Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps. (1Peter 2:21)
September 1993. After several weeks of leading a group of young sheep out to pasture each morning in a routine manner, things were suddenly disrupted. First, more explanation about the routine; then to the disruption. The young sheep, or lambs, are more vulnerable to coyote attack than the older sheep. For that reason, I weaned the lambs more than two months ago and proceeded to pasture them separately, pen them up each night, and lead them out to pasture each morning. The routine was the same each morning in that our sheep dog King always followed the sheep while I lead. We may go to a different pasture today compared to yesterday, but the method is always the same. It worked very well until a few days ago. At that time I placed some older sheep in with the lambs, but the entire group was still 90 percent lambs.
At that point the lambs followed the older sheep, and the older sheep being more familiar (or they thought so) with the farm, began going their own way. It took a lot more work by King and several days to get any reasonable routine going again.
Sheep are gregarious, which is helpful in herding or leading them, and it is best to have at least one sheep that will quickly step out and follow the shepherd. If one steps out from the group, the others will follow. Some shepherds keep a “bell wether” for that purpose. A wether is a castrated male sheep. Without the male hormones his interest in ewes is neutral. With a bell strapped to his neck, he is easy to identify. A sheep that is mature and has a close relationship with the shepherd can serve as the one who steps out from the flock to follow the shepherd. The catch is, others will follow even when a lead sheep steps out in the wrong direction. At the time I mixed the two groups of sheep I was leading the sheep for a distance of about one-half mile through four gate- ways to arrive at the place I wanted them to graze. Several times adult sheep would attempt to go their own way and graze before the journey was complete.
The study of sheep/shepherd relationships is much more complex than what can be covered with a written piece as short as this one, but I do wish to ask a question for all of us. Who is the lead sheep? Or, who is your lead sheep? Better yet, who is the lead sheep for your children, or grand- children? And how about you as the lead sheep, “Who is following you?”
We are like sheep. The Bible says, “We all, like sheep have gone astray.” (Isaiah 53:6). I suggest this; sometimes we go astray on our own, and other times we go astray because we follow the wrong lead sheep. The latter is perhaps more critical because many innocent, sincere sheep go the wrong way when they follow.
Consider my sheep again. The lambs in my field could have taken one of three actions. First they could have gone their own way. Second, they could have followed the older sheep. And third, they could have followed me, the shepherd.
You and I are no different. We can go our own way, we can follow some other person, or we can follow Christ. People like to identify with a visible leader. Jesus Christ is no longer here on earth as a visible shepherd. If we choose to follow a visible, in the flesh leader, then we are following another sheep. Sure, some are to be shepherds to other people, but there is only one Chief Shepherd. You may be a shepherd to some others, but you are still a sheep to Jesus. Some pastors haven’t received that revelation yet.
Let’s look at 1Pet 2:21 again. Three things are shown here: 1) Christ suffered for you. 2) He left you an example, and 3) you should follow in His steps. Jesus said that those who follow him will have to deny themselves (Matt 16:24). In fact He said that unless we even hate our own life we cannot be one of his disciples (Luke 14:26). When was the last time you saw a meeting for believers advertised as Suffering of the Saints Seminar? The fact is the victorious, abundant life, overcoming, Kingdom now topics are bigger box office attractions. Let’s be real; we don’t have to live a beat down, defeated life, but the Bible makes it very plain that suffering is involved when we follow in His steps.
Older sheep always take the lead. Children watch movies and TV programming that is produced by adults. Adults manufacture and sell alcohol and drugs that are used by the young. Adults teach in formal settings of schools and colleges, and we adults lead by the examples we live. Adults represent lead sheep.
Now consider church leadership. A pastor may be considered a shepherd, but he is more like a sheep than a shepherd. The lead sheep, yes, but there is more similarity between a pastor and individuals in the congregation that there is between Jesus Christ, the Chief Shepherd and the pastor. Problems often arise when we spend too much time focusing on the footsteps of another man and not enough time reading God’s Word. Luke said it so well (Acts, Chapter 17) when he said the Bereans received the message eagerly and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
At one time I had a great deal of admiration for certain ministries, that I now believe to be little more than big businesses with shepherds who are polished hucksters in a gospel for gain mode. Their followers are no doubt sincere, but sincerely paying too much attention to a lead sheep and not enough attention to the Chief Shepherd. Who do you follow?
This article, “The Lead Sheep” was written in September 1993, and later it became Chapter 25 in the book, “Sheep Tracks – Biblical Insights from a Sheepherder” by Dennis Rowan.