would take a bite hear and there as they ran. I was out of breath when my good wife showed up calmly with a bucket of sweet feed. She simply rattled it and walked back to the corral with the entire flock behind. I know that my mouth was hanging open. It was the spiritual revelation of feeding the flock. They only left for food and they came back for the same reason.

   And speaking of that, your sheep will always expect everything that you have to be food. If I wear my straw hat and squat down, they will eat it! If we carry food to the chickens or turkeys, they want that, too. Once, when I was trying to kill fire ants, Reuben tried to eat the poison after he saw me pour it out of a bag. Your sheep are watching you closely. Be careful what they see from you. Your sheep will view everything you do as food, Pastor.

   A good shepherd is always thinking about better pasture. Our soil is poor here. I have been in a constant battle in trying to get grass. I pass other pastures and think, “My sheep would love that!”  Better grass is always an issue.

   Most people would think that you just turn sheep loose and they keep your grass cut for you. But there are many common plants that are poison for sheep and must be identified. Some weeds are not fatal but can cause the ewes to be infertile. Oh, what a spiritual lesson is there! Not having new ones being born into your flock? It could be the diet, Pastor. Be careful to provide your flock with good food and plenty of it.

 

Lambing

  Probably the greatest joy of raising sheep for me is lambing. It’s also one of the most critical times and when you’re needed most. Obviously, sheep can have their babies without your assistance. But they will always need you soon after and sometimes during labor. Just like human babies, there are a number of complications that can occur during delivery. We have only had to pull one lamb. However, we lost a first time mother and her baby once while we were gone. She did not have the strength to complete the process of delivering the healthy baby. I knew that she was expecting but had not diligently checked her for delivery. The time came, she needed assistance and I wasn’t there. I had to bury both in tears. But we have not lost another one due to that because we know the time and signs and check constantly.

  There are times when a lamb is born and the mother won’t take care of it. In this case, the shepherd must do it.  It will have to be bottle fed until it’s old enough to graze. We have even had to bring one very weak little lamb into the house – kept it diapered and fed every two to three hours. It is now a mother and grandmother many times over.

    Pastor, more often than not, loss of lambs is due to inadequate care rather than from predator attacks. Almost all of the losses that we’ve had so far have been my fault and not due to wild dogs or coyotes getting in. The remainders were born with defects and didn’t make it. If a lamb isn’t nurtured and is left to fend for itself, it will not survive. It’s not a doctrinal debate here when a lamb dies. We don’t argue whether or not it was really meant to be or if it was really born at all. We just grieve. And we try to learn from our mistakes.

    Oh, how the focus is being turned onto the enemy! We often fail to accept that we have a great responsibility of caring for the weak. Yes, there are predators. But the majority of hazards the sheep have are from neglect.

    The first milk that a mother produces is called colostrum. It’s vital to the lamb’s lifelong health to get this. Without it, he’ll be sickly and susceptible to disease. Yes, he can live without it, but not as well. Imagine how much better Christians would be if they’d have had someone there to start them out right.

   Sometimes a congregation will put the burden on the pastor to bring in new ones to the flock. But sheep have sheep. Of course the shepherd will have lambs too, but I believe that we as individuals have a responsibility to “lamb”. The responsibility of the shepherd is for nutrition of his flock. Malnutrition will cause ewes to miscarry lambs and even cause them to not get pregnant when they should.

The Hard Things

    It’s not an easy life to tend sheep. There are many hard things that come up. Unforeseen things happen and it’s heartbreaking at times. Dogs often come in and kill many sheep. Sometimes you aren’t there when lambing happens and you loose the baby, mother or both. We’ve almost lost sheep to illness several times and God always brought them through. It’s a dirty, stinking job. Even the simplest things, such as docking their tails, are hard at times. Lambs are born with long tails and we cut them back to help keep them cleaner. In the long run, they are much better off.

     Once when Rachel was lambing she got so weak that she couldn’t stand up. We all took turns lying with her in the barn in the hay. We each encouraged her to eat and forced her to take a mixture of molasses and other sugars to try and get her back up. She eventually made it but lost her baby. In each case, I would say that the key to giving the best care as a shepherd is one-on-one attention. And if my flock gets too large for the pasture or my time, they suffer.

   There are those that are gentlemen sheepherders. They have a lot of money and think it romantic or enhancing to the scenery of their farm to own sheep. They never shear their own animals nor do they even handle them. They may technically own them, but their care is in someone else’s hands. I equate professional pastors that way. There are way too many that are in it for the money. They leave whenever a better job comes or in it just for the show. Some are genuinely called and some just went!

Now, something for the sheep

   Now, up until now, I’ve addressed the shepherd or pastor. I want to finish with a word to the flock. If you have a good pastor, respect him. He works hard. He doesn’t just work on Wednesday’s and Sunday’s. He’s available to help you in any emergency. He has a tough job and is not in it for the money. I’m not saying that he shouldn’t be paid well. Take care of him and let him take care of you. He works for a Greater Shepherd that also cares for you. He will not harm you, though at times you’ll not understand. Trust Him and enjoy green pastures!

paul

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Philippians 3:13-14 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Filed under: Livestock, Plain Lifestyle, Servants Of Christ, Sheep

One Response to "Shepherding the Flock"

  1. Contessa says:

    Very beautifully written. Thank you. Your love for your sheep is evident and your explanation and examples of Gods love for us is well received. Our God is awesome and such a good and loving Father.

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