The early morning mists rose lazily from the
pasture. The coyote had watched for four days as two huge white dogs
nonchalantly led the flock of sheep from their night pen to begin their day of
grazing. The weaned lambs recently rejoined the flock. Daily the flock scattered
as they began to graze. The coyote planned to unexpectedly dart in, quickly kill
a defenseless lamb, drag the dead lamb to a waiting partner, and retreat with
more than the two of them could eat in one meal.
The coyote left his cover full of confidence. Several yards from his cover he suddenly was cut off from his chosen lamb as one of the huge white dogs appeared before him. In disgust, the coyote quickly turned, intending to hastily retreat to his cover. With the same unexpected suddenness, the other huge white dog blocked his retreat. As the coyote quickly accessed his predicament, he felt a sharp pain in his back near his tail. He whirled with bared teeth to confront his rear attacker, only, again, to feel a sharp pain in his left leg. Again, he whirled with bared teeth, assuming his best “don’t mess with me” expression, only, yet again, to feel the sharp pain of something biting his rear left leg.
In moments it was over. The two huge white dogs walked away to continue their duties of guarding the flock as the carcass of a dead, ripped coyote laid a few yards from what was the coyote’s cover. With only a few muffled sounds, the battle ended. The flock continued to graze securely under the vigilant eyes of two Great Pyrenees dogs.
Janice Prater has two Great Pyrenees dogs and a Border collie (that loves to round up and pen the sheep) to assist her as she cares for her small flock. Many years ago when she started her flock, she estimates she lost fifty per cent of her lambs to coyotes. Those coyotes were bold enough to kill lambs as she fed her flock! Then an experienced shepherd introduced her to Great Pyrenees dogs. For years she has lost no lambs to coyotes.
The bond between a trained Great Pyrenees and its flock borders on the unbelievable. Though the dog is large (adult males weight 90 to 125 pounds and adult females weigh 85 to 115 pounds), though it seems slow almost to the point of being lazy, and though it seems to notice nothing, it is totally devoted to the well-being of the sheep. The dog constantly observes more than humans imagine! It even ignores Janice’s presence to care for Janice’s flock!
The need is enormous. Sheep are very dependent. Even though they are quite
dependent, the shepherd never knows if the sheep will cooperate or be defiant.
Sheep can be gentle on one occasion, and contrary on another. Though everything
is done for their own good (by a conscientious shepherd), the sheep often seem
oblivious to that fact.
Occasionally a sheep wanders off alone or gets itself in a situation it cannot get out of. Finding a lost sheep is commonly exasperating. The sheep’s only defense against predators is to be totally quiet and attract no attention to itself. Even if the shepherd passes near the “in trouble” sheep, the sheep will not make a sound—even if it is in dire physical need of food and water. The search for a lost sheep literally can last for days. It does not end until the searcher actually sees the sheep. Commonly the searcher experiences an enormous sense of relief if the sheep is found alive.
A sheep’s dedication to its quietness cannot be exaggerated. Even in the painful birthing process, the ewe remains quiet. During this period, Janice checks her ewes every three hours day and night. The only way her ewes can be assisted with a difficult birth (which is often needed) is for her to see the condition of the ewes—no matter how dire the need, a ewe will not “ask” for assistance.
A close relative asked Janice why she continued to have a flock when the sheep required so much work. Her reply: “I love my sheep, and I love working with them.” Obviously, to take care of a flock requires a devotion of continuing love. Only those who love it have enough patience to do it!
Observing the Obvious
Not everyone is “cut out” to be a shepherd. Only a person who loves sheep can take care of a flock. The well-being of the sheep is the number one consideration—always. Sheep cannot be “worked with” as though they were cows—sheep take more patience, care, and time. Working with sheep is not for those in a hurry that do not have the patience to experience the unexpected (that often seems the unnecessary). Sheep are unique among domesticated animals as they maintain a unique blend of dependence and individuality. Rarely can something so dependent be occasionally (and unpredictably) so stubborn.
Yet, the characteristics of sheep are unique to the type of sheep. For example, the mentality expressed in the herding instinct differs from breed to breed. To be an effective shepherd, the person must be well-acquainted with the breed he or she cares for. It must not be assumed if a shepherd is effective with one breed, that shepherd will be effective with all breeds. Only if the shepherd can make adjustments, changing when necessary, can the person be effective from breed to breed.
For a quality shepherd, the sheep always must be the all-important consideration. As a good shepherd considers the sheep, the consideration is not on what the flock wants, but what the flock needs. What a flock wants and what a flock needs may not be the same thing. To be redundant, it is not about the acreage available—as important as that is; it is about the sheep. It is not about the barns—as important as that is; it is about the sheep. It is not about the pens—as important as that is; it is about the sheep. The acreage, the barns, and the pens support the needs of the sheep, and never exist in their own right.
Not every person is capable of providing congregational leadership. The tools of effective leadership in a business enterprise are not automatically the skills of effective leadership in a congregation. In a congregation, effectiveness is calculated by effectiveness in meeting the needs of the flock, not in bottom lines or profit margins. The same could be said for any professional pursuit—accounting, security work, community offices, banking, ownership, trade skills, or a retirement existence.
This is not at all to say that the lessons learned in any professional pursuit do not have usefulness or application to congregational well-being. It merely says: